When I was in high school, I used to go to the mall with my friends on the weekends. On more than one occasion, I remember thinking it was strange that employees were always asking if we needed help finding anything and how ubiquitous the security guards were in relation to us.
As a newly married man with an infant daughter, I remember taking a trip to visit my family in Cincinnati. As we neared their home, a white police officer who wasn’t paying attention almost side-swiped our car. Instead of an apologetic wave, he proceeded to follow us down the street, pull us over, and make me sit in the backseat of his cruiser while he checked my license. When he found nothing, he begrudgingly let me go after saying, “be more careful next time.”
In the summer of 2020, because of the pandemic, I began meeting parishioners for coffee outside. One morning, I was walking with a parishioner to finish our coffee and conversation on their back patio. Five minutes into our meeting, two police officers joined us. They were responding to a call from a neighbor reporting a suspicious person: me.
Maybe you’ve been judged by the color of your skin or have seen it happen to someone else. Either way, it naturally leads to confusion, disappointment, anger, and even shame. And if that wasn’t bad enough, it can often challenge your sense of belonging. It’s easy to fight back or become hardened and bitter. It’s easy to let the judgement of others rule over you. But what if a situation like this could be used to bring healing, justice, and restored identity instead of more divide?
When you’ve been judged because of your skin color, you must remember what judgment is before responding.
In Matthew 7:1-5, Jesus connects judgement with hypocrisy. He begins that section with, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Matthew 7:1 NRSV). He ends it with, “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matthew 7:5 NRSV). This portion of Scripture gives us clear insight into what judgement is: an assessment one makes based on their own limited insight and perspective. Jesus urges us to not judge, precisely because we do not have the insight nor perspective that enables us to see one another clearly.
There are some instances that may allow us to judge adequately. For instance, a teacher may judge that you need to study more based on your performance. A doctor may judge that you need to change your diet due to results from a physical. This kind of judgment is good, and even essential for life. Now, if that teacher were to say, “You are lazy,” or that doctor were to accuse you of being a reckless glutton, they would be judging/condemning you without having the kind of insight or perspective that would enable them to make such an assessment. Indeed, only God, who knows our whole selves, has the insight and perspective to make judgements about a person’s identity.
This is why Jesus connects judgement with hypocrisy. The hypocrite in Jesus’ day was simply a play-actor. By calling the judgemental person a hypocrite (actor), Jesus is actually saying the person is acting as though they are God, which is a terribly unwise thing to do.
When you’ve been judged because of your skin color, you must bless those who curse you.
It helps to understand a bit about the spirit and mindset the person making a judgement is operating from. It is a place of arrogance and pride, rather than the way of Jesus: love, humility, and generosity. They have a “plank in their eye,” which is seriously affecting the way they see the world. Knowing this, how can we respond to them? Obviously, they have hurt us (and we will deal with that in the next point), but for now we must hear the word of Jesus again.
In Luke 6:28 (NRSV), Jesus says, “Bless those who curse you, pray for those who despitefully use you.” He commands us to bless those who curse us, because as we just learned above, this person is operating from a worldview that could have disastrous implications for their life. And, as a person whom God loves, he desires their redemption and healing as much as ours. It is nothing other than the radical love of Jesus that breaks hardened, judgmental hearts and creates a crack through which Christ might enter in. Therefore, offering a blessing when we’ve received anything but that, is the way of Jesus—and all who would be like him (see Romans 12:14-21 for more on this).
This may seem like a tall order, especially in light of the pain and embarrassment they may have caused you, but doing so enables you to receive the healing word that will make sure your life is properly situated in God’s identity for you.
When you’ve been judged because of your skin color, you must listen to what God has to say about you.
In Judges 6, a man named Gideon has obviously been shaped by the judgment he’s received from his community. In his own words, he identifies himself as “the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family” (Judges 6:15 NRSV). This, undoubtedly is something he heard routinely from his neighbors and family members, and sadly, he began believing it. What a shock it must have been for him when the angel of the Lord showed up and identified him with these words: “The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior” (Judges 6:12 NRSV). Gideon eventually relinquished the identity of “weakest and least,” and accepted God’s identity as “mighty warrior” and was used to deliver Israel.
In the same way, we must let go of unfair judgements by asking God to bless them and help them. Then, we must hear and trust the Word of the Lord as it speaks to who we are. This includes telling God how their words hurt us. As we do this, he will listen to us, address our pain, and speak words to us that reestablish us in his identity for our life. The psalmist displayed a keen understanding of this healing and restorative process when he wrote, “Powerful people harass me without cause, but my heart trembles only at your word” (Psalm 119:165 NLT).
Indeed, the person who doesn’t wait until after they have been judged unfairly to establish themselves in the Word of God will discover that the condemnation they receive from people makes less and less of an impact on their life, because they know who they are in Christ and are accustomed to living from his vision of life for them.
A word to those who are judged positively because of your skin color:
This article has focused on the negative judgements we receive from people. But the fact of the matter is the American caste system can also offer unfair positive judgements based on skin color, being a male, being physically attractive, or any of the other things we highly esteem in this world. If you accept it, and are happy to enjoy favorable treatments based on an inaccurate system of judgment, you are “building your life on sand,” and when the wind blows, you will be shaken (Matthew 7:24-27).
These instances may be harder to detect. Nevertheless, even those in this predicament must endeavor to live according to God’s Word for their life. Once again, the psalmist realized this when he wrote, “A single day in your courts is better than a thousand anywhere else! I would rather be a gatekeeper in the house of my God than live the good life in the homes of the wicked” (Psalm 84:10 NLT).
As more people reject the unfair positive and favorable judgements they receive, and instead choose to live from God’s superior declaration of who they are, the caste system which regularly causes some to be judged unfavorably will be revealed as fraudulent and can be replaced with something that is rooted and grounded in God and his kingdom.
I didn’t have time to mention things like the role of confrontation, deciding what to do with certain relationships, and many other important topics related to this subject. These are all important, and I would encourage you to immerse your life in God and the teachings of Jesus. As you do so, you will learn to respond in the manner in which Jesus would respond in all things.
Passages of Scripture to reflect on:
Matthew 7:1-5; Luke 6:28; Romans 12:14-21; Judges 6; Psalm 119:165; Psalm 84:10.
Image Credit: Sarah Brossart