Imagine Undoing Racism

I was in law school in the early 1990s at the time when one of Australia’s most landmark court cases was decided. Taking its name from the already deceased Indigenous plaintiff who was seeking recognition of his pre-existing native title over the traditional lands of his people, the Mabo case saw most of the judges of the High Court of Australia reject the long-held doctrine of terra nullius—the assumption that the land now known as Australia had belonged to no one before European colonization. A legal fiction more than 200 years old had finally been undone.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Thanks, Nathan Brown.

This is a thoughtful and well-written essay. I particularly think your admission of culpability for your wrongly thought-out legal opinion reveals the growth from which you’ve benefited.

I also agree with the sentiment of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ point, as expressed here. More precisely, I would say race and racism are synonyms, much as I also say race, racism, and white supremacy are synonyms.

I wonder, however, what you mean when you say "racism is primarily a theological issue."

Said another way, in your outline, you make it clear, in some part, it was a theological issue, or, I would say, a religious issue; perhaps we mean the same thing, perhaps not.

But, much the way the eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden was a religious issue, it was also culinary, even if its primary legacy is not.

In other words, are you saying racism began due to religious concerns? Are you saying human beings have, as a result of racism, primarily suffered religious deformation? Are you saying this spiritual corrosion is what gave root to racism, enabled it to grow and develop, and what propagates it today?

Or, are you saying the concerns and content of the earliest racist acts — ones which even preceded the Papal Bull; e.g., “scientific” meditations on the essences of non-white people — were religious?


My understanding of “racism” is - bahviour based on the race of the person (group) your dealing with. It comes in several forms - person to person setting, which is based on personal history; legal venues, based on established laws; and, in social settings within group dynamics - with much overlap.

Religion is packed full of racism that started way before Christianity showed up. For our purposes, we only need to go back to the colonial expansion of European Christianity, intermingled with economic changes. Mankind has a dark side as we know from Genesis; so, it’s no surprise that the Christian expansion into the "dark"corners of the globe is going to produce bad outcomes.

Fast forward to our present situation, where “racism” has been used as a political bludgeoning tool with great affect. If we’re really intent on fixing this blight on society we would use a more nuanced, and perhaps, effective process.

The way we treat others, without discrimination, comes from who we have become in our paths through life. Whatever the history, the way to equalize society is, TO EQUALIZE SOCIETY. Incessant discussions and accusations can’t fix the problem. We are what we focus on stands in my mind as something I have learned. Currently, we seem to think the way to solve racial discrimination is to simply talk a lot about it. This only divides and keeps the division in our minds and lives going forward.
No, I’m not advocating hiding the problem as we have done in times past, but talk has to be replaced by actually doing something about it.

On the personal level we have to deal with the issue personally, and get rid of whatever hang-ups we still have. On the legal level we need to maintain, “all men are created equal” ; and in our social environment we quit stirring the pot. None of this is going to happen, of course. There is too much to gain politically as well as financially to keep the divisions going. So, no, I can’t imagine undoing racism this side of the apocalypse.


“Imagine undoing racism.”

Sirje: “No.”

Spectrum articles that focus on improving our world or the way we treat one another always generate responses like this. I’ve said it many times before, but the cause is clearly apocalyptic beliefs. Those who believe the world will soon end and that humans can have no lasting or meaningful impact on improving it until then will… you know… not be very motivated to collaborate with others to improve the world we share. This is blindingly obvious when I look at Seventh-day Adventists.

I honestly don’t see a solution within an SDA theological framework. To those in my generation who care about our society and world, this is perhaps the most revolting feature of the church right now, and it’s a crowded field. At the absolute least, one might think the church would consider how these apocalyptic middle fingers to the rest of the world would affect evangelism.


I’m not speaking for any church, or its theology. If you see hope in undoing racism, you’re from another planet. If you have a template for eradicating racism (other than talking endlessly about it) let’s see it.

I can only imagine the relief Australians must feel knowing that if China invades and conquers them, they can retrieve their land through the court system.

I wonder if the racism subject was not spoken of so often, would the behavior improve?
I wonder if speaking often about the racism, bringing it up in written articles, news on TV or radio, etc. just stirs it up like digging up a grave?
I suppose much of racism is really just bias or prejudice and the term racism is more of a “hammer” term to make noise.
In any case, it would be nice if all humans just treated each other with respect. I have seen in many news items where same races treat each other with disrespect. In Chicago, blacks kill blacks, for example. Imagine undoing all of that.

We thought we had made some major gains in equality up until about 6 years ago and we then saw that a superficial level of tolerance and acceptance was only masking the hatred and bigotry that was still inside of much of our society. It was political as well as moral in nature, but it brought back to the surface the deep seated sickness of our society. So, I agree that it will not be put to an end until the second coming. It won’t be taken to heaven, and those who are infected with this vial sickness won’t be taken their either.


Not likely that this head-in-the-sand approach is going to work. After all racism has flourished during times where it was an accepted and acceptable reality, where few if any cared, where earthly powers of state and religion promoted it, thrived on it, enriched themselves through it.

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What would you do to change someone else’s heart? I understand that having people who are racist spending time with those they see as beneath them, can sometimes, cause a change of heart. But we have tried integration in various forms without much success. Bigots rarely change. They are kind of like leopards who are forever stuck with their spots.

Your later post pretty much says that it isn’t going to happen, and I, unfortunately, must agree.

I’m convinced the best way to restore the Garden of Eden here on earth, or anywhere else for that matter, is for people who doubt that people can learn to coexist in the here and now to be removed from the scene.

Whether this happens through changing hearts, recalibrated thinking, relinquishing our beliefs in holy books that perpetuate this fallacy, natural attrition, or by Jesus returning to take people who think like this “off planet” with him, really doesn’t matter.

History has shown that waiting for someone smarter than us to tell us what do, or expecting a superhero who can magically save us from ourselves, ultimately means we are stuck in the insanity of our forefathers for any foreseeable future; that is, doing what they’ve always done (or should I say, didn’t do) and expecting different results necessarily condemns us to their levels of crazy.

And okay, maybe it’s an impossible, pie in the sky pipe dream to think that we can be better without divine intervention.

But certainly to be convinced that it can’t happen renders it effectively so.

That said, it seems unlikely that we will ever eradicate racism but only because race is not a real thing. In this sense to fight racism is to battle a fire breathing dragon that exists only in the people’s head…

Yes. People are different and even identical twins are not exactly alike. And studies have shown that babies are naturally attracted to people with skin of the same color as theirs.

But those are babies and they’re too young to realize that our differences are precisely what makes all of us all the same. As we grow older we can become truly accepting of the fact that the variations between people are essentially superficial, and see that the “reality” of race is an illusory construct of immature human minds. In this way we’re are taking a steps toward reveling in our differences and realizing the potential of seeing everyone as an integral part of the human family.

(After that, maybe we could work on seeing that everything in the cosmos is a part of ourselves, but I’d suggest taking one step at a time!)

Their is a lot to unpack from your statements but I will try:

a) [quote=“Alisa1, post:7, topic:23151”]
just stirs it up like digging up a grave?
This betrays the level of thinking that racism is dead and a thing of the past. I am baffled as to how anyone could be so sheltered or ignorant to think our society with its deep seated history of racism with acts happening today by both individuals and on a societal level can think it has been eliminated. The bell of racism rang loudly in North America for hundreds of years with generation after generation impacted by its deadly effects. The whole reason laws were past in the 60’s was to raise awareness and make determined efforts (with penalties as appropriate) to stamp it out. What you are suggesting is essentially all of the generations both alive at the time when and since these laws were past have reformed themselves and expunged racism and thus should not be discussed. Saying we shouldn’t speak about it is both a ridiculous and dangerous level of thinking and is one of the primary reasons why racism still flourishes today.

b) [quote=“Alisa1, post:7, topic:23151”]
I suppose much of racism is really just bias or prejudice
Do you really not know the meaning of the term “racism” and why it is used as a means to call out its specific heinous nature? While true one can cry wolf it should never be assumed that is always the case. Each situation must be evaluated on its own merits to discern the truth of the matter at hand. It goes without saying that cases of racism should be used to raise awareness so the society at large can take steps to change.

c) [quote=“Alisa1, post:7, topic:23151”]
In Chicago, blacks kill blacks, for example.
You started out this paragraph well and then immediately descended into a racist trope. Blacks killing blacks has nothing to do with racism and is a trope often used by those either with ignorant of their latent racist tendencies or, how to put this delicately, a racist. It is just a thinly veiled way of saying that until the stop killing each other we don’t care. I am confident that you do not apply this level of thinking to anything else in life and in all humility you must reflect on this.


Hey Harry,

Thanks for your comments and for your question.

In its simplest—perhaps simplistic—form, I suggest that racism is a failure of or substitution for the belief that all people are created in the image of God, loved by God and offered redemption by God. So whether it is failure or substitution, it is bad theology in place of good theology. Whatever we might say, our actions, our systems and our aspirations show what we truly believe.

As Abraham Joshua Heschel put it, prejudice is atheism, “a treacherous denial of the existence of God.” In other words, prejudice negates any pretence of trying to believe in a God who claims to have made all people in His image. Heschel continues, “Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol. Faith in God is not simply an after-life insurance policy. Racial or religious bigotry must be recognised for what it is: Satanism, blasphemy. . . . Prayer and prejudice cannot dwell in the same heart. Worship without compassion is worse that self-deception; it is an abomination” (The Insecurity of Freedom: Essays on Human Existence, pages 86–7).

However—as I suggest in the article—racism in the modern world, of which we see the legacies today, is rooted historically in particular religious formulations over the past five or six centuries that have justified and supported the colonisation and slavery in ways that we not part of the world before that time. The Christian Imagination by Willie James Jennings is perhaps the most formative book I have read that makes this case. He sketches this impact over the intervening centuries and how embedded it is in many formulations of Christian theology today.

If you’re interested in a more American-focused treatment of this question, I recommended Jemar Tisby’s The Color of Compromise.

Hope this is helpful,


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By tacitly acknowledging that racism will be undone on the other side of the apocalypse, your last comment is what give me hope. If we believe that racism will not be part of the re-created world, we know that racism is not inevitable, it can and will be undone. So we work today in the light of that hope, knowing—in that much overused and misapplied phrase—that we truly are on the right side of history and that racism—as profound, horrific and evil as it might be—is only ever temporary,

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That statement wasn’t actually meant to refer to “no racism in heaven”, which, obviously, should not need to be said; but, as “there are no atheists in fox holes”, so we can expect all the pettiness of our social constructs to be laid aside when the rockets begin to fly.

The racist label has been so over-used, it has become useless. We can never motivate a change of heart by pointing out bad behavior.

Thanks, @Nathan, and thanks for this elaboration and clarification.

It seems to me you are not saying that racism is more a religious issue than it is an economic issue, a sexual issue, a political issue, a war issue, etc. (Indeed, you may believe this, or may even be saying it, but it is not your core point or emphasis, I feel. [Further, racism may be these things, especially if one believes sin is primarily religious, or theological.])

It seems you are saying that racism is robustly spiritual (or religious) and that it has gargantuan spiritual (or theological, or religious) implications; e.g.:

These statements put racism in, what I must admit is, a far weightier frame than is commonly, popularly discussed, especially in its connection to religion, especially by white people.

I made an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show in the late '90s, on an episode that, unfortunately, Harpo never aired.

During the taping, I made the comment, “Racism is Satanic.” There was a soft, audible gasp in the room, in response.

Heschel’s comment is the closest I’ve heard anyone come to making a similar comparison. It’s not quite, “White supremacy is the chief form of sin on this planet,” as I’ve said, here, on Spectrum, to high outrage. But it seems progressive; i.e., an advancement.



This is not true.

The statement reminds me of the time a colleague said, “I think we spend too much time blaming white people”; words to that effect.

I said in response, “Actually, I don’t think we blame them anywhere near enough.”

Said another way, I understand many white people saying what you have said, @Sirje, and believing it.

But I think this has more to do with:

a) a level of white culpability with which white people have rarely, if ever, had to address, and have only scratched the surface of doing;

b) their level of comfort with their abuses, some of which is played out as unawareness, but more often, I believe, as groupthink;

c) the massive volume of the charges with which they’ve been beset;

d) the way — the actual language that has often been used as — those charges have been made;

e) White disbelief, albeit not based in rationale, but in mourning; the disbelief one experiences when told a close friend or relative has suddenly died.

If, after 45 years of an apparently happy marriage, a husband told his spouse that he’d been putting up with her as a wife and considered her a total failure in the role, she might weep, argue, sulk, burn in anger, beg, curse, and/or re-think many experiences she and he had had.

In other words, she might do all the things, analogously, many white people have done, in this racial moment, as non-white people have objected to white past / present behavior.

In the end, she might decide to reject his criticism. This would be fine, and it might even be self-sustaining.

But it would not mean that she, actually, was not a total failure as a wife. It would just mean she’d chosen not to believe it.


What do you have to offer as a remedy?

If you want to see true racism, watch the reruns of 9/11 today.

A post script: Having said that, 9/11 was also an example of how race became a non-issue during the harrowing rescues. That was their apocalypse. Times like these separate the good guys from the rest.

A clever response.

If not particularly Christian.

I understand that “blame throwing” is a long standing tradition among Christians…

But figuring out “who started it”, or which transgressor is most at fault, seems to be the antithesis of “70 x 7” concept.

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did you honestly read what you wrote? What is most discouraging is that I would assume you thought that it was a perfectly acceptable thing to say…well it isn’t. It would be just as sick if I pointed out that most mass murders are white. With this kind of rhetoric, we can forget about ever solving this problem. Unfortunately, we will probably fail at it anyway. Alisa, I am much more concerned about your eternal wellbeing, because there won’t be anyone in heaven who looks on their brother as less than themselves. You might want to consult God’s help.