Bob Tamasy: Overcoming Racism And Prejudice

Monday, September 18, 2017 - by Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy
Bob Tamasy

Borrowing from Charles Dickens’ classic novel, we’ve been presented “a tale of two cities”: Charlottesville, Va. and Houston, Texas.

Following the death of a young woman and injuries to dozens, Charlottesville became vivid evidence that racism in the U.S.A. is far from dead. For days afterward, it’s about all we heard – protestations of racial hatred and bigotry, including accusations that President Trump didn’t choose the right words in denouncing the horror of the day in which protesters clashed in violence.

Then came Hurricane Harvey and its relentless assault on the Texas Gulf Coast. We saw incredible devastation; for once, the term “catastrophic” was not hyperbole. But what we didn’t see was…racism and bigotry. We saw men, women and children of all ethnicities and colors, responders heroically assisting desperate Houstonians. Average citizens without emergency training banding together, oblivious to differences, literally joining hands to rescue victims, plucking them out of rising, life-threatening waters.

Comparing the two cities and the events that thrust them into the national headlines, if we want a true barometer of the state of racism in America today, we needed only to look at Houston and the other storm—ravaged coastal cities. Ethnic backgrounds, skin pigmentation, cultures, and even language differences suddenly became irrelevant. There was no hatred or bigotry, only compassion and kindness. Some called it a triumph of the human spirit.

This is not to deny that racism and prejudice still exist. We regularly see and hear manifestations of it. Bigotry is heinous, without excuse. But sadly, we can’t legislate hate. Racism may defy reason, but soapbox rhetoric won’t eradicate it. As ancient as time itself, they exhibit no signs of old age. Sadly, these evil human flaws still flourish.

Are there no solutions? I believe there are, but only by appealing to – and seeing the transformation of – the human heart. Painting the outside of a garbage can to make it appear shiny and new has no effect if the refuse and decay on the inside aren’t addressed. Similarly, racism must be cured from the inside out.

Among the Bible’s honest, unvarnished descriptions of the best and worst of humanity are numerous accounts we’d label today as racism or bigotry. We see the Egyptians’ fearful response to the Israelites as they multiply in numbers, as well as Jonah’s hatred of the Ninevites. But nowhere is the issue of prejudice more clearly addressed than through the eyes of Jesus.

In His day, the people of Samaria were despised, viewed by the Jews as inferior half-breeds. Yet one of Jesus’ best-known parables is that of the “good Samaritan,” a humble man who came to the rescue of a traveler who’d been robbed and brutally assaulted. In the Luke 10:30-37 account, Jesus said a priest and a religious leader both intentionally avoided the suffering individual. A Samaritan, however, “took pity on him.” He not only dressed the victim’s wounds, but also paid for him to stay at an inn to recover.

Were Jesus telling this story today, He might have chosen to describe the victim as a white supremacist and the rescuer an African-American. In this context, we can grasp the irony.

Later in the same gospel, we find Jesus ministering to 10 lepers, social pariahs for no other reason than being afflicted with a horrid disease. It states He healed all of them, but only one “threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him – and he was a Samaritan” (Luke 17:16). Double irony.

Then John 4:4-42 tells of His encounter with a woman at a well outside a town in Samaria. She too was an outcast, having had five husbands and presently living with a man she wasn’t married to. Again, in the context of the times, speaking to such a woman, much less one that was a Samaritan, was considered scandalous. But Jesus showed her great compassion and invited her to partake of the “living water” only He could give.

Years ago, I began meeting weekly with a young African-American man, Rhon, who had just committed his life to Jesus Christ. One day he looked me in the eyes and asked, “Bob, if Jesus were standing here today and saw me, would he see a black man?” I pointed him to Galatians 3:28, which declares, “There is neither Jew, nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

This I believe is without doubt God’s perspective. How, then, are we to gain this view as well?

More recently I’ve enjoyed getting to know two other black men I meet with frequently. Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I never really knew any African-Americans, although the term wasn’t used back then. In high school there were some black students, but again in those days blacks and Caucasians didn’t mix much except in extracurricular activities like athletics. So much for the myth of the non-racist North, right?

So being able spend time with Clarence and John has been a blessing for me. I’m not so certain “racism” and “prejudice” mean the same thing, because we can be prejudiced toward many types of people simply because we don’t know them and, in some respects, they’re not like us. Meeting with my two friends has helped me to recognize that apart from skin pigmentation, and ethnic culture to a degree, we’re very much alike.

Sometimes it takes a crisis, like a hurricane or a 9/11, to bring people together and help them to look past superficialities. But often all it takes is intentionality, resolving to really get to know others who aren’t just like us, so we can soon realize that in reality, we’re not all that different.

As the apostle Paul wrote, differences mean nothing for those who “are all one in Christ Jesus.”

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Robert J. Tamasy is a veteran journalist, former newspaper editor and magazine editor. Bob has written hundreds of magazine articles, and authored, co-authored and edited more than 15 books. These include the newly re-published, “Business At Its Best,” “Tufting Legacies,” “The Heart of Mentoring,” and “Pursuing Life With a Shepherd’s Heart.” He edits a weekly business meditation, “Monday Manna,” which is translated into more than 20 languages and distributed via email around the world by CBMC International. To read more of Bob Tamasy’s writings, you can visit his blog, www.bobtamasy.blogspot.com, or his website (now being completed), www.bobtamasy-readywriterink.com. He can be emailed at btamasy@comcast.net.


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