Young Jamal, a sloucher by habit, sat up straight for once without anyone asking him to do so. He stared at me, shocked: “I thought Jesus was white!” We were in church watching a drama that one of my sisters had produced, depicting an aspect of the life of Jesus. The actor was black.
I replied that Jesus indeed was not white, but immediately began to reflect on the fact that as black people, we are still grappling with issues that should long have been put to rest, or at least explained, or perhaps, better yet, confessed. I felt we still had some distance to go towards true emancipation.
Unfortunately, there are seasoned people in the Christian Church who would be quick to point out that Jesus has no colour. And indeed the transcendent Christ whom we Christians worship, has no race, colour or any of the labels by which we humans seek to divide ourselves among ourselves.
But isn’t it true that the historical Jesus who walked among people was human? And if he were a Middle Eastern Jew, he was brown, black or a mixture of both. In fact, if we apply the “one-drop” theory instituted by America in these modern times, Jesus would now be called black.
Why is it important for Jamal to know this? It is a question of identity. Jamal is black, as is at least 98 per cent of our population. The visual images we form in our minds from childhood influence the way we see ourselves and the world. They shape our behaviour and attitudes. These images follow us into adulthood if not adjusted.
During this Black History Month, several schools are doing an excellent job in acquainting young children about their African ancestry of which they should be proud. I am inviting the Christian Church to seize this opportunity and tell the children the truth about the ancestry of Jesus, which is much closer to ours than they may be aware of. Indeed, while you’re at it, let the children know what was the likely skin colour of Moses, David, Joshua, Naomi, Ruth and many of the other heroes and heroines of the Bible. Association is of crucial importance to our sense of self-worth.
Furthermore, I am suggesting that particularly Christian schools here in Barbados be cognizant of the visual images they display in very prominent places in the schools. What messages, subliminally or otherwise, are you sending to black children about themselves and about this Jesus whom you are inviting them to follow?
Given our colonial history, it is important that we do as much as possible to affirm our worth, dignity and value as black people. (Unfortunately, there is an older generation who would be hard-pressed to accept the notion that Jesus Christ was anything but Caucasian. We understand the unrecoverable depths of such distortion.)
But the good thing about human consciousness is that it can change and it does grow. We don’t have to hold on to damaging concepts that have been passed on to us as essential components of our past enslavement. Enlightenment makes all the difference. The Church must play its role in the full emancipation of our people by putting into practice its own teaching: the truth shall make us free.