Category Archives: Healing from Race

Saying, “I don’t see color” is not the answer to racism

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I am not blind and I am certainly not color- blind.  That’s not what the race-less gospel means or aims to accomplish.  I am not hoping that the world will turn a blind eye to the different physical appearances of human beings across cultures and the globe.  Please don’t tell your eyes that they are lying.  They see color.

In a recent CNN townhall, former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said, “As somebody who grew up in a very diverse background as a young boy in the projects, I didn’t see color as a young boy and I honestly don’t see color now.”  He is also seriously considering a run for president of the United States of America.  But, he really can’t be serious.  In a move that made my stomach turn and made me turn down my usual tall cups of Starbucks chai tea latte,  two African American men were falsely arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks while waiting for a friend before ordering beverages.  They both later settled with the company with a symbolic $1 each.  In response to the fall out, Starbucks closed its doors for business to solve the issues of race, prejudice, stereotyping, profiling and racialized preferential treatment in four hours.

Clearly, they needed more time if Schultz can’t see color.  I think that it was better said that as a young boy, he did not see race.  Race is a social system based on the hierarchy of flesh,  skin tones specifically.  The lighter, the so- called whiter you are, the higher you go up the ladder and in the eyes of society while darker complexions are kept close to the ground.  This social agreement is explained and agreed to over time.  Schultz was too young then to enter into this social arrangement of relationships.  Saying he does not see color does not make it go away.

I am not blind.  I am also not color-blind.  But, what I can see is that the amount of melanin or the lack thereof in a person’s skin as a determinant of inherent worth, undeniable beauty, unearned economic privilege and social status and the inalienable right to live with dignity and to be treated with respect is wrong and unjust.  We are literally prioritizing people based on their flesh.  Consequently, when I see a person, I don’t see their socially constructed race and treat them according to its prejudices.  Because I don’t agree with that.

I also don’t find race to be a credible or unbiased witness to our shared humanity.  Pretending that color is the problem and not the way that we use color to make some human beings a problem is what must be acknowledged, addressed and changed.  Saying, “I don’t see color” just backs away from the conversation.  It’s not a response and it is not the answer.

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The Color of Compromise: Jemar Tisby’s new book aims to talk about the difference race has made on American Christianity

His book arrived in the mail yesterday.  I must confess that it is one of forty books that I have ordered in recent weeks.  New home, new bookshelves, I am creating a library to support my future work on  the raceless gospel.  I want to be surrounded by these conversation partners.  I have also decided that I want to be buried under my books.  Please tell my family to pile them on top of me and now that I think about it, under me as well.

I will rest on pages.

But before then, I will read his book and so many more.  Tisby’s book is where the conversation on race and the church in North America should start: with the realization and acceptance of our role in its existence.  Race is not just a social construct, but an ecclesial one.  Beginning with the bombing at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963, Tisby calls us to account for our complicity.  He writes, “Historically speaking, when faced with the choice between racism and equality, the American church has tended to practice a complicit Christianity rather than a courageous Christianity.  They chose comfort over constructive conflict and in so doing, created and maintained a status quo of injustice” (17).  For him, we must start by owning what we have allowed by letting racial identities persist and racialized injustice to continue in our families, churches and neighborhoods.

Providing a historical survey, this is more than a history lesson but a call to action.  He recounts our sinful past so that we can face this present moment with the assurance that it need not be repeated.  We can say and do something different.  Tisby is convinced of the possibility.  He says, “Christians deliberately chose complicity with racism in the past, but the choice to confront racism remains a possibility today” (19).

From American slavery to the Black Lives Matter movement, the book concludes with a how- to list, which I will not detail here.  You will need to pick up the book.  Detailing the history of race in the making of the church in North America increases the sense of urgency for the healing work required and before we put the book down, Tisby has given us several assignments.  But, these are not ones you and I can simply check off.  The change that race has made on American Christianity will require more of our time and tongue.

Tisby’s words can change how we talk about race and in turn, our Christian faith.  Now aware and accountable, we are empowered to say something different and in so doing, to truly see each other without race and for the first time.

Don’t stop talking about race

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It is easy to reset, to move on to the next outrage, to the next shiny object.  “Ooh.  What’s that?”  We want to be distracted.  We hope that we can forget.

But, we cannot continue to let this be the case.  Race is a problem and it doesn’t just go away.  Instead, it is here to stay, stuck between our teeth, hanging on to our thin skin.  We carry it with us.  A word with sharp edges that we continue to wrap carefully and reuse, race is the weapon and the wound.

Still, we talk about race as if it is all we have, like it is all that we can say about ourselves, as if we are only flesh and blood.  We talk about race as if our lives depend on it, like we cease to exist if we are not socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  And though we cannot see the end of it (that is, post- racial), race is not our beginning. We cannot see past it but there is no future with race.

A socio- political construct, we talked ourselves into this belief in race and we will need to talk ourselves out of it.  You may not know this but we are not alone in this desire.  Recently, a number of books have been published that aim to discuss our relationship with race and empower readers to talk about it.  Please consider adding these to your reading list and your bookshelves:

Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

Carolyn B. Helsel, Anxious to talk about it: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017).

Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race?, (New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018).

Derang Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015).

Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010).

Race is something to talk about

I’m not one to shy away from a conversation on race and today, Prada had an unplanned one after a passerby noticed a bag in the window of a shop in Soho.  There appeared to be a blackface accessory attached to the bag.  Cue the removal of the bag, a statement from Prada and another conversation on race.  Described as “monkey trinkets,” many people are asking, “How did this happen?”

“What year is this?”  “I thought we were farther along.”  But, should we be?  What have we said about race that propels us forward?  What of our conversations about race have brought understanding and healing?  When have our conversations about race not been reactive?  How have we prepared for conversations on race?

Still, we shuffle along, pretending that our cross- cultural relationships are all patched up, only to have someone point out another hole.  We missed a spot.  The job was rushed.  The material was not the best and thus, not able to withstand another brush with race.  We’ll deal with it later or when the time comes.  Well, here we are again.

Deep sigh.  “Why do we have to keep talking about race?”  Because questions of identity, belonging and membership continue to arise.  Because we are not saying what needs to be said.  And we don’t know what needs to be said.  Because we end the conversation at the first sign of discomfort or disagreement.

Because we give race the silent treatment.  Rather than have vulnerable conversations, we enter with our guard up.  We decide that we will only say so much.  We would rather be disingenuous than open up.

This means that our exchanges are not authentic.  Instead, we feign interest, outrage, empathy and/ or understanding.  We don’t invest much more than a head nod and a pat on the back.  “I just don’t know what to say.”  And if we are honest, we have not taken the time to learn what to say.

We don’t want to keep talking about it.  But, that’s the problem.  Conversations on race should be on- going.  We need to keep the conversation going so that the Prada bag never even makes it to the shop in Soho.

I need another word

 

See the source imageWe need new words.  I need new words, ones that roll off my tongue.  The colored ones get caught in my throat.  New being in Jesus Christ, these racialized ones don’t work for me.  They didn’t go down easily.  They didn’t stick to me.  I cannot make them a part of me, just take them when they treat me as foreign, my body no longer kin.

Race gets me beside myself, compared to someone else.  And I just want to be free.  I want this word off of me.  It has no right to rule over me.  I have something to say.  I have the final say in who I am and who I will be.  Still, race interrupts so frequently that I’ve grown tired and now it speaks for me.

Hold my tongue.

Hold my breath.

Die to self.

Die to who God created me to be.

Baptized with Christ, race should be dead to me.

Skin.

Ashes.

Dust.

I need to talk about it in the past tense.  Race was here.

America capitalizes on everything, even skin is its own kind of currency.  But, I am not buying it.  Change the market.  I want something else.  Because race is not another word for human.

No, I need a new word.