The tragic slaying of Ahmaud Arbery has reignited the discussion of race and racism in America. These are incredibly sensitive topics, made all the more so by their politicization. A host of articles could be written about the politicization of race, accusations of racism, unconscious/implicit/systemic racism, etc., but often the very basic concepts of race and racism are not revisited.

This post will certainly not be a thorough treatment of these topics, but hopefully it will be clarifying.

What is Race?

“Race,” according to its dictionary definition, refers to a classification of human beings based on external, physical appearances.

“What most definitions [of “race”] have in common is an attempt to categorize peoples primarily by their physical differences. In the United States, for example, the term race generally refers to a group of people who have in common some visible physical traits, such as skin colour, hair texture, facial features, and eye formation.”

I believe that it is vitally important we understand the manufactured aspect of race (“an attempt to categorize”). Categories of “race” are primarily ways of classifying human beings for sociological purposes; there is nothing genetic that substantively separates one “race” from another.

Today, the very concept of inherent “race” or “races” is challenged as scientifically doubtful (see also here). No doubt “race,” to those who embrace it for themselves, means more than merely appearance. Whether a person should consider their “race” as a substantial aspect of their identity as a human being deserves its own article.

[NOTE: Ethnicity may accompany the race classification, but ethnicity is mostly determined by cultural, religious, or linguistic considerations (i.e., Hispanic, Arab, etc.).]

What is Racism?

“Racism” refers to the mindset that another human being is inferior because of his or her race. Merriam-Webster’s defines racism this way:

“a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race”

This belief can manifest itself in unfair treatment or antagonistic behavior toward someone of a different race. Anything from racial slurs to actual, physical violence are racism in action.

Racism can also be expressed in stereotyping a person because of their race. “She is <insert race>, therefore she is <insert descriptive term>.” This mindset results from generalizing about a particular group.

Again, we must emphasize that race boils down to, essentially, a classification based on physical traits and characteristics. Therefore, racism is treatment of another human being based primarily on how they look.

Racism in Action?

In the Arbery case, two distinct races (to use our culture’s classification system) were involved: Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old black male, and Greg and Travis McMichaels, two white males ages 64 and 34, respectively. The younger McMichaels shot and killed Arbery after a confronting Arbery while he was jogging through a Georgia neighborhood.

I understand that there had been a string of recent burglaries in the area, that the perpetrator of those burglaries was supposedly caught on a security camera, and that the suspect was allegedly a black man.

I understand that there are, in fact, citizen’s arrest laws on the books in Georgia allowing for confrontation between citizens and suspected criminals (when an actual crime has been observed).

I believe we should all be cautious regarding a premature verdict in any criminal case, and we should all be honest about the fact that all the facts are not yet revealed in this one.

However, Mr. McMichaels’ response to the 911 operator as to what crime he had observed is telling:

“…a black man running down the street.”

Again, we should all reserve judgment on these matters until the facts are fully known. However, until we “live in a nation where [people are] not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” (Martin Luther King, Jr.), questions will continue to swirl around these kinds of incidents and incite debate, anger, and violence.

As Christians, we should reexamine whether “race” is a biblical perspective we should adopt toward other human beings who are all created in the image of God and who are all equal in the sight of God. Is the concept of race consistent with a biblical anthropology?

And Christians should stand firm in their conviction that racism is a godless, wicked sin that thinks evil of and mistreats others who bear the image of God and who we are obligated to love.

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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