“Do not be anxious about anything.”
For the past few months, I have been taking a class designed to equip new and prospective leaders for pastoral ministry. Like most who discern a call to pastor, I have approached the possibility in disbelief and yet it seems unsurprisingly inevitable. In our last class, the facilitator shared with us the nuts and bolts of contract negotiation, the need for the ongoing cultivation of the life of the mind and the soul through Sabbath rest and study leave and the importance of self-care. After a short break, we returned to discuss the dreaded though inevitable experience of every leader—conflict. Now, I must say that the topics discussed previously were in no way meant to suggest that one might need to renegotiate one’s contract, take a sabbatical or invest in self- care in the event of a conflict within his or her church. It was all a matter of coincidence. I think.
As with most of what I hear, see and read, I think about race and this class is no exception. I am always looking for opportunities to undermine the credibility of race, to catch race in a lie, and to peel back the veil to reveal more of the capitalistic machinery at work to maintain the production of this social mystery or should I say social misery. After we learned our conflict management style, the facilitator shared with us the triggers of anxiety. While he spoke, I jotted down notes as to what may be the triggers of racial anxiety.
Race causes us to be anxious in environments wherein we may have to interact with cultural groups different from our own as we never know what race has said about us to them. Likewise, it is a hard to disguise the stereotypical impressions that race has made upon us. Race is never neutral. It has taken a side and in accepting race, we must also choose one.
The Triggers of Racial Anxiety
- Money: The reality of economic inequity and the continued dialogue concerning reparations for the descendants of African and African American ancestors who were enslaved is unmistakable proof.
- Gaps in social position and possession: High unemployment rates and the disproportionate poverty among the cultures continue to cast doubt on the accessibility of the American Dream.
- Sex and sexuality: Social discomfort continues, caused by persons who choose to date and/or marry persons of different cultural backgrounds. It is heard in statements like “They are stealing our men” or “They are taking our women.” And “don’t bring her home if she can’t use my comb.”
- The perceived or real use of a racial slur: It triggers the shared collective historical or personal memory of race-based trauma.
- The perceived or real experience of mistreatment or witnessing of social favoritism (also known as white privilege): “Because I’m black” this or that happened. “Because they’re white,” this or that will not happen.
- The perceived or real experience of injustice: Consider, for example, the stories of Clarence Thomas, O. J. Simpson, Michael Jackson, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Race makes one person the representative for an entire cultural group and what happens to one is interpreted as what could happen to all.
- Building and development: The reality of Jim Crow segregation, redlining, and later gentrification continues to feed the belief that “they don’t want us here.”
- The death of a person based on a racialized reality: The history of the lynching of enslaved Africans and later African Americans and other forms of mob justice have impacted the credibility of the American criminal justice system for many African Americans. The death of persons like Amadou Diallo only adds to the long roster of witnesses to this truth.
- Body image and appearance: Long – held stereotypes of beauty, aesthetic perfection and the treatment of the socially defined black body (e.g. Sarah Baartman also known as the Venus Hottentot) have rendered the belief in individual/personal beauty naïve or idealistic. It also breeds comparison and dissatisfaction, as socially defined whiteness is the image to be made in.
- Growth or Loss: Majority and minority are designations only useful in the maintenance of hierarchal systems used to delegate power and position. This anxiety is voiced in statement like, “They are taking over my country.” Does anyone remember the song that begins, “This land is your land/This land is my land/From California to the New York islands/From the redwood forests to the gulf stream waters/This land was made for you and me”? What happened to this sentiment?
- History: James Baldwin says that “we are trapped in history and history is trapped in us.” The historical relationships of European and African Americans, for example, have proven difficult in beginning new relationships and models of interacting. The relationships of race are limited and seek only to maintain the positions of oppressed and oppressor.
- Movement/Space: When one cultural group largely populates a neighborhood and members of a different cultural group begin to move in, the old neighbors may become anxious due to the increased proximity of those new neighbors who may appear strange, different, and/or unknown. It may be considered a loss of ownership and territory.
I thought that I should add that all of my posts are written from my personal experience with race as an African American woman and unlike the expectations of race, my view does not reflect the experiences, beliefs or assumptions of millions of other people who though belonging to same cultural group have not had a monolithic personal American experience. I also welcome other cultural perspectives as to the causes of and/or experiences with racial anxiety. Remember, we’re running together!