All posts by Starlette Thomas

About Starlette Thomas

Seeking to lead words and people to their highest and most authentic expression, I am the principal architect of a race-less world.

Skintight: Race suggests there is a scarcity of human being

“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.

Resisting Race

Race is a rule of law.  The color line is well- defined as each generation digs in their heels. “We shall not be moved.”  We fold our arms and turn our backs.  We turn on each other and take turns hating the other.

I hate you.  You hate me.  We hate them.  One way of seeing things, one way of treating human beings, one circular argument, we are no closer to concluding that we belong to each other, that we are all sisters and brothers.  So, we step on their toes and our own feet.

We keep creating distance and making up the difference, legalizing our preferences, etching in stone which bodies are at home in the earth.  Then, we wonder why the rocks cry out.  Because this does not praise God.

In the book of Genesis, God breathed out and created us as living souls.  Yet, our words tend to suck the life out.  Reduced to racial categories, we become color- coded beings  recreated way lower than the angels.  But, Ralph Ellison writes in Invisible Man, “Why waste time creating a conscience for something that doesn’t exist?  For, you see, blood and skin do not think?”

Still, our skin and its social coloring determine our social interactions.  It is a matter of fact.  Like a wristband or a stamped ticket, the social coloring of our skin tells us where we belong, where we are allowed to be and what we can do in particular places and at any given time.  “Let me see your skin.”

“Sundown towns” were those segregated cities where African Americans were not allowed after dark.  They wouldn’t be caught dead there and if they were caught, they wound up dead there “at the hands of persons unknown.”  We have turned the darkness inward and determine who we will allow in our own lives, who we will set our eyes on and who we will close our eyes to.

But, I am here to tell you that sometimes what is legal is not lawful, at least not in the eyes of God and that it is time to resist the laws of race and its progeny.  Mostly, I speak to Christians who identify as “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” who claim him as kin yet cannot relate to believers of other cultures unless and until they assimilate to theirs, who eat the Lord’s Supper yet cannot find room at their table for their neighbor, who claim God as sovereign but don’t question white supremacy, who won’t cross the tracks but cross their hearts, who bow their heads in prayer and look the other way when they see injustice, who can find excuses for abuses of power but cannot put their finger on systemic failures (Second Corinthians 5.17).

It is time to resist race and the urge to cover up our complacency with the world as it is.  It is time to resist and reject the comforts of our social and economic categories, time to get up and stick out, to take on the identity of pilgrim passing through.  Because this land is not your land.  My country ’tis of…?  Christians are not citizens of this world but the next.

Let’s move on and move on the fact that race is all wrong about us.  It’s time to buck the system, to live in opposition to its rules, to live a counter- narrative that has no respect for color lines, no interest in stereotypes, no desire to play by rules that regulate bodies according to their physical features.

It is time to resist race and to break with the social arrangements of “color.”  But it is a law and this defiance is dangerous.  There are any number of persons, family, friends and strangers, who will be ready to put you in your place, to make a citizen’s arrest.  Still, you and I must go down fighting against these words of bondage.  Clear your throat and talk back.  Don’t sit down and take it.

Don’t stomach it but throw up your hands and these words.  Don’t take it in.  Don’t give in and don’t give up who you have always been in the words of God for what has only recently come on the tip of a human tongue.  No, no, resist the temptation to believe that this, beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white, is all there is to say about you.  Resist because there is so much more to be said.

Race is not a body language

Race is not a body language.

It is not a form of nonverbal communication as one’s physical features do not actually communicate physical behaviors.  Because there must be a bad connection as the calls are all the same.  Black is bad, can’t be half bad but must be all bad, a bad apple that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, gives you bad vibes and is bad sign.  And bad news travels fast.  On the other hand, white is good, good to go, as good as gold and it is always good talking to you.  Yet, some have never had it so good.

Though many persons perceive it and employ it as such, race should not be coupled with facial expressions or the body’s movements.  More so, we cannot accurately read a person’s body language using the sociopolitical construct of race because it employs stereotypes, wrong and self- interested perceptions made right.  And they are ingrained, ground in, rubbed in.  They blend in well, so that we cannot tell that this is not our voice but the voice of an oppressor from hundreds of years past.

Oppressor and oppressed, we start to all sound alike.  Our words run together.  Evil travels in packs.  These conversations are circular, cyclical.  We never go anywhere and always end up where we started.  America has never left the plantation.

We think we know so much based solely on the so- called or better still, the social coloring of skin.  Based on light- skin, supposed white skin and the hides we have colored in beige, brown, red, yellow and black (Because I’ve never seen that, these colored people walking around anywhere.), we claim to know what a person is all about.  But I declare that you know nothing about me.

These racialized identities spout hearsay, group singular stories and bind them up as my own, pass them along as the gospel.  I have never liked playing the game telephone.  Human beings did not speak me into existence and they certainly cannot pass my identity along.  I cannot be repeated, captured by human lips, summed up by a single word, the totality of my existence expressed in flesh.  No, because I am a living soul and I will leave this skin behind along with old earth.

“Your kingdom come.”  We pray but still don’t get the message.  We still confuse the message, decline and don’t pick up on the message.  Forget the words you have made flesh and substitute them with our best guesses: beige, brown, black, red, yellow, white.

And these people on the telephone don’t know my message, why I am here on this day or any other.  If you say that I am black, then you have never heard me—because I would never say that.  And we have never had a proper introduction.  Because I am not a color.  I am God’s creation.  I am not a single characteristic or an adjective pretending to be a noun.

Instead, I am a complete sentence and “I am black or a black person” is not and never will be one.

Lovers or Liars?

I recently completed my final report for the Louisville Institute.  These generous partners in ministry awarded me a grant to study the sociopolitical construct of race, Clarence Jordan’s Koinonia Farm and why persons fear Christian community.  I visited Koinonia Farm in Americus, Georgia.  It was Clarence’s “demonstration plot.”  He would create his own world, challenging segregationist laws in the 1940s.  The community was intentional, sharing in a fair wage and a common purse.

The farm was bombed.  The business was boycotted.  The members of Koinonia Farm were ex-communicated from their church.  Because they loved their neighbor, their African American neighbor at a time when it was not socially or politically advantageous to do so. Clarence is my kind of Christian.

So, I set out to learn as much as I could in the year and a half I had allotted.  I registered for conferences, signed up for workshops, ate fellowship meals, had tough conversations.  I asked hard questions of myself and those around me.  I dug deep and nearly scraped the bottom of my soul.

I conducted interviews and read a small library of books about the sociopolitical construct of race, intentional community, the life, work and witness of Clarence Jordan on Koinonia Farm, multi- cultural/ cross- cultural ministry, forgiveness and reconciliation.  I took copious notes, wrote extensively, preached the message of community faithfully.  I even redecorated my office in D.C. to reflect the work that had reshaped my life.  It was all about community- building.

I was being transformed, emphasis on the I.

In the end, the results were not what I expected.  No statistic or story could have prepared me for the narrative that would emerge.  Long story short– Christians are afraid of Christian community.  While there are those who would point to those who are doing it right (“See, we’re not all bad.”), there is a long and troubling history of Christians in North America who do not follow Jesus in the way of love, who refuse to integrate socially with persons of other cultures, who refuse to integrate their faith and life.  As it was during American slavery so it is now.  Bible in one hand and a whip in the other, European Americans are shamelessly able to oppress others while claiming to espouse the liberating words of Jesus Christ.

Call them what you will.  It makes no difference because at least they are white.  And in America, whiteness pays.  It pays to play.

It must be said that those who agree to the conditions of whiteness (that is, the oppression of other cultural groups so that they might have privileged access to wealth, the land and its resources) are a serious impediment to the healing work required for reconciliation in the Church.  You simply cannot build an authentic Christian community where whiteness and its interests are at the center, if socially colored white people do all the leading and none of the following, if they control the resources and determine the ministry emphases, if they influence the votes to ensure that it always goes their way in business meetings.  Because the identity of whiteness is protected at all costs.  Put above the cross of Christ, who persons are as white people and as the model citizens for the world in appearance, behavior and conduct is to be defended.

But it takes the place of Christ’s body and his work.  Or, is it that there are those who think that their body is his?  The work of race is complete in these cases, swapping out Christ’s body for their own, deifying their flesh and nullifying the work of his.

To be sure, this is not a matter of identifying with Christ’s body or doing what he would.  This is proof that America’s created identity of whiteness is wedged in between the cross and the crown for many European Americans.  The kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God are at odds but there are those who believe that they are one and the same, that if you have seen a socially colored white person, then you have seen God.  Skin “color” long associated with good and evil and used to determine the heathen/ barbarian/ uncivilized versus the civilized/ cultured, the same is true for the Church in North America.  The social coloring of skin separates the righteous from the unrighteous.  It is not a matter of separating goats and sheep but “white” people and all the other “people of color.”  The Church has a color line.

Christians, who claim to be made in the image of God, live in and through racialized identities. They create segregated sacred spaces, somehow walking in the footsteps of Jesus while avoiding marginalized and oppressed people who are victims of race and its progeny.  The theological disconnect could not be more obvious.

Persons will close ranks and churches will close up shop in a community that is experiencing cultural change before it will integrate.  They will take their Bibles and believe somewhere else.  Christians need for power, all while worshipping an all- powerful God, cannot be underestimated. The impact of colonialism, American slavery and its other versions of domination continue to determine and influence the ways in which we relate to each other.  And even for persons of faith, they cannot get the colonizer out of their head.

John said, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (First John 4.20).  In my estimation, there are only two choices, only two kinds of people.  Love is the deciding factor.  Because you cannot love God and not love everyone that God has created.  It is a package deal.  Take it or leave it.

So, Christians, if there is hatred in your heart for your brother or sister, the one you won’t speak to, who you dodge at the grocery store, whose food you don’t like though you’ve never tasted it, whose clothes you wouldn’t be caught dead in, then you are not a lover but a big, old liar.  John is pretty clear that there are no little white ones.  There is no question about it.

Canada’s prime minister reminds us that it is not “a whole new world”

A picture has surfaced of Justin Trudeau, now the prime minister of Canada, wearing “brown face.”  To offer a comprehensive description, he also has a brown neck and hands at an “Arabian Nights” themed event back in 2001.  He is a 29 year old teacher– not a student– at West Point Grey Academy.  It’s a group pictured in a yearbook.  Sound familiar?

It’s at a private school and a private party, which only adds to my questions regarding the private lives of public figures, namely politicians.  They are supposed to represent the best of us.  They promise to represent all of us.  But, time and again, we are reminded that they only represent some, who don’t want to be lumped in, grouped with or counted as part of us.  No, all persons other than those socially colored white are mere costumes to be worn on special occasions, dressed up in on holidays and for one’s entertainment.  It is part of a masquerade.  Because the only real human being is the one underneath it.

And we have yet to peel back that layer and examine why persons continue to use the flesh of others for their amusement, why some hues warrant hubris and others our humiliation.

Why do human beings who share the same flesh and bones continue to make dressing in black or brown face an option on an Arabian night or any other?  Why not question yourself as you smear the paste or cream on your face, neck and hands?  What do you see when you look in the mirror when you are finished, when you have transformed yourself into the so- called other who is actually your sister and brother?  What do you find so funny about it?  Where is the humor in it?

And I cannot ask how would you feel if it happened to you because it won’t.  In fact, persons from other cultures who “act white” are applauded, promoted and pointed out as fine examples, the right way to be a human being.  Whiteness is a bully so you make fun of those who are not in your color click.  Still, where do you think this is going when you mock the image of another human being, who had no choice in their skin’s hue, same as you?  And really who do you think you are?

I ask again, “Who do you think you are?”  Your skin will wrinkle and rot in death the same as any other.  It does tear and bleed the same as mine.  It does bruise and swell upon injury.

But then there is this belief in the color white and its immunity.  It’s only social.  The sociopolitical construct of race is not even skin deep.  It only goes so far as the society would allow it and as the people in power would have it.

Trudeau has apologized. “I shouldn’t have done that. I should have known better and I didn’t. I’m really sorry.” He didn’t think that the photograph was racist but he does now.  But, because someone else pointed out or he has a different perspective?

At 29 years old, he still didn’t know any better?  He didn’t consider it racist in 2001.  But he darkened his face while at Jean Brebeuf High School.  He was pretending to be Alladin at the annual dinner but this time, he was Harry Belafonte.  And then there was that time when he is wearing blackface back in the 1990s.  This one is on video.

Once, twice, three times a racist.

There is no need for a history lesson, diversity training, an apology tour, a dialogue with persons from the communities you have hurt, a town hall meeting on race relations, a new movie featuring two people from opposite sides of the track who crossed to the other side to find some sort of paradise in this divided world.  And stop apologizing.  Words are not enough.

Trudeau and others like him can talk a good game.  But, eventually it is revealed that nothing has changed, that progressive is but a name, that in private, they have no intentions of co- creating a whole new world where all are treated equally.  It’s just more of the same old racism.