A recent conversation with my father had me thinking long after it ended. We talk about everything, marriage, fatherhood, football, theology, history, and current events. We discuss our struggles and our victories.
Sometimes he will throw an unexpected curveball into the conversation, proposing a question, not necessarily because he agrees or to find an absolute answer, but for the exercise of healthy debate and dialogue. As I was sitting at my daughter’s tennis practice, talking to her grandfather 800 miles away, he said unexpectedly, “Benjamin, what if I said racism doesn’t exist?” After resisting the urge to toss his question into the sarcasm/satire category, I decided to take a moment to fully consider his proposition, allowing myself to unpack its multiple implications. “Well Daddy, I’d say you are one hundred percent right…and one hundred percent wrong,” I responded.
There is but one human race. From one blood, God made all mankind. And from one person to the next, our DNA is 99.9 percent the same. As we check the race category boxes on surveys and the census, it is essential to realize that race is merely a social construct, a jail with no doors and no guards. It relies on physical characteristics for its continuation even though two individuals from different “races” could quite possibly be more similar from a genetic standpoint than two individuals from the same racial category. Scientifically there is no such thing as race, so it logically follows that the creation and weaponization of a hierarchy derived from this falsehood would need to at the very least be reclassified or altogether renamed, I offered as an answer. We desperately need new language to describe our differences more accurately. This does not mean that changing a word or a definition will magically solve issues of inequality and injustice. Instead, when we acknowledge who we are as God's creations, the conversation about a divided society takes on a different level of accountability, not to the government but to God. Biblically speaking, the real issue is hatred, partiality, favoritism, and lack of love. All sins that scripture speaks very clearly against.
For the geneticist or biologist, race is nearly impossible to decipher. Still, in the lived experience of everyday people in the evolution of the American saga, it has and continues to be a determining factor felt in every stratum of society, influencing everything from income to incarceration.
In the arena of race, we must not allow the righteous quest to debunk the lies of the social construct to blind us to the tangible ramifications of its damaging tenure. That would not only be a grave and costly mistake for the individual but a missed opportunity to change the soil and cut the vine, releasing its grip on the structures it has invaded. It would also dismiss the offense levied upon the victim, absolve individuals and institutions, and curtail the just process of restoration.
So often, my conversations with my father meander as we consider points and counterpoints, leading to moments of clarity amid the clouds. At the end of our conversation that day, I concluded, there is no such thing as race, but the impact of racism is one hundred percent real. Its overt and silent instruction informs the “inferior" and emboldens the “superior.” Racism creates fissures in holy institutions, political parties, and municipalities. Its perpetuation thrives as much in passivity as it does in promotion. But its existence has always produced a call to those of goodwill, to join in a forever fight against the evils of human nature and false narratives that have real-world consequences. That's what Daddy and I think. What are your thoughts?