Racial prejudice has led to unfathomable suffering—and a massive death toll. Is an end in sight?
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Rosarno, Italy, is a small town nestled near the tip of the Italian peninsula, a short drive from the Mediterranean coast. A compact downtown gives way to fertile plains in every direction, which yield oranges, lemons, clementines and kiwis. Rosarno had been mostly known for its agricultural bounty until January 2010—when something went wrong.
“The riots began…when a local resident fired a pellet gun at a documented African migrant worker, lightly wounding him.
“African immigrants in the area responded by burning cars and vandalizing shops. Some local Italians retaliated by forming bands that began going house-to-house attacking immigrants. The clashes…left dozens injured, including a group of immigrant men who were beaten with metal rods.
“By Sunday evening, police had escorted more than 1,000 immigrants to relief centers in other cities to ensure their safety.
“Italians across the peninsula…say the riots were spurred by long-simmering racial tensions—conditions that have worsened with a rising tide of immigration and deep economic problems” (The Wall Street Journal).
It seems that wherever two distinct ethnic groups have contact, racial strife eventually rears its ugly head.
Will it ever come to an end?
Victims and perpetrators of racial prejudice are not confined to any period in history, place, skin color, income group or other boundary. No one is immune! But the images we associate with the term racism depend largely on the part of the world in which we live.
For instance, those currently living in the United States most commonly think of tension between whites and blacks, or increasingly, Hispanics and blacks or whites.
Further back, though, other forms existed.
Relations between American Indians and early New World colonists were often violent, with each side deeply distrustful of the other. One of the complaints against the British Crown recorded in the Declaration of Independence was that King George III “excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”
But groups discriminated against are not always those with skin darker than the majority. The fair-skinned Irish were once the object of prejudice in Great Britain and then in the United States. “The comic Irishman—happy, lazy, stupid, with a gift for music and dance—was a stock character of the English and American stage” (The Boston Globe).
Ethnic tensions boiled over in Pennsylvania in a largely Irish Catholic neighborhood in North Philadelphia in 1844 during a rally of the American Republican Party, which espoused anti-immigrant ideas.
According to an account from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, a second rally took place several months later. “This time, three thousand nativists and Irishmen attended the meeting. As tensions began to mount between these two groups, a thunderstorm sent the crowd running for cover to the market house, and this is when the violence erupted. The Irish residents and nativists clashed violently for two days, resulting in the burning of dozens of homes and two Catholic churches. The violence was finally suppressed by the militia, but not before at least 20 persons were killed and over 100 wounded.”
By the mid-1800s, the American south was characterized by slavery, which expanded rapidly due to a confluence of racism, economic opportunity and greed.
“Worst of all was the fate dreaded by slaves in the Upper South (Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky), where conditions were easiest: they might, for a dozen reasons, suddenly be sold ‘down the river’—down the Mississippi…to the regions of malaria and yellow fever; to the endless exhaustion of the cotton fields and sugar plantations. Even some of the slave-holders deplored this internal slave-trade; yet without it the Cotton Kingdom could not have prospered…Many a great gentleman of South Carolina owed his standing to his plantations and slaves in the West” (The Penguin History of the USA, Hugh Brogan).
An estimated 10 million slaves were brought to America before the Emancipation Proclamation of 1862. Even more may have died in transit and within the first year of forced labor, called the “seasoning” period.
World War I saw anti-German sentiment arise in the U.S., with one German-born Illinois resident lynched by a mob. In response, some German families that had been in the New World for generations Americanized their last names—Bruns became Browns, Fischers became Fishers.
The idea of a “master race”—a people intrinsically, genetically superior to all others—has long found fertile soil in Asia.
In Japan, the belief that the emperor is a direct descendant of the gods, combined with the insular environment of the island nation—and the unique gifts and achievements of the Japanese people—have helped foster a mindset of superiority. To this day, a determination persists there to outperform other nations in every endeavor.
Only a small fraction of Japan’s population, perhaps 2 percent, is registered as foreign. In 2005, a United Nations investigator was “concerned that politicians used racist or nationalist themes…to whip up popular emotions. He singled out the treatment of ethnic Koreans and Chinese and indigenous tribes” (BBC).
On the mainland, the Chinese have their own version of racial superiority: “The human race, according to a Chinese legend, was created by a divine potter who left his clay figure of a man too long in the kiln. When it came out burned and black, he threw it away as far as he could—and it landed in Africa. The second one he pulled out too soon: It was too white. So he threw that one away, more gently, and it landed in Europe. Now he knew the correct timing. The third man was a gorgeous yellow, and from him the East Asian races descended” (The New York Times).
Racism in Africa did not start with the colonial period, nor did it end with that time’s passing. As terrible as European and American slavery was, it was rivaled beforehand by the routine enslavement of one African tribe by another.
Despite slavery now being outlawed in virtually every nation, descendants of colonial-era slaves are still in forced servitude in remote regions of countries such as Niger today.
Former president of Benin, Mathieu Kérékou, in a 1999 speech at a primarily African-American church near Baltimore, Maryland, recalled the roles of oppressors on both sides of the Atlantic: “Benin is located on the Slave Coast, and a lot of slaves were sold out into the Americas from my country, Benin, and most of the black people you see in Haiti…in Brazil, and even here in the U.S. all came from Benin. And others come from Nigeria…And if you’ll be found in the streets of Africa, people will certainly think of you as being citizens either of Benin or Nigeria…
“Benin, my country, was the most important place for slave trade…We are the ones—our ancestors were the ones who sold out your ancestors to the white people, and the white people bought your ancestors and got them into the various countries that they sent them just to build their economies, in the plantation, in the factories, farms just like in America here” (University of Dubuque).
The most visible example of tribal conflict in recent years occurred in Kenya after the 2007 presidential election. Riots broke out after the incumbent from the Kikuyu tribe, Mwai Kibaki, won, infuriating supporters of Raila Odinga, his Luo opponent.
This situation was worsened by arbitrary lines carved through African soil to produce artificial nations. “One hundred years of colonialism (less in many countries) and the subsequent creation of four dozen new states, each insisting on the sanctity of colonial boundaries as a sensible way of avoiding future conflicts, could not blot out 800 tribal boundaries” (The New York Times).
Another current flashpoint of racial conflict on this continent is in southern Sudan. In this case, the enmity is between Arabs in the north and blacks in the south.
In 2004, an Arab militia leader “issued a directive to ‘change the demography of Darfur and empty it of African tribes’” (Outside Magazine).
“Change the demography”—a clinical-sounding phrase reflecting a process more accurately described elsewhere as ethnic cleansing. “Estimates on the number of dead range from 200,000 to 400,000 if you count starvation and disease. Close to three million people have lost their homes” (ibid.).
Racist ideology, including but not limited to anti-Semitism, helped ignite World War II, with the aftermath shaping the global balance of power for the rest of the 20th century.
Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party forged his notions of world domination by an Aryan über-race into domestic and foreign policy. He considered Germany’s Slavic neighbors to the east “mud races.” America was a “mongrel” nation, the proverbial melting pot redefined as a cauldron of racial impurity.
Jewish men, women and children in Europe were reduced to “the Jewish problem,” to be solved through systematic mass murder.
Hitler made his intentions known in a 1939 speech: “One thing I should like to say on this day which may be memorable for others as well as for us Germans: In the course of my life I have very often been a prophet, and have usually been ridiculed for it. During the time of my struggle for power it was in the first instance the Jewish race which only received my prophecies with laughter when I said that I would one day take over the leadership of the State, and with it that of the whole nation, and that I would then among many other things settle the Jewish problem.
“Today I will once more be a prophet: If the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevization of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!” (N.H. Baynes, ed., The Speeches of Adolf Hitler, Vol. 1).
British Israelism is a corruption of the biblical truth regarding the modern descendants of the “Lost Ten Tribes” of Israel. So-called British Israelists often equate the now-antiquated British Empire with the kingdom of God. This is at odds with Scripture, which clearly states that Jesus Christ will establish this kingdom (government) at His Return, still in the future. (See II Timothy 4:1.)
It is true that the Jewish inhabitants of the modern state of Israel on the eastern edge of the Mediterranean, as well as the Jewish Diaspora around the world, do not represent all of the 12 tribes of ancient Israel. They are primarily descended from Judah, one of the 12 tribes.
Ed Koch, the Jewish mayor of New York City from 1978 to 1989, was quoted in U.S. News and World Report as saying, “The 10 Lost Tribes of Israel we [Jews] believe ended up in Ireland.” In fact, the British Isles are among a number of places to which these tribes migrated.
But many British Israelists exclude the Jews altogether, portraying them as scheming impostors. They also apply the “master race” idea to Anglo-Saxons—conveniently, since most of them are of this background. In its worst forms, it closely resembles neo-Nazi white supremacist thinking.
British Israelism is a particularly dangerous and repugnant form of racism because it claims to be justified by the Bible. This causes some people to accept its validity without close scrutiny and pushes others to recoil from the Bible under the false assumption that the idea is found within its pages.
Those who believe in the God of the Bible must face the question: Did God create a master race? Is it Old Testament Israel?
From early in the book of Genesis, Scripture follows the forefathers of the nation of Israel, then the nation itself, as well as other nations—as they came in contact with Israel. The New Testament follows spiritual Israel, the Church (see Galatians 6:16), and refers often to Israel, all the way to near the end of its last book (Rev. 21:12).
But does this make the Israelites God’s master race? No! God chose Israel as a small nation of slaves, one that was willing to follow Him because of their dire circumstances. He was also keeping a promise to Abraham, grandfather of Israel (Jacob), who faithfully obeyed Him: “The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people: But because the Lord loved you, and because He would keep the oath which He had sworn unto your fathers, has the Lord brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you out of the house of bondmen, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deut. 7:7-8).
Israel was intended to be a model nation. Ultimately they failed, as they could not resist the pulls of the flesh or the idolatry practiced in neighboring nations. But in spite of themselves, they proved the point: unless a nation—or person—is converted to a spiritual mindset (Matt. 18:3; Acts 3:19), failure is inevitable.
As stated by columnist Stanley Crouch, “Every group needs to know that evil transcends color, place, politics, sex and religion. It is a universal and recurrent problem we all have to face and fight” (New York Daily News).
Again, no one is immune, either to the effects of racism, or to falling into this mindset themselves. Even the apostle Peter, who was used by Jesus Christ to lead the New Testament Church from AD 31 until his death, fell into prejudice on at least one occasion: “For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If you, being a Jew, live after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compel you the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Gal. 2:12-14).
But racism is only a symptom, not the disease itself. Behind this effect is a cause: human nature is selfish, and gravitates toward hatred. It prefers itself, and reflexively dislikes anything that is much different from the self. If we think that we are entirely innocent, we deceive ourselves. (See Jeremiah 17:9.)
This nature must be changed. The good news is that it will be!
God is the Creator of all the races—yellow, black and white (with brown and red). Each has strengths and gifts as well as weaknesses.
God’s solution for racism has never been to erase the distinctions of the races by intermingling them until there is one homogenized “in-between, not-quite-white/black/yellow” race. This would effectively erase the diversity that He created.
The solution is to enable humanity to unlearn hatred, anger and prejudice, through a real change of heart: “For this [is] the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people” (Heb. 8:10).
Those whom God calls to His way of life are unlearning racism now. True Christians “have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of Him that created him: Where there is neither Greek nor Jew…Barbarian [nor] Scythian, bond nor free: but Christ is all, and in all” (Col. 3:10-11).
At a time that is fast approaching, “…there [will] be a highway out of Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian shall come into Egypt, and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians shall serve with the Assyrians.
“In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: Whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My People, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance” (Isa. 19:23-25).
To learn about the details of God’s plan for the modern descendants of ancient Israel and all of humanity, read David C. Pack’s book, America and Britain in Prophecy.