I’ve never been more consciously aware of the color of my skin than I am right now. I’ve never been more in awe, more afraid, more grateful for the dosage of melanin that belongs to me. Yet, for all my cherishing, I’m still trying to figure it out.
The American church has a tendency to believe that our God sees, but doesn’t see. We tend to think that God is only concerned with spiritual, not physical realities, that the two never overlap or exist together in any space. We are often tempted to believe that God doesn’t much care about the color of our skin – that he doesn’t see it. That it simply is what it is and he has no preference in what color we show up on this side of eternity. Until recently, this idea was good news for me. I have always believed on some subconscious level that blending in with the crowd that pleased him was the road to acceptance, and for me, that crowd has always been white Christians. I had a faithful hoping that nobody would notice I was different, that my brown skin wouldn’t be a hindrance in connecting, or even in God’s ability to like me. But I stand today in heightened awareness of my brownness, not because I’m still afraid I might be seen, but because I realize He already sees.
I’ve been running from my ethnicity for as long as I can remember. I had hoped that by acting like my elite, middle-class schoolmates I’d be washed of the stench of brown and welcomed into the purity of whiteness. There was always something inherently clean about them. The way their laundry, even when it was dirty, was somehow never as dirty as me. The way their houses smelled like vanilla and money while mine smelled like sweat and trying. I had hoped that by shopping in all the places they shopped and hating all the things they hated, I’d be seen as one of them. So that’s what I did. I bought clothes I couldn’t afford and hated the skin I couldn’t escape.
When my white brothers and sisters hear this, there’s an immediate reaction of defense: Nobody hates you because you’re Mexican, nobody hates you at all. “Yeah,” I always wanted to say. “Nobody but me.” I hated what made me different from them. Those things that fueled their taunting and jabbing. But it seemed that the only thing perpetuating the jokes about my dad being a drug-dealer or the community weed-whacker, or my staggering ability to clean a house was my brownness. It was the fact that I was Mexican that made me the punchline of every joke. And though I laughed along with them, and even joked about these things myself, inside all I wanted to do was wipe my genetic slate clean until I was white as snow. I didn’t want to be seen because to be seen meant to be brown and to be brown meant the constancy of soft and subtle ridicule.
So I ran.
I spoke, ate, played, and worked the way my white friends did. I refused to learn Spanish and pretended I wasn’t able to roll my r’s because I liked the distance those, “You’re the worst Mexican I’ve ever seen” comments gave me from my brownness. I hated myself for being Mexican. But self-hatred is still open rebellion against God, and internalized racism is still racism we need to repent of. Because if I hate me for being brown, then there are whole continents of image bearers I have also hated for their inability to be born white.
Our complexion is not a crime. Christ’s blood did not wash his bride of her skin colors, it washed her of her sin. Our pigment is not wrong. It’s not something we need to work on, or reason to throw our fists up at Heaven in lamentation of this cursed life. We need not repent of it, only of our resentment of it. Only of the structures and systems we’ve built around it, the systems that would reward the lack of melanin, and punish the abundance of it.
We need to repent, because if we hate what is good, then how can we call ourselves friends of God?
If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have told you that the color of my skin didn’t matter, but I would have been wrong. It does matter. In great deals and heaps and every amount of mattering that something could matter, it matters. Like every hair on my head and every cell in my bloodstream, every last drop of melanin poured over me is numbered. These bodies, the endowment of our existence, are holy and sacred. They are how we were commissioned to be. Such works of God are not happenstance but crafted with all intentionality, all wisdom, and all power from on high. We are not intangible forces of life and there is a reason – probably many – that we are not disembodied souls. We are tethered, fastened, anchored, grounded with marrow from the dust.
The simple truth is this: the melanin is part of the image bearer, and the image bearer is a reflection of the everlasting God. The color of our skin matters because in every shade of marvelous brown, we see more of Him.
At the end of this age, when Heaven comes barreling down, remember, we are not resurrected into any one skin tone to practice any one culture. We will be one people made up of every people, one Kingdom fluent in every tradition, one tribe immersed in every language. And in the clanging of tongues, the crashing of injustice, the mercy come gloriously to life, a new song will emerge. No longer will we hail the glories of our nations, but with the history of our people paired and twisted in our bones, we will lift our voices in anthem to the God who sees.
Our Father puts color on the spectrum and gives us the means to recognize it. This is who He created us to be in Christ. Not a people with eyes closed, but a people wide awake. So open your eyes, Church. Or how else are we to behold the glory that’s here for the reveling, for the edifying, for the life-breath our faith needs in the here and now? The glory that comes when we find brotherhood in the foreign faces, in the understanding that we are not just brothers in spirit, but by the blood.
Oh, that we might come to know all that is reconciled by the blood of the Lamb of God.
Jessica is a Social Media Strategist turned Content Marketing Manager and was just as surprised as you are to learn that those things are real things. She longs to see Christians set free from sin and living without shame in the truth of the gospel. She is passionate about pointing single women toward God's faithfulness and abundance in their own lives and awaits the day they have seen so much of Jesus that they'd be perfectly content if He was all they ever got. She calls Risen (http://www.risensd.com) church her home and blogs about her journey as an unmarried Jesus-follower over at nobodyswivesclub.com.