Category Archives: Race and the Imaginary

Soong-Chan Rah on the Racialization and Nationalization of the Image of God

Soong- Chan Rah talks about the strengths and weaknesses of a transcendent imagination, exceptionalism, the racialization and nationalization of the image of God at Wheaton College.  Let us think more deeply about the impact of the social construct of race on our theology and anthropology.

 

Race: How do you see it?

17180-The-Eyes-Are-Useless-When-The-Mind-Is-Blind~ An author unknown

Colored people.  Do we really see beige, black, brown, red, yellow,  and white people?  By this, I mean, do you see persons who’s skin is physically colored this way living with you, walking past you, standing in line or behind the counter at the grocery store?

If the answer is no and I assume that it is, then what are we seeing really?  What has race done to our minds in that we are not able to see people as they really are?  And how do we get our sight back, this race-less vision?

How are we able to see it?  How do we really know that it’s there?  What informs our stereotypes if not pride and prejudice?  How else do you see it?

Keepin’ the Black Man Down: How Race Positions Us

To be a socially colored “black” person is to be kept down, prevented from rising and especially not to the top. If you are up, then you are an “uppity Negro” and out of place, out of character. You think that you are “better than your own people” and need to be taken down a peg or two… so that the socially colored “white” man’s foot can be placed back on your neck. This is the logic of race: cyclical and nonsensical.

One cannot improve her or his social standing as a socially defined “black” person because that is not what socially colored “black” people do, up is not where we belong. Yet, many African Americans say that American society is unfair, unjust and that we are not afforded the same opportunities as our socially colored “white” counterparts. But, if an African American becomes successful, he and she could be labeled as a race traitor. Questions arise as to how they attained the position and their ability to do so without assistance, without compromise, without “steppin’ and fetchin'”, without ‘actin’ white’ and thus, denying one’s “blackness” is seen as impossible. He or she could not have attained the position, secured the deal, awarded the degree on merit or ability. No, the socially deified “white” man must have helped you up and out. Surely, your blackness prevented you and you must have had a helping “white” hand. The goodness or favor of God is not considered.

Such arguments communicate, at least for me, that those socially categorized as “black” are not made for success, that the social coloring of our skin segregates us from the possibility, that a productive and beneficial life in America is “For White’s Only.” Many of us believe that African Americans, those socially colored as “black,” don’t have the best dressed skin and so we are unable to enter into particular institutions, arenas and establishments. Though God created the heavens, the earth and all of its inhabitants, American society was not made for the benefit of socially colored “black people.”  On all of God’s green earth, there is simply no place for persons socially colored as “black” to belong. So, come on back over and lie down.

God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, who made the human foot cannot lift the real or imaginary limb, this social yoke of race off of another? An all- powerful God is not able to break the bonds of the human construct of race? The Creator of all of creations, who spoke the world into existence is limited by the words of race?  His word does not supercede the social predictions of racism? Surely, God does not serve the will of race neither does race serve the will of God. God remains three Persons though our speech might lead one to believe that a fourth has been added: Father, Son, Race and Holy Spirit.

African Americans, those socially colored as “black,” are supposed to be the underdog. It is who we have been and thus, it must be who we are, right? But, who is “we”? I don’t believe in this rationale for self- sabotage, that I have to lower my standard of achievement because of how I will be perceived by African Americans or treated by European Americans. I don’t accept this social position.  What of my own goals and ambitions, of God’s purpose for my life? As believers, we are to live in service to God’s will not race or some fictive community of millions who have agreed that “they” will turn their backs on us and that we will be labeled “not black enough” and discarded if we do not remain in position. No “white” man came up with this rule. It is not a foot that is the problem but the mouth of those who choose to repeat this social prophecy to others.

As believers, we are in Christ and thus, the social position of race is discounted. And for those of you who believe in Jesus Christ and yet would dismiss His ability to transform our social position, why believe in Him? What do you believe in Him for?  How is it that God, through His Son Jesus Christ, is able to redirect our lives from hell to heaven but is not able to change our plight in society? God can’t beat race? God does not trump race? The hand of God is not mightier than the foot of the socially colored “white” man?

As for me and my house, we will be identified by the hand of God not the foot of an socially constructed category of people. God has delivered me from the feuds of people (Psalm 18.43). I stand with my head held high because my position is in Christ Jesus (John 3.3,5; II Corinthians 5.16-17; Galatians 3.26-29, 4.19).

One Finish Line

Race does not exist.  It is but a construct of our social imagination; a single mental image that is perceived as real and that we have agreed to bring into our reality.   It is but a dream filled with mythical characters like the mammy, brute, Jezebel, and Uncle Tom.  It is a place where people become colors– black, white, red, yellow, brown, half- breeds, mulattoes, quadroons and octoroons and are assigned worth and dignity accordingly.

Much like that of the Tooth Fairy and the Boogey Man, we will tell our children about race.  We will tell them to expect its visit and we will reward them for believing.  We will check inside the closet and look underneath the bed to reassure them, all the while knowing that race is not real.  We are not racial beings but human beings.  So, is it really belief or something else?

Why do we continue to perpetuate the belief in the existence of race and the practice of racism?  Surely, there are better things to reward one for believing in and there are enough scary creations to frighten us than to make us afraid of ourselves and each other.  Still, we clutch our purses, cross the street when we see someone of a cultural group different from our own approaching and avoid eye contact upon passing each other.   In effect, we are pulling the bed sheets over our eyes, finding more security in this dream- like trance than in engaging life for ourselves and discovering that there is no one under the bed or in our closet, that we do not seek to harm each other because of the pseudo- color of our skin.

So, get out of the bed.  Yes, it’s comfortable and it’s warm.  Yes, you’re tired of fighting race and you just want to rest.  Yes, it allows you to wear your favorite pajamas and life, whether good or bad, is predictable with race.  But, after awhile your muscles will become rigid (Your mind will become rigid.) and later you will become bed- ridden, unable to move or think without the assistance of race.  And you will have only experienced life through the lens of race.

I’m running today, not against race as it is no match for my humanity but I’m running toward myself.  There is but one finish line.