Human beings are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27). This truth comes without exception or limitation and is the bedrock of our relationships with one another and how we can cooperate and flourish in society. If that truth were compromised, it would be difficult to maintain a rational basis for opposing prejudice, discrimination, devaluing human beings, or the many atrocities throughout history. We oppose race-based discrimination because people of all races are made in the image of God and are our equals. One might even say that there is only one race, the human race. Differences in skin color are akin to differences in eye color. Racism compromises the doctrine of the imago dei by compromising human value. I made this point in my article The Biblical Case Against Racism. However, it seems that many people behave in a way that implicitly enhances racism. Some mean well, and some are actively trying to combat racism, but in doing so, they are fueling the flames. Anybody, even Christians, can be guilty of this. In this article, I will explain how you might be fueling the flames of racism.
Recognize Your Own Personal Prejudices
There is a crucial distinction that needs to be made. A racist is somebody who espouses the doctrine that individuals of a different race are inferior. A racist is confessional and explicit. If somebody has a prejudice, they are not necessarily racist. If you were to ask them, they would tell you that everybody is equal. But if somebody has a prejudice, it can cause them to think and even behave in ways that are racist without even knowing it. An individual who possesses a prejudice might be more suspicious of those of a different ethnicity. They may watch them closely, worrying that they might steal something or do something nefarious. If you see somebody who is of Middle Eastern descent, you will think “possibly a terrorist” or some other negative stereotype about racial groups. However, if I were to ask you, “Do you think that this individual is possibly a terrorist?” You would say, “No.” It is a prejudice in the back of your mind that causes you to act or think in particular way, but not an explicit belief.
But that is not to say that it is not harmful. If you have a prejudice, and you are not aware of it, then you are going to act on it and behave in a certain way. People see that. If every time you see a person of African descent, you protect your wallet or look at them suspiciously, they are going to think that you regard all black people as criminals. People from the Middle East will think that you regard all of them as terrorists. Your prejudices are not merely something lurking in the back of your mind that have no effect on anything. They manifest themselves in a tangible way that people see and respond to. It fuels the flames of racism.
Then the question becomes, how can you combat your own personal prejudices? It does not help to deny it. It does not help to say that you do not have any. Of course, it might be that you do not have any. But it is something that many people struggle with. You need to think of it as though it were any other sinful inclination, such as lust or anger. If you have a prejudice, then you need to strive to overcome it. Do not let yourself give in to temptation. Keep it in the forefront of your mind that everybody is your equal. Remember that you are acting out of prejudice, out of a sinful heart rather than embracing the truth that “We are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Remember also that the Apostle Peter struggled with a prejudice and Paul rebuked him.
Do Not Assume That Others Have Prejudices
This can be a very easy mistake to make. If many people throughout your life really have had a prejudice, then it can be easy to assume that everybody has a prejudice. Every time somebody says something negative to you, you assume that it is related to race. People often think that they are being served an injustice because they are of a particular ethnic group. It may be the case that a few times in your life, that has happened to you. But that does not mean that every time something negative occurs, that you are going suffering from discrimination. Discrimination is real, but it is not universally applied to every circumstance. If a police officer pulls a vehicle over, he may just be conducting a routine car-stop rather than a race-based car stop. Applying assumptions about discrimination does not help anybody.
In fact, it only enhances the racial divide. It creates an “us versus them” mentality. People of different racial groups cannot interact with one another because they are always suspicious of one another. Assuming that one racial group always has a prejudice is just as bad as having a prejudice. It functions in the same way. If an individual always has the words “It’s because I’m black, right?” on their lips, then that will fuel the flames of racism. It degrades interracial relations and makes the divine more obvious and more difficult to overcome. The same could be said of the female who is always assuming that she is suffering from an injustice as a result of her gender.
I recognize that when people say this sort of thing, they are not trying to fuel the flames of racism. They are trying to combat it. They are angry at the real injustice that is in the world. But misdirected anger will only lead to more anger and more racism. It will only make people combative and defensive toward other ethnic groups. It makes minute differences (pigmentation and descent) seem insurmountable. Of course, while some people may be well-meaning, others may be race-baiting. They may be actively trying to start an argument about race, seeking out injustices just so they can lash out about them. While one can be more sympathetic with the former, both of these behaviors are inadvisable. We should strive against them with the same vigilance that we strive against prejudice.
Be Balanced – recognize that black lives matter without supporting the Black Lives Matter group/movement
Perhaps one of the most obvious examples of racial injustice is when the life of an individual is taken as a result of a prejudice. This is another reason that it is so important for people to recognize their own prejudices. If you are in a position of authority, if you carry a weapon, if you have the power of life and death, then you need to be assured that you are not acting rashly out of prejudice. If we are going to be true egalitarians, then we need to recognize that black lives matter, and that sometimes, there really are injustices as a result of prejudice. However, there does need to be a balance. While there are injustices, there are also times wherein people will cry foul when there was no injustice.
There is perhaps no better of an example of this than the radical movement/group known as Black Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter is known for race-baiting, for making hasty assumptions, for presupposing that everything that occurs is related to race. They are perhaps one of the greatest propagators of the racist agenda in the United States. This is underlined by the violent riots that occur throughout the country, in cities such as Chicago and Detroit. Police cars are flipped over, the law is disrespected, violence ensues and people cannot feel safe in their communities as a result of the riots of Black Lives Matter. If they were truly motivated by the doctrine that we are all created equal, then they would exercise the right to a peaceful protest, consider the issues rationally, and examine the evidence. If you are committed to improving racial relations, then you should oppose Black Lives Matter while remaining immovably committed to the proposition that black lives matter.
Have Respect For Police Officers
There certainly have been tragic cases in which police officers acted out of their own personal prejudice, gunning down an innocent individual. But that should not be taken as an indictment against the police force. Just as one individual of a particular ethnic group does not stand as the corporate head of that ethnic group, mistaken police officers do not stand as the corporate head for all police officers. In fact, it is that very mentality to which we should be objecting. We do not want people to have a prejudice against everybody who is from the Middle East just because there are a few terrorists. We do not want people to have a prejudice against all black people just because there are a few bad people. We do not want people to have prejudice against Christians just because there are a few hypocrites. There are bad people in every category. There are prejudiced police officers. For somebody to disrespect the police force because there are a few prejudiced police officers is very much akin to disrespecting an ethnic group because there are some bad ones.
It is important to ensure that people have respect for the police force. Communities need to respect law enforcement. This was emphasized even by Hillary Clinton in the first presidential debate of 2016. Law enforcement is a necessary function of society. We should not legitimatize the mentality that it is okay to flip off a cop. We cannot have mentors telling young people that it is okay to disrespect the police. This movement and mentality could cause a racial divide that cannot be overcome for generations. People will find themselves in jail sitting beside older men who thought it was cool to disrespect the police. The only difference is that disrespecting the police has become legitimatized by a social movement that is inflaming hatred and racism.
How You Might Be Fueling The Flames of Racism
I recognize that a lot of people who engage in this sort of behavior are not necessarily bad people. They mean well. They are frustrated with social injustice and race-based violence. But sometimes when we do not know the solution to a difficult problem, people are inclined to accept any solution, because they think that any action is better than inaction. But getting together and stewing in anger, starting riots, making assumptions, does not help any cause. Of course, even if you do not do those things, you could still have a prejudice that will inflame racist tendencies. Examine yourself and your motivations. Examine how you behave. Be honest with yourself. If you have a prejudice then you should admit it to yourself so that you may overcome it and recognize when you have those sinful inclinations.