Tag Archives: racial eliminativism

Race and our humanity– not even close

I am not searching for myself.  I certainly will not find her in a crayon box.  I did not wait my entire life to discover that I am a color.  The creation narrative recorded in Genesis is much more meaningful, spiritual and tells me that God breathed into the first human being and he became a living soul (Genesis 2.7; First Corinthians 15.45, emphasis added).  Besides that, the gospel says Jesus came to save sinners, to save souls– not my skin.

So, if you and I are still talking about our skin and its social coloring, then we have quite literally only scratched at the surface of what it means to be a human being.  Johannes Baptist Metz is a great teacher of human being.  He writes of the work of becoming one in Poverty of Spirit.  Metz says,

“Becoming a human being involves more than conception and birth.  It is a mandate and a mission, a command and a decision.  We each have an open- ended relationship to ourselves.  We do not possess our being unchallenged; we cannot take our being for granted as God does.  … Being is entrusted to us as a summons, which we are each to accept and consciously acknowledge.”

Consequently, when we talk about our humanity racially, I wonder what we are really talking about.  Do we even know what we are saying?  Not fully understanding the real task as outlined by Metz, we instead engage in this busy work of the flesh.  It comes to nothing and in the end, we will not be graded on our skin.

The words of race are useless, empty, adding nothing to our humanity.  It is not the test for true humanity, the answer to our lingering questions on identity or the way to becoming human.  Instead,  we must look to Christ’s teachings, his journey and hands for that.  Hands on a cross, we have to pick up our own and deny ourself in order to follow him(Matthew 16.24-26).   Talking about race does not even get us remotely close to him or our selves.

I need another word

 

See the source imageWe need new words.  I need new words, ones that roll off my tongue.  The colored ones get caught in my throat.  New being in Jesus Christ, these racialized ones don’t work for me.  They didn’t go down easily.  They didn’t stick to me.  I cannot make them a part of me, just take them when they treat me as foreign, my body no longer kin.

Race gets me beside myself, compared to someone else.  And I just want to be free.  I want this word off of me.  It has no right to rule over me.  I have something to say.  I have the final say in who I am and who I will be.  Still, race interrupts so frequently that I’ve grown tired and now it speaks for me.

Hold my tongue.

Hold my breath.

Die to self.

Die to who God created me to be.

Baptized with Christ, race should be dead to me.

Skin.

Ashes.

Dust.

I need to talk about it in the past tense.  Race was here.

America capitalizes on everything, even skin is its own kind of currency.  But, I am not buying it.  Change the market.  I want something else.  Because race is not another word for human.

No, I need a new word.

Plain and simple: It’s Jesus or race

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“His (Jesus’) life must mean the death of race in us.”

| Brian Bantum, The Death of Race: Building a New Christianity in a Racial World

It’s not hard.  Letting go of race is not difficult.  I know that it is not something that we would consider and that you didn’t ask for assistance with.  I know that you two have your problems but they’re your problems.  I know that I should stay out of it, that its a personal problem, a social conundrum, a spiritual dilemma.  I really should keep my nose out of it and my two cents.  But, I can’t.

While some people can’t get their minds around this race-less gospel, they shake their heads in agreement. Yes, it is a social construct.  Yes, it is not a biological reality.  I know that color and country are not synonymous, that color is not my Creator.  Yes, I am more than skin but soul and Spirit- filled.  Yes, but no.

No.  We have to stop right there because they can’t go beyond this intellectual acceptance.  Yes, that was their confession but no.  Getting rid of race is too hard.  It will take more time.  No talk of starting now and no mention of when this racialized existence would come to an end.  They just know that it can’t happen.  It won’t happen anytime soon, in the near future.  Strangely, they cannot see a future when race is not near.

“Because who would I be without my color?  I have always been beige, brown, red, yellow, black or white.  How would I identify myself?  Who would I identify with?”

So much to lose and not enough to choose from.  Race has them covered.  Life can only make sense to them if they are colored.

You would think that I asked them to peel off their skin.

They speak as if they would cease to exist and though Christian, the idea of being born again never crosses their mind.  There is no need to enter the womb a second time (John 3.4).  Enter water and Spirit.

But, for those who confess Jesus as Lord, it seems way too easy to put race to death through our new life in him.  New creatures, we simply cannot stop identifying with race.  And worse still, we imagine that God cannot be identified apart from it.  But, we can have one without the other and only one cancels out the other.

So, what will it be– Jesus or race?

A Race-less Vocabulary List


Race is not prescriptive. Race causes us to lose sight of each other quite literally. We are missing out on love, healing, relationship, truth… all because we cannot see each other.  We speak as if race has always been, as if we will cease to exist, turn into dust, fade into oblivion if we stop referring to ourselves in colors, shades and skin tones.  But, colors are not names.  Colors are colors.  They offer the meanings we give them, no different than traffic lights.  And I have seen the light.

The color does not change who or what or why it exists.  It does not exist because of the color but because in the case of the light, we need order, direction, safety.  Our human variableness is imagined then.  We are all the same: “You put your pants on one leg at a time just like me.”  We have same the needs and desires.  You say, “Tomato”; I say, “Tomato.”  Though met differently and at different times, it’s all the same.

This is the problem with human beings: We think that being human is a problem.  We take issue with being, simply existing.  We surmise that there must be something more to this.  Poking at flesh, we create words to make us stick out.  Race is no different.

I hope I have properly grounded this list in a strong argument for its recitation and memory.  I offer these words to combat the idea that the language of race traps us, cements our fate, locks us in an battle of us against them battle “forever and ever. Amen.”  There is an end to race and it is on the tip of our tongues.

Repeat after me.

  1. Skin (flesh, epidermis)
  2. Colors (as in crayons because one’s country is not synonymous with the social coloring of one’s skin)
  3. Sociopolitical construct (race as human- made, as idol)
  4. Racial eliminativism (the belief that race and racial groups do not exist)
  5. Racial eliminativist (those who seek to eradicate the idea, systemic implementation of race and to challenge/ thwart a racialized existence)
  6. Racialized (To view life through the lens of race and to color- code one’s existence, experiences and interactions)
  7. Aracial (without racial distinctions: Aracial anthropology, theology)
  8. Raceless (without race: syn: aracial; raceless gospel, raceless Christianity)
  9. Pre- racial (The belief that race is not a creator or co- creator with God, that human beings existed before race.)
  10. Race skeptic or race atheist (One who does not believe in race, who doubts and/or questions the basis or rationale for existence based on the social coloring of skin)

I am a race atheist

Before you wave me off, dismiss my faith system or the lack thereof, hear me out.  Give me a chance, an opportunity to make my case.  I assure you: This is not what I thought that I would be saying.

I used to believe in race, with all my heart, from my head down to my toes with natural hair and African- inspired clothing.  No specific country to call my own, I claimed the entire continent.  (Note of clarification: Black is a color– not a country or continent, though we have made the two synonymous.  Black people are from… Africa?  White people are from?  Yellow people are from?  Red people are from?  It breaks down very quickly.)  I tried to make it work and to work it out.  I wanted it to make sense for me and I had no reason to suspect that it would not.  Because we have always been colored people or so I thought.

I believed in blackness and being black, in whiteness and its privileges and so on for every so- called color of the human “rainbow.”  I believed that my experiences were color- coded, that my skin was the beginning and end of me, that my epidermis was all that mattered, that it made the most sense and brought the most meaning to my life.  But, I was wrong.  Still, I need you to know that I thought this was right, that learning that I was black and how to live with it was the meaning of life.  But, I was wrong.

I was wrong about race because race was wrong about me.  Race has our humanity all wrong.  We are not colored beings but human beings.  Race, a capitalist sociopolitical construct, is an excuse, a scapegoat in a long line of excuses and scapegoats for the unjust ways that we choose to live with and relate to each other.  It is the means by which we get the blood off of our hands.

We say, “Race made me do it.”  But, we can also say, “Money made me do it.”  “My faith made me do it.”  “My gender made me do it.”  “The devil made me do it.”  But, really it is our flesh and its cravings for power and dominance that makes us do it.

Our humanity is what we make it.

***

I’ve been called a n—-.  Born in the South, I heard it first at home.  I heard family members being called a n— at home.  Hatred begins at home.  Our self- hatred starts in the mouths of our parents.

I cannot be sure as to the reason for this name- calling.  Said both in anger and in fun, I cannot attest to whether it was used solely to inoculate as it was also used as a term of endearment.  “My n—.”  A strange expression then and now.

It is a word that my family was given and they had no interest in questioning it.  They didn’t think to give it back, to reject it.  It is a primary way of relating in the world and understanding ourselves.  We were n—, then Negro, then colored, then black, then Afro- American, then African American, then black, then black and brown people, people of color again.  We still call ourselves n—.  Race offers nothing new, no rebirth, no regeneration.

Unclear of its value but certain that they needed it and that I could not live without it, they passed it down.  There was no new name and no way to see myself differently.  My relationship with self was an expression of those created in American slavery.  Changing the words, ridding myself of racialized language would be the start of changing my way of relating, of forming community, of reconciling past and present.

To be sure, there is no motivation for changing it.  It is the way of the world, the way things are.  We are on this color wheel but I wanted to get off.  Still, most surmise that we cannot change it, that race knows us better than we know ourselves, that race knows us before we know ourselves.  But, then my faith in Christ did something I did not expect; my new identity in Christ began to challenge my racial identity.  They were not one in the same and I was being asked to choose between being a person of color and a child of God.  Two creators, two gospels, two heavens and hells (one segregated), they are two different belief systems.

The two are not complementary, synonymous or serving in supporting roles in this grand narrative. No, we must choose between the ways of this world and the ways of the kingdom coming.  There is a Person coming that will not identify with us based on the social coloring of skin and it is time that we come to see that.

Today, I am a race atheist.  I don’t believe it.  I don’t buy it.  I do not see as race sees.  I believe that there is so much more to our humanity and race doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface.