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The Power of Relationship when Discussing Race and Ethnicity

October 28, 2022

Terry Steele

The discussion of race and ethnicity is complex, in part due to confusion brought on by logical fallacies, misinformation, generational hurts, and cultural preconceptions. As much as "race," "ethnicity," and "culture" are distinct words with distinct meanings, many people perceive race and ethnicity to be the same. As a result, there is confusion between cultural and genetic traits.

"Race" was previously attached to humans as "the human race." Only since the period of the trans-Atlantic slave trade did race come to be associated with physical features, skin tone, or color. These classifications became the basis for new definitions of "race" and "racism," which is discriminatory behavior against a people group based upon skin tone and physical features. "Ethnicity," on the other hand, is the identification of a person or persons based upon distinct cultural traits shared by members of that people group without relying upon any form of physical characteristics.

The subject of race has impacted people personally and culturally through prejudicial treatment, violence, verbal accusations, and name-calling. There has been genuine damage socially, relationally, physically, and psychologically because of verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. At CultureBound, we seek to examine these matters truthfully and compassionately rather than hide from the pain such issues have caused.

There needs to be, with great humility and sincerity, recognition of the damage that has come before us - all of us, not just one race of people. A person's racial experiences can be filled with painful memories and outright animosity. Ignoring pain, either personal or historical, is not a viable course of action. It's important to express compassion toward someone's hurtful experience in order to further relationships. Apologizing for past historical hurts is not an admission of personal guilt. It is recognition of damage perpetrated by people in the past. This kind of conversation can lead to further conversations that can soothe and heal an aching heart, even if a person's ancestors were never involved in racism, slavery, or racial bigotry.

When the issue of race and racism is framed relationally (taking into account other people's perspectives and experiences), solutions become possible. With relationships in mind we can ask, "What human relationships are affected by issues of race? How does the issue of race affect the shape of our communities? How do different people groups relate to one another?" To know a person and have relationship with them is to view their experiences and family history as important rather than only gathering statistical data about them.

Relationship is always the goal. This is what Christ did; he brought people together (Ephesians 2). We, too, have been given the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18) and the Holy Spirit gives us power to forgive, love, and bring healing in our communities. May God grant us grace to accomplish his redeeming purpose.

Terry Steele, D.Miss, PhD, brings knowledge and experience in teaching through his thorough education. He has taught at a university and regularly writes academic articles and research pieces.


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