How does believing in race make us better Christians? How do its prejudices and stereotypes help us to love our neighbor, to welcome the stranger, to take care of the orphan and the widow? What does race really do for us? What does it strengthen our faith in?
Thomas Dixon Jr., a Southern Baptist Minister and the author of The Clansman which would serve as the inspiration behind D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, shared this story in The Life Worth Living: A Personal Experience:
A Western train on which I was traveling one day suddenly shot forward at breakneck speed. Around dangerous curves we plunged, dashing the passengers from side to side. On past a station we swept, through an excited village and disappeared in a cloud of dust. No signal to stop was heeded in the engine’s cab. At last the conductor crawled over the tender, knocked the engineer on the head, grasped the throttle and applied the air brakes. The engineer had gone mad. Leaning far out of his window, his hair streaming in the wind, his eyes set on the track, he was muttering unintelligible words.
Dixon offers this insight after sharing the story: “Only a madman rushes forward without pause. The soul that lives must have hours of silence and repose.” I share this story and its insight for two reasons. Primarily, it is to draw a comparison between the engineer and ourselves as we too have gone mad. Like the engineer, our belief in the existence of race and its social powers, has caused us to lose our minds.
Secondly, race does not allow for a life of reflection or pause. Our lives move at dangerous speeds. They cover large distances without purpose as we pass by people that we should pick up while muttering the nonsensical justifications of racism. We do not think about what we are doing or what we are saying. We do not stop to think about where our lives are going, where our minds are headed.
A racialized life is a thoughtless life as its arguments and conclusions are given to us. They require no work on our part, save that of surrendering our control. We, like the engineer, are allowed to stay in position, but we are no longer aware of our lives or that of others. Instead, we stick our heads out of the window or in the sand.
We do not think for ourselves but the voice of race, now in our heads, speaks for us. Race does not allow for silence, for consideration, for reflection. It pushes us along so we do not have time to look into the eyes of those we have dismissed or to look back upon our actions, influenced by racism and prejudice. But, thank God for the conductor!
She or he realizes that this is not the way that our lives should be going and takes responsibility for bringing us to our senses or at least, that we stop, ensuring that we are not able to hurt ourselves or others until we receive the assistance we need. We, like the engineer, need someone to apply to brakes and to make us think about where our lives are headed if we continue to allow race to control the direction and pace of our lives.
We need to and we must stop and ask questions. Why are we continuing to go in the direction, follow the path, live the life that race has for us? Why haven’t we changed tracks? How does this social direction impact our spiritual lives? How long will we follow this course and why can’t we stop?
A person who has gone mad cannot answer these questions.