By Rev Devon Dick
Recently, Neville Callam, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, in giving the 2nd Sam Sharpe Lecture, spoke on 'Deconstructing the Notion of Race'. This timely presentation could be helpful in the fight against racism.
Racism has been defined as beliefs and actions which claim that one race is inherently superior to another race. Racism is worse when it is buttressed by law, as was done in Apartheid South Africa, France and Britain.
Racial profiling is as old as democracy, as is evidenced in Callam quoting Aristotle, Greek philosopher, who said 'some men are marked out for subjection, others for rule ... . It is clear that just as some are by nature free, so others are by nature slaves'. There were, therefore, those who felt enslavement in the Caribbean was better than freedom in Africa because the condition of slavery was considered both beneficial and just.
Callam convincingly outlined how much of the wealth of both Liverpool and Manchester, especially during the 18th century, was related to the detestable Atlantic trade in enslaved human beings. He, therefore, called upon churches in countries whose history is marked by the practice of systematically oppressing others through slavery to ensure that their acknowledgement of the economic benefits they and their communities have reaped from slavery is accompanied by determined efforts to eradicate racism from within their ranks. He also believes that there needs to be 'a determined effort to deconstruct the notion of race'.
Callam argued that the Rt Excellent Sam Sharpe, National Hero, understood that considerations of ethnicity were fundamental to the operation of the plantation economy in which black people were forced to serve the interests of white people. There is no avoiding the question of ethnicity and 'race' when we are reflecting on the legacy of Sharpe.
It is a sin to claim that race was a biological reality. Race is really a socially constructed identity. Callam discussed the emergence of the myth of race as a scientific reality and exposed the myth informing the ideology of race and then proposed certain priority steps that need to be taken in the deconstruction of the idea of race.
In 1967, The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) issued its understanding of race in a Statement on Race and Racial Prejudice. A UNESCO committee of experts from 17 countries declared:
All men (sic) living today belong to the same species and descend from the same stock.
Current biological knowledge does not permit us to impute cultural achievements to differences in genetic potential.
In 2011, the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences issued a similar Statement on Race and Racism. Nevertheless, racism which is based on biological myth still flourishes. Therefore, Callam concluded his lecture with four suggestions to fight racism within and without the Church.
Callam called for human freedom to be grounded in divine freedom. The Church needs to rediscover and acknowledge the link between divine freedom and human freedom. God who is free made us in his image to be free. In addition, when this God-given freedom is distorted by sin then we can get victory in the forgiveness of sin though Jesus the Christ. Furthermore, we need the cleansing power of the Holy Spirit to help us discern ways in which we are beneficiaries of institutional racism
Finally, Christians need to read the Bible with eyes wide open so as to be able to discern correct teachings on race based on the creation of humankind in the image of God. It is high time we deconstruct the notion of race and join the fight against racism.
Rev Devon Dick is pastor of the Boulevard Baptist Church in St Andrew. He is author of 'The Cross and the Machete', and 'Rebellion to Riot'. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.