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Home � On Black History Month - The Matter of Race

On Black History Month - The Matter of Race

February 7, 2011

Washington (BWA)--"Marcus Garvey is, without doubt," American integrationist W. E. Du Bois once asserted, "the most dangerous enemy of the Negro race in America and the world."  

Whatever interpretation one makes of his life and work, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, that great Jamaican national hero and architect of the Back to Africa movement, spoke and wrote credibly on the issue of race and much of what he had to say is well worth remembering.

According to Garvey, "God and nature first made us what we are, and then out of our own created genius we make ourselves what we want to be. Follow always that great law. Let the sky and God be our limit and eternity our measurement."

Not one to accept that any race should live in subjection to another, Garvey declared that "white men should be white, yellow men should be yellow, and black men should be black in the great panorama of races." This, he argued, is the only way that human beings will "compel the respect and appreciation of all, and so make it possible for each one to stretch out the hand of welcome without being able to be prejudiced against."

Christians affirm God as the creator of the universe. The species called homo sapiens is the work of God's hands. Human beings have developed social constructs that have been used to classify these humans and one of these constructs is race. It is important to note, however, that perceptions of human beings in racial terms are extremely susceptible to prejudice. Not surprisingly, in 1998, the Executive Board of the American Anthropological Association adopted a Statement on Race in which they affirmed: "With the vast expansion of scientific knowledge in this century ... it has become clear that human populations are not unambiguous, clearly demarcated, biologically distinct groups... Given what we know about the capacity of normal humans to achieve and function within any culture, we conclude that present-day inequalities between so-called 'racial' groups are not consequences of their biological inheritance but products of historical and contemporary social, economic, educational, and political circumstances...  Historical research has shown that the idea of 'race' has always carried more meanings than mere physical differences; indeed, physical variations in the human species have no meaning except the social ones that humans put on them."

Over the years, the Baptist World Alliance has had much more to say about racism than about the idea of race itself. Are we able to agree with the oft-repeated claim that was affirmed, for example, at the Baptist World Congress in Los Angeles, California, USA, in 1985? The BWA explained that "racism and the Christian Gospel are incompatible. We ground this conviction biblically in the doctrine of creation whereby every human person is given dignity as made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and in the doctrine of redemption whereby we proclaim salvation in Christ, crucified and risen, for people of all races and colors (Colossians 3:11), and the ... purpose of God to unite all creation in him (Ephesians 1 and 2)."

People of any and every race do well not to forget Marcus Garvey's dictum made in the context of an awareness of multiple racial classifications among humankind: "If you have no confidence in self, you are twice defeated in the race of life."

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