“Change your racial habits and you change the way you see the world.” These are the words of Jonathan Wilson- Hartgrove. They are from his most recent book Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion. In stunning language, Wilson- Hartgrove writes of the internalized arrangement that socially colored white people must make in order to maintain racialized relationships. I think that his is an important work, a kind of spiritual practice for all Christians working through their relationship with the social construct of race.
His words got me to thinking, as is evidenced by the title, of the habits that we take on because of race. The social construct of race creates a kind of tendency, consistency, dependability and security. There’s a place for every race and every race has its place. There are rules spoken and unspoken.
Here are a few that come to mind but I certainly invite you to consider your own life in the practice of racialized relationships and the habits one’s racialized identity creates: crossing to the other side of the street, clutching one’s purse and/ or locking car doors when a person deemed dangerous based on the social coloring of skin approaches or is nearby, dehumanizing, hypersexualizing, othering the bodies of persons because of the social coloring of their skin, etc. Consider not just what you must think of them but of yourself in order for this pattern of behavior to make sense.
Below are a list of race habits. What does race make you do?
- Oppressing: It is the idea that one socially constructed race has the upper hand and thereby is destined to dominate all other socially constructed races. These persons believe themselves to be endowed with the inalienable right to rename people, lay claim to places and remake society as deemed appropriate for their tyrannical narrative.
- Prejudging: A preconceived opinion not rooted in reality or fact, prejudice has done much to aid the racialized imagination. With no restrictions, it has made monsters of human beings and the unthinkable becomes reasonable, logical and a matter of fact… if only in one’s mind.
- Stereotyping: It gives the illusion of omniscience; categorizing groups of people by color- coding allows one to make broad generalizations based on limited experiences: “I know how you people are.” That’s just too simple. Human beings are more complex than this. It is better said, “I know how you are perceived by me.”
- Dismissing and denying: Systematically oppressed, marginalized and ostracized cultures and people groups have stories to tell, accomplishments to recognize, milestones to celebrate, crimes to report, injustices to recount, experiences that are relatable and worthy of our attention, consideration, inclusion, mutual disappointment or praise and support. But, these people, their presence and the stories they represent are consistently, regularly and routinely treated as unworthy of consideration. Because this could not possibly be true and/ or it could not have happened to you and/ or it could not have happened the way that you say it did and/ or it never happened. And I will not give it further thought.
- Rejecting: Like children and their vegetables, cross- cultural relationships are good for us. Still, without any experience, we just don’t like them and we do not even want to consider the possibility of a relationship. It is deemed unnecessary, an aversion to particular cultural differences without any interaction.
- Silence: There is a violence to it. Not giving our voice to, not speaking up when we are witnesses to injustice has life and death consequences. Willfully choosing not to tell the truth when we know it but instead choosing to stay silent in order to “save our own skin” does not speak well of us. Silence also denies relationship and our ability to relate to an experience. It implies that we are not connected, sharing no commonality.
- Self- segregation: Pride enables this cultural isolation. There is an underlying belief regarding racialized identities that we are self- sufficient, self- sustaining and that our social supremacy is self- evident. Billions of people, thousands of cultures and hundreds of languages, persons who take on the dominant colors of any context assume that “the earth is ours and the fullness thereof” (Ps. 24.1). Somehow everyone else is a visitor and in the way, out of place and invading space.
Now, what are you going to do to break them?