Is racism a barrier to evangelization in the US?

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Detroit riots (1967), I’ve abruptly decided to read a couple books on the subject. John Hersey, in his book The Algiers Motel Incident, urgently recommends reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X, to get a perspective of being on the receiving end of racism in the United States.

Malcolm X describes himself as an atheist, before he began to follow the teachings of Black Muslim leader, Elijah Muhammad. Muhammad created a new religion, a “black religion” with a black god. He described the god of Christianity as the blue-eyed white man’s god, this god himself a blue-eyed white god, etc. For the record, Islamic leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere rejected the validity of Black Islam.

now, the autobiography goes into much deeper detail about all this. But, the problem I’m writing about here is the tendency of Catholics to depict Jesus and Mary racially in popular forms, rather than with more historical basis.

“Mary” in Mexico is depicted unmistakenly as a Native American woman, in Japan, “Mary” is Asian, and in Europe, like at Fatima, “Mary” is this lily white teenager with plucked eyebrows, etc., – nothing like the physical characteristics of a Middle Eastern woman. Mary is seldom depicted as the middle aged Middle Eastern woman that she certainly was, at the time of the crucifixion and until her dormition.

So, my question is, doesn’t the Church create stumbling blocks to evangelization in its not-so-subtle depictions of Jesus and Mary with different physical features than what we know they should be represented as (if at all)?

There is a long history of depicting Jesus and Mary as the ethnicity of the particular culture. There’s nothing wrong with that. They are artistic representations, and as such they seek to make a connection between Jesus and Mary and the audience of a particular time and place.

Indeed, when Mary appears to people, she usually appears in the ethnicity of the place she is visiting. That Our Lady of Guadalupe, for example. One of the remarkable things about this miraculous image is that she actually can look either Native American or Spanish depending upon where you are viewing the image from and the lighting. The pigmentation needed to produce such an effect is one of the things that baffles those who have studied it as they have not been able to duplicate that effect. To me, that speaks of Mary’s desire to unite the two groups at a time in history where they needed to be united.

Not all art needs to be photo-realistic just as not all history was always written in super strict, chronological fashion. Those tendencies are more modern American than anything else.

I don’t see why this needs to be a stumbling block. Indeed, the purpose is to remove stumbling blocks and make it easier to embrace Jesus and Mary as being “like us” in all things but sin.

I do not view the examples you cite above as racism.

This. :thumbsup::thumbsup:

I do agree with the reality that Jesus and Mary were dark-eyed, dark-skinned and dark-headed.

The claims that the Holy Family had to be dark swarthy people are pretty baseless, since we don’t have any accurate depictions of what they looked like. I’ve seen a surprising number of unusually fair skinned people from the Middle East, plus we don’t know what racial changes may have occured in the last 2000 years. In 2017 it seems it’s ok to depict the Holy Family as anything but fair skinned. I’d say that’s kind of racist.

I think that racism CAN be a barrier to evangelization, but not for any of the reasons you mentioned.

Malcolm X describes how the Black Muslims did a lot of their recruiting of Christians who were exiting their churches on Sunday from Mass or other Christian services. There was a strong element of racism in the recruiting process.

This. I follow several Catholic pages on Facebook, and even some non-Catholic Christian ones, and there’s always one person that goes on a rant about how it’s “racist” to portray Jesus as white. People have commented similarly to the way Malcom X does in the OP (“White man’s God”). I keep pointing out the fact that black congregations will portray Jesus as black, Koreans will portray Him as Korean, etc. They have no problem with that, but the second someone gives Jesus lighter skin…

and what does that have to do with the subject at hand?

That’s an overly simplistic view, though.

The image of a ‘white Jesus’ has been used against POC in western civilizations…there were people who literally believed blacks were not God’s people back in the days. They literally believed in the white man’s God. And people are still hung up on it. Movies/shows also depicts Middle Eastern as white sometimes. The ‘white Jesus’ is now the prototype instead of a culture’s representation. I’m in Asia, and most of us picture him as white. So it makes sense that there would be people who will keep pointing out that it’s likely he didn’t have fair skin or light hair.

I still hold the view that cultures can depict him in the way they want but honestly, a lot of us know how Jesus looks like now and we know people of many races, I don’t see why white Jesus/black etc is still a thing. It would be refreshing to see a Jesus who actually looks Jewish/middle eastern.

But this is a little out of point. Racism is a barrier, for sure, but not because Jesus’s race is represented differently by other people. IMO I think politics is the main barrier rn. Abortion, SSM, immigration, BLM, government handouts etc are very divisive issues. I know most people associate republicans with Christians so when they disagree with say, healthcare, they think Christians are not as loving as they claim to be.

Or when conservatives bash on BLM, for those who support it, they view them as White Christians instead of just ‘conservatives’. You can call yourself a non-racist Republican, but most people on the left would think you are contradicting yourself. Which is why I think politics is the main issue at hand here.

Here’s how St Mark’s (Egyptian) Coptic Church in suburban Chicago depicts Jesus and the Apostles

Typically the representations reflect the culture. Malcolm X lived at a time when 90% of the country he resided in was white.

However, parts of the Middle East and Africa were Christian LONG before much of Europe and by extension Oceania & North America were.

If one’s main argument against Christianity is that it’s a “white man’s” religion, it fails on all fronts and shows whatever one is arguing for has not much merit.

One of the bigger problems lately is that race is now the new golden calf for a lot of Americans.

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