We’ve all heard this one before, except we usually use it in reference to White people. But in a misguided attempt to transcend racial restrictions, African Americans, too, can claim “colorblindness.” In the article, Clifton cites actress Raven-Symoné (“The Cosby Show”; “That’s So Raven”) and her remarks to Oprah Winfrey as saying, “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American. I’m an American … and that’s a colorless person.”

The positive motivation behind claiming colorblindness as an African American is an attempt at letting character and actions define you rather than merely a racial label. But when Blacks claim to be colorblind, they often become blind to the ways racism has affected us in the past and continues to affect us in the present. More importantly, it is a denial of the glorious variety with which God made all people. Skin color, culture, and context aren’t ultimate, but they are important. The dizzying diversity of humanity is a reflection of the image of God. It is an image that will be perfected in heaven, not eradicated (cf. Revelation 5:9; 7:9).

Respectability Politics

“If Blacks would just pull up their pants, speak proper English, and respect authorities, most of their problems would go away.” So goes the line of reasoning for respectability politics. As defined in Clifton’s article, respectability politics is “the idea that racism will subside if black people perfectly embody values that fit with mainstream norms.” We have seen this angle taken frequently in the recent cases of fatal encounters between African Americans and law enforcement officials. Every case, from Trayvon Martin, to Mike Brown, to Walter Scott and more, has been cited as a case demonstrating that if the deceased had simply been good, upstanding citizen, he’d still be alive today.

There’s a positive manifestation of respectability politics. In the Bible, it’s related to wisdom.

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” In Proverbs 10:13 we find that “On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.” And Proverbs 14:3 says, ”By the mouth of a fool comes a rod for his back, but the lips of the wise will preserve them.”

In a biblical sense, many people can be accused of foolishness; that is, a lack of knowledge or wisdom about how to live in God’s world. While foolishness does bring consequences, no amount of wisdom on the part of African Americans eradicates the evils of racism. First, we have to ask, “Whose respectability?” In other words, who sets the standard for what is acceptable? Some biblical principles are universal, but some aspects of culture are not inherently better, they are just preferred. Whose preferences get privileged?

What’s more, as Clifton states, “An exclusive focus on black people ‘bettering themselves’ or appearing flawless negates their humanity, shifting responsibility for racism away from the people and institutions that sustain it. Black people can be model citizens, even affluent ones, and still face the evils of racial profiling, police brutality and other encounters with racism.” All people should strive for biblical wisdom, but no amount of respectability will shield African Americans from racism or relieve racists from their responsibility for pursuing wisdom as well.

Classism as the New Racism

Some African Americans claim race is irrelevant because discrimination is more about class these days. Rapper Kanye West represents this view. He said in an interview, “Class is the new way to discriminate against people, to hold people down … to somehow say this person right here means more than this [other] person.”

Classism as the new racism is the least wrongheaded of the errors African Americans make when talking about race. Clearly, being rich or poor profoundly impacts your experience of life in the world. Even for African Americans, money gives you greater access to excellent education, expert healthcare, better food choices, and more. The error here is to say discrimination is only based on class. Race is a powerful factor, no matter how much money you make.  Why do African Americans and other racial minorities face poverty at disproportionately high rates in this country? How does the history of race-based chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation continue to affect the economic standing of African Americans? When it comes to classism and racism, it’s a both/and, not an either/or.

The New Black

I agree with Derrick Clifton when he says that these “statements appear out of touch and even dismissive of how many other black people deal with racism on a daily basis.” Attitude is important, but a change in mindset is insufficient to substantively reduce racial discrimination. Not only that, colorblindness, respectability politics, and classism as the new racism can shift responsibility for racist attitudes from the racists to the recipients. Everyone, especially Christians, has the command to love their neighbor. But in the attempt to focus on our own agency and potential, let’s not ignore the reality of imposed sin (i.e. oppression).

To counteract the mindsets described above, Clifton offers a final word of advice: “Lived experience, while irreplaceable and important, is but one part of the equation. The other part is a commitment to remaining educated and informed about issues that affect black people…More than anything, it’s a call for nuance, improved education and, ultimately, accountability.”

It is not inference or implication that “Critical Race Theory” strongly influences the thinking of Dr. Willams and Mr. Tisby. One can draw a straight line from “Critical Race Theory” to the way these men look at race, culture, politics, society, and the particular form of society that is the church. It is impossible to miss the reality that when they speak about racial reconciliation within the church they are borrowing the language of “Critical Race Theory.

A few questions:

1. Are the ways of looking at race associated with Critical Race Theory compatible with the views of our Lord and his Apostles? Or is “Critical Race Theory” a grid through which the texts of the New Testament are read by scholars such as Dr. Williams and Mr. Tisby?

2. Is what the Presbyterian Church in America and the Southern Baptist Convention mean by racial reconciliation what Dr. Williams and Mr. Tisby mean by racial reconciliation?

3. Re Drs. Duncan and Mohler: Do they (a) agree with,  (b) are they concerned about, (c) or are they dealing with the views of Dr. Williams and Mr. Tisby in their institutions?

*Who is Derek Clfiton? “A native of Chicago, IL, Derrick operates as an independent journalist and communications consultant. Derrick is committed to engendering dialogues on the intersections of identity, culture and politics—from #BlackLivesMatter to #OscarsSoWhite. Oftentimes, Derrick engages online conversations to help people understand social realities. Derrick’s reporting and news analysis has appeared in various forms all over the media spectrum, including The New York Times, NBC News, MSNBC, HLN, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Root, The Advocate, Quartz, Mic, Daily Dot, Windy City Times, and various National Public Radio affiliates. Derrick currently serves as a columnist for the Chicago Reader, the city’s alt-weekly of record, and received the 2016 National Association of Black Journalists Award for Newspaper Commentary. Clifton is alum of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, where they graduated with an MSJ. Clifton also received a B.Sc. from Northwestern University in Communication Studies, with concentrations in Political Science and Gender Studies.”

Bill Smith is a minister in the Reformed Episcopal Church. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

[Editor’s note: One or more original URLs (links) referenced in this article are no longer valid; those links have been removed.]