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Regardless of race …

As Singapore becomes increasingly multi-racial the threat of racial conflict becomes more pronounced


“From the standpoint of the Christian faith, racism is sin because it chooses to ignore the fact that God has bestowed equal value and worth to all human beings.”

ONE OF THE CHIEF CONCERNS of a multi-racial society like Singapore is that people of different racial and ethnic backgrounds learn to live in peace and harmony with each other.

Racial conflicts can very easily thwart all efforts to achieve social cohesion. ey can even destroy the social fabric of our nation.

As Singapore becomes increasingly multi-cultural and multi-racial, the problem of racism and the threat of racial conflict also become more pronounced. rough the concerted efforts of the Government and its citizens, Singapore is able to enjoy racial harmony for four decades. But as Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong warned recently, racial harmony in our nation-state should not be taken for granted because “ours is a society with inherent cracks”.

What is racism? ose who are familiar with the vast literature on the history and criticism of race and race discourse would immediately acknowledge that scholars in this field have not arrived at a consensus on the origin of racism. Some scholars, like the sociologist Todd Gitlin, believe that racism is a universal problem, while others, like Andrew Hacker, maintain that it emerged as the result of an attempt to rationalise slavery. Neither is there agreement on how racism should be defined. Some scholars define racism as racial prejudice and discrimination, while others distinguish it from ethnocentrism and anti-Semitism.

For the purposes of this essay, I define racism broadly as the discrimination, oppression, exploitation, segregation, degradation, dehumanisation or violence perpetrated by one group of people upon another. According to this definition, racism has to do with more than simply the real or perceived differences between peoples: it attaches value and significance to those differences. Racism is related to race therefore only in the sense that it is based on the assumption that one race is superior to another. Racism is often described as “bioscientific” because it assumes that physical characteristics, character personality, intellectual abilities, social and cultural developments are genetically based. Racism is therefore a complex phenomenon that is established by ideological, social, cultural and psychological factors.

From the standpoint of the Christian faith, racism is sin because it chooses to ignore the fact that God has bestowed equal value and worth to all human beings. In His creative genius, God has made every human being unique, possessing certain traits and abilities. But despite these differences, all human beings are given the privilege of bearing the image of God, of mirroring their Creator (Gen 1:26-27). is privilege is given to all of God’s rational creatures, without discrimination.

Racism ignores or rejects the profound value that God has given to every human being, and focuses instead on the differences or variations. Furthermore, instead of celebrating these differences, the racist objectifies them by classifying them and then by attaching social significance to them.

It is therefore possible to see racism as a species of idolatry. Racism not only privileges one race over others, it in fact deifies it. Racism presents this particular race as the ultimate and immutable defining characteristic of humanness. A blatant expression of this comes from the pen of David Hume: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all the other species of men, to be naturally inferior to the whites. ere never was any civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.”

Immanuel Kant, the great Enlightenment philosopher echoed this view when he wrote: “The Negroes of Africa have received from nature no intelligence that rises above the foolish.” eologian Douglas Sharp is right when he argues in his book, No Partiality: The Idolatry of Race and the New Humanity that “At root, the idolatry of race results from idolising the human, and the worship of the idol of race consists in the beliefs, rituals and practices that acknowledge the claim of race to be the source and basis of the meaning and value of human life and the basis of loyalty and concern for others.”

Christians can never endorse racism of any form or expression. To be sure, the Church has in its history fostered some of the most egregious expressions of racism (one need only to recall the complicity of the white church in discrimination and violence against the “Coloureds” in apartheid South Africa), of which it must repent. But the Church, which is made up of people of different races, must also be seen as the objective reality of a new humanity that has come into being by the grace of God. In Galatians 3:28, Paul writes: “ ere is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The Church is the new humanity that embodies a new sociality where the discriminating and dehumanising social stratifications are abolished, and where the intrinsic value of each person is recognised, acknowledged and celebrated.

Christians can never endorse racism also because they are commanded to love their neighbour. The parable of the Good Samaritan is surely the locus classicus of Jesus’ teaching on neighbourly love. What is often missed is that Jesus used the animosity between Jews and the Samaritans to bring out the true character of neighbourly love. He shocked his primarily Jewish audience by making the Samaritan the hero of his story, who showed compassion to the unfortunate Jewish victim. In order to allow his compassion to be truly incarnated in the simple acts of nursing, bandaging and caring, the Samaritan was required to be colour-blind. The same is required of the Church if it is to be the sacrament of peace and reconciliation in this troubled and fragmented world.

Dr Roland Chia is Chew Hock Hin Professor of Christian Doctrine and Dean of the School of Postgraduate Studies at Trinity Theological College. He worships at the Fairfield Preaching Point in Woodlands.