“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?” ~ Danielle LaPorte
God tells us who we are because only God knows who we are to become. More than our parents, our Creator knows us intimately. In fact, the psalmist says this of God’s creative ability: “For it was you who formed me in my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139.13, 15a,16a). This is a noteworthy distinction between race and God.
Race is not a creator or the Creator of humanity; race is a judge, a social critic, a commentator. Race does not create; it criticizes. It is not present with God “in the beginning” of our lives but much later. Race cannot and does not form our inward parts.
Sure, it can say of a baby unborn that her or his life will be full of trouble and marked by setbacks or full of triumph and distinguished by success because of the social coloring of skin. That is one of the rules of race but unlike God’s law, there are exceptions. Race is not right all of the time about anyone.
Race has overstepped its boundaries as it relates to our humanity and we have allowed it. What we created now dominates us. We sought to change others with its creation and employment and now, we are ensnared by the very trap that we set. We can’t seem to get our lives out of it. It has now taken over not only those we planned to oppress but race now rules us. It has changed who we really are and now we don’t know what to make of ourselves a part from it. “How?”, you ask.
1. Race says that who you are has already been figured out and it has nothing to do with who you are on the inside but is based solely on physical appearance. Race rubber stamps us when we agree to live by its socially colored rules. It doesn’t matter who you think that you are or who you might want to be. Race overrules, suggesting that the social coloring of skin dictates everything. Race tells us that a part from it, we can know nothing about ourselves. It removes the guess work by putting us into really, really large social categories.
2. Race says how human beings have been told to see you; it does not represent or reflect how God sees you. We identify ourselves and others based on the characters that race gives us– all of which are stereotypical. But, we learn from the story of Samuel that God does not choose us according to our appearance: “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (First Samuel 16.7). Who God created us to be has nothing to do with the social coloring of skin but we are spending our lives defining our very existence by race and tailoring its meaning to it.
3. Race hurts us and offers no place to take our hurts. The racialized life offers one of two roles: oppressed or oppressor/ victim or victimizer. When we live as racial beings as opposed to human beings, we are stuck with a past that we can’t heal and that we don’t want to be healed. Our weakness or power based on the weakness of another is a part of the character. If it ever stops, who will we be?
We are unable to move on because who we were and what “they’ve done to us” informs and dictates who we will be, who we have to be. We are forever cast as soldiers even when there is no war; we will want to fight even when there is nothing to defend because we don’t know how to exist a part from it. Living peaceably would feel strange and out of character.
So, there is no way out of it; you can’t change the social coloring of your skin so you can’t change your position in society or your life’s outcome. It is because you are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige. It all depends on how you “look.”
Consequently, we become angry, frustrated, hopeless even. But, we don’t cast our cares on God but on other people. We pass our grievances on to our children. We take out our displeasure on strangers. The racialized life makes it okay even normal to be mean, unforgiving and bitter. So, we change our personalities to suit our woundedness. This is who we are as racial beings: wounded, hurt and hurting.
Races changes us by grouping us, putting us with “our people,” pasting on the label “us” or “them,” packaging us according to physicality, making us fearful and wonderfully more of the same.