Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming Our Ethnic Journey
Review by Kate Henderson and Lee Kosa
What is the subject?
[KATE] This book centres on how Christians can explore, understand, and accept their own and other’s ethnic identities to show God’s redemptive power and share the gospel in a more authentic and transformative way.
Who is the author?
Sarah Shin is the associate national director of evangelism for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. She a speaker and trainer in ethnicity, evangelism, and the arts. Sarah is also a fine artist, painter, and city planner.
Why this book?
[Lee] I was compelled to read this book while researching for a sermon series on racism in 2017. At the time, I could not find many evangelical voices addressing the reality of racism and how ethnicity informs identity. In a climate where many white people respond to the reality of racial injustice with fragility, denial, and ignorance, Beyond Colourblind may be a resource that helps people increase their racial literacy and ethnic awareness.
Comment on the book’s theological perspective in light of the MB Confession of Faith.
[LEE] The MB Confession of Faith states, “Jesus teaches that disciples are to love God and neighbour by telling the good news and by performing acts of love and compassion” (Article 7). Oppression based on ethnicity and the social construct of race wounds, scars, and divides the people and places around us.
It is loving and compassionate to actively work to understand our role (knowing or unknowing) in oppression, and to unravel the insidious tendrils of racism from our individual minds, communities, and larger societal structures.
The violence of racism is “contrary to the gospel of love and peace”; therefore peacemaking includes working for ethnic/racial justice and systemic change. If we believe that “our bond with other believers of Jesus transcends all racial, social, and national barriers,” then it is imperative that we seek to understand and work against forces that separate us and segregate our churches and neighbourhoods.
[LEE] Chapters 6–7 are Beyond Colourblind’s greatest contribution to the church.
Once people begin to see the reality of racism and ethnic discrimination, they can become afraid to engage people of different ethnic backgrounds out of fear of offending someone through their own ignorance. To overcome this fear, one of the best things we can do is educate ourselves. We must ask informed and thoughtful questions, adopt a learning posture, avoid stereotypes, unmask our implicit biases, and avoid offensive language.
Chapter 6, “Trust-Building With Ethnic Strangers,” provides a helpful orientation to these issues.
Church leaders would do well to read Chapter 7, “Crosscultural Skills in Community.” Many church leaders in North America were educated by white men who may not have had training or experience in cultivating equitable multiethnic spaces. Chapter 7 provides a practical introduction on what one needs to consider when fostering healthy crosscultural environments.
Where the book fails
[KATE] The major downside to the book is the focus on addressing racial discrimination and segregation at an individual level.
Though it offers many helpful and practical recommendations on how to better develop cross-cultural relationships, this can unfortunately come at a serious cost: an oversimplification of how to effectively deal with racial injustice. This oversimplification ultimately becomes a hindrance to true racial reconciliation and meaningful, Christ-centred relationships.
Although building one-on-one connections across ethnic and racial lines is a necessary, initial step toward racial reconciliation, other crucial steps must also be taken at the institutional level, such as abolishing or reforming unjust policies and laws, and ensuring the proper representation of people of colour throughout all forms of media.
Other relevant information
InterVarsity has developed a host of companion resources for Beyond Colourblind including discussion questions included at the end of each chapter, additional free online training resources for discussion leaders, and online videos to supplement the book’s content.
Other recommended books on the subject
The Christian Imagination: Theology and the origins of Race by Willie James Jennings
White Awake: An Honest Look at What It Means to Be White by Daniel Hill
Who should read it?
[LEE] People who are just beginning the work of understanding racism would find Beyond Colorblind accessible and helpful. Evangelically flavoured churches wanting to move beyond superficial and uninformed understandings of race, culture, and ethnicity would find this book a helpful starting point.
Naomi Murakawa, A professor in African American history, writes, “If the problem of the twentieth century was, in W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous words, ‘the problem of the color line,’ then the problem of the twenty-first century is the problem of colorblindness, the refusal to acknowledge the causes and consequences of enduring racial stratification.” (5)
When Michael was told “I don’t see your color” by the older woman in his small group, he heard something like this: “I don’t want to hear about or acknowledge some of the most beautiful parts of who you are ethnically and culturally, and I don’t want to walk with you in the pain of what you have experienced racially.” (8)
To those that would try to avoid the topic, stigmatize it as a liberal agenda, or succumb to despair, the powerful counter-response is that ethnic identity redemption and reconciliation are at the heart of the gospel. God created us for good, but cultural idolatry and racial brokenness tore apart our intended multiethnic community. (21-22)
A bunch of people from diverse backgrounds sitting together for an activity (be it a class, worship service, or conference) is not automatically a multiethnic community. Many of our colleges, organizations, and even churches have a multicultural space celebrating cultural diversity, but very few have spaces that are able to endure together racial and crosscultural conflict, both internal and external to the community. (142)
[Kate Henderson is a second-generation Canadian whose parents are originally from the Philippines. She teaches English and humanities from a social justice perspective in Surrey, B.C.
[Lee Kosa grew up in the United States, is of Hungarian descent, and is identified as white. He is lead pastor of Cedar Park Church, Delta, B.C.