Tag Archives: aracial humanity

Circling back

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Do you see the world through race- colored glasses?   Are you totally dependent on race to survive in the world around you?  Can’t leave  home without race?  Don’t know how you could understand the world without its prejudices and stereotypes?  If this is how you feel, then I understand.

I’ve been there and I have the Afro pick, the Kiswahili textbooks, the incense and the resistance poetry for beginners to prove it.  I used to be black, black and proud, black and angry, black and beautiful, black and conscious, a pre- cursor to being “woke.”  It was a cultural immersion or maybe a self- guided cultural exchange program, a total rejection of my Americanness and an intellectual pilgrimage back to Africa.  Blame it on my undergraduate history courses and the required readings for a concentration in African and Afro- American studies.  Before reading the slave narratives, the abolitionists’ witness and the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, I had a Black History month education of the African experience in America.

I feel like I should be embarrassed to admit this but I’m not.  Growing up, we didn’t have many books in our home.  There was no local library.  Now with hundreds of books of my own, I cannot imagine my life without one.  Books make a house a home and I owe countless writers credit for guiding me to a place within myself that I could call the same.

After singing the spirituals and the blues, reading Olaudah Equiano’s startling testimony, the incidents in the life of Harriet Jacobs and the harrowing escape of Frederick Douglass and gaining the insights of  Booker T. Washington, Anna Julia Cooper, Charles Chestnut, W.E.B Du Bois, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, Alain Locke, Marcus Garvey, Claude McKay, Zora Neal Hurston, Nella Larsen, Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Countee Cullen, Richard Wright, Robert Hayden, Ralph Ellison, Margaret Walker, Gwendolyn Brooks and of course, James Baldwin, I experienced a kind of conversion.  I had new eyes and ears.  There was a clarity and perspective that made me antsy.  I couldn’t get out of America and so I wanted America out of my head.  It started with my hair.

It was permed, processed, straightened out.  I cut my hair close to the scalp and learned that it curled.  Now nineteen years old, I don’t remember ever seeing my natural hair.  It had been corrected before I knew there was a problem.  Standing in front of the mirror, I liked what I saw and wondered who had a problem with my tresses.

All this time, I thought that something was wrong with my hair.

Those race- colored glasses were sliding down my nose and to my surprise, I was starting to look over them.  I had no desire to push them back into place again.  I began to see race for what it was and more importantly, for what it was not.  I realized that there was nothing wrong with my eyes either, that I could see just fine without them.  And rather than question myself, I began to question race.

Yesterday, I was reminded of the beginning of my raceless journey after reading Toni Morrison’s The Origin of Others where she writes in parenthesis, “What would we be or do or become as a society if there were no ranking or theory of blackness?”  It is a necessary question for those who claim to be engaged in the work of justice and reconciliation.  Do we even know how to answer it?  Or have we become so dependent on race that we dare not look at ourselves apart from it?

I’ve been there and if that is where you are, I am circling back to get you.  Race does not have a better view of our humanity and there is nothing wrong with your eyes.

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.

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?

 

Colored by the number

 

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Many of us see ourselves as a colored person.  We are black people, white people, red people, brown people, yellow people, beige people.  Well, maybe the first two are true.  The color wheel doesn’t turn beyond black and white for much of America.  Instead, much more of American society and even other parts of the world are spoken of in terms of black and white.

We seem to be able to see persons as black and white and maybe even brown but yellow, red and beige do not prove as easy to accept.  These colors are easier said than actually seen; despite this discrepancy, we live by the color wheel.  Still, we color ourselves in.

1 is White and/ or Beige

2 is Yellow

3 is Brown

4 is Black

5 is Red

It is so very important to be colored by the number, majority and minority.  We have been taught that it is the only way to count or be counted.  It is the only means of sight and being seen.  And we want to be “in the number” so we pick a color.

And we color God in.  We stereotype and prejudge God based on the social construct of race.  We allow the words of human beings to define the Word- God and we make God a colored person.  Many of us believe that God doesn’t count if He is not colored in.

Selah.

The Inspiration of Race

What inspires our belief in race?  Why do we have so much faith in this social construct?  Is it because we built it that we take pride in it, that we cannot let it go?

For me and I suppose so many others, race creates more questions than answers.  In fact, the more that I study race, the more curious I become as to how it has maintained our interest and dominated our understanding of self, neighbor and God. A most pressing question for me now is, “What is the inspiration behind our declarations of race and what motivates us to continue to share this social belief system?”

We know that race is not biologically real and has been scientifically disproven; still, we believe in it.  For all of our “progress” as post- modern people, we can’t seem to move beyond race.  We know that race was not created in order for us to better understand ourselves, our purpose and inherent worth.  We can trace it back to a person: Johann Friedrich Blumenbach; yet, we continue to allow race to inform our theology and the practice of our faith.

It is our willful ignorance of this truth that propels the identity forward to each generation.  We lack the motivation and the interest in discovering our true selves.    We’ve heard the message of race before but it continues to inspire us because it elevates and empowers our flesh.

The fact is that we want to be so far removed from God and God’s sovereignty that we are willing to accept race and its social conditions despite its injustices, inconveniences and inconsistencies. The prickly truth is we would rather live the lie than accept the truth that we are made in God’s image.  We would rather worship the creature than the Creator (Romans 1.25).  It is the possibility of divinity a part from God that inspires us to live as racial beings, practicing segregation, singing stereotypes, praising prejudice.