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“He’s black, but…”

Those three words always mark the beginning of a bigoted statement. They get thrown around in ivory towers of suburbia where the skin is just as ivory and the ebony is rarely seen and never within earshot. I know because I was raised in such an ivory tower.

I wasn’t rich, but I never went hungry; my parents were divorced, but I saw my dad more than half the time. Still, our little tiny school of lower-middle class students was devoid of dark skin tones. All except for one. He was black, but he lived in the suburbs.

Elementary Ignorance
I knew some kids who called themselves neo-nazis and I’d enthusiastically criticize the backwards swastikas they’d carve into picnic tables and school desks. In a brutal display of irony, one of them wore an Allen Iverson jersey. I asked him about it once, and those evil words I knew too well began, “He’s black, but he knows how to play ball!” Luke 23:34 came to mind: he knows not what he does, I told myself. Ignorance was the cause I thought; these kids hate black people because they’re just too stupid to know any better. “I’ll never be like them,” I thought. While I was raised in the ivory tower, I’d never look down upon those below.

When I was in middle school, I laid eyes upon a girl like I’d not seen before. Her skin and hair were dark and not like mine; would she be mine? I asked her and she agreed. We went to the movies and kissed under the monkey bars and it was fantastic. She was black but what would my family? I was too much of a coward to embrace the inevitable discomfort of introducing her to them. So we broke up. She was black but she slipped through my fingers.

Later on, that same coward who wouldn’t take a stand for his black girlfriend started playing in a punk band. Succumbing to the ignorance, when talking to a skinhead, I led him to believe that I too was a bigot. I didn’t mean it, but I couldn’t take it back. Who was this coward who compromised his beliefs in racial equality out of convenience? Would I too begin to start statements with, “He’s black but…?”

A Savior
I don’t know the answer to that because the trajectory I was on was interrupted. The Savior got ahold of me. He wasn’t from the ivory tower. He was born in a manger and raised in a village called Nazareth (John 1:46). He was from Nazareth but he’d be my savior. My not-white, not middle-class savior.

I learned new vocabulary. I learned it wasn’t ignorance or lack of education that caused racism. It was sin. Black or white, red or brown, we have a real enemy and it does not discriminate based on skin color. Sin stems from within and is bent on distorting reality and making us overlook our own shortcomings in order to find a scapegoat, sometimes even an entire race of people. We aren’t color blind, but we are blind. Blind to our own sin that causes us to say things like, “He’s black but…” The truth that we need a savior.

Jesus Christ descended from heaven. That not-white savior who rescued me came not to topple and destroy, but to seek and to save. After living amongst a sinful humanity and never giving in to sin himself, he ascended back to heaven and sent a helper to indwell his followers.

Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection displayed that he could unite people and transcend the artificial barriers of color, class, and culture. He was from Nazareth but he could unite fallen humanity for his namesake and claim them as his own.

That was just a glimpse of what a new earth and a new humanity would look like. Now the Church has been tasked with carrying forth that message of good news that Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Even racist sinners.

From God’s vantage point, there is a range of colors in a to-be-redeemed humanity. And they are beautiful. From my vantage point, I see your color and your culture and it is not like mine. But I don’t care. I want to know and understand. I want my tables turned to know what it’s like to be the only white guy in a black crowd. I want to wear the shoes of the one black kid in my all-white school. How could I even know what that was like? Truth is I don’t.

He was black but…but nothing. He is black, he is my brother. Period.

Will he forgive me of my buts?

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