Race will have you going in circles and since I am one who hates repeating things, taking to heart the concept of “redeeming the time” (Ephesians 5.16), I decided a long time ago to not go along for the ride. I am simply not able to make the best of each opportunity if race is a part of my circle of influence. Its categories will have my life going in circles, leading me back to the same point and position. After awhile, everything becomes a blur and I would much rather close my eyes than look at the world around me. The dizzying speed of race, propelled by unseen hands from every angle will have me unable to stand up straight or walk without assistance. It could even make me sick. This is not how my life was made to be or how I was made to feel about living. (I should add that I will discuss in a later post the absence of the three primary social hues from the color wheel.)
Last night, I began reading Derrick Bell’s Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. Bell died in early October, pushing his books to the top of my ever- expanding reading list. A professor of law, specifically civil rights law, at prestigious universities, he is a well- known contributor to the discourse on race. In Faces at the Bottom of the Well, Bell argues that race is a permanent even an eternal presence in the world. His opening conclusions are hopeless to say the least and antithetical to the Gospel.
The fact is that, despite what we designate as progress wrought through struggle over many generations, we remain what we were at the beginning: a dark and foreign presence, always designated as the ‘other.’ Tolerated in good times, despised when things go wrong, as a people we are scapegoated and sacrificed as distraction or catalyst for compromise to facilitate resolution of political differences or relieve economic adversity.
This is how African Americans have been perceived and treated by other persons. It should not become our perception of ourselves, the means by which we self- identify. African Americans are not treated poorly because we are poor or viewed as less than because we are less than human beings. Anyone can see that the group of persons culturally designated as African Americans has all of the physical parts that comprise a human being though the social coloring of our skin makes persons perceive the cultural group as different. It is the perceived and implied meaning of the skin that prevents the visibility of our humanity.
But, we, as African Americans, know that we are human beings, right? Certainly, we do not need to convince anyone of our humanity or our rights as human beings? The argument would be absurd! One can spend his or her entire life attempting to convince a person or group of his or her humanity. The case can go on for so long that one can begin to doubt that they are even human. Race makes us attempt to prove what is only self- evident. We must realize our humanity and it is only in our self- realization that race loses its grip on us. Oh, but this is the power of color and its color wheel. Once you are on, it never slows down so that you might get off but instead, its riders scream, “Faster, faster!” But, there is no progress to be made on this social merry-go- round. Our employment of race is getting us no where and faster.
And the way that African Americans have been treated should not be seen as the way things will always be. Instead, it should be seen as the way things were and for some people, still are. I thank Derrick Bell and others for naming what has been, for lending their voice to a difficult truth. But, they are historians not prophets. The eyes of humanity and the eyes of God are not the same. They tell us of the “trouble they’ve seen”; they do not tell us what God sees in us and for us. There is always another way to see things and ourselves if we would get off of the color wheel.
What standard can be raised if how African Americans are perceived becomes our reality? Part of the work of The Daily Race is self- awareness and with it, a consciousness that can discern what is real for others and what is real for you. There is a difference, I assure you. How one appears to others can not serve as the only source of perspective and identity. Open your eyes and see what you see, not what some one else tells you is there. Have the courage to say, “I want to get off” or jump if you have to. But, don’t join the sickening chorus of those who scream “Faster, faster” with their eyes closed.