I have been reading and writing about race since I was a freshmen in college. It is the time when most if not all young adults ask the question, “Who am I?” Like Howard Thurman, I asked, “Who am I really?” It would set me on a path to understand why my human being was so racialized.
More than twenty years later, I am still interested in how we, human beings, remain so ensnared by flesh and its contours, that we can see something in a person’s eye color, shape of nose, length and texture of hair, that top layer of skin that proves who another human being is through and through. And since its Enlightenment beginnings (because it was not “in the beginning”), we have continued to see these human differences as biologically and therefore innately, naturally determining the basis for our social hierarchy, our systems of oppression and privilege, our customs and traditions of personal, familial and communal segregation, prejudicial behavior and racist thinking. This is America’s belief system. We have put our faith in flesh and what it can do for us and against them. Despite Paul’s teaching, we, Christians specifically, do wrestle against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6.12).
That we, Christians especially, who are called to live in the Spirit and claim to be new creatures in Christ Jesus, are limited and loosed geographically, economically, financially and socially by our bodies, that we buy into it, capitalize on it, theologize it; that we, Christians especially, who claim Galatians 3.28 and Colossians 3.11 and this baptismal identity, come up out of the water unchanged and come up short on conversations around identity, belonging and community; that we, Christians especially, who confess that all human beings are made in the image of God, cannot seem to accept everyone in this grand, holy picture; that the social coloring of skin (as there are no physically colored beige/ brown/ black/ red/ yellow/ white people) means so much to us and so much more than God’s meaning for us continues to both astound and aggravate me. The Word was made flesh and for all of its mystery, Jesus was revealed to us– not as a colored human being but a cross- bearing, meal sharing, theologically daring yet poor and powerless Savior and we still can’t see it. That we, Christians, have racialized the gospel misses his message entirely– because it is not about black and white but his words written in red.
And this is not a quaint, simplistic, pietistic or idealistic reduction. Not pie in the sky thinking, I say this flatfooted and fully persuaded that race has nothing to do with the gospel– because it didn’t exist then and we are guilty of reading it into sacred writ, arguing that it then makes the reading relevant and Jesus’ message applicable. But, didn’t come in support of our kingdom, our empire, our system, our political candidate, our culture, our country. Jesus came to save sinners, all sinners– not on the basis of race but out of the abundance of God’s love. And if your gospel says anything different, then it is another gospel. Because race is not apart of his good news. It is not what he saved us for or through. Our new identity in Christ is not a colored one.
More than twenty years of studying race and its progeny, of preaching and teaching, protesting and resisting the urge to color myself in, I wonder how many persons have actually studied race, its origin and implications. I wonder how many persons are substituting their experience and/or understanding of racism, their nightly news consumption of police brutality and prejudicial treatment with the definition of race. Because the terms are not synonymous; in fact, one comes before the other. One is a system and the other is our practice of it. And we cannot stop talking about racism and living within it if we have not torn down the pseudo- biological, anthropological and theological structure that is race. You cannot have whiteness or blackness or redness or yellowness or brownness or beigeness without the sociopolitical construct of race. We cannot have one without the other, which is why with renewed claims to be anti- racist (Thank you, Angela Davis.), I want to take it a step further.
We should be anti- race and yes, if you haven’t guessed already, I am an anarchist in this sense. I do not respect the authority of race and I reject it as an author of my human being. I am daring enough to believe that the kin- dom of God is built on the rubble of systems of oppression, that they must be torn down first within and then around us.
Because the sociopolitical construct of race is anti- community, anti- covenant, anti- collective human identity, anti- salvation. It is anti- all of us coming together on seemingly endless days like the one caused by this pandemic and yet another instance of police brutality in the case of Walter Wallace Jr. of Philadelphia. Race was not made for us but to pit us against us. Because there is really no “us” and “them.” It is only just us.
But that’s not how race wants you or I to see it. Race wants us to see human beings, all made of skin and bones, somehow differently. To see these physical differences as justification for our throwing sticks and stones, of our no longer playing together, taking our ball and going home to a better neighborhood and pushing some people to the margins, the society’s sidelines. Race is an enabler of our selfishness, our pridefulness, our hedonistic need for soul- numbing pleasure at the expense of other bodies that we are told don’t really matter. It is more important that we feel good about ourselves and we can’t all feel good about ourselves.
Somebody’s got to be hated completely in order for me to love myself fully. Opposites attract.
Yet despite our attempts to divide, we cannot change the fact that we are in this world together. Different continents and countries, same earth. Different cultures and traditions, still we dance together. Different food and drink, still we eat together. Different callings, gifts and talents, still we work together. Different games, we still play together. Different time zones and bed times, still we rest together. But how many of us see life that way? I call for a show of hands because this is our soul’s work. It is how we will we be saved.
The work of deliverance begins with naming what holds us captive, confessing our loyalty to it and our dependence on it. Because who are we really apart from race? What would we believe about ourselves and others if not for race? Where could we go without its supervision? Or, do we like our prison, this familiar system and the seeming ease of living, knowing that it has been ordered by race? Raise your hand. I want to see your hands. Show me all ten fingers. Do you want to be saved, delivered from the body of this social death? Because if so, then we still have a lot of work to do.