Tag Archives: facts about race

Can we live without race?

See the source imageRace is about beginnings.  Do we enter the world as colored people or do we become colored people?  Chicken or the egg, social colors or creatures, which came first?  It is a necessary question if we are to rid ourselves of race.  If we are to see that we can live without it, we must become aware that we are not alive because of it.

Race does not make us come alive.  We do not cease to exist if we no longer call ourselves by its names.

Race remakes us.  It is another Genesis narrative, a second baptism of flesh into colored waters.  We don’t wade in these waters but are drowned.  Who we are and could be dies and who race says we must be in order to tell this story correctly is brought to life.

Let there be colored people.

We come up beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  People of color cannot be people of God too.  Because we cannot have two creators.  Choose this day who you will be, Who or what flesh speaks for you.  One or the other, my enemy or my brother?

Choose a side and then stay on your side.  Walls, fences, gated existence, sheltered lives, we live somewhere off in the distance from ourselves.  Race forbids us to come any closer.  Stay where you are.  Race speaks for us; only it can say who we are.

But race has no intentions of introducing us to our true selves.

We are not born colored but reborn colored, called by racial names.  We are told that we are colored people.  By whom you say?  It is not an ominous they but us… just little old you and me.  We tell ourselves that we are colored.  We are answering to ourselves.

This is race.

If we are to be race-less, then we need only realize that we don’t really know ourselves when talking of our humanity according to the terms and conditions of race, that race is a corporate illusion, a daily, social magic trick, that we no longer want to keep this lie going, that race is up our sleeves and not under our skin.

Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race

imagesThere are some things that bear repeating.  The Apostle Paul thought it was profitable to do so and I agree with the church father and martyr (Philippians 3.1).  In order for us to rid ourselves of the social construct of race, we will have to repeat why it is not good for our identity to be left alone with it or its progeny, that is prejudice and stereotypes.

The California Newsreel produced a documentary series, Race: The Power of Illusion, that should be viewed by all of humanity and of course, more than once.  Here are some notes from their research that should be apart of our daily meditation as we work to change our sight not to colorblindness but race-lessness.  I pray that this prescription helps.

Our eyes tell us that people look different. No one has trouble distinguishing a Czech from a Chinese. But what do those differences mean? Are they biological? Has race always been with us? How does race affect people today?

There’s less – and more – to race than meets the eye:

1. Race is a modern idea. Ancient societies, like the Greeks, did not divide people according to physical distinctions, but according to religion, status, class, even language. The English language didn’t even have the word ‘race’ until it turns up in 1508 in a poem by William Dunbar referring to a line of kings.

2. Race has no genetic basis. Not one characteristic, trait or even gene distinguishes all the members of one so-called race from all the members of another so-called race.

3. Human subspecies don’t exist. Unlike many animals, modern humans simply haven’t been around long enough or isolated enough to evolve into separate subspecies or races. Despite surface appearances, we are one of the most similar of all species.

4. Skin color really is only skin deep. Most traits are inherited independently from one another. The genes influencing skin color have nothing to do with the genes influencing hair form, eye shape, blood type, musical talent, athletic ability or forms of intelligence. Knowing someone’s skin color doesn’t necessarily tell you anything else about him or her.

5. Most variation is within, not between, “races.” Of the small amount of total human variation, 85% exists within any local population, be they Italians, Kurds, Koreans or Cherokees. About 94% can be found within any continent. That means two random Koreans may be as genetically different as a Korean and an Italian.

6. Slavery predates race. Throughout much of human history, societies have enslaved others, often as a result of conquest or war, even debt, but not because of physical characteristics or a belief in natural inferiority. Due to a unique set of historical circumstances, ours was the first slave system where all the slaves shared similar physical characteristics.

7. Race and freedom evolved together. The U.S. was founded on the radical new principle that “All men are created equal.” But our early economy was based largely on slavery. How could this anomaly be rationalized? The new idea of race helped explain why some people could be denied the rights and freedoms that others took for granted.

8. Race justified social inequalities as natural. As the race idea evolved, white superiority became “common sense” in America. It justified not only slavery but also the extermination of Indians, exclusion of Asian immigrants, and the taking of Mexican lands by a nation that professed a belief in democracy. Racial practices were institutionalized within American government, laws, and society.

9. Race isn’t biological, but racism is still real. Race is a powerful social idea that gives people different access to opportunities and resources. Our government and social institutions have created advantages that disproportionately channel wealth, power, and resources to white people. This affects everyone, whether we are aware of it or not.

10. Colorblindness will not end racism. Pretending race doesn’t exist is not the same as creating equality. Race is more than stereotypes and individual prejudice. To combat racism, we need to identify and remedy social policies and institutional practices that advantage some groups at the expense of others.

©2003, California Newsreel

Additional Resource

“Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Race,” PDF

Five facts about the life of race

  1. Race is a modern invention of the European Enlightenment: “European Enlightenment thinkers retained the Greek ideal of reason, as well as this reason’s categorical function of discriminating between the cultured (now called the ‘civilized) and the ‘barbarian’ (the ‘savage’ or the ‘primitive’). It can be argued, in fact, that the Enlightenment’s declaration of itself as ‘the Age of Reason’ was predicated upon precisely the assumption that reason could historically only come to maturity in modern Europe, while the inhabitants of areas outside Europe, who were consistently described and theorized as rationally inferior and savage.”[i]
  2. Race, here being the hierarchical system that socially positions human beings according to the social coloring of skin and other external features, did not exist prior to the 17th century: “Enlightenment philosophy was instrumental in codifying and institutionalizing both the scientific and popular European perceptions of (human beings).”[ii]
  3. Race rose to fame and notoriety when the Bible’s story of creation was reasoned to be irrational: “The rise of science in the Enlightenment period had overthrown the biblical story of creation and replaced the authority of religion with that of reason, nature was still conceptualized as a hierarchical system (the Great Chain of Being), in which every being, from humans down to fauna and flora, had a ‘naturally’ assigned position and status.”[iii]
  1. The power and influence of race can be attributed to travel writings: “During the two centuries prior to the European Enlightenment, an enormous amount of exploration and voyages around the world had produced numerous published accounts of distant lands and peoples as well as the great expansion of European wealth. These popular travel writings contributed significantly to the perception of Europe as familiar and ‘civilized,’ living in the Age of Light, while the peoples of other lands (Asia, Africa, America) were of ‘strange’ habits and mores. Savagery could then be physically located outside of Europe, outside of light, so that Africa, for example, was considered the Dark Continent, and a terra nulla.”[iv]
  1. Neither colored people, that is socially colored beige/ black/ brown/ red/yellow/ white, existed neither the belief that persons were mentally, physically, socially or spiritually inferior based on appearance prior to 1680. Winthrop Jordan explains, “After about 1680, taking the colonies as a whole, a new term of self- identification appeared—white.”[v]


[i] Emmanuel Chukwudi Eze, Race and the Enlightenment: A Reader, (Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Malden, MA, 1997), 4.

[ii] Ibid 5

[iii] Ibid 4-5

[iv] Ibid 5

[v] Winthrop Jordan, The White Man’s Burden: Historical Origins of Racism in the United States, (Oxford University Press: New York, NY, 1974), 52.

Racial Facts of Life

I’ve had problems with race and its socially constructed identities for a long time.  While studying the origin and purposes of race, my finger pointing turned away from people, realizing that we are its victims.  Ironically, we’ve empowered race through science and sacred Scripture.  Now, it disempowers us.

We created a lie and know it to be such and now, we reverence it as truth. We built it together, law upon law, allegiance upon allegiance and now we cannot tear it down.  It is because of race is within us.  Our bodies are its skeleton; we give it support and structure.  So connected to who we are and why we are and where we are that we can’t seem to stop believing in race.

But, the end of race is not in the passing of legislation but in the parting of our lips.  We gave it life and now, we must speak its death.  We must change the way that we talk about race.

Below is an attempt to change the conversation about race.  I should add that I find it particularly difficult albeit impossible to share this identity while professing to be a baptized believer, one dead with Christ and raised as a new creature in Him (Colossians 3.3).  Nevertheless, I speak this truth in love (Ephesians 4.15).  These are the racial facts of life:

1. You can’t change who you are.  You are what people see no matter what you say.  You are your physical appearance.  It is your external being that has value and meaning alone.

2.  You can’t talk back to race.  You are who race says that you are; your dreams, visions and opinions need not apply.  It does not matter and it never will.  Nothing can change or stop race.

3.  It is your fault.  It is because you are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige that this happened or did not happen for you or to you.

4.  You’re stuck in your socially constructed place.  You cannot be moved and if you do, you’re an exception not the rule.  You’re different and not like the rest of “them.”

5.  Your relationships with persons in other socially constructed boxes will never change.  They will always see you as the enemy and vice versa.  That’s just the way that this life is.

6.  “They” will never be your friend because we do not cross the “color line.”  You will never be accepted so stay back.  It’s best and safer that way.

7.  Your God is white; it is the supreme social coloring of skin.  You are beneath others, created merely to serve and to provide support for the kind of human beings that He really likes.  Or, you are above all other human beings, those scrap, spare people and they will resent you/ attack you/ seek to overthrow you, leaving you in a position of defense and in a state of anxiety for the rest of your life.

8.  I/ You deserve it: blessings or curses, privileges or burdens.  You get it because of who you are, the way that you were created not because of anything that you have done.  And you cannot undo it or give it back.

9.  You are defined by your experiences.  You are what happened to “your” people.  There are no new experiences to be had by you because “our” people don’t do that.  You’re not special; you’re just another member of the race.

10.  You are no mystery.  You are your history, a repeat of time past.  You can only be what has always been.  Things will never change because you will never change because race never changes.

These are just a few of the facts of a racialized life that I find troubling.  Please add others so that we can continue to eulogize race.  Ashes to ashes…