Category Archives: Racial Formation

Don’t stop talking about race

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It is easy to reset, to move on to the next outrage, to the next shiny object.  “Ooh.  What’s that?”  We want to be distracted.  We hope that we can forget.

But, we cannot continue to let this be the case.  Race is a problem and it doesn’t just go away.  Instead, it is here to stay, stuck between our teeth, hanging on to our thin skin.  We carry it with us.  A word with sharp edges that we continue to wrap carefully and reuse, race is the weapon and the wound.

Still, we talk about race as if it is all we have, like it is all that we can say about ourselves, as if we are only flesh and blood.  We talk about race as if our lives depend on it, like we cease to exist if we are not socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  And though we cannot see the end of it (that is, post- racial), race is not our beginning. We cannot see past it but there is no future with race.

A socio- political construct, we talked ourselves into this belief in race and we will need to talk ourselves out of it.  You may not know this but we are not alone in this desire.  Recently, a number of books have been published that aim to discuss our relationship with race and empower readers to talk about it.  Please consider adding these to your reading list and your bookshelves:

Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

Carolyn B. Helsel, Anxious to talk about it: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017).

Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race?, (New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018).

Derang Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015).

Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010).

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Race As Social Formation

3999186Like you, I inherited the identity that comes with the social construct of race and also the burden of its life and history.  Initially, I accepted it.  I didn’t know of any other option or way of being so I learned about being black.

I read books and watched documentaries on Black history.  I took classes and specialized in African American studies.  But, while I appreciated and honored the story, I never could make peace with the word.  Black.

My awakening and subsequent liberation came by way of a question: “Do I have to be black?”  And the answer was, “No.”  I am viewed as a black person but I don’t have to see myself this way.  I am treated like a black person but I don’t have to handle myself in this way.  Race does not have to inform how I understand myself or determine how I manage my life.

Because there is an unfathomable distance between who society says that I am and who God created me to be.  I have spent many years now peeling back the layers of lies, most of them are the same.  Each year, the falsehoods have become easier to identify but this does not make the work any easier.  I get tired of the motion as there seems to be no end.

Still, the truth that I am race-less must not only be acknowledged or repeated but practiced.  This truth must be lived out.  I must make it visible.  I must give it voice.

And in so doing, I remove the hands unseen that attempt to mold me into who we have been and the way we should be.  I deny race the right to practice on my life; it’s license is not real.

To be sure, stereotypes are a collection of people’s assumptions.  Prejudices are but pride and fear extended to keep others at a distance.   The social construct of race is nothing more than life lived from the mouth of human beings versus that of God.  The continued existence and acceptance of race is evidence of our fear of being children of God and likewise, becoming a family.

The race-less life allows the Hands that held me first to lead my being and to lead me into being, new and original, personal and mine alone (Psalm 139.13-14).  An identity rooted in race is but the process of social formation.  But, it is not a genesis; it is no beginning but the end of me.  I come to a conclusion here.

It is not the fullest expression but the summary of me and most of the details are not mine but a collection of others mixed together.  It is not me at all.  It is what is thought of me.  It is what is believed about me… socially.  It is an identity created by the people and for the people, which is not to be confused with in service to God.

I am so glad that I don’t have to be black, that I have a say in who I am and will be, that race does not speak for me, that its hands did not touch me first.  What about you?  Who were you before race?

 

A 3- Minute Lesson on Race

You’ve got time for this class and it is brought to you by Jenée Desmond Harris.  It is a lesson that must be learned and that bears repeating.  Harris starts from the beginning of race and no, she does not begin in the book of Genesis.  Lie #1 struck down.  Race is not that old.

Race is a lot of things but biological, biblical or original to our being are not to be included.  Still, the misrepresentation of who we are continues and so does the cycle of hatred.  Race wars are plotted against places of worship for African Americans and Jews.  Protests seem unending, CNN describing last year as “a year of outrage.”  The hashtag Black Lives Matter has become a movement.  Right now, the University of Missouri has been added to the list and to the ongoing conversation on race after accusations of racism on campus. Consequently, this class is always in session.

And while it won’t lead to an advanced degree, these truths concerning race as a social construct are certain to advance our understandings of self and our neighbor.  I’ve devoted my life to teaching about race and to the eradication of the racial category for human identity.  Week after week, I look for ways to say this because it is so much easier and less painful to accept this superficial existence.  I want us to go deeper and pray that this video and my words would peel away another layer of race’s deceptions.

The Double-Minded Church: Spiritual Formation and the Impractical Theology of Race

divided-heartThis week, I was in Decatur, Georgia and presented at ChurchWorks, a Cooperative Baptist Fellowship conference for ministers of spiritual formation and education.  I, along with several others, spoke about the theological rumblings and ruminations of our shared ministry with Christ.  I will present part one of the message here:

“Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.”[i]

 This refrain from a popular children’s song demonstrates the inclusion of racial identity, the connecting of God’s love to social categories. This song teaches the little children that they are loved according to and/or in spite of the social coloring of their skin. I say social coloring because there are no physically colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/ yellow or white people. It is not seen. Instead, we believe it by faith. We walk by race, not by sight.[ii] And this song splits our vision, divides us and makes us two people— children of color and children of God.

This song also suggests that the love of Jesus and thereby the love of God is determined, informed and influenced by the social construct of race, that God shook and agreed to the social contract of race. We are, in fact, teaching our children to think that Jesus loves them not because the Bible tells us so but in the way that race tells us to.

And it is our singing, our worship that divides us. When asked about our sacred Sunday morning segregation, many people will say as a matter of fact that we worship differently. It’s a matter of taste, of cultural preference. But, no one really wants to say it. Race divides us— believers and churches, “the light of the world”[iii] and “the Body of Christ.”[iv]

Race. The mere mentioning of the word makes us uncomfortable. We hope that no one mentions or acknowledges it, that it rides off into the sunset of history never to be seen or heard from again. Regrettably, we don’t know what to say when it comes to race.

It confuses and unravels us, shames and unnerves us. People who serve the Word- God, the speaking God, are afraid of a word that we created. More specifically, race came from the mouths and minds of Enlightenment thinkers. Practitioners of this scientific racism attached humanity to the “Great Chain of Being,” introduced a second Genesis narrative[v] to account for the different cultures and measured skulls[vi] in order to categorize humanity: Caucasoid, Mongoloid, Negroid and Australoid. But, race was not in the beginning with God.[vii]

So, how did we forget that our theology matters and should not be offered up to the false god of race or its progeny, that our spiritual identity in Christ should not be sacrificed for a racial identity though it provides social acceptance, privilege and security? How did we forget that in order for the Church to work, we cannot accept identities that work against our new nature in Jesus the Christ? How do we now focus on spiritual formation when we have invested so heavily in the social realities of race? Bishop William Willimon asked, “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?[viii]

And where did our theology go wrong? Who gave us the directions to race and why do we continue to follow them when in search of identity? We’re going around in circles, coming back to “the color line” because no one wants to stop and say that we are lost, that we have lost the Way.

_____________________________

[i] The words are by C. Herbert Woolston (1856-1927). The music was written by George Root and was originally for an American civil war song according to http://www.cyberhymnal.org.

[ii] This is a play on Second Corinthians 5.7: “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”

[iii] John 8.12

[iv] First Corinthians 12.27

[v] Gossett, 45-47.

[vi] This science was known as anthropometry.

[vii] Genesis 1.1; John 1.1

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

New Day, New Me

imgres“We need the courage to create ourselves daily.”

~ Maya Angelou

Race is finished.  It is done with us.  It has nothing new to add but has concluded that we are more of the same.  We are all just colored people.

Race stereotypes us, box us up, prepackaged us long before we were born.  It is just moving us along sight unseen.  Next.  Just go where all the others have gone– to your corner of the city, to your side of the street, either this or that side of the tracks.

Love us and hate them.  They are all the same and we are all the same.  Life is all the same.  Nothing changes.  No one can change.  No one can break the mold.

I am so tired of race relations, of relating to people and places and time and space and myself according to the social construct of race.  I am so tired of hearing that my external appearance determines my reality, that the surface of me speaks to the depths of me.  I want something new.  I want to see some one new.  I want to be made new.

And God makes us new.  We just don’t see it.  Things like race get in the way and I want it to move.  But, not just move over but get lost, leave and not ever find its way back to me.

I want everyday to be free of race and its progeny. So, on Sunday, it’s a new me. On Monday, it’s a new me.  On Tuesday, it’s a new me.  On Wednesday, it’s a new me.  On Thursday, it’s a new me.  On Friday, it’s a new me.  On Saturday, it’s a new me.  I never get old, get left over, hand me down ways of being.

I am never the same.  No, God makes us all new, brand spanking new.  So, if it’s a new day, then it’s a new me.  Thanks be to God.