It is a difficult task, searching the self for answers that don’t belong. They were perhaps left with us in haste with the thought that we would return them or throw them away later. An experience of prejudice as either witness or victim, the use of a racial slur at the dinner table that just didn’t feel right to you or seeing a person being teased because of the social coloring of her skin, we meant to go back to these answers, to examine them, to challenge the assumptions being made, to question them. But, it was easier to just leave it alone. It had already been said. The action had already taken place. What would your questioning have done? It would have ensured that race, prejudice and/or stereotyping as the answer to our identity, our social interactions, our descriptions of persons who practice different customs or traditions would not have remained absolute. What would happen in our world if we raised our hands to question race as opposed to sitting on them?
Or perhaps, we thought that we could use them for something, give them to someone that they fit better or that we might need these answers in the future. Keeping them would save us the trouble of finding them for ourselves later. We just didn’t understand them now but they were the right answers. They were givens, right? Why throw them away? Race must be good for something, right? Wrong.
It is difficult to evaluate the answers that we have been given, to discover the questions within us. We want to believe that everything is as it should be, that there is nothing lurking below the surface that is questionable. To challenge this seemingly foundational truth would mean that we would have to start from scratch, trust that what we’re letting go of is not worth comparing to what we will be able to reach for and by God’s grace, possess. There are some who might say that the work of rebuilding ourselves without race is not worth it. What difference will it make to leave race out of the human identity equation? I would ask, “What difference, what positive effect has race made in our lives? What progress has race made in America? How has it moved us, as American Christians, forward in realizing the vision of God for humanity? What good has race done?
Are we living if we go through life simply filling in the blanks of existence with the answers that race has given us? It is not a cheat sheet. I agree with the writers of “The Art of Powerful Questions: Catalyzing, Insight, Innovation and Action”:
“…North American society in particular focuses on having the ‘right answer’ rather than discovering the ‘right question.’ Our educational system focuses more on memorization and rote answers than on the art of seeking new possibilities. We are rarely asked to discover compelling questions, nor are we taught why we should ask such questions in the first place. Quizzes, examinations and aptitude tests all reinforce the value of correct answers. Is it any wonder why most of us are uncomfortable with not knowing? The aversion in our culture to asking creative questions is linked to an emphasis on finding quick fixes and an attachment to black/white, either/or thinking” (Vogt, Brown, Isaacs, 2003, p.2).”
Race is not the right answer to the source and purpose of our humanity. I challenge you to discover the questions that will lead us to it.