Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

16 April, 2010

RELEVANCY ELUSIVE IN TALKING RACISM


I watched the Toronto Blue Jays game this evening (they beat Chicago White Sox 7-3) as Jackie Robinson's legacy was memorialized by all Major League Baseball teams, marking the 63rd anniversary of his breaking the colour barrier at the top level of professional sports.  Coincidentally, in order to watch the game, I had to put aside an article that I was reading on attitudes toward racism in the Christian church's foundational period.

After the game and the article, I knew I had to write something for Wrights Lane.  I have superficially touched on racism in past posts, but with a degree of reservation.  I am always left with the feeling that I did not do the subject sufficient justice...To be honest, I'm not sure if anyone is capable of relevancy when tackling something so disturbing and controversial -- so culturally deep-rooted and complex.

Racism, bigotry, discrimination -- it can all be lumped together as the greatest blight on society.  When it all began is virtually impossible to trace.  It is lost in the depths of time.  It seems as though it has always been part of the human psyche to be wary and suspicious of things that we do not know and understand.  Historically, the trouble begins when racial differences are allowed to fester into full-blown hatred.

In the article that I was reading before the baseball game on television, fellow Presbyterian David W. Brattston of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, makes the interesting point that racism was absent in the earliest church and in the non-Christian society surrounding it.  Certainly, there is relevancy for every shade and hue today in a review of the attitudes and practices of that period.  Christians and other subjects of the Roman Empire simply did not make distinctions based on race.  In fact, mentions of a person's skin colour were so rare as to be insignificant.

"The only discrimination was based on cultural factors," Brattston suggests.  "Jews divided the world into themselves and Gentiles, while for Greeks the distinction was between themselves and "barbarians" -- people who did not share Greek language or culture.   The Romans divided people between citizens and non-citizens, and then among various economic classes of citizens."

"In each case, however, individuals could cross the divides by joining the preferred group through either financial or military achievement, or by changing religion.  Any antipathy was cultural, not ethnic, and was directed most against cults or superstitions of which Christianity was one," he added.

He also stressed that scripture and other ancient Christian writings said much about how to regard individuals new to a community, whether they came for employment, business opportunities or conditions in their homeland.  The term "immigrant" appears nowhere in the early literature because strict separation into nation states did not yet exist, with its restrictions on travel, employment and trade. The ancients simply did not think much about the reasons why newcomers had come, other than military invaders.

So when did racism in all of its ugly forms and its kin, bigotry, actually surface in history?  My answer:  "At about the time when the human race began to think in terms of self-assigned superiority based on ignorance and perceived differences."

Baseball's Jackie Robinson is just one of many who have had the intestinal fortitude and God-given ability to prove just how misguided the human race can be in its attitude toward fellow brothers and sisters of the world.

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