“Religious traditions offer a unique perspective on identity by offering a framework for integrating our life journey and setting boundaries for who we are. Religion concerns itself with boundaries of who we are and who we are not. … Religion orients a person in relation to the forces in the universe and at the same time mediates between personal and social identity.”
~ Jane Kopas, Sacred Identity: Exploring a theology of the person, p. 25, 27
I am not black. I am not a black person. When I say this to persons or correct them when they assume that I am, some become uncomfortable. Others appear to be irritated or maybe even angry. It is because whatever they thought they knew of me, of my experiences and subsequently, their expectations must be tossed aside. Fear sets in as they realize that they are literally facing the unknown. And it is their preconceived notion, a pre- judgment, which makes her or him think that they know me at all. But, what do we really know about any person based on race that isn’t stereotypical or prejudicial?
This is not a new response for me. I have regularly thought and behaved in opposition to the plans that others had for me. My parents had their expectations however limited, misguided and self- serving. My siblings and most of my extended family still don’t know what to make of my decision to accept the call to ordained ministry. They were comfortable with me attending church; they did every once in awhile but I had gone too far. I was now out of reach and quickly became out of touch with their reality. But, they behaved the same when I decided to apply to college and later to graduate school. These are just not things that my family was accustomed to hearing much less talking about. The identity that they shared simply did not fit me so I became a misfit.
So American society’s plan for me to be black was bound to meet some resistance. It’s been done before and has been done for too long. Surely, there is something more to me than this carnal, superficial, temporal and socially constructed reality. How could anyone put so much value in something that will not last, that will return to the ground from whence it came? I am more than dust. I am spirit.
For most of my life, my sacred identity has driven my choices in life. It’s a shame that it took me so long to apply it to race. Still, I am happy to be free of race, of its shame and guilt, of its bitterness and unforgiveness, of its hatreds and ignorance. Today, I am grateful for my sacred identity as God knows me and God knows that I am not black.