Category Archives: Teaching Racelessness

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.

Resisting Race

Race is a rule of law.  The color line is well- defined as each generation digs in their heels. “We shall not be moved.”  We fold our arms and turn our backs.  We turn on each other and take turns hating the other.

I hate you.  You hate me.  We hate them.  One way of seeing things, one way of treating human beings, one circular argument, we are no closer to concluding that we belong to each other, that we are all sisters and brothers.  So, we step on their toes and our own feet.

We keep creating distance and making up the difference, legalizing our preferences, etching in stone which bodies are at home in the earth.  Then, we wonder why the rocks cry out.  Because this does not praise God.

In the book of Genesis, God breathed out and created us as living souls.  Yet, our words tend to suck the life out.  Reduced to racial categories, we become color- coded beings  recreated way lower than the angels.  But, Ralph Ellison writes in Invisible Man, “Why waste time creating a conscience for something that doesn’t exist?  For, you see, blood and skin do not think?”

Still, our skin and its social coloring determine our social interactions.  It is a matter of fact.  Like a wristband or a stamped ticket, the social coloring of our skin tells us where we belong, where we are allowed to be and what we can do in particular places and at any given time.  “Let me see your skin.”

“Sundown towns” were those segregated cities where African Americans were not allowed after dark.  They wouldn’t be caught dead there and if they were caught, they wound up dead there “at the hands of persons unknown.”  We have turned the darkness inward and determine who we will allow in our own lives, who we will set our eyes on and who we will close our eyes to.

But, I am here to tell you that sometimes what is legal is not lawful, at least not in the eyes of God and that it is time to resist the laws of race and its progeny.  Mostly, I speak to Christians who identify as “new creatures in Christ Jesus,” who claim him as kin yet cannot relate to believers of other cultures unless and until they assimilate to theirs, who eat the Lord’s Supper yet cannot find room at their table for their neighbor, who claim God as sovereign but don’t question white supremacy, who won’t cross the tracks but cross their hearts, who bow their heads in prayer and look the other way when they see injustice, who can find excuses for abuses of power but cannot put their finger on systemic failures (Second Corinthians 5.17).

It is time to resist race and the urge to cover up our complacency with the world as it is.  It is time to resist and reject the comforts of our social and economic categories, time to get up and stick out, to take on the identity of pilgrim passing through.  Because this land is not your land.  My country ’tis of…?  Christians are not citizens of this world but the next.

Let’s move on and move on the fact that race is all wrong about us.  It’s time to buck the system, to live in opposition to its rules, to live a counter- narrative that has no respect for color lines, no interest in stereotypes, no desire to play by rules that regulate bodies according to their physical features.

It is time to resist race and to break with the social arrangements of “color.”  But it is a law and this defiance is dangerous.  There are any number of persons, family, friends and strangers, who will be ready to put you in your place, to make a citizen’s arrest.  Still, you and I must go down fighting against these words of bondage.  Clear your throat and talk back.  Don’t sit down and take it.

Don’t stomach it but throw up your hands and these words.  Don’t take it in.  Don’t give in and don’t give up who you have always been in the words of God for what has only recently come on the tip of a human tongue.  No, no, resist the temptation to believe that this, beige, black, brown, red, yellow and white, is all there is to say about you.  Resist because there is so much more to be said.

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.

Sunday morning segregation

It’s almost 11 a.m., that holy hour that is concentrated with our hubris, when the worship services are but a reflection of our preferences, when the pews are filled with the people we are most comfortable with.  It’s almost 11 a.m. on this fine Sunday morning where people dress up or down and then sit down and get up unchanged and unchallenged to go out and subvert the kingdom of this world.  Instead, we fall in line and when told, we will skip to the front of the line.  I know that Jesus has an order, “The last will be first,” but this is the way they do things down here.  We act as if Jesus didn’t come down here and show us the way.

Called to turn the world upside down, we don’t feel comfortable touching anything (Acts 17.6).  Just leave it the way that it is.  Just go to work and come home.  Just live according to society’s schedule and its election cycles.  America will change in its own time.  We’ve got plenty of time.  Now is never the right time.

What time is it now?  Oh, we’ve got to hurry up and get to church now.  But, the Church is so late, so behind the times when it comes to race and its progeny.  Jesus came and stood side by side with us.  The miracle of divinity became human just to be close to us.  And yet, we human beings are still not close enough. Not wanting to live on earth together, we divide up dirt.

Human beings have convinced themselves that we come in colors and daily attempt to create distance between each other.  And Sunday morning doesn’t bring us any closer.  The Church in North America offers segregated services. “If you don’t want to worship with those people, you don’t have to.  Hallelujah and Amen.”

Instead, I suggest that the Church in North America close its doors until Christian leaders work up the courage and the nerve to point persons to the narrow way, to preach the life of Christ that is a tight squeeze, that would not allow our racialized, hyper- politicized, capitalized prejudices in.  If not, it makes no difference as a generation has closed its ears to what the Church would have to say.  The Church isn’t getting any younger as the members are all turning gray.  They were turned off by pastors turned entrepreneurs and worship spaces that became little kingdoms unto themselves.  Or, they took note of the Church when it did not chime in or hold her hand when she told stories of sexual predation, harassment, abuse and rape.  Or, they circled their absence when the bodies of unarmed African American children, women and men were being outlined with chalk.  Despite testimonies and video surveillance, they managed to preach a manacled gospel that suggested God was with some of us.

Let’s hurry along now.  Get in the car and pray that no one is parked in your spot or sitting in your seat when you arrive at church.  Pray that the choir sings songs that you like and that the pastor’s sermon is one you like, that it is one that is sweet and polite, that she not say anything to upset you or cause you to sweat.  Pray that the service doesn’t go more than an hour because that would be ridiculous and you might have to change your plans.

It’s 11 a.m. and time for a nap, time to stretch out in our pew- cribs, time for songs that sing our soul’s passions to sleep, time for sermons that redirect our callings to the marketplace.  Don’t start any trouble.  Don’t say anything that might trouble our conscious or renew our conviction that we are sisters and brothers.  Just leave well enough alone as if this society has ever been well, like all of us have ever had enough.  Let’s just say our prayers but then sit on our hands and in effect hold back the answer to them.

It’s that time again, that special time when Christian believers go into our color- coded corners for worship and come out swinging.  We all have an understanding, a memorandum of understanding regarding race though most Christians don’t have an informed understanding of race.  Our meanings for the social construct vary and are more than a little shaky.

But, we don’t need to know what it means.  We know what it means for us.  We have experienced racism, prejudice and privilege.  No need to question the impetus behind the biased or preferential treatment as if our skin explains this treatment.

We do not challenge our belief in the differences associated with our skin’s pigmentation.  No, we will confess that God is the Creator of all, that Jesus is our kinsmen redeemer, that the Holy Spirit blows upon all flesh and then hate the person standing right next to us for no reason at all.  All buttoned up, clothes, lips and all, we think that we can worship God and hate our siblings.  But, this is not love at all (First John 4.20).  It’s a lie and all who would live it are liars.  It should be illegal, this Sunday morning segregation.

Asking for a generation

What could the Church in North America do if it put its hands together across cultures, if it desegregated its pews and pulpits, if it reflected the changing community outside its doors?  Who would we become and what witness could we offer the world if we chose our baptismal identity in Christ over and against racialized identities, if we adamantly rejected this superficial categorization of flesh?  What would we be saying if we lived within the counter- narrative of belonging in spite of class, gender and cultural lines, if we did not remake Jesus as a politician or political party leader?  Where could the Church in North America’s leadership go if it did not masculinize leadership, if we really believed that God was in control?

These are genuine questions because I don’t understand the color- coded scenarios of our relationships, these skin- incentivized experiences in North America and specifically its Church.  Segregation is illegal.  But churches break this law every Sunday at 11 a.m. and in some places three times on Sunday.

We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, segregated while identifying as the body of Christ.  We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, worshipping God “in spirit and in truth” (John 4.24).  We sit in so- called white churches and black churches, claiming to be siblings in Christ and all apart of God’s family.  Then why the continued separation?

Oh, I know.  It’s the worship style.  We like our music this way.  It is about control.  Because Christianity in America has a paternalistic bend with persons who feel the need to oversee the movement of other Christians.  “Don’t clap.  Don’t respond to the preaching.  That’s not what we do here.”

The question of why the Church in North America remains segregated is fully answered by Henry Mitchell in his work Black Church Beginnings, where he offers priceless intel.  The “Black Church” was started under the surveillance of so- called white people.  Their time for worship was managed, no longer than two hours.  Their messengers were predetermined and approved by European American spiritual overseers, as it were, to ensure that the narrative of their conditional belonging in America was not questioned or challenged.  Their churches were funded by these spiritual overseers, another means of control and manipulation.  Dependent upon their financial support, African American people in “leadership” did not stray from the scripted responses of race, which brought the plantation into the Church.

Things haven’t changed.  There remains the mindset that African American bodies need to be controlled, evident in the continued murder of unarmed African American people who are “living while black.”  There is a continued devaluation and judgement of their worship practices, style and length of their spiritual services.  There is also a financial dependency in some denominations for their survival that maintain the roles of American slavery.  In my opinion, the Church in North America has yet to be started.

The colonizers did not seek to bring God’s kingdom near with chattel slavery as its foundation.  Those persons called “founding fathers” gave birth to nothing new but reproduced the slavery of their homeland, though far worse.  And while there are those who would shake their heads in agreement with me, their mouths tells a different story.  They continue to accept the answers that race gives them while what I hear is largely questionable.