During his “I Have A Dream” speech of 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
King’s aspirational words have been misappropriated by many people (often white Christians) who have erroneously claimed that he advocated for a “colorblind” society. King did not want color distinctions to be ignored, but he wanted racial disparities to be confronted. King’s goal was racial equity, not racial ignorance.
That said, there are three things that make Colorblind Christianity untenable:
1. Colorblind Christianity is neither biblical nor Christian.
Colorblind Christianity is based largely on a faulty interpretation and application of two Bible passages- Galatians 3:28 and 1 Samuel 16:7.
Paul did say, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ.” However, Paul did not mean that our union in Christ destroys ethnic, social, and gender distinctions. He simply meant that such distinctions do not determine who’s in and who’s out of the Body of Christ.
God did tell Samuel, “People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” However, that did not change the fact that God was intentional in making David a Jewish male with a particular set of cultural distinctions. The principle is simply that, while people tend to be superficial in their evaluation of others, God examines the inner qualities of a person.
The writers of both the Old and New Testaments were intentional about distinguishing people groups. This was done to highlight the rich diversity within humanity.
We find this in the Table of Nations, in Genesis 10, and on the Day of Pentecost, in Acts 2. Even in heaven, there will be ethnic diversity. Revelation 7:9a says, “After this I looked, and there was a vast multitude from every nation, tribe, people, and language, which no one could number, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” But, colorblind Christianity whitewashes ethnic diversity and minimizes God’s creative genius.
2. Colorblind Christianity is rooted in white supremacy and white fragility.
America has always been a racialized society where there is a racial hierarchy, with white people at the top and Black people at the bottom.
In her book, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America, Anthea Butler said, “A call for colorblindness seems peculiar in a nation wherein race has been the most critical and the most powerful issue in effecting political change.” Butler also said, “When some evangelicals say they don’t see color, they mean it. They see whiteness- no color but the dominant one.” The problem with the colorblind fallacy is that white has always been the default color. Whiteness is seen as the ideal to which every person of color should aspire.
While it is true that race is a social construction, it is also true that race is the most salient determinant of social power. Colorblindness is both naive and dismissive of this reality. James Baldwin said, “Being White means never having to think about it.” White Christians have the privilege of not having to give any serious consideration to the issue of race. Colorblindness enables them to avoid any uncomfortable discussions in this regard. However, Christians of color (especially Black ones) are forced to deal with the harsh realities of racism and white supremacy every day.
When White Christians say to me, “I don’t see color,” I believe they really mean, “I’m not willing to see you fully and consider your unique lived experiences.”
Truett Seminary faculty member, Malcolm Foley, has powerfully stated, “If you are blind to my Blackness, you are blind to me.” We must never be blind to one another’s experiences and struggles. On the contrary, we must be empathetic and sensitive to one another. Philippians 2:3-4 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
3. Colorblind Christianity focuses on individual behavior while ignoring institutional racism.
Christians who propagate the myth of colorblindness often assert, “Racism is not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem.” On the surface, this assertion may seem plausible to some. However, the complex and comprehensive nature of racism requires a nuanced perspective that goes beyond trite phrases and churchy clichés.
To be clear, racism is a sin that is rooted in the belief that those with lighter skin are superior to and should dominate those with darker skin. To trivialize this fact is to bury one’s head in the sand.
Further, sin is any disruption of God’s created order in the world. Therefore, racism is not merely a matter of personal sin, but also a matter of systemic sin that harms both individuals and groups.
Racism, in all of its forms, must be actively opposed by God’s people. Proverbs 31:9 says, “Defend the cause of the oppressed.” Colorblind Christianity is not concerned about the racial oppression woven into law enforcement, criminal justice, education, and real estate. At best, it’s only concerned with the actions of individual police officers, judges, teachers, and realtors, and thus, misses the big picture.
However well-intentioned colorblind Christians might be, their view is dishonoring to the Imago Dei (“Image of God”) stamped on all humans.
God is not colorblind! He created us all as equals, and He has blessed each of us with distinct ethnicities. Our distinct ethnicities should be celebrated, not tolerated.
By Joel A. Bowman, Sr.