Category Archives: Race and Culture

Tongue tied

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do I proclaim a raceless gospel when there is so much faith in race?  Why do I scribble over words in books that color- code our shared humanity and repeat the appropriate cultural designations aloud?  We are not black but African Americans.  We are not white but European Americans.  We are not yellow but Asian Americans.  We are not red but indigenous people who live in what has been renamed the United States of America.  We are not brown but Latino/a Americans (The racial category also includes Southeast Asian people, North African people and a few other cultural groups).  We are not beige, the color chosen for those who are bi- cultural but we share in the diversity of our humanity and represent what it looks like when cultures come together.  We are love bridges.

Because race will not tell me what I see or who I can see or how I must see others.

Because human beings are not colors, a collection of attributes and physical characteristics.  Because race does not even come close to expressing who we are in the world and in relation to each other.  Because race is not a witness to my human being or yours; it can never testify to seeing us.  I may not be colorblind but I am certain that race is blind.  Race captures what we feel about our flesh and its findings are literally superficial.

Race is not a hypothesis.  It is an uneducated guess about our humanity as its creators had no idea what they were saying or how their words would be used hundreds of years later.  And yet it is informed for the purposes of economic and political advantage.  Persons who use the racial categories to their advantage, use it as a means of oppression, as a leg up and a foot down on those who would attempt to rise above the fray.  Because who is willing to give up their privilege, their head start, to reject the title of whiteness?  Because we are not really taking away whiteness but social benefits, immunities and protections that go ahead of us, clear the way for us.

Because race is about competition and calling persons black slows us down.  Persons who are socially colored black are deemed lazy.  They cannot keep up and yet their ancestors built up this nation.  It doesn’t make sense.  One should cancel out the other and yet, we choose one over the other.  Because it serves us well and serves us best to think of another as less than us.  Because race is about pride, our insecurities and wanting to be so much more than human.  So rather than work hard, we think the worst of others to make ourselves feel better: lazy.

Laziness is a stereotype, a rock in the shoes of those who would attempt to make strides, who would try to cross the color line.  This is why it hurts when they have to “jump higher and run faster” than their counterparts.  Because they don’t have to deal with a word that is meant to trip them up and tie their tongue.  Because it is hard to say anything good about being black, which is why some persons talk white.

This need to be white is a mental transformation, a metamorphosis, a conversion of sorts.  Race has a life of its own, separate and apart from who we are and were meant to be.  Race is another story, a smaller narrative and a diversion.  It is not the way, the truth or the life (John 14.6).

Because the creature- created and run racial identities have no spiritual benefits and no eternal value.   Instead, the sociopolitical and economic construct of race is a kind of currency.  Our belief in race continues the need for this skin trade.  Nearly four hundred years later with the approaching anniversary of the first Africans enslaved and brought to the Virginia shores, we are still in bondage.  Tongue tied to race are most of us and me to the raceless gospel.

Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo is actually a group picture

Associated Press

Democratic Virginia Governor Ralph Northam has admitted to wearing a racist costume and has apologized.  In his 1984 medical school yearbook, there appears someone dressed as a member of the Ku Klux Klan and another in blackface.  Tonight, persons are calling for his resignation.

While I take issue with his decision to wear either “costume” as the history of pain and suffering that the blackface caricature and the terrorist actions of the Klan have caused African American people goes without question, I also can’t help but wonder, “Who stood beside Northam?  Who stood behind the camera to take the picture?  Who arranged the pictures in the yearbook?  Who proofed the final version and sent it to the printer?  Who published it?  Who signed his yearbook?”

Because racism is  a group effort.  Yes, it takes a village to raise a child but it  also takes a community to raise a racist.  Racism does not happen without consensus, without support, without the agreement that, in this case, African Americans deserve to be mocked.  Racism, this belief that one cultural group is better than another based on the amount of melanin in their skin, is not something persons just come up with on their own. 

The belief in human races and the supremacy of the so- called white man is not to be lumped in with Santa Claus, unicorns and tooth fairies.  No, this lie has an ugly history.  This blackface caricature and the Klan have been around for a long time.  This is hand me down racism, traditional stereotypes and hatred.  Who taught him this? 

Doesn’t he know that pictures of African American men and women were taken while being tortured and lynched?  That crowds gathered for this spectacle of injustice as they were dismembered and burned alive?  That the images were printed and sold as postcards, that persons shared these pictures like they would a photo with Santa Claus?  That the injustices inflicted upon African American people have been photographed and are now filmed from body cameras and cellphones?  That African American people have been seeing these images for a long time?

Did anyone in his family or in his circle of friends, his teachers or classmates tell him that this was mean- spirited, inappropriate, insensitive or racist?  And if not, why not?  This is the real conspiracy, that is to silence our conscious, to go along with this history of bullying, to put it on, to capture it in a frame, to make it apart of our personal memories.  This picture is apart of what he remembers about his time in medical school.

In 2017, African Americans made up almost 20 percent of the population in Virginia.  Tonight, I wonder how they are left feeling about the leader who is supposed to represent them.  There is no need to look at his heart; the yearbook picture is worth a thousand words and represents hundreds of years of humiliation for African American people.  I wonder why he didn’t see this in 1984 and why we still don’t see it now?

Because racism is not out of the picture.

 

 

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.

What are we talking about when we talk about race?

We’ve got to come back to ourselves.  We’ve got to take more than a few steps back and  we will have to step on more than a few toes in the process.  But, let’s begin to walk it back.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Return to the first Word that is certain to be the last Word, Alpha and Omega.

Race is not God’s story with us or for us.  Race is not even a narrator.  It has no speaking role.  Instead, it is a rumor run rampant, a hand me down lie that has never fit our humanity.  An 18th century invention, it has no theological support.  Still, we cheer it on, take it on as apart of who we are.

But this race talk has got to stop.  I call on your tongues to push back.  I ask that your souls not budge, that you not give it an inch or an ear.   Instead, we must listen more deeply as race is simply skin talk, superficial gibber, surface level banter.  When we talk about our skin and its social coloring, we literally have not scratched the surface of our human being and its understanding.

Still, we carry on with our prejudicial assumptions and segregated living arrangements.  But, we must not make room for race.  Because we’ve gotten no where with it.  Carried down through these hundreds of years, carried on the backs of one generation after another, we’ve got nothing but bent back and broken hearts to show for it.  We’ve got to leave it on the side of the road now, admitting that we do not need it to survive but have used it to serve our pride, greed and lust for power.

We’ve got to confess that this has gone too far, gotten out of hand and that we are tied up by our own tongues.  Our freedom is literally on the tip of our tongues.  We need only speak the Word to return to God’s story.  Race has created this distance between us and the Divine.  A hierarchical humanity, this is a step down and far, far away from what God had in mind when God called us by name– not by social colors.

When we talk about ourselves as racial beings and not human beings, we are talking ourselves out of our shared humanity.  Our common denominator is not color but our Creator.  To be sure, race is not a likely substitute, a shoe in and certainly not a stand in, which is why we have to really think about what we are saying about ourselves and each other.  Because we are more than out on a limb or hanging ourselves out to dry when we suggest that the totality of our existence depends on our skin when Jesus came to save souls.

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.