Do you think that white is the right skin color? Where did that idea originate? Even if you are a non-white person, how much have you accepted the idea that white is right? You may be surprised with your answer, if you dig below the surface. Does the Bible give us an answer to the question? Not directly, but in an indirect yet absolutely clear way, it answers the question most profoundly. Hopefully your interest is pricked by now, and I can promise you an interesting read. Keep going!
Approximately 10% of the world’s population can be classified as “white.” If white is right, then 90% of the world’s population is somehow inferior. That would be a sad conclusion to reach, but thankfully it would be a really bad conclusion to reach. It just ain’t so!
Who Are the “White is Right” Folks?
You likely thought first of the White Supremacist loudmouths, or perhaps of a sub-group such as the Ku Klux Klan. Then if you look at most of the history of the United States, the majority of white people considered themselves superior to black people and likely to other people of color as well. The idea of white being right somehow became imbedded into the psyche of most white people, but both surprisingly and unsurprisingly, it also found its way into the thinking of many non-whites, at least in America.
Skin Tone Variations and Ramifications
I remember a night some years back when one of my black brothers (I usually called black male disciples, “brother brothers”) asked me to get with another black disciple to help him with a problem. I had no idea of what the nature of the problem might be, but I also knew the brother and was anxious to be of service if I could. I was serving as an elder at the time, plus was serving as the leader of the BBB Club, so I was deemed to be the ideal person to help out a brother brother. (By the way, if you haven’t yet read the article, “The Big Black Brother’s Club” on my teaching web site ─ gordonferguson.org ─ you should!)
As this brother started talking, the tears weren’t far behind, and they continued at intervals during the whole session together. The issue? Growing up, he had cousins as contemporaries who made fun of him because his skin tone was darker than theirs. Being viewed as somehow inferior by his own relatives had hurt him deeply, and although he was now a married adult with children, the pain was still barely beneath the surface. He was also just a great guy, and well-educated with a professional type job. I rather doubt if his cousins who had made fun of him were all as successful as he in those areas of life, and I know that they were not as spiritually successful as he.
Hopefully, our talk helped him. It about broke my heart to hear his story and the pain imbedded in his heart. How in the world could skin tone have become such a big deal to him? Honestly, he wasn’t even that dark in the first place. That was a disturbing night for me. The idiocy of “white is right” had found its way into his heart, and into the hearts of many non-white people, as I was to learn then and later.
I remember a comment made by a beautiful young Asian woman that demonstrated a similar assumption in her culture. She said that she was getting too dark and was going to have to use more sun screen or stay out of the sun altogether. I immediately said something to this effect: “If I could change skin color with you, I would do it in a New York second!” And, I certainly would have ─ and still would!
White Skin Can Kill You!
My father died with skin cancer. I had a young single brother in my ministry staff group in Boston who became like a son to me. He was a very handsome young man, but also very fair skinned. After he was married and the father of two very young children, he developed melanoma and ended up dying with it at a young age. The last time I saw him, I knew it would be the last time I saw him alive. I spent a long time that day after leaving the hospital talking with his soon-to-be widow, trying to get her to accept the inevitable and to understand that embracing reality wasn’t a lack of faith on her part. That was a painful conversation. I remember the call that came the day he died, and the difficulty of teaching a workshop the very next morning to the church I was visiting for that purpose.
I think of other white brothers and sisters who have had surgeries for skin cancer that saved their lives, sometimes only barely. I had my first suspicious looking mole removed when I was 18 and have since had a number of others removed. None tested as malignant, but were thought to be moving in that direction by the doctors. I visit a dermatologist every six months at his direction, because he knows my history and my skin type.
What the doctor and I both know is that skin cancer occurs more often in those with lighter skin. It is a statistical fact that the darker your skin tone is, the less likely you are to develop skin cancer, and the lighter your skin tone is, the more likely you are to develop skin cancer. So when I say that white skin can kill you, I’m quoting unquestionable statistics. From a medical standpoint, I don’t value having white skin ─ quite the opposite.
How Did White Become Viewed as Right?
In my blog post, “Coming to Terms with Terms,” I made some observations about terms for blacks and for whites. As I stated then, I think the term “Caucasian” is a weird one to describe white folks. According to my research, it can be traced back to a certain Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who applied it to a large group of people whom he thought were the most beautiful. The opinion (of a white man, by the way!) was expressed in 1795 in the publication of his third edition of his dissertation regarding the different varieties of mankind. He used the word “Caucasian” (a region marking the border between Europe and Asia) to emphasize the appearance of white-skinned people, judging them to be the most beautiful.
Bottom line, what did we get from Blumenbach? An opinion of a white man that white people were the best looking! Surprise, surprise! All other similar conclusions about the superiority of one race over another comes in exactly the same way: opinion ─ nothing more; nothing less. For us Bible believers, we must keep in mind that we all came from the same pair (Adam and Eve) and sometime later, we all got off the same big boat together (Noah’s ark). In a future article, I will speak about the variations that occurred in time that make us look different, but those differences make no one superior or inferior. This is true from a scientific standpoint, and it is certainly true from a biblical standpoint.
What Does God Have To Say About the Matter?
Plenty! In the first place, humans were created in the image of God, according to both the Old Testament and the New Testament (Genesis 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 11:7). This means that we have the capacity to live forever, and if we accept Christ, we will. Further, even in this life as disciples, we experience spiritual growth on a continual basis that develops us more and more into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). Thus, our very nature declares our value to be far beyond anything we can comprehend. That’s why Jesus said that trading our soul for the entire physical universe would be a terribly poor trade indeed (Mark 8:36).
Further, our value is demonstrated by the price paid to redeem us from our sins and the loss of a relationship with God through those sins. You don’t pay a price for something that you don’t believe has the value of the price being paid. When Jesus died on that cross, God was shouting to the world that every human being is valuable beyond understanding. Thus, if we are all valuable beyond our ability to understand it, how could anyone be inferior to another? God went to great lengths to make sure we all understand this point. Keep reading.
Christ Makes Us One
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
If we are one in Christ, distinctions in value are ended. Yes, one’s race, gender and lot in life remain the same, but not one whit of that matters in determining our value to God and to one another. Paul used some extreme examples in this passage. Jews and Gentiles outside of Christ hated one another. Slaves were the property of their free owners. Males in that society were chauvinistic beyond our ability to grasp it, as females were not ranked far above slaves. Yet, Paul said that we are one in Christ and that none of these earthly differences mattered at all to God or to our fellow Christians. If these didn’t matter, how could one’s skin color possibly matter?
Christ Demolishes Human Distinctions
1 Corinthians 1:22-29
22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him.
By Christ’s death, note what no longer counts. Human wisdom doesn’t count; human strength doesn’t count; human standards don’t count; human social standing doesn’t count; and human rank on the scale of nobility doesn’t count. All of the things that humans value outside Christ are totally exposed in Christ as meaningless. The world’s values are shown as utter foolishness by God through Christ. We may be thought foolish, weak, lowly and despised by the world, but God has removed any basis for human boasting and pride. We are all on level ground at the foot of the cross where absolute equality reigns supreme through him who died for us. Why should the color or tone of your skin matter in this equation? It doesn’t ─ in the least.
Christ Declares Us Equal in His Church
1 Corinthians 12:12-27
12 Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
The church is described by many different terms, with body being one of the most common. Since God wants his family to be amazingly united, as Jesus is with the Father (John 17:20-21), it is not surprising that body is an oft-used descriptive term. In this passage, Paul goes to great lengths to show that each part of the body is of equal importance, for we are inseparably joined together as one. In verses 15-20, he makes the point that no part of the body is inferior, and then beginning in verse 21, he makes the point that no part is superior. This analogy means that we must have equal concern for one another, shown in our suffering with, honoring of, and rejoicing with each other. Human distinctions simply don’t matter, for in Christ we are all one.
Years ago, a brother asked for some time with me and felt a bit awkward to ask in the first place, assuming that somehow I was too important (because of leadership role?) to spend time with him. The way he put it was that he was just one little jellybean in a big jar of jellybeans. I quickly told him that I was just a little jellybean in the same big jar, no different from him. Maybe he was a green jellybean and I was a yellow one, but a jellybean is a jellybean. No one is less important or more important than anyone else. How could we be? We are all sinners, saved by the grace of God and in need of one another’s grace!
Christ Forbids the Pride of Position
1 Corinthians 7:21-22
21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.
9 Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower.
To the ones who felt lowly and inferior (through being a slave or poor), God assured them that they were free and exalted in Christ. To the ones who may have felt exalted already in the wrong way, God assured them that they were slaves to Christ and humiliated by their very temporary physical nature. Rich guys die and decay too, and it happens pretty fast.
If we wanted to apply the same principle to skin color, it wouldn’t take much imagination, would it? White guy, you are no better than anyone else, in spite of the ignoramuses who tell you otherwise, and you had better stay out of the sun, by the way! Black guy, your paint job is as good as anyone else’s and black is beautiful. White or black, you are made in God’s image and live on planet earth for the accomplishment of his plans. You are totally unique and created for a unique purpose. Think like it and live like it.
Christ Grants Gifts of Equality
3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. 6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
James puts it well when he states that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). In combination with this reminder is Paul’s admonition: “For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7). The very fact that all gifts are from God makes us equal to one another. Gifts are not for us as individuals, to somehow make us feel good about ourselves; they are designed to help us serve others better. They should humble us, not exalt us, for we deserve nothing but receive it anyway.
Look through the list in Romans 12, and see if any of the gifts is said to be superior or inferior to any other. Of course, humans have a strong tendency to rank gifts. In the list we have what I call “upfront” gifts and “behind-the-scenes” gifts. Even in the church, we have the idea that the former are more important than the latter. As I have often said and written, we tend to exalt the gift of leadership above all other gifts, and exalt one type of leadership gift (that of evangelist) above all other types of leadership gifts. God exalts no gift above another, since he is the one who gives them in the first place. All are important and all are equal in his sight. Frankly, the behind-the-scenes gifts like encouragement and service are more closely connected to one’s character than is the gift of teaching or leadership. If God values one gift more than another, you can easily figure out which gifts he would most value. As per usual, human thinking is 180 degrees opposite God’s.
God makes this same point over and over and over to help us understand that inferiority or superiority are satanic illusions held by non-Christians and have absolutely no basis in fact for the Christian. In Christ, our physical blinders are removed now and we see each person, regardless of any and all human differences, as they really are ─ treasured creations and possessions of an Almighty God!
Why Think That White is Right?
So why would anyone think that white is right? Ignorance, pride or stupidity are about the only reasons I can come up with. Everything God says is designed to keep us extremely humble about ourselves and extremely impressed with the fact that he grants us the privilege of serving others in his name. As the little children’s song puts it, “Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight; Jesus loves the little children of the world.” Children may have to be taught the words of this song, but they don’t have to be taught the truths contained in it. They have to be mistaught before they see color as anything besides special in all of its variations.
As a person born with white skin, back in my early days that automatically gave me benefits. There were many other circumstances surrounding my birth that gave me liabilities. I asked for neither, but now as a disciple I am comfortable with both the benefits and the liabilities, for it all came at the hand of God in one way or another. Although having white skin is not a preference now for me, the issue is how I view it and use it. Do I view myself in any way superior to any other person? Absolutely not! Do I want to use any benefits of being white as a means of helping other people? Absolutely!
As a white person, I am able to say some things to other whites that perhaps they will initially hear better coming from me than from a non-white person. That isn’t good, but if it is a reality, I intend to use it to help them get to a better, more informed and accepting place on this subject. As a white person, some things I say mean something special to my black brothers and sisters. After preaching sermons on the subject, I have had my black friends come up to me with tears in their eyes and say something to this effect: “I have heard people of my own race say what you’ve said, but to hear a white person say it has made all of the difference. Thank you so much.”
The preceding paragraph helps explain why I feel compelled to write a blog to help us see what we have been mistaught about racial differences. Our goal in Christ is to be colorblind when it comes to seeing the value of every brother and sister, but color aware and color appreciative when it comes to seeing the beauty of God’s creative diversity in all of his creation, certainly including humans as his crowning act of completing it all. May he help us see as he sees!