". . . and having done all . . . stand firm." Eph. 6:13


Identity in Crisis, Identity in Fraud, or Identity in Christ?

February 25, 2023

What happens when you’ve built your entire worldview around a certain aspect of your identity — and then it turns out to be a lie? How can you process the information, or manage the dissonance from other beliefs you hold? Racial activist and author Angela Davis was forced to confront those questions in real time on a recent broadcast of PBS’s program, “Finding Your Roots.”

Consider this exchange when show host Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (a name worthy of the National Treasure franchise) informed her that she is descended from Mayflower Pilgrim William Brewster:

Henry Gates: “Do you know what you’re looking at? That is a list of the passengers on the Mayflower.”

Angela Davis: “No, I can’t believe this. No, my ancestors did not come here on the Mayflower. No, no, no, no, no.”

Gates: “Your ancestors came here on the Mayflower.”

Davis: “No, no, no, no.”

Gates: “One of the 101 people who sailed on the Mayflower.”

Davis: “Oof. That’s a little bit too much to deal with right now.”

Gates: “Did you ever, in your wildest dreams, think that you may have been descended from people who laid the foundation for this country?”

Davis: “Never, never, never, never, never.”

Gates further explained to Davis that she also descended from Stephen Darden, a Revolutionary War military drummer who reportedly became a slave owner in Georgia. “I always imagined my ancestors as the people who were enslaved,” Davis responded. “My mind and my heart are swirling with all of these contradictory emotions.”

To help understand what was going through her mind, here’s a brief biography of Ms. Davis. Having grown up amid Klan bombings in Birmingham, Alabama, Davis studied under critical theorist Herbert Marcuse. In college, she joined the Black Panthers and an all-black branch of the Communist Party. Today, Davis is a widely-recognized feminist author, and she spoke at the left-wing Women’s March in 2017. She identifies with those who “try to fight racism.” All this means that, unlike most readers of The Washington Stand, Davis does not consider it an honor to descend from a Mayflower passenger — or any white American, for that matter.

“What do you do with that information, now that you know?” asked Gates. That’s a great question. These are world-exploding revelations for a dark-skinned CRT activist. To Davis’s credit, she responded admirably, under the circumstances, “I’m glad to have this information.” It makes sense that a lifelong radical would be sincere enough to welcome the truth.

But not every identity-politics activist is so sincere.

Last week, a progressive Quaker group’s diversity officer was exposed for fraudulently presenting herself as a mixed-race woman of color. Raquel Evita Saraswati spent years telling people she was of Latin, South Asian, and Arab descent.

But her mother, Carol Perone, recently set the record straight, “I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she. … She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad.” Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, as she was named at birth, has a mother of German and British ancestry and a late father of Calabrese Italian ancestry — not exactly the diversity jackpot for which identity-driven ideologues strive.

Perone explained that her daughter converted to Islam in high school and felt the need to present a different ethnic identity. She began frequently wearing a hijab and appears to darken her skin with makeup.

Yet Saraswati’s (or is it Seidel’s?) perceived minority identity helped land her the job as chief equity, inclusion, and culture officer for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). “In my mind it was, ‘Great, a person of color, a queer person of color, who happens to be a Muslim, it’s a woman, all these things, and someone who seemed to get it,’” said Oskar Pierre Castro, and HR professional who helped hire her. “I definitely feel conned. … I feel deceived.”

Thus far, AFSC has stood by Saraswati, who has stood by her minority identity.

These two incidents, occurring days apart, demonstrate the precarious foundation on which identity politics rests. A respected black scholar who has dedicated her life to emphasizing differences such as race suddenly learns she is descended from a Mayflower pilgrim and a Revolutionary War patriot — and she has trouble processing the information, beyond repeated denials. A young, white woman felt the need to lie about her ancestry to obtain a coveted job — which worked until her real ancestry became known.

There are two common features to these incidents. First, someone’s entire identity was wrapped up in who their ancestors were. Second, their ancestors were revealed to be different than who they seemed. There are differences, of course: one person was deliberately living a fraudulent history, while the other was sincerely ignorant of the truth. Still, both instances demonstrate, from different perspectives, that when your identity is built solely upon your ancestry, it’s a tower that topples as soon as your ancestry is revealed to be something different than it seems.

As Christians, our identity stands upon a much surer foundation. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus,” Paul wrote. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:28-29). For those who are found in Christ, their physical heritage is no longer their ultimate identity, nor is their cultural heritage their ultimate identity.

First-century Jews prided themselves on their physical descent from Abraham, as if their ancestry alone made them right with God (John 8:33, 39). But Jesus responded that who they obeyed mattered more than who they were related to. “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing the works Abraham did. … You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:39, 44). What are the works Abraham did? “By faith Abraham obeyed” God (Hebrews 11:8), which is another way of saying, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).

In the first-century church, a group of Jews called Judaizers prided themselves on the sign of their physical descent from Abraham, namely circumcision (Acts 15:1), and wanted to force all non-Jews who believed in Jesus to accept circumcision and the requirements of the Mosaic law. In response, Paul reasoned, “Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25). But Paul charged “that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin” (Romans 3:9). “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical,” said Paul. “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:28-29).

The New Testament clearly teaches that the most important aspect of our identity is not our ancestry, nor our culture, but Christ alone.

That isn’t to say that our heritage and ancestry don’t matter at all. In fact, the Bible emphasizes that men and women of “every nation and tribe and language and people” will hear the gospel (Revelation 14:6), will be ransomed by the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9), and will finally be saved (Revelation 7:9). Our very diversity of backgrounds serves to increase God’s glory in transforming us into one people devoted to himself.

The Bible teaches that our heritage and other features of our identity are meaningful, but not ultimate. We can use our diverse identities to promote his glory according to the gifts God has given us, but our ultimate identity is found in Christ. More than anything else, we Christians are redeemed sinners, adopted as “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17). Other identity markers — even our ethnic heritage — may prove unstable, but our identity in Christ is as firm and unchanging as the character and promises of God on which it rests.

Joshua Arnold is a senior writer at The Washington Stand.