Christian Schools and the Issue of Race

I grew up in a very white area of West Michigan. I went to Christian schools my whole life, including Calvin College. Most of the non-white students I came into contact with on a daily basis had been adopted by white families. And though I had almost no experience with anyone who was different from me, I never thought of myself as racist. But I do remember one chilly winter afternoon, seated in the Calvin College field house watching the infamous Calvin/Hope rivalry play out on the basketball court, looking around me at the sea of white faces cheering and thinking, “Is this what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like?” The Bible explains the kingdom of God repeatedly as made up of a diverse group of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation (Rev. 9, John 11). But for most of my life, I have lived in Christian communities with very little diversity.

I don’t imagine anyone wants to think of themselves or be thought of by others as racist. Race is an often avoided and incredibly difficult subject to talk about. But if we truly desire God’s kingdom, we must have these complex conversations. We must confront the realities of racism in our own lives and in our Christian schools.

Exact demographic information about the racial makeup of Christian schools is unavailable. However, though there are notable exceptions, my experience (as well as what U.S. Census reports reveal about enrollment in private schools in general) suggests that Christian schools are made up of mostly white students and teachers.

Over the years, I have heard many different explanations and excuses for this. Some argue that Christian schools appeal to a certain part of the population based on religious adherence that trumps race and ethnicity and therefore shouldn’t be held accountable for whether white or non-white people want to attend. Others mention that our schools have plenty of diversity, even without many different races or ethnicities represented, because each child is a unique creation of God. While they might make us feel better, both points reflect a “colorblind” mentality that ignores the realities of institutional discrimination. Unfortunately, solving the diversity problem in Christian schools will require a lot more than a few teacher seminars on multiculturalism and a smart new marketing campaign. The first step is uncovering the systemic privileges of being white.
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