Tag Archives: racial formation

Racial Formation

20140208_BRP001_0No, this will not be about Beyonce’s new “Formation” video or its continued controversy.  If you are interested in a really thoughtful, perhaps too thoughtful interpretation of the song, click here.  If not, keep reading.

We talk a lot about what race says about us and others.  What we do not discuss as much are the ways in which our words shape us and our reality.  We quite literally change the way we see ourselves and others based on what we say about either.

While words inform us, they also inwardly form us.  The words of race advise us on the value of personhood, the possibility or impossibility of a relationship and what this person means to us.  However, this information can become a characterization; a liberal application of one word can cause us to only see her and him as a color.  We are then misinformed by race.

There are too many instances of this kind of mistaken identity.  “I see you as black so I thought you were dangerous.”  “I see you as white so I thought you hated me.”  “I see you as red so I thought you were an alcoholic.”  “I see you as yellow so I thought you were into computers or good at math.”  “I see you as beige so I thought that you mixed up about who you saw yourself to be.”

We have all of this racialized information but don’t appear to be any wiser or better because of it.  What are we doing with the words of race?  Why do we have them if it is clear that more often than not, they have us? We are left holding the bag after a poor call, a misunderstanding or worse, the death of an unarmed person.  We can only say, “Race… Race told me so.  Race told me to.”

But, what are we really saying about our lives and our bodies if we allow race to continue to touch us everywhere?  Is there no space where race is not allowed, where its words, its hands do not shape us?  And if not, why not?

Why do we continue to subject ourselves to racial formation?  Whose hands are these?  Whose words are these?  Who said that they were good for us?  And why do we continue to sit and allow our souls to be configured, patterned, molded, developed by this prejudicial point of view?

May we find the courage and the confidence to step out of line, to cross the color line, to break ranks and this social arrangement.  This is my prayer.  Amen.



Race As Social Formation

3999186Like you, I inherited the identity that comes with the social construct of race and also the burden of its life and history.  Initially, I accepted it.  I didn’t know of any other option or way of being so I learned about being black.

I read books and watched documentaries on Black history.  I took classes and specialized in African American studies.  But, while I appreciated and honored the story, I never could make peace with the word.  Black.

My awakening and subsequent liberation came by way of a question: “Do I have to be black?”  And the answer was, “No.”  I am viewed as a black person but I don’t have to see myself this way.  I am treated like a black person but I don’t have to handle myself in this way.  Race does not have to inform how I understand myself or determine how I manage my life.

Because there is an unfathomable distance between who society says that I am and who God created me to be.  I have spent many years now peeling back the layers of lies, most of them are the same.  Each year, the falsehoods have become easier to identify but this does not make the work any easier.  I get tired of the motion as there seems to be no end.

Still, the truth that I am race-less must not only be acknowledged or repeated but practiced.  This truth must be lived out.  I must make it visible.  I must give it voice.

And in so doing, I remove the hands unseen that attempt to mold me into who we have been and the way we should be.  I deny race the right to practice on my life; it’s license is not real.

To be sure, stereotypes are a collection of people’s assumptions.  Prejudices are but pride and fear extended to keep others at a distance.   The social construct of race is nothing more than life lived from the mouth of human beings versus that of God.  The continued existence and acceptance of race is evidence of our fear of being children of God and likewise, becoming a family.

The race-less life allows the Hands that held me first to lead my being and to lead me into being, new and original, personal and mine alone (Psalm 139.13-14).  An identity rooted in race is but the process of social formation.  But, it is not a genesis; it is no beginning but the end of me.  I come to a conclusion here.

It is not the fullest expression but the summary of me and most of the details are not mine but a collection of others mixed together.  It is not me at all.  It is what is thought of me.  It is what is believed about me… socially.  It is an identity created by the people and for the people, which is not to be confused with in service to God.

I am so glad that I don’t have to be black, that I have a say in who I am and will be, that race does not speak for me, that its hands did not touch me first.  What about you?  Who were you before race?


How We Emerge

Racism, prejudice and stereotypes are a problem. Most, if not all persons, would agree that they produce more conflicts than resolutions, offer more questions than answers. We need only watch the evening news or visit a news website to hear about yet another incident of violence incited by race.  But, no matter how many times a crime is committed because of prejudice or explained away due to stereotypes, we will not talk about ridding ourselves of race. We seem unable to connect the dots, draw the conclusion or make the decision that the foundation of these practices and beliefs needs to be eradicated.

Race is not good for humanity, our personal identity or that of others. We can’t explain racism without discussing America’s history of enslavement of Africans. We cannot practice prejudice without assuming the worst about others. We cannot employ stereotypes without making assumptions that are rooted in unfounded and inconsistent generalizations of entire populations of people groups.  But, what troubles me most is that this has become our truth.

We have become the stereotypes though caricatures and we believe the prejudices about others and ourselves. We believe in race and its social hierarchies, not needing to be told what our social color does. And we have become instructors in our own oppression and self- denial. No one has to tell us that we are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige. We tell ourselves and we teach our children these social colors. We become witnesses of race because we have not truly looked at ourselves.  But, we will not find ourselves until we are able to face ourselves, not as we are seen by others but as we are seen by God.

It is only then that we will challenge race and its progeny, that we will stop repeating what is said about us and begin initiating our own views.  It seems that we have grown comfortable as the victims of race and perhaps, this is why a race- less life might be considered threatening. Victimhood has become our identity and we are victims whether we view ourselves as oppressed or oppressor so long as we remain in this racialized society. No one lives unscathed. But, when we stop thinking in prejudice and speaking in stereotype, we will have find our minds and our voices. It is only in losing race that we emerge.

Race Made Me Do It: How Race Makes Us Unconscious

We believe that we are born into race and behave as if we are preprogrammed by it, predisposed to being racially motivated. We wouldn’t hate or stereotype or segregate or kill if the person had not been black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige. If they had only been different, if they had only been the same as me, then it wouldn’t have happened. I wouldn’t have said it. They wouldn’t be seen as this or that. It’s not my fault. It’s just who they are. It’s just who I am. It’s the way of the world. Race made me do it.

We speak as if we have no say, no will, no power at all when it comes to race. It controls us. It tells us what to do and say and believe. Race tells us who we are. We know nothing apart from it and no one– not even ourselves. We are tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine that race creates and recreates. We are not our own persons but we are possessed, prepossessed, predestined, our lives predetermined by race.

We say, “We didn’t create race. We were born this way. We were born into this situation, this predicament, this way of being. We didn’t choose our color. We didn’t draw the color line.” Therefore, we are not to blame for what we do. We have no other choice. There is no other way. We must be racist. We must be a segregationist. We must be a token. We must be angry and fearful and silent and judgmental. We must hate them and they must hate us. It is our natural right, our inheritance. God gave it to us, right?

Race tells us where to stand, who to stand with and against. We cannot move. We cannot cross or better yet erase the color line. It holds everything in place; it keeps everyone in their place. Besides, where else is there to go? Could we live without race and would I have to consult my race, the social coloring of my skin in order to do it?

We don’t know what else to say. We are afraid to say anything different, to think that there could be anything different to say, that there is anything more to people than the social construct of race. These words were given to us. All we can do is repeat them because we believe that we will have no one to talk to if we don’t. But, the words of race are not the totality of speech. Race is not all that there is to say about humanity; it is the not the summation of our identity. It is not that if we stop speaking of persons in color- coded language that we will suddenly become mute. We will not lose our voice; in fact, it is in ridding our tongues of race that we will find it. There are more words for us. Race does not have the last say. Race does not have the last word. Race does not have to speak for you or me.

We live as if there is nothing and no one who could save us from it. We do not know and cannot perceive a life a part from race. It has become our mind, our heart, our will. But, race is not the only way of life though it has become ours. Today, I pray for the renewing of our minds so that we might come to know ourselves more fully in Jesus Christ and less as race’s color- coded bodies, that we would see more of ourselves and less of race. I pray that we would die to our racial selves and be awakened to our new nature in Jesus Christ, trusting that there is life after this social death, that there is life after race. Amen.

Race Has No Body

In my distress, I called to the Lord, and He answered me: ‘Lord, deliver me from lying lips and a decietful tongue.'”

~Psalm 120.1

Some years ago, I realized that speaking of myself in terms of race was a deception. I was lying to myself. I was not really black… at least not yet. I had time to change my reality as I still was not totally convinced that blackness was the life for me. Yes, I believe this racialzed life to be a choice, much like that of a life dedicated to holiness or sinfulness. I believe that the soul, its will and emotions are more of a determinant than the social coloring of my skin. I also believe that the will of race is not above the will of God and that if God gives me the free exercising of will then certainly I had some time to consider the way that I wanted to live my life and the means by which I wanted to be led. I needed only to stop repeating this falsehoood and to remove myself from the company of those who had chosen this as their lot.

But, that was not enough as the race-less life requires a strength and a direction that is outside of me and yet, all around me. I cannot contain it though I strive for it. It is the transcendent identity that I have in Jesus Christ and I confess that it is greater than the social construct of race, the biological determinations of gender and the social stratifications of class. There is so much more to me that just does not fit into race. If I allowed myself to be contained by it, I would be agreeing to leave so much of myself out for the sake of maintaining its truths, which were really lies about me. And I simply could not and would not go along with the social program, this racial programming. I do not believe race to be the way.

Such a distancing from what is familiar and acceptable requires strength. Who could I appeal to as I sincerely felt sorry for this lie and all the others that race tells us? Where could I turn and who could I talk to? It was with these questions that I realized that race had no ear. So, how could I talk to race and race listen to me? Race had no mouth so what would be its response to my denial of its presence, my rejection of its rule? Race had no hand to point at me or to cast me out. In fact, race had no body. So, it was only and always using me. Today, I declare that I only want to be used by God. Lord, deliver me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue. I want no longer to be used by race. Amen.