With one observation, anthropologist Charles Gailey changed my worldview:
“There is only one race, the human race.”
His “we’re all in this together” claim took a wrecking ball to the way I had previously seen people. Until then – why, I cannot say- I had always begun not by seeing what makes us all alike but by identifying what makes us all different:
He is tall, I am quite short;
She is athletic, I am not;
I am musical, he can’t carry a tune;
She is Roman Catholic, I am Nazarene;
He is black, I am white.
The 1970s Joe Raposo Sesame Street jingle only reinforced the point:
One of these things is not like the other,
One of these things just doesn’t belong.
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
Before the time I finish my song?
And so at grade school I dutifully focused on what was “not like the other,” the dark skin of Bruce and Julie, the only African-Americans in my primary school. Or Tony, the Italian heritage first grader with the big nose and Coke bottle glasses who from first grade on was the outcast. Then there was awkward Patrick, one of the few worse at sports than I was, always chosen last when we picked teams in gym class. As long as I could find among my classmates a “them” who was different and so “didn’t belong,” my fragile ten-year- old self could be sure of my position among the “us” who were alike.
The “us and them” narrative continues in 2014 America, subtly woven into the very words we use to talk about how we relate to each other. Do we not realize that sometimes the words themselves are a part of the problem? Some who rightfully protest inconsistent standards in policing based on skin color speak of “racism,” thereby unwittingly conceding that what differentiates us is more important than what unites us, in this case whether our skin is black or white. If Gailey is right – that there is only one race, the human race – then the word “racism” misses the mark.
How can it in the final analysis be about “race” if we’re all part of the same one?
The problem lies elsewhere. The problem lies with mistakenly focusing on the adjective, not the noun:
Rich man, poor man
Christian boy, Muslim boy
Down’s Syndrome baby, healthy baby
Black girl, white girl
No matter our group of origin, we have all swallowed the same Kool Aid. We have all been socialized to think that what makes us different from each other trumps what makes us the same, and so we immediately underscore the adjective and ignore the noun.
We forget that what our Creator sees is not..
a man with money and a man with little
a boy who worships Jesus or a boy who worships Allah
a baby with a birth defect and a baby who appears flawless
a girl with dark skin and a girl with light skin
In each case, what God sees is only…
…each one fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s own image, who together make up not many so-called races but a single race, the human race. Look around you – we’re all running the same race, the human race. Are we going to trip each other up or help each other cross the finish line?
Whether it’s Ferguson, Missouri, Staten Island, New York, or Tehran, Iran, when we’re ready…
– to no longer start the conversation with our differences and so engender fear of the other
– to begin the conversation with what makes us alike and so create unity based on our similarities
…then maybe during this season of hope we can genuinely wish for peace on earth, good will toward all human beings. For truth be known, upon every precious one of us, God’s indiscriminate favor rests.
Image credit: The Now Newspaper
8 thoughts on “There’s only one race”
You’re welcome, Marquita. Thanks for reading TIO.
Two very helpful chapters from Robert J. Priest and Alvaro L. Nieves, eds. This Side of Heaven: Race, Ethnicity, and Christian Faith. Chapter 1 by Jenell Williams Paris, Race: Critical Thinking and Transformative Possibilities, and Chapter 2 by Eloise Hiebert Meneses, Science and the Myth of Biological Race.
Excellent! Thanks so much, Dr Selvidge.
Amen! Amen! Remembering God is call us to fight injustice wherever it is.
Absolutely — thanks for reading, Gary.
It was equally an eye opener for me as well to sit under Gailey’s teaching in this area. To this day I largely agree. However, like in most areas of life, it seems to me that the illustrations eventually break down. For example, God’s smile of favor upon Mary’s willingness to be available to give birth to the Messiah stands insharp contrast to king Herod who is described as being eaten of worms due to his self-aggrandizement. Conduct does seem to be a valid measuring tool to make distinctions between people. Willingness to work hard, put in proper balance and not pushed too hard, is deemed desirable; laziness and lack of personal industry not so much. Exvellent post little brother!
Thanks, Dr Crofford – It sounds like you’re willing to discriminate on the basis of conduct, which reveals our character. I can go along with this.