When I talk about my experience with race and the decision to live a race-less life, persons who want to convince me of its reality and in turn, my need to accept the social identity of a “black” person often challenge me. They look as if they want to grab me by both shoulders, look into my eyes and say, “Race is real, baby. It’s here. Can’t you see it? It’s not just right in front of you. It is you.” These persons speak as if I lack self- awareness and that my unwillingness to accept the social category that race creates for me is somehow evidence of my ignorance.
They tell me that black is who I am and consequently, an inevitable identity. I suppose they believe it is an acceptance that will come with age. I can’t beat race so I might as well join it, right? This is despite the fact that persons who would today fall into the same category of black were also called nigger and Negro. If it is who I am then, why does it keep changing? And why am I unable to find myself within its words and meanings? Why is it not obvious but instead must be taught to me, pointed out to me, experienced only in hate-filled demonstrations? And my then inherited knowledge of race is not about my appearance but how I will be approached; it’s not about my temperament but other’s treatment of me.
They tell me that I cannot avoid it because it is apart of me but I don’t see it, this blackness and I don’t feel close to it. And why should I? What does race do for me? How does knowing race or claiming one benefit me? I certainly don’t think that I should like it because everyone else does. I was never one to go along with the crowd for fear that there would be no witness left to testify as to what became of the group.
Race is natural they tell me. It is the way that God created us. Then, why hasn’t God told me? God never said that I was black. If race is natural then, why does it appear alien to me? If it is unavoidable and has always been with us, then why do I have the desire to separate myself from it? It is not a member of my body so what do I need race to do that my hands, feet, mouth and mind cannot?
I am used to the persuasive arguments, the retelling of her and his encounter with racism so as to prove the existence and relevance of race. So entrenched are we in the illusion of race that we don’t know how to explain our lives and the subsequent privileges and slights apart from it. There can be no other way, reason or interpretation. It is because you are, we are, and they are colored people, black/white/red/yellow/brown/beige. This why we hate each other. This is why we kill each other. This is why we must be kept separate.
And I am not arguing about the effect; I disagree on the cause. The rationale for our mistreatment of each other does not lie in the social coloring of our skin. It’s not race but another expression of pride and jealousy that motivates us. It’s not prejudice but another form of judgment. It’s not stereotyping but lying. The solution is not in the acceptance of all colors or the denial that one sees any differences at all. It’s not about race; that’s the scapegoat. This is about how we treat one another and there’s no one to blame but us.
There is no mysterious potter that racially forms and shapes us. We need only look at our hands. We conform each other to the images of race. We draw the lines and then cross them. We provide the rations of privilege and train our children for combat. We strategize and plan and attack each other. Crying, “peace, peace” when that’s not what we really want. We want war because we want sides– our side of the story to be prominent, our piece of the pie to be largest.
Still, the allegiance to race conformity is what strikes me today. The notion that I must join the socially created group or risk not fitting in anywhere, no matter what is lost or taken through the association. The push to conform—you have go here; this is the only place for you. The pull to conform—you have to join us or you won’t belong anywhere. The pain to conform—who else will you be? There is no other identity available. This is the way our society provides meaning for us and without race, you will have no means by which to interact with its communities and cultures. Where will you go if not to race?
I will go to God. I am better off without race than with it. I don’t need a social color to provide meaning for my life. I have my relationship with God for that. The pseudo- group membership and comradery of race conformity, the lie that we are in this together does more to separate us from ourselves and others. Besides, I was made in God’s image. I shall not be conformed to the image of race.