“As for mortals, their days are like grass; they flourish like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it and it is gone and its place knows it no more. But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” ~ Psalm 103.15-18
We are cutting and pasting onto, adding and deleting from our bodies. We cover them in the latest fashion no matter the cost because appearance is seemingly everything. “Beauty is fleeting” (Proverb 31.30) and so is power. Still, we whiten the teeth of a poisonous mouth and straighten them without concern for our crooked speech. We dye hair in order to deny our age. I suppose that we are ashamed of time.
We are attempting to improve upon the latest version of ourselves. Constantly updating, downloading and revising the newest image because our flesh is never quite good enough. And it never will be. Our goodness, the possibility for perfection does not lie in it but in and through Christ alone.
This is the trap of race, that we should seek after an impossible goal: perfection in and through the flesh. Our external appearance does not matter to God. Our flesh, the social coloring of our skin will not save us and it does not and will not determine whether we are on the side of God or that of the enemy. It does not matter what we do to it or what American society allows us to do because of it. It is the condition of our heart that matters. It is the heart that God will look upon to judge our convictions and our confessions not our clothing or culture.
We are obsessing over what will fade instead of focusing on what will not: the love of God for us.
Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee… It sounds like the beginning of a grocery list but it is actually the way in which many of us speak of ourselves and others. Not only do we categorize ourselves according to the social coloring of skin but apparently, human beings come in food groups. Our attention to color, that is the social coloring of skin, is so ingrained that we attach it to things that remind us of this identity. Consequently, a word association involving food could trigger one to think of a person. For example, “Black and white like an oreo, a zebra… a mixed person.” I don’t see it as an obvious conclusion or link but so many persons do.
Persons of “mixed” cultural heritage or those who are deemed to be “acting white” (i.e. socially performing as is expected of socially defined white people because they are the definition of success, the sound of proper speech and the example of right-standing in America) are referred to as oreos, bananas and apples because they are said to be black/yellow/red on the outside but white on the inside. I am troubled by the meaning as it reinforces the belief that goodness is unnatural to persons who are socially colored red/yellow/brown/black, that this goodness is visible and acquired apart from Jesus Christ. This manner of thought is, of course, contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ as we are not judged by our physical appearance (II Samuel 16.7; Proverb 31.30; James 1.22-25; Matthew 7.20, 23.28). Race also suggests that our standing with God, as in American society, is determined by external means and is an outside job. But this is not supported by the Scriptures which point believers toward an inward transformation of heart, mind, will and emotions (Romans 12.1-2; Galatians 2.20, 5.19-26; Ephesians 4.23. Second Timothy 2.15; First John 3.2).
I have heard it said by African American men that they like their women like they like their coffee: black. Others who say they like their coffee with a little cream in it are indicating that they prefer light- skinned women. The social coloring of skin and its politics are at work and bring to mind the meanings imbedded in these categories during American slavery. Dark-skinned persons were often instructed to work in the field while those who were of a lighter complexion worked in the house. It created a leadership dynamic, a hierarchy between the slaves, even in the midst of bondage. But, it didn’t matter then whether they were in the house or in the field; they still were the personal possession of another human being. This message of lighter skin as goodness because of its social protections continues to be carried today. We too recreate hierarchy in our racial pyramid when we speak of persons as food. We may no longer carry brown bags to test the lightness of one’s skin and none of us may be card carrying members of the Blue Vein Society. But, we affirm our membership when we attempt to put people in a basket, planning to consume them by making them a part of our list. Oreos, bananas, apples, coffee…
Wallace Thurman, The Blacker The Berry
Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye
Kathy Russell, Midge Wilson, and Ronald Hall, The Color Complex
Marita Golden, Don’t Play In The Sun
Racism takes many hues
Skin Deep: Dying to be White