Category Archives: Healing from Race

A Race-less Vocabulary List


Race is not prescriptive. Race causes us to lose sight of each other quite literally. We are missing out on love, healing, relationship, truth… all because we cannot see each other.  We speak as if race has always been, as if we will cease to exist, turn into dust, fade into oblivion if we stop referring to ourselves in colors, shades and skin tones.  But, colors are not names.  Colors are colors.  They offer the meanings we give them, no different than traffic lights.  And I have seen the light.

The color does not change who or what or why it exists.  It does not exist because of the color but because in the case of the light, we need order, direction, safety.  Our human variableness is imagined then.  We are all the same: “You put your pants on one leg at a time just like me.”  We have same the needs and desires.  You say, “Tomato”; I say, “Tomato.”  Though met differently and at different times, it’s all the same.

This is the problem with human beings: We think that being human is a problem.  We take issue with being, simply existing.  We surmise that there must be something more to this.  Poking at flesh, we create words to make us stick out.  Race is no different.

I hope I have properly grounded this list in a strong argument for its recitation and memory.  I offer these words to combat the idea that the language of race traps us, cements our fate, locks us in an battle of us against them battle “forever and ever. Amen.”  There is an end to race and it is on the tip of our tongues.

Repeat after me.

  1. Skin (flesh, epidermis)
  2. Colors (as in crayons because one’s country is not synonymous with the social coloring of one’s skin)
  3. Sociopolitical construct (race as human- made, as idol)
  4. Racial eliminativism (the belief that race and racial groups do not exist)
  5. Racial eliminativist (those who seek to eradicate the idea, systemic implementation of race and to challenge/ thwart a racialized existence)
  6. Racialized (To view life through the lens of race and to color- code one’s existence, experiences and interactions)
  7. Aracial (without racial distinctions: Aracial anthropology, theology)
  8. Raceless (without race: syn: aracial; raceless gospel, raceless Christianity)
  9. Pre- racial (The belief that race is not a creator or co- creator with God, that human beings existed before race.)
  10. Race skeptic or race atheist (One who does not believe in race, who doubts and/or questions the basis or rationale for existence based on the social coloring of skin)
Advertisements

I am a race atheist

Before you wave me off, dismiss my faith system or the lack thereof, hear me out.  Give me a chance, an opportunity to make my case.  I assure you: This is not what I thought that I would be saying.

I used to believe in race, with all my heart, from my head down to my toes with natural hair and African- inspired clothing.  No specific country to call my own, I claimed the entire continent.  (Note of clarification: Black is a color– not a country or continent, though we have made the two synonymous.  Black people are from… Africa?  White people are from?  Yellow people are from?  Red people are from?  It breaks down very quickly.)  I tried to make it work and to work it out.  I wanted it to make sense for me and I had no reason to suspect that it would not.  Because we have always been colored people or so I thought.

I believed in blackness and being black, in whiteness and its privileges and so on for every so- called color of the human “rainbow.”  I believed that my experiences were color- coded, that my skin was the beginning and end of me, that my epidermis was all that mattered, that it made the most sense and brought the most meaning to my life.  But, I was wrong.  Still, I need you to know that I thought this was right, that learning that I was black and how to live with it was the meaning of life.  But, I was wrong.

I was wrong about race because race was wrong about me.  Race has our humanity all wrong.  We are not colored beings but human beings.  Race, a capitalist sociopolitical construct, is an excuse, a scapegoat in a long line of excuses and scapegoats for the unjust ways that we choose to live with and relate to each other.  It is the means by which we get the blood off of our hands.

We say, “Race made me do it.”  But, we can also say, “Money made me do it.”  “My faith made me do it.”  “My gender made me do it.”  “The devil made me do it.”  But, really it is our flesh and its cravings for power and dominance that makes us do it.

Our humanity is what we make it.

***

I’ve been called a n—-.  Born in the South, I heard it first at home.  I heard family members being called a n— at home.  Hatred begins at home.  Our self- hatred starts in the mouths of our parents.

I cannot be sure as to the reason for this name- calling.  Said both in anger and in fun, I cannot attest to whether it was used solely to inoculate as it was also used as a term of endearment.  “My n—.”  A strange expression then and now.

It is a word that my family was given and they had no interest in questioning it.  They didn’t think to give it back, to reject it.  It is a primary way of relating in the world and understanding ourselves.  We were n—, then Negro, then colored, then black, then Afro- American, then African American, then black, then black and brown people, people of color again.  We still call ourselves n—.  Race offers nothing new, no rebirth, no regeneration.

Unclear of its value but certain that they needed it and that I could not live without it, they passed it down.  There was no new name and no way to see myself differently.  My relationship with self was an expression of those created in American slavery.  Changing the words, ridding myself of racialized language would be the start of changing my way of relating, of forming community, of reconciling past and present.

To be sure, there is no motivation for changing it.  It is the way of the world, the way things are.  We are on this color wheel but I wanted to get off.  Still, most surmise that we cannot change it, that race knows us better than we know ourselves, that race knows us before we know ourselves.  But, then my faith in Christ did something I did not expect; my new identity in Christ began to challenge my racial identity.  They were not one in the same and I was being asked to choose between being a person of color and a child of God.  Two creators, two gospels, two heavens and hells (one segregated), they are two different belief systems.

The two are not complementary, synonymous or serving in supporting roles in this grand narrative. No, we must choose between the ways of this world and the ways of the kingdom coming.  There is a Person coming that will not identify with us based on the social coloring of skin and it is time that we come to see that.

Today, I am a race atheist.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t buy it.  I do not see as race sees.  I believe that there is so much more to our humanity and race doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

Doing justice to our bodies: How race wrongs us (Part Two)

See the source imageWith an increase in the surveillance of bodies socially colored black, I feel it necessary to talk about the valuation of the human body and the Church’s role in such a conversation.  With some persons feeling it necessary to call the police as if a customer service agency for humans they deem damaged due the social construct of race, it is important that we not only talk about race but speak to its theological implications.  Made in God’s image, it would seem like an easy one to have.  The silence around the visibility of whiteness and the socially desired invisibility of those labeled and socially assigned the identity of black is dumbfounding.

Thus, I submit a second section of the paper I presented at the Baptist World Alliance in Zurich, Switzerland just a few weeks ago:

There are several familiar passages of Scripture that praise the creation of human beings, namely the Genesis account: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; … So, God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. … God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”[i]  Noteworthy, the narrator does not describe any physical characteristics or distinctions, not even based on their gender differences.  Unlike our hyper- body conscious society, there are no measurements, no height or weight, no mention of size, shape or any other perceived physical trait.  Man and woman, animals and insects, trees and rivers, they are described the same: “very good.”

God praises the work of God’s hands and the psalmist chimes in, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; I know them very well.”[ii]  Made in God’s image and identified in Christ, the believer’s identity has divine boundaries.  Buried with Christ, our new life with Christ is not expected to resemble the old self or its nature.  In Christ, we are new creatures.  “From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.  So, if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”[iii]

Paul’s point cannot be overstated. Even though they knew Christ “from a human point of view,” even though they knew his mother, Mary and his stepfather, Joseph, his birthplace, his siblings, his habits and human needs, they don’t know him in this way anymore.  There is a change in the way that they relate and desire to know Jesus.  This new creation does not require the information that the cultural, personal or social self might need.

For the new creation, it is unnecessary and dare I say, irrelevant. And it is a choice.  While they have personal information about Jesus, that perspective is not helpful to the work of ministry that he has entrusted to them, to the community that they have been called to serve, to the gospel they have been charged to share with the world.  They must know him and consequently, each other differently.  This is not human being as usual.

While the early Church initially wrestles with cultural inclusion as recorded in Acts 15 at the Council at Jerusalem, revelations given by the Holy Spirit make the gospel’s goal clear: “And God, who knows the human heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us; and cleansing their hearts by faith he has made no distinction between us and them. Now therefore why are putting God to test by placing on the neck of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear?  On the contrary, we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord, Jesus, just as they will.”[iv]

The presence of the Holy Spirit makes evident those who God has saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. No physical marking of the flesh, it is the work of the Holy Spirit.  It is a distinction not made with human hands but much like the children of Israel, it is a matter of the heart.  Anything more would be making salvation more difficult than it needs to be, harder than God has made it for them, the writer of Acts says.

They are identified by the Holy Spirit and found in Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writes to the church at Galatia of their identity in Christ, which the outside world has nothing to do with it.  Baptized, believers rise with Christ no longer to be identified as they have been by society: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”[v]  Baptized into Christ, there is a depth of identity to which all others will not survive.  This is more than an immersion; it is a death, a burial with Christ to rise to new life in him.

Theologian William Willimon makes a fine point in this regard,

What are we to do with a church that speaks to people on the basis of their gender or race, all the while baptizing them on the basis of Galatians 3.28?

In baptism, the text becomes Scripture for us, canon, laid on us as a new story that illumines our stories. In baptism, we are adopted into the people who answer to this story and are held accountable to its description of reality… Scripture suggests that authority has shifted from ourselves to Scripture’s use of us… Baptism asserts that we meet and speak under an identity that challenges and endangers all other identities.[vi]

If we profess Christ as Savior and Lord, then there is no longer black or white, red or yellow, brown or beige people. There is no longer immigrants and strangers, marginalized and centered, minority and majority, privilege and oppressed people; we are now one in Christ Jesus. Like Paul, we are to count as loss all that brought us gain so that we might know Christ.[vii]  Accepting race and its socially constructed identities ensures that we “boast in the flesh” and maintains our confidence in it.[viii]  But, baptism erases the lines and destroys our boxes. T.B. Maston asserts, “God is not a racial, national or denominational deity… so there is no racial discrimination in God’s family.”[ix]

When we accept the transformative power of baptism, the social construct of race will lose its grip on our skin and slip away.

Because we cannot serve God and race.[x]  When we are baptized, we must die to our racialized selves, drowning out the voices of culturally justifiable hatred, prejudice and supremacy.   Race cannot go down with us and come up in Christ Jesus— because race has no resurrection power.  If we are baptized and remain people of color, then we may need to stay under the water a little longer.

The point is made again to the community of believers at Colossae: “…seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal, there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”[xi]

How then does the Church in North America continue to speak of God and God’s people in color- coded terms, to speak of people of color and people of God interchangeably?  Because we cannot credit two creators.  Why does the Church in North America continue to employ the social distinction of race though we identify ourselves as people who are “led by the Spirit”?  How does the use of the social construct and its progeny, namely prejudice, stereotype and white privilege, survive baptism and continue to participate in our life with Christ and with other believers in community?  How does race help us to sing God praises for our creation and the creation of our neighbor?

Known for having all the answers, the Church in North America and communities of faith across the world must begin to question its long- standing relationship with race.

_______________________________________

[i] Genesis 1.26, 27, 31a, NRSV

[ii] Psalm 139.14, NRSV

[iii] Second Corinthians 5.16-17, NRSV

[iv] Acts 15.8-11, NRSV

[v] Galatians 3.27-28, NRSV

[vi] William H. Willimon, Peculiar Speech: Preaching to the Baptized, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1992), 7,

[vii] Philippians 3.8

[viii] Philippians 3.2

[ix] T. B. Maston, The Bible and Race: A Careful Examination of Biblical Teachings on Human Relations, (Nashville, TN: Broadman, 1959), 24-25.

[x] Matthew 6.24

[xi] Colossians 3.9-11, NRSV

Hello Racism!

Race and its progeny, prejudice, racism and stereotypes, are the elephants on our pew.  It’s a jungle in here on Sunday mornings and more than a tight squeeze as we attempt to lift our hands in worship, to fold our hands in prayer, to grab the hand of our neighbor in fellowship.  Let’s be honest.  They are not visitors but members of the Church in North America.

Disregarding our attempts at colorblindness, we can see that this is not working.  Still, we gave them all the right hand of fellowship the moment we accepted a new creation narrative: “In the beginning, God created white people and then, beige, brown, black, red and yellow people.”  Yes, this is the way that the race story goes and we are its narrators, its co- creators.  Race comes from our mouths.  Race is the covenant that we have made with each other—not God.  It begins, “Only my people are God’s people.”

It is the word we have fashioned with our own tongues and made fact by our decision to treat each other accordingly.  It is the way we choose to perceive people and consequently, certain places in the world.  It is the way that we choose to know each other, its categories help us keep track of where people belong or are expected to be, if only for our self- serving purposes.  And it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom we are made one body, one people and one nation.

No race card, no race baiting, race and racism are a part of our personal theology and its practice.  We hear it in our reading of Scripture and its interpretation: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as wool” (Isaiah 1.18), in our singing: “Jesus loves the little children/ all the children of the world/ red and yellow, black and white…”  But, this is not how Jesus loves us; this is how we love each other.  Most obvious, the social construct of race informs and influences our fellowship.  Buses and schools, water fountains and restaurants, hospitals and even cemeteries have all been integrated, but, not the church.

Our willingness to see persons created by God as somehow lesser or greater than based on the social coloring of skin is the issue.  Race is the word we made flesh.  White is the color we have deified and those who are identified as such are made socially righteousness.  This is good news in America, which should not be confused with the message of the coming kingdom of God.

Persons labeled socially colored beige, brown, black, red and yellow have no chance of experiencing this kind of salvation; there is no deliverance for them. They are subjected to seemingly endless abuse, aggression and assault.  And no matter how many times it happens, it is their body’s fault.  No body else’s.

We have to take responsibility now.  With countless video recordings of racial profiling, harassment, false arrests and even death, we have to change the story of the Good Samaritan.  True to the parable, this generation assumes that the Church will not get involved.  See no evil.

But, there is much that we can do.  I do not offer three steps to a more inclusive church, seven steps to a multicultural ministry or twelve steps to a race-less church.  The moves are not so easy as they must ensure that we all get there together.  Because we are not as far along in our conversations about the social construct of race as we thought or had hoped to be.  No church is doing it right until the Church rights its wrongs concerning race.

So, let’s start from the beginning.  Rather than race introducing us to ourselves and to each other, we need to learn more about race, where it comes from, what it does and how it predetermines our relationships with others.  Not simply repeating after its prejudices, we must question them.  Rather than continue to pretend that race does not exist or claim that we are all apart of one human race, let us accept that it does exist and that it does not help us.  Then and only then can we deal with the meaning of its reality and its implications in our practice of discipleship.

Because we must also interrogate ourselves, asking, “What would the Lord have us to do about race and racism?  How am I complicit in the compromise of Christian community formation?  What of my sight needs to change for me to see persons across cultures as my brothers and sisters?”  And then listen for a response.

Let us begin.  Say, “Hello Racism.”

 

 

Note: This post was originally commissioned by and featured on the Ethics Daily website on June 5, 2018

When you’re tired of the message but it’s all you have to say

I am tired.  Worn out, worn down, worn thin by stories of racialized abuse, bias, bullying, harassment, hatred, mistreatment, misplaced vindictiveness, the continued willful ignorance of the pain and suffering of persons socially colored other than white, the choice to not engage.  Because it is more important to be our “race’s” keeper.  It is hard to keep up with all the stories, to maintain the momentum of this message of racelessness some days.  And maybe this is the point, to leave me in the dust.  Sweat stinging my eyes, I am not crying.

This race against socially constructed evils is not for the swift but the steady.  But, my voice is not steady.  I am angry sometimes.  My hands are not steady.  They shake, hoping to free the words stuck to my fingers.  Say something.

The machines of empire churn on and for every win, there is another battle to be fought, another argument to be had, another truth to be defended, protected, shielded.  Lies are sore losers; they will get the victory by any means.  So, don’t let down your guard, I say.  Don’t stop talking.  But, I am tired of standing guard, crying loud and holding nothing back.

My throat hurts.  And they have heard this all before.  The prophets have said this all before: You shall have no other gods before me– including yourself.  Year after year, day after day, it is the war of words.  Words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus …

For every bridge built, there is another that is burned, destroyed, blocked with dead bodies.  The hate piles on and so do the names.  So many names, how can we ever get through to each other?  It seems we will never get through this.  Everyone is taking sides.  How can we then get to the other side of this?

And the lies keep marching on.  I can’t watch.  It is hard to stay awake, to keep watch and pray.  Consciousness is a choice.  Looking on and looking away are the other options.  See no evil.

I am tired of seeing these words in front of our humanity: beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  This reduction of being, this re- creation of story: “In the beginning,” white people said.  I am tired of this racialized relationship, these color codes of silence and violence, these hate cycles.

I am tired of the game of race: Anything you can do I can do better– because I am better by reason of skin.  I am tired of the cyclical arguments of race, when we know where its going because we have been this way before.  This is not our first run in with this reality, not our first rodeo, not the first time we have seen this elephant and managed to squeeze past it in the room or try to carry on with polite conversation as if it was not sitting on our chest, barely able to catch our breath.  But, we kept right on talking to keep up the appearance of civility, of clean hands and professionalism.

Feigned ignorance, we choose not to blink, not to look.  And even when we do see something, we don’t say anything.  I am tired of the pretentiousness, of the excessive excuses, of the extraordinary lengths that we will travel to maintain this image and our covenant to protect whiteness.  We will say anything to prove its innocence even though we are witnesses and perpetrators of its crimes.  We will blame any body and other bodies, just so that whiteness is free.

We act as if there are no other words to describe our humanity.  God- given or race- driven, we choose the former.  Well, I know that I am not black, that race does not speak for me, that it leaves out all of my humanity.  Stuffed with stereotypes, my skin labeled according to its prejudices, I would have no tongue or the language for which to construct an exit.  And this is the strategy: Talk me out of my humanity and into a color.

But, I don’t see it race’s way and though I am tired today, I wouldn’t change a word.  We are race-less.