Category Archives: Race and Speech

The Rise of Hatred

hate-header-01This recent report reads like a prayer list for me.  The Washington Post has described 2015 as the year of ‘enormous rage’ and there seems to be hatred to go around.  The rhetoric of this political cycle’s presidential candidates has only added to the tension and division.  So, we hate for racial, religious, economic and political reasons.  There seems to be hatred for most if not all things along with fear and hate crimes to go with it.

But, the social construct of race continues to take the cake.  The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported that chapters of the Ku Klux Klan rose from 72 to 190.  In a similar vein, black separatist groups also increased from 113 to 180.  With anti- confederate flag messages, the increased instances of police brutality which created the Black Lives Matter movement, I do not foresee a decline on the horizon. And the report does not account for anonymous hate groups that meet online (in country clubs or at the dinner table for that matter).

While the SPLC’s definition of hate has been questioned and rightly so as it seems to reflect their personal interpretations and leanings, the numbers are important.  The growth of hatred for people is something that we should pray against, whatever its form and wherever we find it.  Hatred does not heal our relationships and the rise of it only speaks to our wounds.

Perhaps, we should tone down the rhetoric.  Lower the stakes of this next presidential election.  Lower our expectations of what she or he may be able to do for I assure you, it will take more than 4 years or 8 to “save our country” if that is your hope.  And maybe we should lower our voices and listen to what we are saying because hate is such a strong word.

To read the article which discusses the full report, click here.

“Hello. My name is…”

My family and I recently visited a state that shall remain nameless and after being introduced to a European American woman in her early to mid- forties who would be serving us during our weekend stay, she felt compelled to share with me that there was only one “colored person” in her school “all the way up through the twelfth grade.”  What an introduction.  “Hello.  My name is Lisa and I don’t have much experience with colored people.”

Initially, I couldn’t believe that she had used the descriptor.  I thought to myself, “She’s kidding, right?”  I waited for a few minutes for Don Quinones from the ABC show “What Would You Do? to enter the room but this was not a mock scenario.  It was real.  I had moved from African American to colored in the span of a three hour drive.  What a transformation!

But, I wasn’t offended partly because I’m not colored so her colored persons sighting chart would remain at one.  It is for this reason and a few others that I did not feel compelled to introduce myself in this way:  “Hello.  My name is Starlette, minister of reconciliation and destroyer of all things racial.”  Another reason is that I was quickly reminded of the story of Jesus who was unable to minister in his hometown due to the people’s familiarity with his family and the resultant unbelief (Mark 6.1-6).  Due to Lisa’s familiarity with racism and its depictions of African Americans, she didn’t have the faith to believe that I could be anyone other than colored and thus, restricted the possibilities of our interactions.  As a result, the healing of the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ was not given.  However, I was still curious so I decided to listen and to listen deeply.

Why did she need to inform me of these things from the start along with the fact that she was irritated by the media making a fuss about the recent Cheerios commercial that depicted an American family wherein the parents were of different cultural backgrounds? The world is changing she informed me.  What was Lisa really saying? What was I suppose to hear in that moment?

Despite the fact that it is the year two thousand and thirteen, that the leader of the United States of America and chief representative of the American people is African American, that we have become a “global village” connected through the internet and the language of colored people is not employed on television or any major media outlet, Lisa said it.  Perhaps, it is because there is not only time on the outside of us but one that is internal and hers had not changed much.  Or, it was a power play.  Lisa wanted me to know that despite the fact that she was serving me that I would remain a servant/ less than in her eyes, reduced to a colored person.

Today, I wonder what is at stake when we decide not to change despite the reality that stares us in the face.  Lisa knows that there are billions of other people in the world.  Still, her words, while confining in my view, serve as a protective barrier that keep her in a time and place that she is most comfortable.  And the saddest thing is that she doesn’t want to leave.

But, what does this say about us when we choose not to be around others unless they think and “look” and behave exactly as we do?  And what are we to do with words that do not describe but deny the true reality of another person’s existence?  I believe that we don’t have enough experience with each other.  Instead, we have intimate relationships with the idea, the fantasy and even the fear of who this person might be.  We need to be reintroduced to each other.  “Hello.  My name is…”

Finding Trackmates

“To perpetuate privilege and oppression, we don’t have to do anything consciously to support it. Just our silence is crucial for ensuring its future, for the simple fact is that no system of privilege can continue to exist without most people choosing to remain silent about it…As such, we can only choose how to be involved- whether to be part of the problem or also to be part of the solution. That’s where our power lies, and also our responsibility.”  ~ Allan Johnson

These words are posted on the Un-Fair Campaign’s website and capture one of the most important reasons why talking about race and racism is so important.  We have to make a decision.  We have to choose today whether or not we are on the side of race and its prejudices.  And our inaction is the worst action of all.  In our silence, there is agreement and participation.  It is when we choose not to speak about race and its progeny that we say the most.  Our tongues have given race power and influence.  It is with our tongues that we have built up race and a foundation made of a closed mouth is much sturdier than an open one.

But, it is also with the tongue that we can tear it down.  It can serve as a wrecking ball.  Sacred Scripture tells us that “the power of life and death is in the tongue”; its strength can be found in our very mouths (Proverb 18.21).  However, often it seems that after we give life to a concept or idea, we forget that we also have the power to bring about its demise.  We incorporate it into our laws and systems of governance, family and culture, present circumstances and future predictions.  We allow what we’ve created to get out of our hands, unable to be molded or destroyed after we have given it systemic power and influence.  Sadly, we have yet to understand the great creative force that is the tongue or that in destroying, we are also creating.

Today, I am encouraged to have found yet another running partner, a track mate as I journey toward racelessness.  It is my prayer that I would find others who are not afraid to talk about race and more importantly, to talk back to race, to not only ask questions about racism but to question, to interrogate race.  Oh, I feel like running on today “to see what the end will be”!

Your Black Self: How Race Makes Us Hurt Ourselves

My mother would often say to us, “Sit your black (expletive) down.” After arguments with my father, she would conclude that, “Niggas ain’t (expletive).”  Many African Americans or those who would claim to take pride in blackness use the word black and likewise, nigga derogatorily. In the case of children, it is used to shame and to embarrass.  It is an expression of frustration coupled with anger that is used to inform the child that perhaps a physical punishment is soon to follow if these instructions are not.  When it involves adults, these words are intended to hurt and/ or demean the targeted person. Consequently, the word black and nigga are on these occasions then employed both as an identity and an insult.

The hurler of the insult can say it because they belong to the same group and the insult rings true because of the historical experience wherein African Americans were treated as less than human by their Dutch, Spanish and European oppressors and consequently referred to as black and nigger.  Also, when said by persons within the African American community, it seems (at least in my observation and experience) to make the statement truer as those with whom the word originated created an experience by which to define Africans and later African Americans as black and nigger. However, when someone of the same group says it, it seems to suggest that her or his knowledge of you does not disagree with what the “white folks” say about you.  It becomes doubly powerful and bad for the person to whom these words are directed.  It is a means by which to ostracize and condemn.

But, the use and definition of these words within this context are accepted, agreeable and deemed true for many within the African American community.  The rationale for the continued use of these words and their employment in relationships between persons within the same people group (i.e. “black” people) despite their understood historical meanings and the relationships by which these words were created (i.e. American slavery) has been explained in this way: “I can talk about my family but you cannot.”  While I understand that there may be an intimacy and an insight that is only available to those who are within a particular people group, neither word originated within this group.  The persons who first employed black and nigger were not of African descent and thus, not members of this cultural family. But, it is agreed upon within the African American community that these persons cannot use the words. This rule will never make sense to me.

This is someone else’s cruel joke that persons now tell about themselves and their family members, conforming their lives to its punch line. It is then not just laughing but picking on one’s self or a member of one’s community when these words are employed.  Words that began as hate speech now become self- hate speech. And it becomes truth and the insult becomes part of the identity.  But, how long will persons laugh to keep from crying? Many do understand that this is but a survival mechanism carried over from American slavery to be included in such habits like “scratchin’ when there is no itch” or finding agreeable what you know in your heart is not.

Instead of no longer answering to the name calling, we take it on as an identity as if we can make bitter water sweet.  And I simply do not agree that the negative words employed by socially colored group A against socially colored group B are acceptable when used within the oppressed or picked on group, here being socially colored group B.

These persons understand that both black and nigga have negative meanings in American society and even within their community; still, there remains a strong defense of the socially constructed black identity.  Social activists have made black beautiful and rappers have made nigga (i.e. “my nigga”) synonymous with brother. Both words were created and/or associated with persons of African descent in order to hurt, offend and challenge the reality of their humanity. But, there are many within the African American community that will argue that they have taken words like black and nigga back. Somehow, in changing ownership of the word or the mouth of the person from which the word comes from, we change the meaning and impact of the word. But, why then can persons who are not within the African American community not say the word?

Because “It’s different when they say it.”  An example of such occurred when the members of The View discussed the name of a camp leased by the family of Ricky Perry.  In it, Sherri Shepherd, commenting on Barbara Walter’s use of the word nigger says, “There is a difference between the way that you say it and the way that Whoopi says it.”  For Shepherd, there is a difference between nigga and nigger.  Barbara Walters attempts to assure her that she is merely pronouncing the word as it is written.  Shepherd later concludes that there is no right way for a socially colored white person to use the word nigger but that she does use it within her family.

How do black and nigga/er maintain this dual meaning and allegiance, edifying and yet undermining human identity and worth? How does one not cancel out the other?  It is because race will have it no other way.  The hierarchical social system based on the social construct of race cannot exist without a bully and a victim, even if they reside within the same socially constructed or cultural group.  These names and others will continue to be both an identity and an insult because this is how race makes us hurt ourselves.  The experience of race has so wed itself to who we are as Americans that we unable to identify ourselves as anything else: black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige, slave or oppressor, center or marginalized, privileged or underprivileged, a first or second class citizen, a member of the majority or the minority.  America is one big school yard and you are either in or out.

The insult so often repeated becomes our expected experience.  Before long, we begin to identify with it and then we identify ourselves by it.  The black self, the socially colored in human being becomes our reality.  It is all we know or can know.  It is the only way that we can be seen or expect to be treated–no matter how insulting.

“You Are What You Eat”: Race Is Not A Food Group

Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee… It sounds like the beginning of a grocery list but it is actually the way in which many of us speak of ourselves and others. Not only do we categorize ourselves according to the social coloring of skin but apparently, human beings come in food groups. Our attention to color, that is the social coloring of skin, is so ingrained that we attach it to things that remind us of this identity. Consequently, a word association involving food could trigger one to think of a person. For example, “Black and white like an oreo, a zebra… a mixed person.” I don’t see it as an obvious conclusion or link but so many persons do.

Persons of “mixed” cultural heritage or those who are deemed to be “acting white” (i.e. socially performing as is expected of socially defined white people because they are the definition of success, the sound of proper speech and the example of right-standing in America) are referred to as oreos, bananas and apples because they are said to be black/yellow/red on the outside but white on the inside. I am troubled by the meaning as it reinforces the belief that goodness is unnatural to persons who are socially colored red/yellow/brown/black, that this goodness is visible and acquired apart from Jesus Christ. This manner of thought is, of course, contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we are not judged by our physical appearance (II Samuel 16.7; Proverb 31.30; James 1.22-25; Matthew 7.20, 23.28). Race also suggests that our standing with God, as in American society, is determined by external means and is an outside job. But this is not supported by the Scriptures which point believers toward an inward transformation of heart, mind, will and emotions (Romans 12.1-2; Galatians 2.20, 5.19-26; Ephesians 4.23. Second Timothy 2.15; First John 3.2).

I have heard it said by African American men that they like their women like they like their coffee: black. Others who say they like their coffee with a little cream in it are indicating that they prefer light- skinned women. The social coloring of skin and its politics are at work and bring to mind the meanings imbedded in these categories during American slavery. Dark-skinned persons were often instructed to work in the field while those who were of a lighter complexion worked in the house. It created a leadership dynamic, a hierarchy between the slaves, even in the midst of bondage. But, it didn’t matter then whether they were in the house or in the field; they still were the personal possession of another human being. This message of lighter skin as goodness because of its social protections continues to be carried today. We too recreate hierarchy in our racial pyramid when we speak of persons as food. We may no longer carry brown bags to test the lightness of one’s skin and none of us may be card carrying members of the Blue Vein Society. But, we affirm our membership when we attempt to put people in a basket, planning to consume them by making them a part of our list. Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee…

Resources

Wallace Thurman, The Blacker The Berry
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall, The Color Complex
Marita Golden, Don’t Play In The Sun
 
Racism takes many hues
Skin Deep: Dying to be White