If you’re wondering how I can live without race and still function in the world, then this post is for you. I used to believe in race; while in college, I was an avid supporter, a devoted follower. I sat at the feet of race and wanted everything that race had for me. Race could do no wrong and everything that race said about me and others was right. I was its “Amen corner.”
I wanted to be “Black and Proud,” shaving off permed hair, taking Kiswahili classes and minoring in African American Studies. I bought the t- shirt, the artwork and read the books. My dorm room walls looked like the business office of a “Back to Africa” movement. I’ve been there and overdone that.
And if you think that you know why I have reached this conclusion, this state of being then, let me address your answers as well. No, I do not live in the land of “La La.” I have had my share of experiences with persons who were judgmental, rude or threatening due to the social construct of race. No, I’m not out of touch with this reality but in touch with a greater Reality, the Reality. I am not living on the margins of American society but looking from the margins at the racialized life. My position has changed because my perspective has changed. No, I am not suggesting that America is post- racial while I certainly am. In fact, I have learned that my identity and consequently, my purpose predates the existence of race. Before race was, God is. Therefore, I am pre- racial.
I took the time to get to know race, not just through the experiences of others or even my own. I put down history books on our treatment toward each other once we accepted race as our reality and picked up books on the history and origin of race. I was no longer interested in hearing who race thought I was or would be but I began to research who race was. I wanted to know more about the identity of race. Instead of asking race, “Who am I?” I began to ask race, “Who are you?”
I had placed great faith in race and couldn’t see myself questioning it. Even these introductory, getting to know you questions were difficult. The conversation was slow going. I wrote them down in journals at first; Sometimes, I would ask them aloud and then leave the room as if I could leave my head. I wasn’t sure of the answers, if I could find them or whether or not I was even prepared to accept them.
I would share them with family and friends and they would be offended. Why are you asking that? Conversations would quickly shift as my questions suggested to them that I wanted to deny their experience of pain, that I was forgetting who I was and all that they had taught me, that I had lost it. Some persons even suggested that it was a trick of the socially colored white man, that I was letting “them” off the hook, that I should not get over race and its offenses, that they deserved to be punished every day of our lives. But, who was really being punished?
I had been told that I was black and that race provided meaning for my physical existence and the social world. I had been told that this was how the persons would experience me and my physical appearance would determine how I was treated. But, what of my soul and spirit? What deep meaning could race provide? What of its mysteries could it reveal? How did race support my faith and make me a better Christian? It did not. It could not. It would not.
I was beginning to crave something different. I just couldn’t believe that this was all there was to life, that my existence had been figured out from beginning to end based solely on my physical attributes. I was craving something more, something deeper.
So, day by day, I began to talk back to race. After a few years, I found myself with nothing more to say. Realizing that there nothing more that race could say to me, I stopped talking to race. I just didn’t need the conversation any more; I had heard it all before any way. Over time, our relationship changed and race went from bosom buddy, confident and teacher to personal enemy #1.
Race no longer shapes my perspective or influences my decisions. Race does not tell me what to do. I do not follow its commandments or practice its faith. I have left that world, that mindset, that way of being. I’ve stopped serving race, bowing my life down in order to fit into its categories.
I am craving something different. I am not interested in history’s favorites. I don’t care what the media adds to the menu. I don’t want the prepackaged special. I’m tired of more of the same old superficial identity and racialized purpose. I don’t have an appetite for race anymore. Instead, I am craving reconciliation with myself and I don’t care what it costs me. I’ve placed my order. I’ll just mingle with the other diners until it arrives.