Category Archives: Racial Identity

Skintight: Race suggests there is a scarcity of human being

“After all these generations and centuries, we still don’t know how to see and talk about ourselves and each other.”

| Thomas Chatterton Williams, Self- Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race

Is that all you’ve got?  Is that all you have for me?  Is there nothing more to say about me, save these physical characteristics?  Huh, America?  Because I am not a mere description, certainly more than who meets your eyes.

We talk about race as if our human being is a zero- sum game.  We compete for identity as if there is not enough humanity to go around, like somehow some of us are not fully human.  Winner take all.  And for all of the arguments for the realities of race, I simply don’t understand why we would believe about ourselves or anyone else that we are nothing more than colored people: beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white.  Is that all we’ve got?

By the way, why do some “Is” have it?  Don’t I get a vote?  I must have a say.  Does anyone see my hand raised—not for acknowledgement but in protest?  I object to these social colors, their palette and vision of humanity.

I just don’t see it and really cannot see myself in this picture.  Out of focus and perhaps hidden underneath the frame, hundreds of years later, America and black is the only name you have for me?  Skin identities, we have not even scratched the surface of our human being.

You’ve got me all wrong.  I am not a person of color but a child of God.  There is a difference. One is a society’s sick fantasy, twisted and the other a faith statement.

Still, we believe in race while confessing that “in (God) we live, move and have our being” (Acts 17.28).  We claim that God is sovereign and yet live like so- called white people rule the world, as if we are powerless to become who God has created us to be, behaving like some persons have more God- given authority than we.

It’s all a lie.  Not one bit of it is true.  It is a tall tale that goes way back to the beginning but not of time.  It started right here in America.  Race and its divisions are a story made up in America.

Race is not a source of human being.  I am not the offspring of race, the creation of a color.  I do not come from a place, a country or continent, called Black.  There is no place of the sort on the map.  Instead, it is a contrived, socially manipulated identity that changes with each generation, every political administration and from person to person.

So, I do not “fit the description of” some generic but obvious threat to the fictive purity of whiteness.  Black is not a stain as a color or otherwise but the blood on the hands of those who oppress is.  And you can’t wash that away.  No matter how you look at me, you will never be able to fully look the other way, America.

I am still here for this staring contest and I see you for who you are.  Because my eyes are not a reflection of you but a mirror.  I won’t blink.   I won’t let up.  I won’t shut up.  I won’t give up my way of seeing me.

Alice Walker said, “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.” All or nothing, I am black or nothing at all.  And if I am not black, then most Americans want nothing to do with me.  Because what can they do with me?  I do not fit in and will not play this skin game, complete with brown paper bag tests.

I won’t pass for “white” but I will pass on this option and write to pass on another, that is racelessness.

Race is not all that we have to live by.  It is all that America’s got.

Race is not a body language

Race is not a body language.

It is not a form of nonverbal communication as one’s physical features do not actually communicate physical behaviors.  Because there must be a bad connection as the calls are all the same.  Black is bad, can’t be half bad but must be all bad, a bad apple that leaves a bad taste in your mouth, gives you bad vibes and is bad sign.  And bad news travels fast.  On the other hand, white is good, good to go, as good as gold and it is always good talking to you.  Yet, some have never had it so good.

Though many persons perceive it and employ it as such, race should not be coupled with facial expressions or the body’s movements.  More so, we cannot accurately read a person’s body language using the sociopolitical construct of race because it employs stereotypes, wrong and self- interested perceptions made right.  And they are ingrained, ground in, rubbed in.  They blend in well, so that we cannot tell that this is not our voice but the voice of an oppressor from hundreds of years past.

Oppressor and oppressed, we start to all sound alike.  Our words run together.  Evil travels in packs.  These conversations are circular, cyclical.  We never go anywhere and always end up where we started.  America has never left the plantation.

We think we know so much based solely on the so- called or better still, the social coloring of skin.  Based on light- skin, supposed white skin and the hides we have colored in beige, brown, red, yellow and black (Because I’ve never seen that, these colored people walking around anywhere.), we claim to know what a person is all about.  But I declare that you know nothing about me.

These racialized identities spout hearsay, group singular stories and bind them up as my own, pass them along as the gospel.  I have never liked playing the game telephone.  Human beings did not speak me into existence and they certainly cannot pass my identity along.  I cannot be repeated, captured by human lips, summed up by a single word, the totality of my existence expressed in flesh.  No, because I am a living soul and I will leave this skin behind along with old earth.

“Your kingdom come.”  We pray but still don’t get the message.  We still confuse the message, decline and don’t pick up on the message.  Forget the words you have made flesh and substitute them with our best guesses: beige, brown, black, red, yellow, white.

And these people on the telephone don’t know my message, why I am here on this day or any other.  If you say that I am black, then you have never heard me—because I would never say that.  And we have never had a proper introduction.  Because I am not a color.  I am God’s creation.  I am not a single characteristic or an adjective pretending to be a noun.

Instead, I am a complete sentence and “I am black or a black person” is not and never will be one.

Race is not the way

See the source image

“Once we start paying attention to Jesus’ way, it doesn’t take long for us to realize that following Jesus is radically different from following anyone else.”

| Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously said, “The most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”  We repeat his words as a matter of fact, not as a challenge.  It has been named and noted.  But, rather than shake our heads in agreement, I ask, “What are you going to do about it?”

Don’t just change seats; switch churches.  Get up and follow Jesus somewhere outside of your comfort zone, gated community, tradition, perspective, cultural and personal experience, worship style.  Jesus did it and if we are following Jesus, we should too.  Don’t spend your whole life pointing out the problem.  Don’t just shake your heads; put your heads together.  Figure it out.  Solve it.

Because Jesus doesn’t go the same way everyday, talk to the same people all the time or travel in the same neat circles.  There is nothing routine or traditional about his ministry or his message.  Jesus was not the expected Messiah, the predictable Savior.  Persons did not point to him and say, “I knew it was you!”  Just listen to the people who were around him who asked, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  And hear his own disciples who questioned if they really knew him, “What kind of man is this?”

Because if you meet Jesus and do not walk away from life as you knew it, then you did not meet Jesus.  If you and I can meet Jesus and return to our regularly scheduled programming, then we may have met Jesus but we do not know him.  Life with Jesus does not consist of a mere introduction but a lifelong conversation to include long walks like those with the disciples on their way to Emmaus.  We need to listen to Jesus until our hearts burn (Luke 24.32).

If we can remain hard- hearted when it comes to race, then we need to have more than “a little talk with Jesus.”

Because isn’t it a sad commentary that Christians in America cannot come together one day a week for an hour or two, that though Christ prayed that we might become one, it is hardest to answer and to embody this prayer on Sunday (John 17.21)?   That we have integrated businesses and schools, hospitals and cemeteries, buses and hotels, lunch counters and restrooms but not sanctuaries?  That praying hands still section themselves off to worship the God who “so loved the world”?  That a space marked sacred still has the signs of segregation hanging above its doors, that our churches secretly or unconsciously signal, “For white people only” or “For colored people only”?

If anything, Sunday should be the one day that we can come together.  Or, is the Holy Spirit not at work or unable to overcome the challenges of our flesh?  What do we walk in if not the Spirit and where are we going if we are not walking in the spirit of truth (Galatians 5.16; John 16.13)?  We cannot claim the creative power of God, the resurrection power of Jesus and the fire power of the Holy Spirit but continue on as if powerless to challenge and change the social realities of race.  What of this new identity in Christ?

During this season of Lent, we are called to give up our carnal cravings, our fleshly feelings in order to shorten the distance between us and Jesus.  Friends, I assure you that race is not the way.  We are no closer to Christ than when we first begun if we put anything before or in front of Christian: black Christian, white Christian, Republican Christian, Democratic Christian, female Christian, male Christian.  Christ is all or nothing at all (Galatians 3.28; Colossians 3.11).  Following Christ is a one way street and it leads to Calvary.  We cannot continue to follow the prescriptions of race and claim we want to go all the way with Jesus.  Because it is a death walk; race and our racialized identities simply cannot survive.

Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

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.