Young People Ask . . .
What About Racial Pride?
“One of my schoolmates always talks about the race and the color of other people,” sighs 17-year-old Tanya. “In many of his conversations, he claims he is superior to them.”
IT IS only natural to take pride in one’s family, culture, language, or place of origin. “I’m Vietnamese,” says a 15-year-old girl named Phung, “and I’m proud of my culture.”
All too often, though, racial pride goes hand in hand with racism. This pride can thus be a cancer that subtly eats away at relationships, even when it is camouflaged behind a mask of politeness. Jesus Christ said: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34) And deep-seated feelings of superiority—or of disdain—often break through to the surface, causing hurt and pain.
Sometimes racial pride even turns violent. In recent years it has been the fuel for wars, riots, and bloody “ethnic cleansings.” However, you do not have to be a witness to bloodshed to encounter the ugly side of racial pride. For example, do you see evidence of it at school, at work, or in your neighborhood? “Yes, definitely,” explains a Christian youth named Melissa. “Some of my schoolmates make fun of children who speak with an accent, and they say they are better than them.” Tanya similarly reports: “In school I have heard children plainly say to others: ‘I am better than you.’” In one U.S. survey, nearly half the respondents said they had personally experienced some form of racial prejudice during the previous year. “The racial tension at my school is pretty bad,” said a youth named Natasha.
Now suppose you live in a land or an area where there has been a great influx of immigrants, dramatically changing the complexion of your school, neighborhood, or Christian congregation. Do you feel a bit uncomfortable about this? Then perhaps racial pride is more of a factor in your thinking than you may have realized.
Proper Versus Improper Pride
Does this mean that pride is inherently bad? Not necessarily. The Bible shows that there is a place for the proper kind of pride. When the apostle Paul wrote to Christians in Thessalonica, he said: “We ourselves take pride in you among the congregations of God.” (2 Thessalonians 1:4) Similarly, having at least a measure of self-worth is healthy and normal. (Romans 12:3) So it is not wrong in itself to take some pride in one’s race, family, language, color, or place of origin. Certainly God would not require that we be ashamed of such things. When the apostle Paul was confused with an Egyptian criminal, he did not hesitate to say: “I am, in fact, a Jew, of Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no obscure city.”—Acts 21:39.
However, racial pride turns ugly when it nurtures an exaggerated sense of self-esteem or when it causes one to look down on others. The Bible says: “The fear of Jehovah means the hating of bad. Self-exaltation and pride and the bad way and the perverse mouth I have hated.” (Proverbs 8:13) And Proverbs 16:18 states: “Pride is before a crash, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.” Boasting that one belongs to a superior race is therefore repugnant to God.—Compare James 4:16.
The Origins of Racial Pride
What causes people to take an exaggerated pride in their race? The book Black, White, Other, by Lise Funderburg, says: “For many people, their first (and longest-lasting) impressions of race come from parents and family.” Sad to say, all too often the impressions passed on by some parents are unbalanced or distorted. Some youths may directly be told that people of their race are superior and that people of other races are different or inferior. More often, though, young people simply observe that their parents have little to do with people of other races. This too can have a powerful influence on their thinking. Surveys reveal that while teenagers and parents may fail to see eye to eye when it comes to clothing or music, the majority of youths do share their parents’ views on race.
Unbalanced attitudes regarding race can also develop in response to oppression and mistreatment. (Ecclesiastes 7:7) Educators have noted, for example, that children of so-called minority groups are often lacking in self-respect. In an attempt to correct matters, some educators have developed school curricula that teach children the history of their race. Interestingly, critics argue that this emphasis on racial pride simply breeds racism.
Personal experience can also play a role in the development of unhealthy racial attitudes. An unpleasant encounter with a person of a different race may lead one to conclude that all members of that race are obnoxious or bigoted. Negative feelings may likewise be aroused when the media spotlight racial conflicts, police brutality, and protest rallies or when they portray ethnic groups in a negative light.
The Myth of Racial Superiority
What about the claim by some that their race has the right to feel superior to others? The idea that people can really be divided into distinct races is questionable to begin with. An article in Newsweek reported: “To scientists who have looked into the question, race is a notoriously slippery concept that eludes any serious attempt at definition.” True, there may be “observable differences in skin color, hair texture and the shape of one’s eyes or nose.” However, Newsweek said that “these differences are at best superficial—and try as they will, scientists have been broadly unable to come up with any significant set of differences that distinguishes one racial group from another. . . . The bottom line, to most scientists working in these fields, is that race is a mere ‘social construct’—a [corrupt] mixture of prejudice, superstition and myth.”
Even if scientific distinctions between races could be made, the idea of a “pure” race is fiction. The New Encyclopædia Britannica observes: “There are no pure races; all racial groups currently existing are thoroughly mixed.” Whatever the case, the Bible teaches that God “made out of one man every nation of men.” (Acts 17:26) Regardless of skin color, hair texture, or facial features, there is really just one race—the human race. All humans are related through our forefather Adam.
The ancient Jews were well aware of the common origin of all races. Yet, even after becoming Christians, some clung to the belief that they were superior to non-Jews—including their non-Jewish fellow believers! The apostle Paul crushed the notion of racial superiority by stating, as recorded at Romans 3:9: “Jews as well as Greeks are all under sin.” No racial group can therefore boast of any special standing with God. Indeed, it is only by faith in Jesus Christ that individuals can have a relationship with God. (John 17:3) And it is God’s will that “all sorts of men should be saved and come to an accurate knowledge of truth.”—1 Timothy 2:4.
Your recognizing that all races are equal in the eyes of God can have a dramatic effect on the way you view yourself and others. It can move you to treat others with dignity and respect, to appreciate and admire their differences. For example, young Melissa, mentioned earlier, does not join her schoolmates in laughing at youths who speak with a foreign accent. She says: “I view those who speak two languages as intelligent. Although I would like to speak another language, I can only speak one.”
Remember, too, that while the people of your race and culture no doubt have much to be proud of, so do people of other races. And though it may be reasonable to have some pride in your culture and in the accomplishments of your ancestors, it is far more satisfying to take pride in what you have accomplished personally through effort and hard work! (Ecclesiastes 2:24) In fact, there is one accomplishment in which the Bible urges you to take pride. As stated at Jeremiah 9:24, God himself says: “Let the one bragging about himself brag about himself because of this very thing, the having of insight and the having of knowledge of me, that I am Jehovah.” Can you make that boast?
[Picture on page 26]
Knowing God’s view of race helps us enjoy the company of people of other races