Category Archives: Racial Identity

A Race-less Vocabulary List


Race is not prescriptive. Race causes us to lose sight of each other quite literally. We are missing out on love, healing, relationship, truth… all because we cannot see each other.  We speak as if race has always been, as if we will cease to exist, turn into dust, fade into oblivion if we stop referring to ourselves in colors, shades and skin tones.  But, colors are not names.  Colors are colors.  They offer the meanings we give them, no different than traffic lights.  And I have seen the light.

The color does not change who or what or why it exists.  It does not exist because of the color but because in the case of the light, we need order, direction, safety.  Our human variableness is imagined then.  We are all the same: “You put your pants on one leg at a time just like me.”  We have same the needs and desires.  You say, “Tomato”; I say, “Tomato.”  Though met differently and at different times, it’s all the same.

This is the problem with human beings: We think that being human is a problem.  We take issue with being, simply existing.  We surmise that there must be something more to this.  Poking at flesh, we create words to make us stick out.  Race is no different.

I hope I have properly grounded this list in a strong argument for its recitation and memory.  I offer these words to combat the idea that the language of race traps us, cements our fate, locks us in an battle of us against them battle “forever and ever. Amen.”  There is an end to race and it is on the tip of our tongues.

Repeat after me.

  1. Skin (flesh, epidermis)
  2. Colors (as in crayons because one’s country is not synonymous with the social coloring of one’s skin)
  3. Sociopolitical construct (race as human- made, as idol)
  4. Racial eliminativism (the belief that race and racial groups do not exist)
  5. Racial eliminativist (those who seek to eradicate the idea, systemic implementation of race and to challenge/ thwart a racialized existence)
  6. Racialized (To view life through the lens of race and to color- code one’s existence, experiences and interactions)
  7. Aracial (without racial distinctions: Aracial anthropology, theology)
  8. Raceless (without race: syn: aracial; raceless gospel, raceless Christianity)
  9. Pre- racial (The belief that race is not a creator or co- creator with God, that human beings existed before race.)
  10. Race skeptic or race atheist (One who does not believe in race, who doubts and/or questions the basis or rationale for existence based on the social coloring of skin)
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I am a race atheist

Before you wave me off, dismiss my faith system or the lack thereof, hear me out.  Give me a chance, an opportunity to make my case.  I assure you: This is not what I thought that I would be saying.

I used to believe in race, with all my heart, from my head down to my toes with natural hair and African- inspired clothing.  No specific country to call my own, I claimed the entire continent.  (Note of clarification: Black is a color– not a country or continent, though we have made the two synonymous.  Black people are from… Africa?  White people are from?  Yellow people are from?  Red people are from?  It breaks down very quickly.)  I tried to make it work and to work it out.  I wanted it to make sense for me and I had no reason to suspect that it would not.  Because we have always been colored people or so I thought.

I believed in blackness and being black, in whiteness and its privileges and so on for every so- called color of the human “rainbow.”  I believed that my experiences were color- coded, that my skin was the beginning and end of me, that my epidermis was all that mattered, that it made the most sense and brought the most meaning to my life.  But, I was wrong.  Still, I need you to know that I thought this was right, that learning that I was black and how to live with it was the meaning of life.  But, I was wrong.

I was wrong about race because race was wrong about me.  Race has our humanity all wrong.  We are not colored beings but human beings.  Race, a capitalist sociopolitical construct, is an excuse, a scapegoat in a long line of excuses and scapegoats for the unjust ways that we choose to live with and relate to each other.  It is the means by which we get the blood off of our hands.

We say, “Race made me do it.”  But, we can also say, “Money made me do it.”  “My faith made me do it.”  “My gender made me do it.”  “The devil made me do it.”  But, really it is our flesh and its cravings for power and dominance that makes us do it.

Our humanity is what we make it.

***

I’ve been called a n—-.  Born in the South, I heard it first at home.  I heard family members being called a n— at home.  Hatred begins at home.  Our self- hatred starts in the mouths of our parents.

I cannot be sure as to the reason for this name- calling.  Said both in anger and in fun, I cannot attest to whether it was used solely to inoculate as it was also used as a term of endearment.  “My n—.”  A strange expression then and now.

It is a word that my family was given and they had no interest in questioning it.  They didn’t think to give it back, to reject it.  It is a primary way of relating in the world and understanding ourselves.  We were n—, then Negro, then colored, then black, then Afro- American, then African American, then black, then black and brown people, people of color again.  We still call ourselves n—.  Race offers nothing new, no rebirth, no regeneration.

Unclear of its value but certain that they needed it and that I could not live without it, they passed it down.  There was no new name and no way to see myself differently.  My relationship with self was an expression of those created in American slavery.  Changing the words, ridding myself of racialized language would be the start of changing my way of relating, of forming community, of reconciling past and present.

To be sure, there is no motivation for changing it.  It is the way of the world, the way things are.  We are on this color wheel but I wanted to get off.  Still, most surmise that we cannot change it, that race knows us better than we know ourselves, that race knows us before we know ourselves.  But, then my faith in Christ did something I did not expect; my new identity in Christ began to challenge my racial identity.  They were not one in the same and I was being asked to choose between being a person of color and a child of God.  Two creators, two gospels, two heavens and hells (one segregated), they are two different belief systems.

The two are not complementary, synonymous or serving in supporting roles in this grand narrative. No, we must choose between the ways of this world and the ways of the kingdom coming.  There is a Person coming that will not identify with us based on the social coloring of skin and it is time that we come to see that.

Today, I am a race atheist.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t buy it.  I do not see as race sees.  I believe that there is so much more to our humanity and race doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.

When you’re tired of the message but it’s all you have to say

I am tired.  Worn out, worn down, worn thin by stories of racialized abuse, bias, bullying, harassment, hatred, mistreatment, misplaced vindictiveness, the continued willful ignorance of the pain and suffering of persons socially colored other than white, the choice to not engage.  Because it is more important to be our “race’s” keeper.  It is hard to keep up with all the stories, to maintain the momentum of this message of racelessness some days.  And maybe this is the point, to leave me in the dust.  Sweat stinging my eyes, I am not crying.

This race against socially constructed evils is not for the swift but the steady.  But, my voice is not steady.  I am angry sometimes.  My hands are not steady.  They shake, hoping to free the words stuck to my fingers.  Say something.

The machines of empire churn on and for every win, there is another battle to be fought, another argument to be had, another truth to be defended, protected, shielded.  Lies are sore losers; they will get the victory by any means.  So, don’t let down your guard, I say.  Don’t stop talking.  But, I am tired of standing guard, crying loud and holding nothing back.

My throat hurts.  And they have heard this all before.  The prophets have said this all before: You shall have no other gods before me– including yourself.  Year after year, day after day, it is the war of words.  Words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus …

For every bridge built, there is another that is burned, destroyed, blocked with dead bodies.  The hate piles on and so do the names.  So many names, how can we ever get through to each other?  It seems we will never get through this.  Everyone is taking sides.  How can we then get to the other side of this?

And the lies keep marching on.  I can’t watch.  It is hard to stay awake, to keep watch and pray.  Consciousness is a choice.  Looking on and looking away are the other options.  See no evil.

I am tired of seeing these words in front of our humanity: beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  This reduction of being, this re- creation of story: “In the beginning,” white people said.  I am tired of this racialized relationship, these color codes of silence and violence, these hate cycles.

I am tired of the game of race: Anything you can do I can do better– because I am better by reason of skin.  I am tired of the cyclical arguments of race, when we know where its going because we have been this way before.  This is not our first run in with this reality, not our first rodeo, not the first time we have seen this elephant and managed to squeeze past it in the room or try to carry on with polite conversation as if it was not sitting on our chest, barely able to catch our breath.  But, we kept right on talking to keep up the appearance of civility, of clean hands and professionalism.

Feigned ignorance, we choose not to blink, not to look.  And even when we do see something, we don’t say anything.  I am tired of the pretentiousness, of the excessive excuses, of the extraordinary lengths that we will travel to maintain this image and our covenant to protect whiteness.  We will say anything to prove its innocence even though we are witnesses and perpetrators of its crimes.  We will blame any body and other bodies, just so that whiteness is free.

We act as if there are no other words to describe our humanity.  God- given or race- driven, we choose the former.  Well, I know that I am not black, that race does not speak for me, that it leaves out all of my humanity.  Stuffed with stereotypes, my skin labeled according to its prejudices, I would have no tongue or the language for which to construct an exit.  And this is the strategy: Talk me out of my humanity and into a color.

But, I don’t see it race’s way and though I am tired today, I wouldn’t change a word.  We are race-less.

Bigger than sports

While still maintaining the name Cleveland Indians, the team will no longer be represented by the image of “Chief Woohoo,” the New York Times reports.  This racialized logo is set to disappear from uniforms in 2019 but can still be purchased at the team’s souvenir shop.  However, there is division on the decision.  There are those who like the nickname, though it is not one that persons indigenous to what is now the United States would answer to.  It is not familial or collegial for them.  But, it has been with the team a long time, since 1948.

What makes this change so hard?  Creating an image of other cultures that racializes and reduces them to certain physical features that are played up for our amusement and entertainment is understandably problematic, right?   The images are not historical or accurate.  Instead, they play to our fears and self- serving fantasies.  These images are not simply taken of their bad side but they are our side of their story.  It is how we see them.  Consequently, these images are not a mirror but a reflection of those who create them.

Still, Washington’s football team and others have refused to change their team name and racist logo despite public disapproval.  The North American Society for Sport History issued a Resolution on Racialized Mascots, which reads in part:

“At the 2016 NASSH Business Meeting, the membership of the North American Society for Sport History resolved the following:

  • RESOLVED, that the North American Society for Sport History condemns the continued use of racist stereotype images, logos and mascots in sports and institutions of education; and be it
  • RESOLVED, that the North American Society for Sport History hereby opposes the use of racialized Indigenous images, logos, names, and mascots in sport for both commercial and educational purposes.” (For the full resolution, click here.)

There is something bigger than sports at work here.  It is the continued renaming of people groups, recreating them in images that we can capitalize on, both financially and otherwise, telling them that it is our  right and that they have no say in how they are seen.  We use images that do not speak for them but prevent healing and whole conversations.  So, what are we really saying?  Why do we need to see these images and say these words about persons other cultures?  Because it is unsportsmanlike conduct.

 

The Lie of Race

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“White people have not always been ‘white,’ nor will they always be ‘white.’  It is a political alliance.  Things will change.”

 {Amoja Three Rivers}

I begin with whiteness because all of the other social colors define themselves by it.  In fact, the other social colors exist for it.  Whiteness depends on blackness, for example, for it is the existence of blackness, synonymous with evil and darkness, that calls for whiteness.  Whiteness is then needed to right the wrong and to stamp out the darkness.

In order for the socially constructed white identity to be the standard of good, there must be one or more identities that are the definition of bad.  Whiteness is then seen as a necessity and then divinized.  But, you can’t have one without the other.  We cannot have whiteness without the “other.”

Or, whiteness is defined as exclusively good, permitting no other social colors to join its group.  “If you’re white, you’re right.  If you’re black, stay back.”

James Baldwin called it “the lie of whiteness.”  And I would agree but I would push us just a little bit further.  I would call blackness and with it, all the other social colors a lie.  Consequently, I declare that the social construct of race is a lie, that there is no truth it, no redeeming characteristics or qualities.

I will never understand why we believed the lie to begin with or how we traded our humanity for hue.  I join with Charles Chestnut who asked in 1889, “What is a white man? ” No, really what is a white man?  Who is a white man?

Because God’s purpose for humanity is not color- coded: “If you’re white…” No, God’s purpose is eternal, not based on physical features tied to social contracts.  “If you’re black…”

Race is a lie; don’t try to make a believer out of God.