I learned early on that if people are different colors, I did not have the preferred color. When my mother and longtime friends would get together and the subject of skin color came up, my mother was sure to say with a tone of disgust, “We are all pale and bleached out. Everything shows. Every scratch and blemish. Every emotion is displayed for the whole world to see.”
I grew up in a wooded area of northwestern Washington State. Everyone I knew talked about and acted toward people the same, regardless of their ancestry. I never got the slightest indication that people of some national origins made for better friends than people of other ancestral backgrounds.
A couple of examples. World War II was barely over, yet I always heard Japanese neighbors spoken of and treated with genuine kindness. Neighboring Japanese children were invited to my third birthday party.
An elderly couple of African ancestry lived in the next house about a quarter of a mile down the gravel road from our house. Difference in age, not skin hue, limited our contact. I never got a hint that they were in any way different from anyone else we knew.
So a lifelong shock came in 1960 when my family took a road trip from our home, traveling east to West Virginia, south to Louisiana, west to California, and back north to Washington.
I will never forget a scene while going through a busy city in Texas. A pretty, very pregnant young woman walked across the street in front of us while we were stopped at a red light. She looked tired and thirsty under the scorching Texas sun. Then she approached a drinking fountain. We saw the unbelievable sign “Whites Only.”
Words cannot describe how bitterly broken the young woman looked. She desperately needed a drink. The light turned green, and the traffic moved us ahead as though nothing unusual had happened. My father regretted for the rest of his life that we didn’t try harder to get her a drink. Also in Texas we saw three restrooms at service stations: men, women, and blacks. It was all so foreign to everything I had known and experienced.
Throughout my adult years, I have been blessed by following my parents’ noble example. I am wealthy with friends from all over the world! I have dearly loved Christian brothers and sisters of every skin tone. My mother was right: Whatever color I am, it leaves a lot to be desired.
But what color am I? A year or so ago I heard comedian Sam Adams talk about his color. He was filling out a form that asked for his race. White and black were on the list, followed by a blank line he could fill in. He went to a paint store, looked at the color charts, and found out he was Chocolate Indulgence. “What a relief,” he said. “Black and white are the two blandest colors in the crayon box.”
I was quite young when I figured out I was not white. I had white shirts; my skin was not that color. So recently, inspired by Mr. Adams’ example, I went to a paint store and found my color. It was a very light shade of brown. Not pretty at all! Every mark and every piece of dust showed up clearly. As my eyes followed that color chart, the tints became darker and darker. The skin tone of everyone I knew was on that chart.
My conclusion: We are all different shades of the same human color.
During my seventy-plus years, I have met lots of people. My conclusion has been reconfirmed every time. I have never seen a black person or a white person. Have you? Everyone I have ever seen is the same color I am — just a different shade. Some are darker and some are lighter (showing every blemish).
What does the Bible teach about human skin color? The Bible categorizes the human family, but never once by color, skin tone, pigmentation, or amount of melanin. In Genesis 11, the whole earth was of one language. Obviously, the whole earth was of one color also. God divided the human family by giving the people different languages, not different colors.
I realize that arguments from silence are one of the weakest forms. But it is worth noting that color is never used in Bible descriptions of the human family. People are recognized as belonging to different nations (1 Chronicles 16:31), kingdoms (2 Kings 19:15-19), and families (Genesis 12:3) — quoted and translated as “kindreds” in Acts 3:25. The descendants of Ham are divided according to their families, tongues, countries, and nations (Genesis 10:20). The people who came to Jerusalem for Pentecost were from nearly twenty different nations (Acts 2:5-12).
The word color in the Bible is used when referring to precious stones, cloth, and feathers — not people. White things in Scripture include such things as goats, baskets, and snow. Hair, clouds, and night are among the black things (see sidebar).
The Song of Solomon appears, at first glance, to be an exception. Chapter 1:5, 6 includes the word black. The bride describes herself as black, apparently, according to verse 6, as the result of a suntan. Her beloved is “white and ruddy” (5:10). The Hebrew word translated “white” here is not the standard word for the color white. Instead, it means “dazzling” or “glowing.”
My all-time favorite scripture on this subject is Revelation 7:9, 10:
After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation to our God which sitteth on the throne, and unto the Lamb.
I am richly blessed with dearly loved brothers and sisters in Christ from Jamaica, England, Canada, Australia, Kenya, Mexico, Guatemala, India, the United States, and other lands. Many of them are now sleeping in Jesus, waiting for His glorious return and the glad resurrection day. No matter what land we are from or what language we grew up speaking, we will be together around God’s throne, praising Him for the salvation that is ours through our Lord Jesus Christ. What a day that will be!
Color in the Bible
“Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
People are not described or defined by their skin color in the Bible, but many other wonderful things are.
Black: clouds (1 Kings 18:45); marble (Esther 1:6); night (Proverbs 7:9); ravens (Song of Solomon 5:11); heavens (Jeremiah 4:28); horses (Zechariah 6:2); hair (Matthew 5:36); cloth (Revelation 6:12).
White: baskets (Genesis 40:16); teeth (49:12); seed (Exodus 16:31); owls (Leviticus 11:18); donkeys (Judges 5:10); linen (Esther 1:6); eggs (Job 6:6); snow (Psalm 51:7).
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”
— Martin Luther King