Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Roots of Racism: Part 1, Religion

Why is there racism in American Culture? Racism is not a unique American phenomenon, but there are cultural roots we can trace racist ideas to, like media, religion, science, politics and law. 


Discrimination against blacks, or those with dark skin, and those of Arab descent is woven into biblical stories of Ham and Ishmael. Religious texts have been used to legitimize discrimination and exclusion in many cultures. In the US, Christian interpretations of religious texts were used to legitimize slavery, and is still apparent in racist sentiments today. It is incumbent upon religious leaders to negate these stories, and the disfavor laid upon 'others' that flow from them.

The Story of Ham, Genesis 9

"In the biblical account, Noah and his family are not described in racial terms. But as the story echoed through the centuries and around the world, variously interpreted by Islamic, Christian and Jewish scholars, Ham came to be widely portrayed as black; blackness, servitude and the idea of racial hierarchy became inextricably linked.
By the 19th century, many historians agree, the belief that African-Americans were descendants of Ham was a primary justification for slavery among Southern Christians." - Excerpt from Noah's Curse to Slavery's Rationale by Felicia Lee, New York Times, 2003

The Story of Ishmael, Genesis 16:12

“a wild ass among men; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him. And he shall dwell over against all his brethren”

 "Of special interest, though, is the foreboding indication that the descendants of Ishmael would be a fierce people — “his hand against every man, every man’s hand against him” (Genesis 16:12). Moses wrote that the Ishmaelite “abode over against all his brethren” (Genesis 25:18; cf. 16:12b). Many scholars believe that this language reflects a hostile disposition (cf. NIV)....

"The “Prophet’s” system involved an aggressive “bloody-sword” ideology. No longer content to persuade by words, “the sword” became “the key of heaven and hell,” and whoever died in battle received pardon from all sin and entered into the joys of a sensual Paradise (see McClintock, 6.407). Mohammed’s “heavy hand,” and those of his violent successors, were felt in nation after nation. Even today, in countries where Islam is the prevailing political force, persecution against non-Muslims is fierce (see Duin)
Muslim terrorist attacks like that of September 11, 2001 are not an expression of aberrant radicalism; it is Islam in its purest form. And it is but a further commentary on “his hand against every man”!" -Excerpt from Ishmael: His Hand Against Every Man by Wayne Jackson in The Christian Courrier

Religious texts are bedrocks of cultural ideology, and these stories are roots of racism in America today.  It is incumbent upon religious leaders and followers in the US to examine the religious roots of racism, and act to change racist patterns born from these texts.

  Further Reading: