“After all these generations and centuries, we still don’t know how to see and talk about ourselves and each other.”
| Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self- Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race
Is that all you’ve got? Is that all you have for me? Is there nothing more to say about me, save these physical characteristics? Huh, America? Because I am not a mere description, certainly more than who meets your eyes.
We talk about race as if our human being is a zero- sum game. We compete for identity as if there is not enough humanity to go around, like somehow some of us are not fully human. Winner take all. And for all of the arguments for the realities of race, I simply don’t understand why we would believe about ourselves or anyone else that we are nothing more than colored people: beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white. Is that all we’ve got?
By the way, why do some “Is” have it? Don’t I get a vote? I must have a say. Does anyone see my hand raised—not for acknowledgement but in protest? I object to these social colors, their palette and vision of humanity.
I just don’t see it and really cannot see myself in this picture. Out of focus and perhaps hidden underneath the frame, hundreds of years later, America and black is the only name you have for me? Skin identities, we have not even scratched the surface of our human being.
You’ve got me all wrong. I am not a person of color but a child of God. There is a difference. One is a society’s sick fantasy, twisted and the other a faith statement.
Still, we believe in race while confessing that “in (God) we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17.28). We claim that God is sovereign and yet live like so- called white people rule the world, as if we are powerless to become who God has created us to be, behaving like some persons have more God- given authority than we.
It’s all a lie. Not one bit of it is true. It is a tall tale that goes way back to the beginning but not of time. It started right here in America. Race and its divisions are a story made up in America.
Race is not a source of human being. I am not the offspring of race, the creation of a color. I do not come from a place, a country or continent, called Black. There is no place of the sort on the map. Instead, it is a contrived, socially manipulated identity that changes with each generation, every political administration and from person to person.
So, I do not “fit the description of” some generic but obvious threat to the fictive purity of whiteness. Black is not a stain as a color or otherwise but the blood on the hands of those who oppress is. And you can’t wash that away. No matter how you look at me, you will never be able to fully look the other way, America.
I am still here for this staring contest and I see you for who you are. Because my eyes are not a reflection of you but a mirror. I won’t blink. I won’t let up. I won’t shut up. I won’t give up my way of seeing me.
Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” All or nothing, I am black or nothing at all. And if I am not black, then most Americans want nothing to do with me. Because what can they do with me? I do not fit in and will not play this skin game, complete with brown paper bag tests.
I won’t pass for “white” but I will pass on this option and write to pass on another, that is racelessness.
Race is not all that we have to live by. It is all that America’s got.