At the time of writing this, it has been three weeks since George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, was killed in Minneapolis by a cop. The aftermath—and the Black Lives Matter movement—has been quite something, rocking a world already struggling with the Covid-19 pandemic. So much has been said and written about the matter, and everything written seems to irritate someone or other. And yet, much of what is written describes some aspect of this multifaceted problem, not unlike how the men describe the elephant in the ancient Indian parable of the ‘Blind Men and an Elephant.’
So what can be wrong, if I, yet another blind man, add in my two pennies worth.
I have never ever heard anyone actually say this, but I feel that a fair-skinned person has an inherent advantage over a dark-skinned person, all other conditions being the same. To add credence to my claim to objectivity, may be I should describe my own skin colour. The brown of my skin is almost at the centre of the skin-colour spectrum. In India, especially in the south, I was considered to be on the fairer side. But if we look at the entire human race, I am a comfortable middle shade.
I was saying that a fair-skinned person has an inherent advantage over a dark-skinned person, all other conditions being the same. I feel that human beings were not created to be that way, but the Fall brought in what the Bible calls sin—a certain awful toxicity—not just in this matter of bias based on skin colour, but in just about everything that is a part of our lives. This poison called sin has pervaded our whole nature, and in this sinful condition, the Bible says, we are abhorrent to a holy God.
I mentioned that sin has pervaded every aspect of our lives. Take the institution of marriage, for instance. The Bible actually spells out the dilemma. The woman wants to control her man and change him, on the one hand, while on the other, the man ‘rules over’ his woman. We have thousands of years of recorded history to affirm that men and women swing between being a society of wimpy men and dominant women on the one extreme or one of dominant men and suppressed women on the other, rarely if ever striking at the right balance.
So it seems to be in this matter of skin colour too, sin has wreaked havoc. About this, the Bible does not say much explicitly, but I say this from experience. I was raised in a land that often glorifies lighter skin and shows open disdain for darker skin. The caste system, which, kid you not, simmers just below the surface, exemplifies this. Higher your caste, generally fairer your skin. The full horror of the repercussions of such a system can be seen when you study the predicament of the communities in the lowest rung of this horrific system. These people were regarded as untouchable, and it was their set occupation to scoop up and remove the excrement of the rest of the population by night from the toilets via a back-street system.
For centuries this evil system continued. Mercifully today, thanks to various providential interventions, this is no longer seen in this form in urban areas. But the malaise is only skin deep, forgive the pun.
Being of Indian descent, I pulled out this ugly example from my culture. You may be able to think of examples from other cultures. We know that intellectual prowess, business acumen and so on are not given to us based on skin colour. Individuals from varied people groups and ethnicities perform well under certain conditions. Why then are African countries poor in spite of all their rich resources and diamond mines? Why was it possible for physically-strong black people to be subdued into slavery time and time again.
Experiments carried out with children, show us that even very young children, who have not had the opportunity to learn biases and stereotypes seem to connect dark skin with bad and ugly and fair skin with good and beautiful. This is well documented. Of course with wholesome guidance, children become sophisticated and informed in their understanding. The idea that being dark skinned is somehow inferior is thereafter seen for what it is—childish and obviously stupid.
We humans are beset with this sinful condition, most foul and foolish. The pathalogical symptom in our scope is the inexplicable optical illusion that emboldens us to grade the worth of human beings—Almighty God’s image bearers—based on the shade of skin colour. We can only fight off this wretched malady with clean hearts and clear reason.
When things are quiet, for you and me in the west, we are hardly aware of this deep-seated pox that can cause us to break out with a rash of racist words and actions, when triggered. Civilised society does not wear its heart on its sleeve, and so we do not perceive this dormant sickness on normal days, which lulls us into dangerous complacency.
I have been outside India for too short a time to offer advice. But to Indians reading this, I could suggest that we must begin making changes in our homes—being careful to speak respectfully of and to our servants, maalis, kabadiwalas and cleaners, etc. Let their unwritten job descriptions not include anything that reeks of servitude such as not being allowed to sit on your sofa or at table with you. Demand that children address them as they would any other acquaintance of the family—as ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty.’ Oh, we have so much to work on!
As a Christian, I understand from the Bible that as much as we need to work on our actions, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. God promises to change our heart if we will come to the cross and plead His grace. Ultimately that is where we can find lasting solutions.
Ezekiel 36:26 “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”
Finally, let me leave you with some of Charles Wesley’s lines that describe what it is like when hearts have been washed.
Sweetly may we all agree,
touched with softest sympathy;
there is neither bond or free,
great nor servile, Lord, in Thee:
Love, like death, hath all destroyed,
rendered all distinctions void:
names, and sects, and parties fall,
Thou, O Christ, art All in all.