Someone in my family did some research into the ancestry of my nan who died recently, and we discovered something interesting.
I never knew of this until last week, but my great-great grandfather was William Benjamin Millington. He was a Corporal in the British Army but retired before World War I. When the war began he tried to re-enlist but was denied because of his age. Undeterred, he successfully applied again using false credentials and died because of injuries he sustained in action. I feel quite proud really.
But why would someone who served his country and family so sacrificially never be spoken of? In times gone by it was considered a shameful thing to be multiracial in the UK. You see, my great-great grandfather was Indian.
Who would have thought it, that someone with a complexion like mine could have Indian blood, but apparently I do! I suppose it explains my love for curry!
How sad though to think that someone at some point in my family, probably for racist reasons, decided to sweep this part of our heritage under the rug.
One of my biggest fears about returning to the UK from Japan was that my family might encounter racism. By and large they have been okay but there have been some incidents, like when some lads bumped into my wife just before lockdown and shouted out, “She’s Chinese – coronavirus!”, and then ran away.
One lady expressed relief when she met my daughter for the first time, saying, “Oh she looks normal – you can’t tell she’s Japanese!”
I remember at school being called a “frog” because I’m half French – I laughed it off as banter. I know lots of others who encountered far worse, and even physical bullying on the basis of the colour of their skin.
We all to some extent have racial prejudice, at least subconsciously. In numerous studies it has been proven that people from all ethnic backgrounds hold implicit biases. We either see some races as superior or inferior, even though we aren’t usually aware of it.
Like COVID-19, racism must be identified and diagnosed before it can be treated and traced. An unmasking must take place. One of the reasons the Coronavirus has been so deadly is because it can be spread asymptomatically by people who don’t think they have it. Racism is similar in that it’s easy to spot in others and to point the finger, and it’s convenient to diagnose it in unjust systems external to ourselves. But it’s painful and hard to pinpoint racism in our own hearts. We justify and deceive ourselves – not many people will admit to being a racist, but racism will never be rooted out and dealt with on a systemic level until it is first confessed and lamented on a personal level. It has to begin with me and you!
When I was in Japan I was often treated like a celebrity. I could walk into McDonalds and children would wave at me. People would stop me on the street and ask to take a photo together. I was even asked to sign autographs – all because I’m Caucasian. And I played along – it felt nice! But there’s something not right about that.
The SCBC staff and eldership went away on a retreat last autumn, and as we sat down we noticed that everyone one of us is white. That says something about us as a church, doesn’t it?
In times not too long ago racism in Britain was flagrant; many landlords put notices in their windows saying, “No Irish, no blacks, no dogs”. In America and other countries like South Africa blacks were officially treated as second class citizens and were forced to segregate.
Millions upon millions of people have been murdered in genocides, and not just in the Holocaust. People killed purely because of their race. Going back in time the UK was at the heart of the slave trade. Indeed, racism can be found on every page of history – even within our Christian heritage, we think about the crusades, for example. Racism is not located to one people group at one time because it is common to all humanity.
We may not kneel on someone’s neck and casually wait for their life to fade away, but we are all guilty of looking the other way, of being like the other police officers on the scene of George Floyd’s murder – not speaking or standing up against that which is evil. Jesus calls us to be Good Samaritans, but we are oftentimes more like the Priest and the Levite who walked on by. But sin in God’s eyes is not just doing wrong – it’s also not doing right (James 4:17).
So what can we do to combat racism? Is the answer found in attending mass protests during a global pandemic? Is it in violence, revenge attacks, and destroying statues? Does the solution perhaps lie in positive discrimination? – in making sure, for example, that the next member of staff appointed by the church is from an ethnic minority?
All of these approaches are at best superficial – like putting lipstick on a pig – as they are ignorant of the core issue that gives birth to racism.
A greater pandemic far worse than the Coronavirus has, and is plaguing mankind – one in which there is a 100% infection and death rate. There is no herd immunity – just herd chaos.
Since Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, sin has caused us to despise and destroy one another, for it keeps us from worshipping God and lures us instead to serve ourselves at the expense of others. People hate people because people hate God.
Truly, the only hope for the world in combatting the sin of racism is the Gospel, for the Gospel alone brings us all onto a level playing field.
The Bible tell us that everyone, regardless of race, is made in the image of God, giving all human beings intrinsic value and dignity (Genesis 1:27). We all bleed the same red. A DNA test will prove that anyone’s heritage is truly multinational. Indeed we can all be traced back to Adam, meaning biologically we are all family.
And we all fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). It doesn’t matter whether you miss a penalty by hitting the post or hitting the corner flag – neither scores; everyone has sinned against God and is deserving of His holy judgment. In God’s eyes there are no superiors. It is only by His grace that we can know Him and the eternal life that he freely gives.
At the cross of Christ where Jesus died to reconcile us to God He made all those of faith in Him members of His One body – the church – destroying worldly hostilities and barriers, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek – we are all equals (Galatians 3:28).
And every nation on earth will be represented in heaven – all tribes, peoples and languages (Revelation 7:9). There will be great diversity in God’s Kingdom that unites. But we know that the fulfilment of this Kingdom is not for now, but for a future time.
Just as my family tree is multiracial, so was Jesus’. In His ancestry was Rahab the Canaanite prostitute and Ruth the Moabite. God does not judge people on the basis of their ethnicity, but on the basis of faith.
1 Samuel 16:7
For the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart
We should not be utopian and naïve about the limited possibilities of justice in this fallen world, but neither should we be paralyzed or daunted by those limits. Instead of blaming others, may we look first and foremost to the racial prejudice in our own hearts. We cannot create the Kingdom of God on earth, but we can seek to live out our faith in striving to treat people as we would like to be treated, and in magnifying the all-satisfying greatness of Christ, for in so doing we point people to the only hope and promise our racist world has of ever truly being One.