“There are white people and then, there are people of color.”
I’ve heard this story before and I know how it ends. Spoiler alert. The color white is supreme, comes out on top, saves the day, the planet, the universe, the damsel in distress, the heathen, the barbarian, the baby and the bath water. The world is in their hands and if they don’t save us, no one can.
We can’t beat them. But we can’t just join them either. There is one way in and the only way out is reserved for socially colored white people. The doors are clearly marked: For Whites Only.
It is also an invitation- only group and the fees include but are not limited to loss of mother tongue, cultural traditions, history and last name. It is self- mortification; you lose yourself but you gain a self that is systematically and systemically supported, with partnerships with any number of businesses and institutions that span the globe. Whiteness is accepted everywhere. Don’t leave home without it.
Yes, it is dangerous to be any other social color as we tally names and experiences you and I cannot have because we have been colored “black”: sleeping while black, jogging while black, reading while black, walking while black, driving while black and so on.
I know the story. It is often told to me as matter of fact, in point of fact and because I told you so. It is told in the kitchen and living room, over breakfast, lunch and dinner, in the car, at every single store (“Don’t put your hands in your pockets.”) and for no reason at all. It is as if there is nothing else to talk about.
I don’t need this many rehearsals; I know my lines. I know the characters and have played a few in my day. The playbill is burned in my memory; I will never forget the lines.
I confess that I have laughed when I wanted to cry. I have laughed when I was confident that she didn’t have a funny bone in her body but wanted to ensure that she wouldn’t have a bone to pick with me. I have given an enthusiastic yes when I should have said no unequivocally and unapologetically. I have wanted to exit stage left rather than finish the scene that my mother and grandmother and great grandmother have performed ad nauseum. Because they were told and believed that the show, this performative blackness must go on.
But the show is over and the curtain closes for whiteness forever without it.
Still, I know. I know how it feels to have to play small, play deaf, dumb and blind, play it safe. I was taught to “pay them no mind.” I know. It was all done for my protection but the system of oppression that it keeps in place is far worse.
These stories are hundreds of years old. The strengths and weaknesses of each character have taken on mythical proportions. The socially colored white person is larger than life itself and a pseudo- supreme being so powerful that his foot is on my neck and yours. Though he is both white and powerful by consensus, he holds all those not colored white down and keeps them in their place. The socially colored beige, black, brown, red and yellow person is always a supporting cast member. It is always a minor role and they are in the minority. It is an identity of scarcity.
But, if Christians in North America are to change the narrative, then we need to take seriously the role that we have been given to tell a different story with a whole different cast of unexpected characters.
Consequently, I am calling for a new story. Some people tell me that race is the only show in town, that even if we get rid of it, we’ll just replace it with something else. Then, let’s talk about the something else, what race and all these other social categories really represent. Is it our desire to “divide and conquer”? Is it a result of our desire to dominate others and play god? Is it an expression of pride, of ego, of narcissism? Because race is but a scapegoat, the fall guy. Because all of the evidence really points back to us.
Because this is a matter of embodiment. The problem is not spiritual or above us. It’s all in the flesh, our flesh and what we choose to do with it.