Tag Archives: conversations on race

Just do right

imgres 13-06-22These three words are Maya Angelou’s and they have inspired this morning’s post.  I don’t know about you but I search for wisdom.  And as is evident in her three words, it does not take many.  I don’t need a long or grand speech, just a couple of thought-filled and authentic words can release me from longer words that have bound me hand and foot.

I open books with an eager excitement and hope that courage will come, peace will be found, assurance will be given.  I look for good words that might guide me to a higher place, to a better part of me.  And the need is fresh every morning.  I am hungry for words, driven to write them and read them every day.

Likewise, I don’t like fearful words, ill- informed words, hate- filled words.  They do nothing for me but work against me. Now, when persons ask me about race and reconciliation, forgiveness and justice, oppression and privilege, when they question how we can solve the race problem, I have three words for them: “Just do right.”

The Race Problem: When You’re Tired of Eating Elephant

etc_elephantroom50__01__630x420Some one asked the question, “How do you eat an elephant?” Some one else answered, “One bite at a time.” I don’t know who eats elephant or thinks that they can eat it all. I never have and don’t think that I would have the taste for one. Who wrote this menu anyway?

Still, for those who don’t mind the gray mammal that can weigh some seven tons or 14,000 pounds, what happens when you don’t want another bite? When you are sick of leftover elephant, don’t want to see another elephant, when you become nauseous when you hear the word elephant? How many dishes can you make using an elephant? How many times can you open your mouth when you don’t have the appetite, when you cannot stomach another race- related incident?

Oh, yes. Race. That’s the elephant in the room, on the dinner table, passed around and passed over. Yet, we promote it.

Can’t make sense of race but can’t understand ourselves a part from it. Can’t make laws fair because of it but need it to balance the justice system. Can’t love in its presence yet race dictates whom we love and why.

We believe in race and its ability to categorize us, to make sense of us. We believe that it claims us, molds us, shapes us, that race is the potter and there is nothing that we can do about it. We even use race to categorize God and the Church, referring to Christ’s Body in black and white. A part from Scripture, we use race to determine our righteousness, our worth, to separate the believer from the heathen and to define cultural supremacy.

There is something to gain with this dish so we eat up. This is why it remains an entrée, a local favorite, the chef’s special that is “as American as apple pie.” We do not tire of the taste because we believe that there is nothing else to eat, no one else that we can be. There are toy prizes, privileges and social benefits that come with the elephant meal.

We bite and chew, smile and compliment the cook as if it is the best thing we’ve ever eaten. We mull over and meditate on the social coloring of our flesh and its deification, that is the definition of race, only to come up with the same conclusions. We are good, better and the best of all humanity.

It is not our fault; it is the way that God made us. We cannot help ourselves and we cannot help them. Our hands are tied with a color line, a string attached to centuries of hatred. We are bound to our culture, our people only. It’s natural. We were made to rule other human beings. This is the gospel of race.

But, race was not in the beginning with God (Genesis 1.1; John 1.1). This social construct was not a part of the divine group project. That’s a different narrative, a second Genesis. And herein lies, my problem with race. It conflicts with what God says about me, my neighbor, my enemy, the immigrant and the stranger.

We, Christians, know better or at least we should by now. We should know that God loves us better than race suggests or has determined, that God does not judge us according to our outward appearance, that God is not concerned with the shape of our nose, the size of our lips or the texture of our hair, that God does not show favoritism, that in Christ, “there is no Jew or Greek” (First Samuel 16.7; Romans 2.11; Colossians 3.11; Galatians 3.28). We should know by now that God is bigger than the elephant in the room.

And, there are some of us who know the taste all too well, know how the conversation goes: “I hate you. You hate me. Now, what’s next?” They are tired of eating the elephant. So, they pass on the conversation, too full to say another word. There are others of us who cannot take another bite and so some push away from the table, end the conversation. “Check please.” Others of us are asking that the elephant be taken off the menu, banned from establishments that serve the human identity.

Still, the elephant keeps coming, parading itself around the room with more deaths involving European American police officers and unarmed African American men and women, more protests and now, we have buried two police officers in New York City and two more were fired upon in Los Angeles. We can’t exactly hide an elephant, ignore its presence, pretend that our senses are not affected, that the room is not a lot smaller because of it.

It is a new year with the same old elephant. There will be new people born with the same big elephant in the room. But, we don’t need a new year but a new mind. We must reposition race as the problem, redefine it as the outsider, the one to be marginalized, found on the outskirts of our being.

Race is a wild thought that should not have ever left the minds and mouths of Enlightenment thinkers. It should not have been house- trained, domesticated, legalized, led into the room and placed on a menu for those desiring to satisfy their understanding of human identity and purpose. No, the Church should have spoken up declaring that we do not live by race but “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4.4).

Maybe we could change the diet of our thoughts for the New Year and lose the weight of race. And while I am certainly not the surgeon general, I will leave you with this warning: Race is bad for your health. It can cause the death of individuality, separation from God and conflict in cross- cultural relationships. Put that fork down. Don’t take another bite.

This article first appeared in the “Perspectives” column at Baptist News Global.  

What more can we say about race?

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“I’m a problem.  You’re a problem.  We’re all a problem.”  That about sums up any conversation on race.

We have told “them” and “you people” how we feel for more than four hundred years and there have been responses.  We have enslaved, traded, murdered, marched, sat in, sung about it, been falsely accused, jailed and beaten, bombed, suffered dog bites and fire hoses, passed legislation, married, integrated, segregated more, hated still.

And we keep talking about race but to what end, hoping to reach what conclusion, believing that “they” will say or do or be what exactly to us?  What do we need this mysterious and unnamed “they” to do in order for us to forgive our faults and failures, to let go of our bitterness and fears, to give up attempts to dominate and to let down all of our guards?

At some point in the conversation, we have to accept that we have been heard and that “they” have responded, whether we like it or not, whether we feel it sufficient or appropriate or responsible or compassionate or enough.  How many words does it take to forgive? How many words does it take to forgive?

Because if we are continuing to say the same things and the response remains the same, then we have to change the conversation.  At some point, we have to forgive and make peace if only with ourselves, knowing that we have been hurt and heard, that we have survived and now thrive, that we can move on and move up.  We have to accept them as they are, understanding that we can change– even if they don’t want to.

What more can we say about the race problem?  I think that we have said enough.  I believe that it’s time to start talking about the solution, we human beings.  Race has interfered with and interrupted that conversation long enough.