Book review: Beyond Colorblind

Anvil journal of theology and mission

Sarah Shin, Beyond Colorblind: Redeeming our Ethnic Journey (IVP, 2017)

by Mark Simpson, Cardiff

We can’t get away from the colour of our own skin, however much we may want to. Sarah Shin tells the story at one point of an Armenian American who “would vigorously scrub his skin in the shower, hoping that it would change his complexion.” It is a common experience of shame, and so early waves of the antiracist movement sometimes pointed towards a denial of ethnic difference – “colourblindness”. Shin re-tells the good news (as you would expect under the IVP banner), but with an emphasis on ethnicity. God made us with an ethnic identity, he redeems us with an ethnic identity and he draws us into a multi-ethnic people with a mission to the whole world.

We served for the last several years at a church in Rio de Janeiro that had handed its keys over decades ago to the school it shared a site with. Story after story reached us of differing attitudes at the gate to people visiting the church, depending on the colour of their skin. We had a church weekend away: the light skinned Englishman who came to practise the organ was let in, while the dark skinned Brazilian who came to get the sound equipment ready was turned away. (It was a rather quiet weekend away.) It would not be enough to ask the security guards to ignore skin colour. They have too much experience of the sad correlation between skin colour and criminality, created by the legacy of slavery (only abolished a handful of generations ago) and consequent poverty and marginalisation. African and Afro-Brazilian ethnicities need to be celebrated, their songs need to be sung, their voices need to be heard. So we took on board the white pleas to stop talking about “the problem with the gate” and shared the microphone around.

Now we are in Wales, and Shin’s celebration of the God-givenness of each culture strikes a rich chord in this “Old Land of my Fathers”. Reading my way into this land has taken me to works such as Castrating Culture by Dewi Hughes and Sacred Place, Chosen People by Dorian Llywelyn – which together highlight the blindness of many of us English to our own idolatrous imperialism. Sarah Shin teaches me to understand my own ethnic identity (none us doesn’t have one) and to appreciate the cracks in my own cultural history. She memorably evokes Japanese “Kintsukuroi” pottery, which seeks to bring something beautiful out of broken shards, not hiding but highlighting the cracks – much as Matthew does in his genealogy of Jesus, drawing out the scars of incest, prostitution, exclusion, adultery and murder.

We were somewhat taken aback when we were first greeted on a hike here with “Prynhawn da” (Good afternoon). Am I imperialistic to greet people here in English? Can I sing “Swing low, sweet chariot”? Does Boris Johnson have a point when he warns of “selfrecrimination and wetness”? Shin suggests confession, lament and repentance: the gospel always offers hope to the humble, hope of inclusion, hope in diversity, centred in Christ. It’s a great handbook for our days.

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