This conversation made it all the more clear how completely artificial and nonsensical the concept of race identity is. Take for example the category, “Hispanic.” What does this mean? It’s not a nationality. There is no country of Hispania, and no one thinks the Hispanic label should be exclusive for people from Spain. Does it mean people with brown skin or people who speak Spanish? This is confusing because there are a lot of blue-eyed, blond people who speak Spanish and a lot of brown people who don’t. It would make sense to say that hispanic describes a culture--
a particular language, types of food and social customs—but this can and does include people with very different skin tones and hair textures.
Years ago I worked with a biology teacher who lived for six years in Costa Rica—a place full of Hispanic people if ever there was one, right? I was shocked to learn from him that in Costa Rica it was common that the brown-skinned people most Americans think of as Hispanic are labeled “white” along with red-headed and blonde people. The clear racial distinction is between whites (which includes browns) and blacks of African descent. So does this mean one's race actually changes according to location?
The confident confusion of race is also evident in arguments against interracial marriage. If it’s wrong for, let’s say whites and blacks, to marry, how are we to determine who’s really white and who’s really black? Or how white constitutes really white and visa versa? I’m married to a white woman and she’s long been under the impression that she married a white man, but after my conversation with my Indian interlocutor that’s been called into question. What if he had responded with suspicion to my identifying as white? How could I prove it? Or much worse, what if he wasn’t brown Indian but white Alabamian a hundred years ago and I was seeking a job with his company or the hand of his daughter in marriage?
Frederick Douglass was one of the most famous “black” slaves, but his father was white. If slaves were slaves because they were black why wasn’t he only half a slave? Obama was billed as the first “black” U.S. president, but his mother is white. Why wasn’t he known as the first mulatto president? Who gets to decide these things? Maybe we can begin to understand the real answer to that question in considering G.K. Chesterton's lucid observation that, “Of all forms in which science or pseudo-science has come to the rescue of the rich and the stupid, there is none so singular as the singular invention of the theory of races.” (Heretics, Ch. 13)
Race categories are made with as much thought and as much authority as those which designated the cool kids from everybody else in high school. Just as terms like “jock” or “nerd” convey almost nothing about the real identity of a person, knowing someone’s race—or what some people in some areas perceive as their race—indicates basically nothing about who the person really is. The more someone tries to answer the question of what exactly being black or white or Hispanic means and what exactly these indicate about the real identity of a person, the more one realizes the stinging truth that race categories are an expedient nonsense on which whole civilizations have been built.
Instead of the phantom of race labels, what we really need to be concerned with is The One who will judge the heart within rather than the skin that covers it.