Category Archives: Race and Place

Acceptance

See the source image“Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

| Romans 15.7, NIV

Spawned by reports of the current American president’s remarks on immigration, which included speaking of Haiti and the entire continent of Africa (i.e. some 54 countries and two de facto territories) in terms unbecoming of a human being– much less a president, the national dialogue has returned to an old argument of race theory.  Race says where we are born determines our social value, that persons are inherently worthy or worthless based on their appearance.  It is a simplistic claim: goodness on location.  Acceptance based on appearance, this is as superficially good as it gets.

Incompatible with the unconditional love of God, “who so loved the world” and inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ, still persons claim that the kingdom of God is “white” and is a single country- the United States.   Today, there are those who continue to believe that God sees the world through blue eyes.  They honestly think that God has goldilocks and only spends time with those people who are “just right.”  Clearly, they have their stories mixed up, adding in a bit of fairy tale into sacred writ.  It is obviously self- serving since only those socially colored white have the right to live happily ever after.

So proud is whiteness that it claims that God desires it, needs it, that God’s power is determined by it.  God must be white if God is to be accepted as all- powerful.

Made of earth, it has always struck me as odd that some dirt, some flesh, some people are perceived as inherently better.  “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…”  Made by the same God, some persons are thought to be created “a little lower than” others.  Not surprisingly, the purpose aligns itself quite neatly with persons who espouse these views and their capitalist goals.  It also matches their will and supports the idea that they are God’s gift to the world.  Thanks but no thanks, Jesus.  What religion is this exactly?

Because the gospel of Jesus Christ will not be racialized. The kingdom of God is not segregated, color- coded, divided up into people groups.  And God is not a Person of color, the trinket of culture, to be accepted if the divine image matches our own.  God is good if God is with us– and not them.  No, God is Spirit and those who worship must worship spiritually and truthfully (John 4.24).  And the truth is, we are not accepted conditionally but gracefully.  “Accept one another, then, just as Christ has accepted you.”

Why is race here?

measuring_raceWhy is race here?  Why do we continue to allow it to be the cornerstone of our identity, investing who we are and will be into this social category, placing our children in its boxes?  What gives it membership and belonging?  Why does race have such power over us and presence within our society?

Persons have tried to explain the existence of race over time through science, Scripture and skin; but the truth is that we made it up.  Most scholars agree that race is a “folk idea” and a recent invention.  No, race is not biological or biblical. We are not born racial beings and race was not in the beginning with God.  Race is a social construct.

Race is a product of our thoughts; it’s origin is our mind.  Race is here because of the way that we choose to think of human beings from other cultures.  Race is here by the invitation of our imagination.  We need only change our minds and race will disappear.  So, why is race (still) here?

We made the rules

images“History is made by those who break the rules.”

~ An author unknown

If you want to get me fired up, just start talking about how helpless we are in terms of race. If you want to get me energized, just start telling me what I can’t do because of racism, prejudice and stereotypes.  Start spouting off experiences and examples, facts, quotes and statistics that seek to attack my humanity, to limit the possibility of me, to prove that I don’t have a chance if race has a say and position me as an eternal victim of race.

If you are trying to give me a “reality check,” to put me in my social place, I assure you that it will have the opposite effect. Instead of cowering, bowing my head and surrendering to the oppressive reality of race, my chest will poke out.  Uh, uh.  Not here.  Not me.  Not ever.

While I agree that the social construct of race has power, that its presence is systemic, I do not believe that I, or any other human being, is powerless to change it.  I believe that we can change the system, destroy the system even because the operators are human.  And it just takes one person to not put on the uniform, to call in sick, to not stand in place, to not report for duty, to break the habit of prejudicial relationships, to challenge and question the authority of stereotypes, to take a stand and talk back to this history of hatred.

Our belief in race and participation in this social faith is mass- produced.  When we submit to race, we place our lives on a conveyor belt and our lives are boxed up according to its stereotypes.  But, this conveyor belt of uniformity can be stopped.  You and I can turn away from race and run in the opposite direction.  Our lives can cause a jam that will allow others to fall off and have a chance at authenticity and individuality.

We need only speak the truth and in so doing assert our position as a child of God: The only all- powerful being is God. Race is not all- powerful.  The only all- knowing being is God. Race cannot, does not and will never every know me deeply, fully or truly.  The only always present being is God.  We can rid ourselves of race.

We can stop.  We can say stop.  We can tell race, “You cannot go any further.  You do not run my life.”

The fact is this is our game.  We made the race cards.  We pass them out.  We play them.

We made the rules of race so we can break the rules of race, abolish them even.  We don’t have to hate or prejudge.  We don’t have to segregate ourselves.  We can love across cultures.

We can cross “the color line.”  We can erase it if we really wanted to.  It’s written in self- regulating pencil not stone.

We can share our power and resources.  We can stop cheating and stealing.  We can stop manipulating and dominating.  We can change the game.  It just takes one to say, “Let’s play something else.”

Five facts about the life of race

get-the-facts_garland
  1. Race is a modern invention of the European Enlightenment: “European Enlightenment thinkers retained the Greek ideal of reason, as well as this reason’s categorical function of discriminating between the cultured (now called the ‘civilized) and the ‘barbarian’ (the ‘savage’ or the ‘primitive’). It can be argued, in fact, that the Enlightenment’s declaration of itself as ‘the Age of Reason’ was predicated upon precisely the assumption that reason could historically only come to maturity in modern Europe, while the inhabitants of areas outside Europe, who were consistently described and theorized as rationally inferior and savage.”[i]
  2. Race, here being the hierarchical system that socially positions human beings according to the social coloring of skin and other external features, did not exist prior to the 17th century: “Enlightenment philosophy was instrumental in codifying and institutionalizing both the scientific and popular European perceptions of (human beings).”[ii]
  3. Race rose to fame and notoriety when the Bible’s story of creation was reasoned to be irrational: “The rise of science in the Enlightenment period had overthrown the biblical story of creation and replaced the authority of religion with that of reason, nature was still conceptualized as a hierarchical system (the Great Chain of Being), in which every being, from humans down to fauna and flora, had a ‘naturally’ assigned position and status.”[iii]
  1. The power and influence of race can be attributed to travel writings: “During the two centuries prior to the European Enlightenment, an enormous amount of exploration and voyages around the world had produced numerous published accounts of distant lands and peoples as well as the great expansion of European wealth. These popular travel writings contributed significantly to the perception of Europe as familiar and ‘civilized,’ living in the Age of Light, while the peoples of other lands (Asia, Africa, America) were of ‘strange’ habits and mores. Savagery could then be physically located outside of Europe, outside of light, so that Africa, for example, was considered the Dark Continent, and a terra nulla.”[iv]
  1. Neither colored people, that is socially colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/yellow/ white, existed neither the belief that persons were mentally, physically, socially or spiritually inferior based on appearance prior to 1680. Winthrop Jordan explains, “After about 1680, taking the colonies as a whole, a new term of self- identification appeared—white.”[v]

_______________

[i] Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Malden, MA, 1997), 4.

[ii] Ibid 5

[iii] Ibid 4-5

[iv] Ibid 5

[v] Winthrop Jordan, The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States, (Oxford University Press: New York, NY, 1974), 52.

“To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” ~ Nelson Mandela

If you would like to learn more about apartheid in South Africa, please visit the Apartheid Museum, which opened in 2001.  In addition to exhibits, the museum offers resources to include Understanding Apartheid Teacher’s and Learner’s books.