Why I believe Ben Carson Got It Wrong
During the first GOP presidential primary debate, Dr. Ben Carson was asked by moderator Megyn Kelly what he would do to heal the racial divide that currently exists in America. Dr. Carson responded by saying, “You know, I was asked by an NPR reporter once why don’t I talk about race that often. I said, ‘It’s because I’m a neurosurgeon.’ And she thought that was a strange response . . . I said, ‘You see, when I take someone to the operating room, I’m actually operating on the thing that makes them who they are. The skin doesn’t make them who they are. The hair doesn’t make them who they are. And it’s time for us to move beyond that because. . . our strength as a nation comes in our unity.’”
While his response drew a healthy applause from the audience, I was left feeling a little disappointed in his answer. I was disappointed because I knew that these remarks would be used as ammunition in the discussion on race relations in America by those whose mantra is “get over it”. I anticipated people saying things like, “Look, one of your own just said that we should move past it, so what’s the big deal?” I don’t doubt for a second Dr. Carson’s sincerity but His response was incomplete at best. Here’s why.
The Color of Our Skin and Texture of Our Hair Matters
The color of our skin and the texture of our hair does matter. They matter because every shade of skin and every texture of hair displays the creative brilliance of almighty God. Our ethnic distinctions exist for the glory of God. When Jesus gave the command to go to all nations and make disciples, he used the word ethnos. That means that he was speaking of every people group. We see in John’s glorious visions people from every nation, tribe, and language worshiping around the throne of God. These distinctions were God’s idea and for the glory of his great name.
Trying to just get past race denies the image of God reflected within every ethnicity. Ethnic diversity is God’s design and is a part of His great redemptive plan for humanity. If God Himself is not trying to get rid of ethnic diversity, then why are we? It’s time we leave behind the false hopes of a colorblind utopia. Scripture itself tells a different narrative. God’s saving grace enables us to build community not by looking past ethnic distinctions but by dignifying them.
Being Colorblind is Not the Solution
I’m afraid that the majority of the proponents of the colorblind perspective are simply unwilling to delve into the nuances of multiethnic life. The color of one’s skin is not some minor detail to be overlooked, it is a part of one’s overall identity. The idea of being colorblind presupposes that there can really be racial and cultural neutrality. I don’t believe it’s possible. It’s not possible because the majority will always set the rules for colorblindness. So what you end up with is being colorblind as the majority group sees it. What is possible is giving honor to and esteeming others not in spite of racial and cultural differences but because of them.
True unity is built not when we are colorblind but color-conscious. It is when we see our differences and learn to appreciate and even celebrate them. It is when we learn to affirm cultural distinctions without the expectation that people just assimilate into ours. True unity is when we love and dignify one another without anyone having to check their ethnicity at the door.