Racism in the Shadows

Shadow racism can rear its head in anyone’s life.  And because it’s in the shadows, it needs to be brought into the light.


When it comes to a theology of race, there are four headlines: 1) We were all made by God; 2) We were all made in the image of God; 3) We were all made with distinction and variety—including the color of our skin; and 4) We are called into a relationship with God the Father by the Holy Spirit through Jesus the Son. This is why the Bible makes the following declaration: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28, NIV). This brings us to the great evil of shadow racism.

Shadow Racism

Racism is a great evil. It undermines, destroys and rips apart the very nature of God’s creation of a single human race made in the image of God for relationship with Him and with each other. Let’s be clear about the nature of this evil because racism is a word being seized and applied to almost everything in our politically-charged, social-media-trolling, Facebook-posting climate—by all sides. But we must dissect the real nature of this sin, because if everything is racist, nothing is racist.

True racism is believing in racial superiority. It’s believing that race determines intellectual, cultural and moral capacities. From that comes the practice of racism, which involves racial prejudice, bigotry and discrimination against others based on their race or ethnicity.

And that is a great evil and a stench in God’s nostrils, for it betrays the heart of God toward His creation—that all people are one and made in His image. To claim that you have more of the image of God than another, that you matter more to God than another, that you are distinct from the human race in a way that is superior to another, is heresy. And to have it take root and erupt in hatred, mistrust and division is unconscionable.

Racism can play out both individually and institutionally. On the institutional front, if you’re black and living in America, you are less likely to get a quality education, less likely to get a high-paying job, and less likely to live in an affluent neighborhood with low crime rates.

That’s just a fact. And often, institutionalized racism is behind it.

But let’s explore individual racism and, particularly, the shadow of individual racism. I say “shadow” because most would condemn racism and deny being racist themselves. In fact, most would say they don’t have a racist bone in their body.

But what if it’s not about bones?

What if it’s about succumbing to racist ideas, feelings, reactions and choices?

As Ibram Kendi has contended, being a racist “is not a fixed term. It’s not an identity, it’s not a tattoo—it is describing what a person is doing in the moment, and people change from moment to moment.”  Meaning the racism of today for most people is different than the racism of the civil war and slavery, or the era of the Jim Crow laws. As one black friend of mine put it, there’s more of an implicit bias than a functional racism at play in our world.

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James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.