Thursday, June 16, 2011

Racist Mentality and Poking Fun at Colored People

An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Trinity Sunday, Year A, John 3:16-18, June 19

On June 1, 2011, the Department of Health-Food and Drug Administration (DOH-FDA) issued a warning against using intravenous skin whitener (Glutathione 4) because it could lead to death. But the product is so popular, because it is claimed to whiten the skin. Probably millions of Filipinos want to change their color because, according to them, the whiter you are, the more beautiful you become. That is why entertainers have to whiten themselves, if they do not want to appear ugly and be laughed at. But as Nestor Torre correctly pointed out in one of his columns, “it really is quite funny-peculiar to see Filipinos, many of whom are rather dark-complexioned themselves, poking fun at black people… For their part, our black entertainers should also stop poking fun at themselves and their coloring. They’re aiding and abetting the cruel bias of the racists, which won’t change for the better until they are bluntly made to realize that black can be beautiful and is definitely not funny! Above all, it’s we, the members of the local entertainment audience, who have to change. For decades now, we have poked fun at people just because they have dark skin, or flat noses, or are ‘vertically challenged,’ or look and speak ‘funny’ or come from the Visayas—all superficial factors that don’t define the kind of persons that they really are. And yet, because our colonizers have successfully taught us to use Caucasian standards or beauty as our own, we look down on non-whites, not realizing that we are in fact poking sadistic fun at ourselves!”

Torre finds our racist attitude wrong on the ground that color does not define who we are and that it has a cruel, painful effect on others. On the feast of the Trinity, however, we as Christians are given a deeper basis for rejecting it. But before going into that, let us see first the principles that the Gospel teaches us: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him may not die but may have eternal life” (John 3:16). With these words, John makes it clear that the purpose of Jesus’ coming is to give us eternal life, which is John’s term for salvation. Elsewhere, however, John describes the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and death in terms of gathering people: “Jesus would die for the nation—and not for this nation only, but to gather into one all the dispersed children of God” (John 11:52). If salvation is about gathering people into one community that experiences the life of God, then we can say that it is Jesus who, by his coming, communicates this divine life to the community. No wonder then that elsewhere in the New Testament, we are told that this life that comes from God first of all flows to Christ who in turn shares it with the community: “In Christ the fullness of deity resides in bodily form. Yours is a share of this fullness in him” (Col 2:9). A similar teaching can be found in the letter addressed to the Christians in Ephesus: “May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith and may charity be the root and foundation of your life. Thus you will be able to grasp fully, with all the holy ones, the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love, and experience this love which surpasses all knowledge, so that you may attain to the fullness of God himself” (Eph 3:18-19).

Salvation or eternal life is therefore achieved when Christians share Jesus’s life of love that has its origin in the Father. Because they share in the life of the Father and Jesus, Christians therefore become one with the Father and his Son and with other Christians who receive this divine life. Understandably enough, the same letter describes Christians as “one new man” (Eph 2:15). Consequently, there cannot be division in the Christian community. Precisely because God, by sending Jesus to communicate his life to us, shows himself as the Father of the community, all of us who share his life have become brothers and sisters. Whatever and whoever we are, we form one family where there is no division: “Each one of you is a son of God, because of your faith in Christ Jesus. All of you who have been baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with him. There does not exist among you Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). The early Christians saw the implication of this teaching. Luke tells us, for example, that in the early Church, the Christians were one in heart and in mind. No one claimed anything as his own; rather, everything was held in common (Acts 4:32). In other words, the Christian community is a place where people are accepted and welcomed.

The basis for accepting and welcoming every Christian to the community is simply the fact that he is a Christian—he partakes of God’s divine life. Consequently, in a Christian community, there cannot be any discrimination on any basis—be it sex, power, merits, wealth, culture or race. Earlier, we noted that discrimination of colored people is wrong on the ground of its superficiality and its effect on others. But a meditation on the Gospel provides us with a deeper basis: we have become one with Christ. All of us share in the status of being God’s children. Therefore, no one can claim superiority over others. In the words of the Latin American bishops, “we are all fundamentally equal, and members of the same race, though we live our lives amid the diversity of sexes, languages, cultures, and forms of religiosity. By virtue of our common vocation, we have one single destiny” (Puebla 334). No doubt this statement is based on the Constitution of the Church: “Although by Christ’s will some are established as teachers, dispensers of the mysteries and pastors for others, there remains, nevertheless, a true equality with regard to the dignity and the activity which is common to all the faithful in the building up of the Church” (Lumen gentium, 32). This why is our racist streak---poking fun, for example, at colored entertainers and at our colored neighbors—is wrong, and nothing could make it right.

If we stressed this implication of the Gospel today, it is with the purpose of showing that the doctrine of the Trinity need not be taken as an esoteric teaching that has no connection with the everyday life of the Christian. In the past, we looked at God in himself, and we tried to explain the Trinity in terms of Greek categories that are difficult to comprehend unless one has a background of Greek philosophy and culture. Here, however, we simply tried to present how the Trinity is experienced in our lives, and we found that, among others, our faith in God as Father and in his Son makes us realize that it is wrong to discriminate people on any basis, precisely because of their fundamental equality that is guaranteed by God’s sending his Son to the world so that it may be saved. In this sense, Nestor Torre hits the nail on the head: “Let’s all agree to stop being racist and sadistic—right now.”

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