“The real establishment that needed to be overthrown was not the Welfare Department or the complacent affluent or the slum landlords, but the establishment in each of us that had its own dole system, that did not want to be denied its little comforts and had condemned the real self to a dim and dingy cellar… What could we do to dethrone the power within that was intent on another way and had a passion for keeping things as they were? How do we read the Bible so that we are changed by it? How do we read it so that the Pharisees in us, who will not let the new come but cling to the old traditions and ways of responding, are shaken out of their strongholds?”
Elizabeth O’Connor, Our Many Selves
When I share with persons about the race-less life, I am no longer discouraged by those who deny its possibility because of their experience with racism, prejudice, segregation or even their belief in socially color- coded stereotypes. For such persons, the past experience of any of the above-mentioned has become the truth by which they interpret the world and their perspective has become racially motivated. For them, we are all “racially charged”; it is the source, the energy, the animating principle behind our actions. Consequently, for these persons, all people think and act racially whether consciously or unconsciously.
No, the response that is most troubling for me is from persons who say, “Yes, I know that race is not real. It’s a social construct.” “So, why do you continue to speak using racialized terms?” I ask. I assure that the answer is never really an answer. The reason can be summarized as such: “There are just so many things to change as it relates to race that to change my way of thinking about it wouldn’t make much of a difference.”
Clearly, there are persons who have a knowledge of race and a clear understanding of its purpose but it does not challenge them to live differently. Instead, they point to social systems as if to say, “If they will change, then I will change.” They point their fingers away from themselves as if they don’t have the ability to change apart from others. Or, perhaps, they blame these systems and feel that they have to change first, that they must prove that they are in agreement with the change and will support it. If not, these persons would be changing for nothing.
Still, the truth remains that persons who understand race as a social construct don’t want this truth applied to their lives because there is a level of comfort in maintaining the status quo no matter how harmful or deceitful. It is work, however deadening to our souls, that has already been done in creating this racialized American existence. Why waste it? There is also a certain amount of laziness that is uncovered in such responses that would suggest that we have given our societies the job of creating meaning for our lives. And it doesn’t matter if it is the truth or not. We just don’t want to take the time to know ourselves for ourselves; we don’t want to be held responsible for defining our lives. That’s what “they” are for?
We have taken a seat and it is a lofty one, looking down on those who have not figured out this game. We still do not realize that we are not the wiser but are in a far worse condition. We know the laws of race, practice its customs and pass down its traditions. But, we lack the motivation, the will to change and it is a matter of power as there is an element of control that we have in this racialized world that we’ve created. To exchange our position would immediately make us subjects and subject to the authority of another. I am learning through these conversations that there are many Christian believers who “hold to this form of godliness, this religion but deny its power” (II Timothy 3.5). We don’t believe that God has the power to eliminate race in our society because we don’t believe that He has the power to change us. Yes, we love “our Father who art in heaven” but we do not want His kingdom to come because we don’t want to step down (Matthew 5.9-10).