Tag Archives: How Race Survived U.S. History: From Settlement and Slavery to the Obama Phenomenon

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