“It is impossible to begin to learn that which one thinks one already knows.” ~ Epictetus
“There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him, I will find myself and if I find my true self, I will find Him.” ~ Thomas Merton
“There is no deep knowing of God without a deep knowing of self and no deep knowing of self without a deep knowing of God.” ~ John Calvin
Race gives us a beginning before we have begun and an ending before we are finished with life. It is like a hedge all around us, preventing us from coming out and anything not like race from coming in. It shapes us before we are in our mother’s womb as the thought of the social coloring our skin will influence her thoughts about us, the plans that she can make for our lives and the purpose that society has for us. The hands of race are upon our lives before we take our first breath or so we have been taught to believe.
We trust race more than we trust ourselves and we will deny ourselves in order that we might accept race. So bound to our flesh and its realities, we are unable to see anything more about ourselves than what our physical appearance depicts. But, the knowledge of race is but a knowledge of the flesh, a temporal matter. Still, we surmise that race already knows us so what is there to learn? We believe that if we know race, then we will understand ourselves. We could not be further from the truth.
We are told who we are based on the social coloring of our skin and it is presented as a final answer, the supreme means by which we come to know ourselves. Once we are told that we are brown/ red/ yellow/ beige/ white/ black, it is as if it clears up everything, like race answers the who, what, when, where, why and how of our lives. But, does it really? Is there nothing more to be said and nothing that we can do about race? Is there no life, no identity beyond race?
The truth about race is this: race holds our lives down in its suffocating reality until we die to our true selves– ignorant and arrogant, deceiving and disoriented by our own thoughts. We rise with a knowledge of race but have lost our minds, surrendering our thoughts to its preconceived answers and prejudicial conclusions. We get up and go out into the world as if we know it all.
Race holds our lives down until they no longer kick and scream; it takes the very fight and challenge out of our life, that of finding ourselves. It is a life lived in submission to race. We get up only after we have laid our lives down, after we have sacrificed them to the idol of race.
An acceptance of a racialized identity then is not evidence of knowing but an unknowing. It is not proof of our omniscience of self but of our limited ability to know ourselves beyond the flesh and its lusts. Race is a knowledge rooted in carnality; thus, there are no spiritual, eternal or divine conclusions that can be drawn from it. Instead, it draws us away from ourselves.
There is nothing to wrestle with, for or against as race pins our lives down. It says to us, “Give up! I am stronger. Submit! I know you. Look at your flesh. This is who you are.”
Race holds us down until we say that we are colored, until we join its ranks as colored people, until we fall in line, that is behind the color line. This is racial formation; it is not a knowledge of self, others or society but an undoing, a defeat, a ruination, a death. It is the loss of a connection with one’s self and the ability to arrive at one’s own identity as God’s creation. We can’t know who we are a part from our Creator except of course, if we believe that creator to be race. If so, then I suppose one would think that since race has them all figured out that they know it all.