Tag Archives: race and identity

James Baldwin on “America’s ‘race problem'”

Today is the birthday of writer, activist and artist, James Baldwin.  Today, I salute his courageous questioning of the social construct of race, the distance between race and human identity.  Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the words and witness of Mr. James Baldwin.

 

Loosen Up

Loosen-up-your-gripI feel the need to say again and again that you are not made up of a color, that you cannot be summed up by your skin.  There is more to you and this is a lesser part.  Of all that God is created on your body, still we focus on the layer that covers it all.  Still, we are not interested in going deeper, intrigued by what we do not know about ourselves.  While there is much that is unknown in outer space, there is more to be explored in our inner space.  Don’t you want to see who’s underneath?

And this is a meaning imagined for you are not socially colored beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white.  This is not even the real you.  Race does not even come close to being you.  Don’t you want to know who you are?  Don’t you want to meet her/ him?  How sad it would be to live as a stranger, never meeting one’s self.

But, this does not have to be.  We need only wiggle around a little.  Question race a little.  Just ask one question and the box that it holds you will immediately feel differently.

We have become comfortable with the social positions of race, used to its creases, the folds, the ways in which we were prepackaged to fit.  We only know how to think of ourselves within the confines of race. Nevertheless, I hope that we would begin to live a life that breaks the seal.

Don’t allow race to box you in or to box you up.  Push back.  Create dents.

Don’t buy into the illusion that this category, this box is neater, safer and allows for easy identification and belonging.  A box is a box.  It is for purposes temporary.  A box is used for storage, often times when moving from one place to another.  Well, where are we going with race?

And when do you plan to arrive?  Open yourself up to the possibility of life without race.  Shake off the dust of its history.

Open your mouth and you will open the box.  Don’t say what fits but go where there is room for you.  Let me warn you.  You’ll need to loosen up.

I Don’t Like “People of Color”

IMG_8608I hate the descriptor “people of color.”  First, the phrase suggests that “color” is the principle identifier for human beings.  Secondly, white is a color too.  Lastly, it smacks of separation.  There are people of color and then, there are just people or people of no color, I guess.

My distaste was confirmed while reading Ending Racism in the Church, a book edited by Susan Davies and Sister Paul Teresa Hennessee.  In their introduction, they rightly provide a list of terms associated and created for the purposes of race.  The designation “people of color” is spoken of this way:

“The term ‘people of color’ as a referent for persons in ‘racial’ groups other than white has been directly and acutely challenged by Burton Tan, who declares that the term itself ‘implies a two- strata relationship; one, the ‘people’; the other, the affixed and subordinated one of the ‘of color.’  The single term… ‘people’ refers to the white speakers and all the others are only referred by an affixion or subordination.’  He draws a connection between ‘people of color’ and currently politically correct terms such as ‘persons with disabilities’ and ‘people of different cultures.'”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Kee Malesky, a writers a NPR, has also tracked the journey of this language of colored, minority and now people of color.  Naming has been and continues to be a problem for oppressed groups.  While it is necessary to take ownership of one’s identity and the expression of one’s experiences by naming, often times it does more harm than good.

While seeking to self- identify, the term people of color makes it other than.  It is an identity created in opposition and/ or in comparison to white people. Would there be the designation people of color if not for socially colored white people?  While attempting to point out the differences between the two groups, it continues to make the point that whiteness is better and it furthers the purpose of race, placing the groups in opposition as the words pit us for and against.

I hate people of color.

A God Big Enough

maxresdefault“No one is ever really at ease in facing what we call ‘life’ and ‘death’ without religious faith.  The trouble with many people today is that they have not found a God big enough for modern needs.  While their experience of life has grown in a score of directions and their mental horizons have been expanded to the point of bewilderment by world events and by scientific discoveries, their ideas of God have remained largely static.  It is obviously impossible for an adult to worship the conception of God that exists in the mind of a child of Sunday- school age, unless he is prepared to deny his own experience of life.”  These words and this challenge to believers as well as teachers of the Christian faith belong to J.B. Phillips, recorded in a small book titled Your God Is Too Small.

His words poke and prod me to continue on in pursuit of the sight unseen: race-less people and the God who is Spirit (John 4.24).  I confess that if I can see this God, color this God in, culture and socially credential God based on the flesh, then I must have made another.  Because the Spirit cannot be contained or created to fit into a box or a community.  Furthermore, if I can vote this God in and out, then I have traded this God for one that can fit my political preferences, a god approved of by the people and really no god at all.

No, I want a God who is bigger than me, whose eyes are not as small as mine or limited to one body.  I want to see the world and its inhabitants not as stereotypes would have me to but as God has created us.  I want to look into the faces of my neighbors and see the humanity that is greater than social colors and physical features, textures of hair and the shapes of nose.  I want to see the Spirit of God in them, breath captured in flesh.

I desire that the image of God cover us, that we see this thread of the Divine spread across the world and upon all faces.  I pray that we are unable to see past it or through it.  I believe that we can face ourselves and see neighbors without race because our God is big enough to define us all.

Hiding Whiteness: Rachel Dolezal changes the conversation on race

rachel-dolezal-3Her adopted brothers are speaking out about the many layers of lies that Rachel Dolezal applied in order to pass as ‘black.’  Their interview with ABC News suggests that the change was intentional and carefully thought out.  But, the real question of why she made this choice still remains unanswered.

Her parents have confirmed that they are her birth parents and they too don’t understand why she decided to change and self- identify as “black.” Both her adopted brothers and her real parents say that the change happened gradually.

So, then what do we say about whiteness?  Does Ms. Dolezal’s choice suggest that there are changes in the meaning of both whiteness as privilege and blackness as burden?  What can we say now that Ms. Dolezal has chosen to hide her whiteness?