Tag Archives: colored people

When you don’t know what to say

FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, Amy Robach attends the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York. Robach has apologized for using a term for African Americans on Monday’s broadcast of the ABC program. After the broadcast, Robach released a statement explaining she had meant to say “people of color.”She called the incident “a mistake” and “not at all a reflection of how I feel or speak in my everyday life.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File): FILE - In this Nov. 9, 2015 file photo, Amy Robach attends the 25th Annual Glamour Women of the Year Awards in New York. Robach has apologized for using a term for African Americans on Monday’s broadcast of the ABC program. After the broadcast, Robach released a statement explaining she had meant to say “people of color.” She called the incident “a mistake” and “not at all a reflection of how I feel or speak in my everyday life.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)Good Morning America’s (GMA) Amy Robach is not a having a good morning right now.  She said the wrong word during an on- air show.  To be sure, it was a racial slur: colored people.

I know, I know.  It’s really close to the word now being used: people of color.  But, not really.

People of color is a word chosen by the… people of color.  They own it.  They control it.  It was not a name given but a name chosen as an identifier.

Colored people is not a new name and it has a long and troubling history.  Used to segregate, demean and dehumanize, we have the signs to prove it.  It is not a name chosen by persons of African descent but a name assigned.  See the difference?

In ancient times, naming was associated with ownership.  The practice was reinstated during American slavery (though some would argue that this can also be associated with marriages wherein the woman takes on the name of her husband) when enslaved Africans were given new names, names which most of us still have today.  Our last names remind us of a history lost, an ancestral family taken away, a culture far removed from us and deep connections lost.

So, it’s not just a word.  It’s not just a name.  It matters what we say and persons have the right to choose what they will answer to.  So, when you don’t know what to say, ask.  How would you like to be referred to?

If you don’t want to ask and if there is a tinge of anger due to this suggestion, well then, there are some other questions that need to be asked of you.

Color is not a gift

“The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers…”

~ Ephesians 4.11, NRSV

Unfortunately, most of us treat the social coloring of skin, the shape of our noses the texture of our hair as a gift from God.  However, we believe that some not all social colors, noses and hair textures are… gifts from God.  God gave gifts to some but not to all.

But, this understanding of creation presents problems for Christians who believe we are all God’s children, that God shows no favoritism and thus, gives no special favors.  God created humanity and called this creation “good.”  We were created without comparison and without competition.  We were all good.

But race has a different message: “And he gave some white folks, some black folks, some red folks, some brown folks, some beige folks.”  This is the gospel of race not to be confused with the gospel of Jesus Christ or the creation narrative found in Genesis.  This is another gospel, another creation of human origin that suggests that God created some bad and some good, some beautiful and some ugly, some powerful and some powerless.  It suggests that our external appearance determines our purpose in society.  However, there is no mention of such in the Bible.

We are not the five kinds of human beings that Johann Friedrich Blumenbach proclaimed.  He called us human races.  But, he was an anthropologist and physician not a prophet or a theologian.  Blumenbach is not to be compared with the Apostle Paul, James, the brother of Jesus or John, the Revelator.

No, the Bible teaches us that we are one: one kind of flesh, one kind of body, one kind of purpose.  We are not created different, all made of breath and dust.  Though we are used differently, it is for the same goal: the glory of God.  And what human being is able to measure the glory that each gift brings?

“Not all flesh is alike, but there is one flesh for human beings” (I Corinthians 15.39).  There are not different types of flesh because of the social coloring of skin.  We are not colored people but God’s people, God’s children.  It is not a matter of culture as are relatedness reaches deeper, our connectedness goes well past skin.  It goes beyond family trees but we are connected to the Vine (John 15.5).

We are spending our lives fussing over and fighting about the accessories of our humanity: ‘skin color,’ hair texture, eye and nose shape.  Instead, we should be focusing on the attributes of our humanity: loving, just, creative, strong, compassionate, loyal, believing, gifts.

“Hello. My name is…”

My family and I recently visited a state that shall remain nameless and after being introduced to a European American woman in her early to mid- forties who would be serving us during our weekend stay, she felt compelled to share with me that there was only one “colored person” in her school “all the way up through the twelfth grade.”  What an introduction.  “Hello.  My name is Lisa and I don’t have much experience with colored people.”

Initially, I couldn’t believe that she had used the descriptor.  I thought to myself, “She’s kidding, right?”  I waited for a few minutes for Don Quinones from the ABC show “What Would You Do? to enter the room but this was not a mock scenario.  It was real.  I had moved from African American to colored in the span of a three hour drive.  What a transformation!

But, I wasn’t offended partly because I’m not colored so her colored persons sighting chart would remain at one.  It is for this reason and a few others that I did not feel compelled to introduce myself in this way:  “Hello.  My name is Starlette, minister of reconciliation and destroyer of all things racial.”  Another reason is that I was quickly reminded of the story of Jesus who was unable to minister in his hometown due to the people’s familiarity with his family and the resultant unbelief (Mark 6.1-6).  Due to Lisa’s familiarity with racism and its depictions of African Americans, she didn’t have the faith to believe that I could be anyone other than colored and thus, restricted the possibilities of our interactions.  As a result, the healing of the race-less gospel of Jesus Christ was not given.  However, I was still curious so I decided to listen and to listen deeply.

Why did she need to inform me of these things from the start along with the fact that she was irritated by the media making a fuss about the recent Cheerios commercial that depicted an American family wherein the parents were of different cultural backgrounds? The world is changing she informed me.  What was Lisa really saying? What was I suppose to hear in that moment?

Despite the fact that it is the year two thousand and thirteen, that the leader of the United States of America and chief representative of the American people is African American, that we have become a “global village” connected through the internet and the language of colored people is not employed on television or any major media outlet, Lisa said it.  Perhaps, it is because there is not only time on the outside of us but one that is internal and hers had not changed much.  Or, it was a power play.  Lisa wanted me to know that despite the fact that she was serving me that I would remain a servant/ less than in her eyes, reduced to a colored person.

Today, I wonder what is at stake when we decide not to change despite the reality that stares us in the face.  Lisa knows that there are billions of other people in the world.  Still, her words, while confining in my view, serve as a protective barrier that keep her in a time and place that she is most comfortable.  And the saddest thing is that she doesn’t want to leave.

But, what does this say about us when we choose not to be around others unless they think and “look” and behave exactly as we do?  And what are we to do with words that do not describe but deny the true reality of another person’s existence?  I believe that we don’t have enough experience with each other.  Instead, we have intimate relationships with the idea, the fantasy and even the fear of who this person might be.  We need to be reintroduced to each other.  “Hello.  My name is…”