Racism and the human heart

Richard Shumack reflects on his experience of racism - and how racism is fundamentally a heart problem that only a miracle can solve.

This week reminded me that racism of various forms remains horribly real and insidiously pervasive.

I’ve observed racism in every part of the world I’ve lived, and to and from every racial group I call friends. I’ve witnessed it in my own tribe. In my theological alma mater, an indigenous student friend was challenged on his presence in the common room by a staff member!

In minor ways, I’ve experienced racism first-hand. As a person (according to Justine Toh) of ‘indiscriminate race’, I’ve been verbally abused and threatened, I’ve been told to ‘go home’, and I’ve been profiled by government officials. I’m regularly asked “…but where are you *really* from?”

Despite this, I’ve also perpetrated and perpetuated racism. I’ve told racist jokes, witlessly bought in to the cultural exceptionalism and domination of virtually every group I’ve been a member of and culpably ignored the marginalized as somehow undeserving of my care.

Plainly, racism is deep. It’s pervasive. It’s universal. It’s persistent. None of us can plead ignorance or innocence. So, I’m on board with the urgent need to mitigate it through all possible means including listening, crying, getting angry, protesting, and legislating.

But surely history has taught us that activism alone is not enough to deal with the problem. Jesus’ claim is that this is because racism is fundamentally a spiritual heart problem, not a socio-political one: “For out of the human heart come evil thoughts…”

No new laws, new information or new friendships can give us new hearts. For that we need a miracle. Fortunately, Jesus is in the business of this kind of deep, slow, miracle. It’s what kept my friend persevering with the Christian community that subconsciously feared him. And it’s what keeps me from despairing at my own heart.