We learn to be racist

Just who was Jesus? It’s a question that commands a lot of attention, and engenders a heated debate.

Just who was Jesus?  It’s a question that commands a lot of attention, and engenders a heated debate.  While I have read scholarly books on the question, I rather like a comedic set of arguments that attempts to define Jesus in terms of racial stereotypes.  Whether you believe in Jesus or not, these arguments challenge us to see an image of divinity in all people, and to acknowledge, respect and cherish the innate dignity of others.

Quoting from these anonymous arguments, Jesus was black because he called everyone brother; he liked Gospel; and, he couldn’t get a fair trial. But, there are three equally good arguments that he was aboriginal: he was at peace with nature; he ate a lot fish; and, he talked about the Great Spirit. Then again, there are three equally good arguments that he was Italian: he talked with his hands; he had wine with his meals; and, he used olive oil.

Two recent incidents of racism in sport  – the offensive comments of Los Angeles Clippers’ owner, Donald Sterling, and an alarming number of racist tweets against PK Sabban of the Montreal Canadiens – provide striking examples of the inability of some people to accept others who differ from themselves. While these incidents have sparked discussion about racism in pro-sports, racism is definitely not limited to the sporting arena.

Consider the legacy of Indian residential schools in Canada. The very creation of the residential school system was an expression of the concept ‘the white man’s burden’, which held that the white man was a superior being responsible for the management of non-whites. All too frequently, this attitude of racial superiority resulted in terrible abuses.

We are not born racist. We learn to be racist.

Growing up in the late 1960’s, I had an early lesson in the perpetuation of racism. My older sisters were members of “Up with People”, a movement that promoted racial equality through music.  When a visiting choir from the States came to perform, some people were reluctant to billet black teens, which was strangely ironic. My mother was indignant that race was an issue in placing these kids, and volunteered to take two black billets.

That night at the supper table, we talked about prejudice, including prejudice against Italians, and the derogatory term “wop” that angered my Italian father and grandfather. We did not talk about the prejudice against aboriginal people; while Canadians watched the civil rights movement unfold to the south, the majority of us were oblivious to the systemic racism in our own country.

That conversation left an indelible impression on my developing sense of morality. The message was clear. People are people; we are sisters and brothers of one human family.

While my parents used the moment of welcoming two billets into our home to instill respect for the “other” in their daughters, I could have learned a very different lesson had I been sitting somewhere else, like in a hockey arena, listening to adults around me jeer at a skilled NHL player for being black.

So, just who was Jesus?  He is any person who is marginalized, ridiculed or abused.

Trail, BC resident Louise McEwan is a freelance religion writer with degrees in English and Theology. She has a background in education and faith formation. Her blog is www.faithcolouredglasses.blogspot.com. Contact her at mcewan.lou@gmail.com.