Saying, “I don’t see color” is not the answer to racism

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I am not blind and I am certainly not color- blind.  That’s not what the race-less gospel means or aims to accomplish.  I am not hoping that the world will turn a blind eye to the different physical appearances of human beings across cultures and the globe.  Please don’t tell your eyes that they are lying.  They see color.

In a recent CNN townhall, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy and I honestly don’t see color now.”  He is also seriously considering a run for president of the United States of America.  But, he really can’t be serious.  In a move that made my stomach turn and made me turn down my usual tall cups of Starbucks chai tea latte,  two African American men were falsely arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend before ordering beverages.  They both later settled with the company with a symbolic $1 each.  In response to the fall out, Starbucks closed its doors for business to solve the issues of race, prejudice, stereotyping, profiling and racialized preferential treatment in four hours.

Clearly, they needed more time if Schultz can’t see color.  I think that it was better said that as a young boy, he did not see race.  Race is a social system based on the hierarchy of flesh,  skin tones specifically.  The lighter, the so- called whiter you are, the higher you go up the ladder and in the eyes of society while darker complexions are kept close to the ground.  This social agreement is explained and agreed to over time.  Schultz was too young then to enter into this social arrangement of relationships.  Saying he does not see color does not make it go away.

I am not blind.  I am also not color-blind.  But, what I can see is that the amount of melanin or the lack thereof in a person’s skin as a determinant of inherent worth, undeniable beauty, unearned economic privilege and social status and the inalienable right to live with dignity and to be treated with respect is wrong and unjust.  We are literally prioritizing people based on their flesh.  Consequently, when I see a person, I don’t see their socially constructed race and treat them according to its prejudices.  Because I don’t agree with that.

I also don’t find race to be a credible or unbiased witness to our shared humanity.  Pretending that color is the problem and not the way that we use color to make some human beings a problem is what must be acknowledged, addressed and changed.  Saying, “I don’t see color” just backs away from the conversation.  It’s not a response and it is not the answer.

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Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

Tongue tied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I proclaim a raceless gospel when there is so much faith in race?  Why do I scribble over words in books that color- code our shared humanity and repeat the appropriate cultural designations aloud?  We are not black but African Americans.  We are not white but European Americans.  We are not yellow but Asian Americans.  We are not red but indigenous people who live in what has been renamed the United States of America.  We are not brown but Latino/a Americans (The racial category also includes Southeast Asian people, North African people and a few other cultural groups).  We are not beige, the color chosen for those who are bi- cultural but we share in the diversity of our humanity and represent what it looks like when cultures come together.  We are love bridges.

Because race will not tell me what I see or who I can see or how I must see others.

Because human beings are not colors, a collection of attributes and physical characteristics.  Because race does not even come close to expressing who we are in the world and in relation to each other.  Because race is not a witness to my human being or yours; it can never testify to seeing us.  I may not be colorblind but I am certain that race is blind.  Race captures what we feel about our flesh and its findings are literally superficial.

Race is not a hypothesis.  It is an uneducated guess about our humanity as its creators had no idea what they were saying or how their words would be used hundreds of years later.  And yet it is informed for the purposes of economic and political advantage.  Persons who use the racial categories to their advantage, use it as a means of oppression, as a leg up and a foot down on those who would attempt to rise above the fray.  Because who is willing to give up their privilege, their head start, to reject the title of whiteness?  Because we are not really taking away whiteness but social benefits, immunities and protections that go ahead of us, clear the way for us.

Because race is about competition and calling persons black slows us down.  Persons who are socially colored black are deemed lazy.  They cannot keep up and yet their ancestors built up this nation.  It doesn’t make sense.  One should cancel out the other and yet, we choose one over the other.  Because it serves us well and serves us best to think of another as less than us.  Because race is about pride, our insecurities and wanting to be so much more than human.  So rather than work hard, we think the worst of others to make ourselves feel better: lazy.

Laziness is a stereotype, a rock in the shoes of those who would attempt to make strides, who would try to cross the color line.  This is why it hurts when they have to “jump higher and run faster” than their counterparts.  Because they don’t have to deal with a word that is meant to trip them up and tie their tongue.  Because it is hard to say anything good about being black, which is why some persons talk white.

This need to be white is a mental transformation, a metamorphosis, a conversion of sorts.  Race has a life of its own, separate and apart from who we are and were meant to be.  Race is another story, a smaller narrative and a diversion.  It is not the way, the truth or the life (John 14.6).

Because the creature- created and run racial identities have no spiritual benefits and no eternal value.   Instead, the sociopolitical and economic construct of race is a kind of currency.  Our belief in race continues the need for this skin trade.  Nearly four hundred years later with the approaching anniversary of the first Africans enslaved and brought to the Virginia shores, we are still in bondage.  Tongue tied to race are most of us and me to the raceless gospel.

Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo is actually a group picture

Associated Press

Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing a racist costume and has apologized.  In his 1984 medical school yearbook, there appears someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another in blackface.  Tonight, persons are calling for his resignation.

While I take issue with his decision to wear either “costume” as the history of pain and suffering that the blackface caricature and the terrorist actions of the Klan have caused African American people goes without question, I also can’t help but wonder, “Who stood beside Northam?  Who stood behind the camera to take the picture?  Who arranged the pictures in the yearbook?  Who proofed the final version and sent it to the printer?  Who published it?  Who signed his yearbook?”

Because racism is  a group effort.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but it  also takes a community to raise a racist.  Racism does not happen without consensus, without support, without the agreement that, in this case, African Americans deserve to be mocked.  Racism, this belief that one cultural group is better than another based on the amount of melanin in their skin, is not something persons just come up with on their own. 

The belief in human races and the supremacy of the so- called white man is not to be lumped in with Santa Claus, unicorns and tooth fairies.  No, this lie has an ugly history.  This blackface caricature and the Klan have been around for a long time.  This is hand me down racism, traditional stereotypes and hatred.  Who taught him this? 

Doesn’t he know that pictures of African American men and women were taken while being tortured and lynched?  That crowds gathered for this spectacle of injustice as they were dismembered and burned alive?  That the images were printed and sold as postcards, that persons shared these pictures like they would a photo with Santa Claus?  That the injustices inflicted upon African American people have been photographed and are now filmed from body cameras and cellphones?  That African American people have been seeing these images for a long time?

Did anyone in his family or in his circle of friends, his teachers or classmates tell him that this was mean- spirited, inappropriate, insensitive or racist?  And if not, why not?  This is the real conspiracy, that is to silence our conscious, to go along with this history of bullying, to put it on, to capture it in a frame, to make it apart of our personal memories.  This picture is apart of what he remembers about his time in medical school.

In 2017, African Americans made up almost 20 percent of the population in Virginia.  Tonight, I wonder how they are left feeling about the leader who is supposed to represent them.  There is no need to look at his heart; the yearbook picture is worth a thousand words and represents hundreds of years of humiliation for African American people.  I wonder why he didn’t see this in 1984 and why we still don’t see it now?

Because racism is not out of the picture.

 

 

What’s in the melting pot?

Recently, journalist Tom Brokaw was called out on comments he made on Meet the Press where he suggested that Hispanics were not doing enough to assimilate.  He has since apologized but the conversations continue online, on buses and in taxis, at barbershops and salons, in breakrooms and over dinner as to what he meant and more specifically, what it means to be American.  To be sure, I am glad that he said it out loud.  Rather than pretend or tolerate persons from other cultures, give voice to your fears and the secret checklist that you only take out in with friends and family.

Because you can’t exactly take back that some persons are struggling with whether or not they  “want brown grandbabies.”  As ignorant as it is insulting, it is a racist belief that human beings who are not socially colored white should be treated as unwelcomed and rejected upon sight, that we know all there is to know about the baby boy or girl based on the social coloring of skin.  Most people are descent enough not to call a baby unattractive but to outright reject the possibility of the child, to abort the idea of a little one because they are a member of a culture that others have deemed inferior is heartless.  Persons who espouse this belief are pre-hating, pre- stereotyping, pre- segregating their families.  Before it even happens, they are drawing lines around their hearts and their homes with their tongues.

This is who my family is and who we always will be.  All others: Do not enter.  Keep off the grass.

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We want persons to become American, to become one of us but how much of themselves must they give up?  Deny?  Reject?  Why can’t they keep their heritage, their culture, their language, their name?  Why do they have to lose themselves altogether?  Who has the recipe?  The measuring cups?  Are we eyeing the amount or is it exact?

When I was a child, I was told that America was a melting pot.  If this were the case, then how is it that the flavors of all the cultures that have entered are not reflected?  That persons after jumping into the pot are still being told to “go back to where you came from”?  This makes me wonder who is in charge of the ingredients?  Who is the taste tester and who is this dish being served to?

Who are we becoming as Americans and who says that we are what our founders and fellow Americans intended?  Who has the right to say that someone is “un-American” and where do these meanings come from?  Frankly, I would like to see the checklist.  I want persons to come to the table and say how they really feel about “brown grandbabies”– because they are not coming but already here.  They are in the so- called melting pot, whether or not you want them to touch you, to rub off on you, to be associated or affiliated or closer still, related to you or not.

I am convinced that we are making a myth, that what is in the pot is a false hero narrative of the founding of this country and of a people who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps versus those who choked the life and culture out of people who are indigenous to what is now the United States (Sadly, the names of the people have been snuffed out.) and who tied a rope around Africans to enslave them, to lynch them and then to limit them through segregation and the Black Codes that continue even today.

We have to talk about it; if not, comments like Brokaw’s will merely stir the pot.