The Race Concept is a Pernicious Heresy

race, bias

Approximately 327 million human beings are living in the U.S. and, glory to God, not one of those people is like the other. Certainly, they are related by birth or choice into the delightfully crazy quilts we call a family. And as the popular DNA testing apps continually remind us, we may share an odd bit or two of same nucleic acid. But the bottom line is that none of us, not a single one of us, is the same. Each one of us is a gloriously and uniquely ineffable creation of God in His unimaginable image.

Sadly, however, as Jesuit Fr. Greg Boyle poignantly reminds us in his seminal book, Tattoos of the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, “God can get tiny, if we’re not careful” (p. 19).

Because we cannot comprehend the vastness of God and His love for us, we like to make Him small and comprehensible on our terms. In our vain desire to define and mold God in our hands, we make Him and His never-ending, infinite love into something terminal and infinitesimal. And one way we have done this is by creating the artificial and insidious concept of race.

God created male and female, but He did not create race. There is no such thing.

God does not create white people or black people or “people of color.” That is our doing. And not only is it wrong, but it’s also just plain stupid.

Race is like calling a symphonic orchestra a band.

It’s referring to DaVinci’s magnificent sketches of the Head of the Madonna as some lines of lead on paper.

It’s thinking of Handel’s magnificent Hallelujah Chorus as mere exhaling.

The concept of race is an insult to God and His creation, and each of us. We make ourselves small and limited when we abide by those artificial limits. Worst of all, we commit heresy to who God is, how He loves, and all of His creations.

But we can change this, and we can begin today.

We ought to no longer refer to ourselves as white or black or brown or “of color.” We are human beings created in the image of God, or, to paraphrase the words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, we are each “Jesus in disguise.”

We should refuse to refer to other individuals or groups or neighborhoods or ideas in that way. These are subjective adjectives that we have made into objective—and objectional—nouns, and they are inaccurate in definition, limiting in scope, and promote exclusivity and denigration. While others may call themselves white or black or brown, we can simply call them children of God or, better yet, by their names.

We must understand how arbitrary and ludicrous race designation truly is. Are you a person of color because your ancestors came from an Arab-speaking nation even though your skin is lighter than most white people? If you are Jewish, but from an Arab country, then are you included as a person of color? Are you white or black if your mother is white and your father is black? Are you a brown person only in the summer when you have a tan? All race designation originally had its basis in discrimination and exclusion. Do we return to the ridiculous Jim Crow blood percentages or the Nazi-era skull measurements to determine who is in and who is out?

Finally, we should prohibit the foundation of organizations based upon race in our Church and its institutions. It’s a good thing to belong to an organization which promotes the language, culture, traditions, and food of Cubans or Norwegians or Kenyans. It’s fun to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day and one’s Irish heritage. These are celebratory, educational, and inviting. But it’s another thing to have a black-only dormitory or women of color conference. That is divisive and arbitrary.

As Catholics, we are uniquely suited to end racial divisions and the entire concept of race. Our Church is one, holy, and catholic (with a small c), meaning “universal.” Everywhere in the world, the Catholic liturgy is being celebrated in hundreds of different languages with thousands of local traditions and twists thrown in. We celebrate those languages, clothing, cultures, and traditions, but are united as children of God. We should live this in our everyday lives as well.

The only purpose of race is division. It’s time to throw it in the trash heap of history.

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5 thoughts on “The Race Concept is a Pernicious Heresy”

  1. Very interesting idea. I don’t think it is possible to be color-blind at this point in history, though I don’t think that’s what you are suggesting. I agree we shouldn’t have institutions in the Church based on race. However, I do think races may naturally group together such as in the Hispanic Mass. Also, I did hear an African American man on Catholic answers say he wishes the Church had more music that he was familiar with from growing up in a Black Baptist church.

    1. It’s good to celebrate one’s country of origin, as I stated in the essay. It’s not good, nor is it Holy, to continue with the artificial and arbitrary divisions of “race.” There are no people who are “black” or “white” or “of color,” and any promotion of same is denigrating and exclusionary…and contrary to God’s creation.

  2. Very well written. Racism must not only be thrown into the trash heap of history but even more it must be burnt because leaving it there can make it rot!

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