You’ve got time for this class and it is brought to you by Jenée Desmond Harris. It is a lesson that must be learned and that bears repeating. Harris starts from the beginning of race and no, she does not begin in the book of Genesis. Lie #1 struck down. Race is not that old.
Race is a lot of things but biological, biblical or original to our being are not to be included. Still, the misrepresentation of who we are continues and so does the cycle of hatred. Race wars are plotted against places of worship for African Americans and Jews. Protests seem unending, CNN describing last year as “a year of outrage.” The hashtag Black Lives Matter has become a movement. Right now, the University of Missouri has been added to the list and to the ongoing conversation on race after accusations of racism on campus. Consequently, this class is always in session.
And while it won’t lead to an advanced degree, these truths concerning race as a social construct are certain to advance our understandings of self and our neighbor. I’ve devoted my life to teaching about race and to the eradication of the racial category for human identity. Week after week, I look for ways to say this because it is so much easier and less painful to accept this superficial existence. I want us to go deeper and pray that this video and my words would peel away another layer of race’s deceptions.
Why is race here? Why do we continue to allow it to be the cornerstone of our identity, investing who we are and will be into this social category, placing our children in its boxes? What gives it membership and belonging? Why does race have such power over us and presence within our society?
Persons have tried to explain the existence of race over time through science, Scripture and skin; but the truth is that we made it up. Most scholars agree that race is a “folk idea” and a recent invention. No, race is not biological or biblical. We are not born racial beings and race was not in the beginning with God. Race is a social construct.
Race is a product of our thoughts; it’s origin is our mind. Race is here because of the way that we choose to think of human beings from other cultures. Race is here by the invitation of our imagination. We need only change our minds and race will disappear. So, why is race (still) here?
Recently, I led a workshop on the race-less life and after reviewing the oral, physical and later pseudo-scientific origins of race, I asked the participants, “How do you label race?” I’m sure that the question is an unfamiliar one as race does the labeling in our society. We are seemingly lined up at birth, waiting to receive its judgment. We know the labels that race places on us. We know where we stand in terms of race and though we cannot trace the origins of white/black/red/yellow/brown/beige people, we claim allegiance to these colored groups. We know our place, what box we fit into. We know what race says about us, its slurs and “compliments.” But, this knowledge does not capture the position of race in our lives, the relationship that we share. So, how would you label race?
What part does race play in your life and what say, if any, do you have in its position? Is race viewed as a god, one believed to possess special and superior knowledge of humanity? If so, ridding ourselves of race would be seen as absurd, impossible and blasphemous. Is race a parental figure, a grandparent whose wisdom we trust or an older sibling we look up to? Then, if we rid ourselves of race, it would feel like turning our back on a family member. Or, does race represent a social authority, a judge or law enforcement officer? Perhaps, this is why it is difficult to break its rules. But, truly, who do we upset, what crime do we commit if we don’t follow its social laws? Certainly, race is not supported by God’s law and our belief in race does not make us more or less Christian.
How do we label race? I believe that the answer will demonstrate why it is so difficult to rid ourselves of it.