Tag Archives: David Roediger

Here’s a thought and a prayer

I went to bed thinking about the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  There was talk of a racist manifesto and the murderer writing about the “invasion of Hispanics.”  El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told reporters, “(It has) a nexus to potential hate crime.”  #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism was trending on Twitter.  This morning, #TrumpsTerrorists has replaced it.  Not surprisingly, persons are linking the 250th mass shooting in America to Trump’s racist rhetoric and the racists chants that followed from the crowd at a North Carolina rally.

The investigation is only beginning.  We don’t even know the names of his victims.  In fact, we know more about the gun he used.  And of course, there are “thoughts and prayers” being offered to the victims and their families.  This word combination has become problematic for many, representing inaction and more of the same from political leaders regarding gun laws.  All talk and no action.

Before persons were finished formulating their responses, finishing up their interviews on local and national news outlets regarding the shooting in El Paso, I wake up to news of yet another in Dayton, Ohio.  It is mass shooting number 251 in 216 days.  We are killing more than days we are living.  And these murders are not the only thing that is on the rise.  Time magazine wrote that white supremacist attacks are increasing in March of this year after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand where at least 50 people were murdered.

White supremacy.  George Frederickson wrote in his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, “White supremacy refers to the attitudes, ideologies and policies associated with the rise of blatant forms of white or European dominance over ‘nonwhite’ populations.  In other words, it involves making the invidious distinctions of a socially crucial kind that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on physical characteristics and ancestry. … It suggests systematic and self- conscious efforts to make race or color a qualification for membership in the civil community ” (Frederickson, xi).  Let me stop here and give you a few thoughts.

Ian Haney Lopez writes in White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race in an introduction titled “Notes on Whiteness, “Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant and ultimately social. … Whiteness (is) a complex, falsely homogenizing term” (Haney Lopez, xxi).  He writes later in a chapter titled “White Lines,” “Appearances and origins are not White or non- White in any natural or pre- social way.  Rather, White is a figure of speech, a social convention read from looks.  As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, ‘Who has seen a black or red person, a white, yellow or brown?  These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality'” (Haney Lopez, 12).

David Roediger writes in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, “White labor does not just receive and resist racist ideas but embraces, adopts, and at times, murderously acts upon those ideas.  The problem is not just that the white working class is at critical junctures manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white” (Roediger, 12).

Nell Painter writes in The History of White People, “Were there ‘whites’ in antiquity? … No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of ‘white’ people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning” (Painter, 1).

James Baldwin pointedly says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”   He also said this in The Price of a Ticket in 1985, “The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself.”

Whatever is true and liberating, whatever is authentic and facilitates our wholeness, whatever makes peace and increases our fellowship, whatever keeps the lies of whiteness and race away, let us think on these things.  And then let us pray like Frederick Douglass who said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Keep it moving.  Amen.

Putting Race In Its Place

“We must constantly and critically explain the purpose, perversity and persistence of race as a relatively new category in modern history if we are to address racism effectively.”

~ David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon

I am reminded often of the importance of this daily call to discipleship with Christ and apart from the social construct of race.  I understand that it is an emotional and deeply personal journey with mirrors at seemingly every turn.  Even when we look away and try to focus on something else, we still must face ourselves. In America, we must ask, “How do I see the social construct of race and how does race influence the way that I see others?”

It is important for persons who are seeking fullness in Christ to begin to talk not about what race has done to us but what race is doing through us. If we are to be the body of Christ, then a complete and thorough examination of the impact of its racialization and subsequent segregation is imperative.  We must move the conversation inward, no longer pointing fingers but looking at our own hands.

It is safe to talk about race as a historical reality. It allows us to put distance between us and to keep the problem and the solution in the past.  But, race is not an old problem, which strips us of the excuse that it is  complicated and the belief that it will always be with us.

If we have lived without the social construct of race before, we can live without it again. Race is a new problem; human beings have been around longer.  So, we must stop talking about race and the ways that it has used us because we have employed it as a personal reference.

This is the nature of this soul journey toward freedom from race. It is the clear understanding that it is everywhere and always near, that it grossly distorts our self- image while holding itself up as a mirror, that it will attempt to get ahead of us if we don’t keep up the pace. We must put race in its place– behind us and never in front of our shared humanity.

Race must be defined again and again.  It is in so doing that race is not allowed to redefine us.  We must continue to remind ourselves of what race is.  This will also inform us as to what race is not.  If we do not maintain this practice, we will be subjected to its power and lose who we really are.  

 David Roediger defines race this way:

“Race defines the social category into which peoples are sorted, producing and justifying their very different opportunities with regard to wealth and poverty, confinement and freedom, citizenship and alienation, and as Ruth Wilson Gilmore puts it, life and premature death.  Though genetic differences among groups defines as races are inconsequential, race is itself a critically important social fact; one said to be based on biology, as well as on color, and at times on longstanding cultural practices.  Race also defines the consciousness of commonality uniting those oppressed as a result of their assumed biology, perceived color, and alleged cultural heritage, as well as the fellow feeling of those defending relative privileges derived from being part of dominant– in US history, white– race.”

~ David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon 

Whiteness is personal “property” not a physical reality.

“As late as the beginning of the seventeenth century, male northern European elites did not see themselves as physically white, and were further from imagining that the word ‘white’ had uses as a noun. …The notion that one could own a skin color– what the legal scholar Cheryl Harris calls ‘whiteness as property’ and the historian George Lipsitz calls the ‘possessive investment in whiteness’– came into being alongside the reality that only peoples who were increasingly stigmatized by their color could be owned and sold as slaves.”

~ David Roediger, How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon

What are stereotypes?

“Stereotypes, however inaccurate, are one form of representation.  Like fictions, they are created to serve as substitutions, standing in for what is real.  They are there not to tell it like it is but to invite and encourage pretense.  They are a fantasy, a projection onto the Other that makes them less threatening.  Stereotypes abound when there is distance.  They are an invention, a pretense that one knows when the steps that would make real knowing possible cannot be taken or are not allowed.”

bell hooks,”Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination”