Tag Archives: racial 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.

A 3- Minute Lesson on Race

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.

The Benefit of a Name

google images blank hello my name is tags 2

Names are important.  Nick names are cute but birth names carry a lot of meaning.  Parents name their children after persons they love and admire.  They hand down names of those who they have left an indelible mark on their lives and they choose to remember them through their child.  Parents also name their children based on who they desire them to be or believe that they are.  They give them strong names, beautiful names, popular names, catchy names, thoughtful names.

Strangely enough, we do not invest much in our understanding of them.  Sure, we know our name.  We can spell our name.  But, we do not see ourselves based on our first name.  Instead, we repeat the names, live the names, identify with and answer to the names, that bullies, bitter family members, strangers and our society calls us.

I have an interesting name: Starlette.  Not many people have it.  I have counted fourteen people so far.  We are small group but the name is great.

Often when I tell people my name, I add, “Yes.  It’s my real name.”  I know that there are Hollywood starlets but this is not a stage name. And the name has great power.  It’s hard to be a wall flower, a shrinking violet with a name that means “brilliant performer.”  Brilliant.  Performer.

Simply saying my name has reassured me, comforted me and reminded me of who I am.  I need only say it and it sets the record straight.  I need only repeat it to gain my footing.  I need only introduce myself by it and come to light.

Now, I don’t know your name or its meaning but I am sure that it has more benefits than the name that the social construct of race calls you.  My name is race-less as anyone can be a brilliant performer.  So, what’s your name?

How Race Changes Who You Really Are

images-1

“Can you remember who you were, before the world told you who you should be?”      ~ Danielle LaPorte

God tells us who we are because only God knows who we are to become.  More than our parents, our Creator knows us intimately.  In fact, the psalmist says this of God’s creative ability: “For it was you who formed me in my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb… My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret… Your eyes beheld my unformed substance” (Psalm 139.13, 15a,16a).  This is a noteworthy distinction between race and God.

Race is not a creator or the Creator of humanity; race is a judge, a social critic, a commentator.  Race does not create; it criticizes.  It is not present with God “in the beginning” of our lives but much later.  Race cannot and does not form our inward parts.

Sure, it can say of a baby unborn that her or his life will be full of trouble and marked by setbacks or full of triumph and distinguished by success because of the social coloring of skin.  That is one of the rules of race but unlike God’s law, there are exceptions.  Race is not right all of the time about anyone.

Race has overstepped its boundaries as it relates to our humanity and we have allowed it.  What we created now dominates us.  We sought to change others with its creation and employment and now, we are ensnared by the very trap that we set.  We can’t seem to get our lives out of it.  It has now taken over not only those we planned to oppress but race now rules us.  It has changed who we really are and now we don’t know what to make of ourselves a part from it.  “How?”, you ask.

1.  Race says that who you are has already been figured out and it has nothing to do with who you are on the inside but is based solely on physical appearance.  Race rubber stamps us when we agree to live by its socially colored rules.  It doesn’t matter who you think that you are or who you might want to be.  Race overrules, suggesting that the social coloring of skin dictates everything.  Race tells us that a part from it, we can know nothing about ourselves.  It removes the guess work by putting us into really, really large social categories.

2.  Race says how human beings have been told to see you; it does not represent or reflect how God sees you.  We identify ourselves and others based on the characters that race gives us– all of which are stereotypical.  But, we learn from the story of Samuel that God does not choose us according to our appearance:  “But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (First Samuel 16.7).  Who God created us to be has nothing to do with the social coloring of skin but we are spending our lives defining our very existence by race and tailoring its meaning to it.

3.  Race hurts us and offers no place to take our hurts.  The racialized life offers one of two roles: oppressed or oppressor/ victim or victimizer.  When we live as racial beings as opposed to human beings, we are stuck with a past that we can’t heal and that we don’t want to be healed.  Our weakness or power based on the weakness of another is a part of the character.  If it ever stops, who will we be?

We are unable to move on because who we were and what “they’ve done to us” informs and dictates who we will be, who we have to be.  We are forever cast as soldiers even when there is no war; we will want to fight even when there is nothing to defend because we don’t know how to exist a part from it.  Living peaceably would feel strange and out of character.

So, there is no way out of it; you can’t change the social coloring of your skin so you can’t change your position in society or your life’s outcome.  It is because you are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige.  It all depends on how you “look.”

Consequently, we become angry, frustrated, hopeless even.  But, we don’t cast our cares on God but on other people.  We pass our grievances on to our children.  We take out our displeasure on strangers.  The racialized life makes it okay even normal to be mean, unforgiving and bitter.  So, we change our personalities to suit our woundedness.  This is who we are as racial beings: wounded, hurt and hurting.

Races changes us by grouping us, putting us with “our people,” pasting on the label “us” or “them,” packaging us according to physicality, making us fearful and wonderfully more of the same.