Tag Archives: racial identity formation

Don’t stop talking about race

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It is easy to reset, to move on to the next outrage, to the next shiny object.  “Ooh.  What’s that?”  We want to be distracted.  We hope that we can forget.

But, we cannot continue to let this be the case.  Race is a problem and it doesn’t just go away.  Instead, it is here to stay, stuck between our teeth, hanging on to our thin skin.  We carry it with us.  A word with sharp edges that we continue to wrap carefully and reuse, race is the weapon and the wound.

Still, we talk about race as if it is all we have, like it is all that we can say about ourselves, as if we are only flesh and blood.  We talk about race as if our lives depend on it, like we cease to exist if we are not socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  And though we cannot see the end of it (that is, post- racial), race is not our beginning. We cannot see past it but there is no future with race.

A socio- political construct, we talked ourselves into this belief in race and we will need to talk ourselves out of it.  You may not know this but we are not alone in this desire.  Recently, a number of books have been published that aim to discuss our relationship with race and empower readers to talk about it.  Please consider adding these to your reading list and your bookshelves:

Robin Diangelo, White Fragility: Why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism, (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 2018).

Carolyn B. Helsel, Anxious to talk about it: Helping White Christians Talk Faithfully About Racism, (Saint Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2017).

Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race?, (New York, NY: Seal Press, 2018).

Derang Wing Sue, Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence: Understanding and Facilitating Difficult Dialogues on Race, (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015).

Shelly Tochluk, Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk about Race and How to Do It, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2010).

Only Human

Image result for only human imageIt seems that we are not satisfied with our humanity, that there is always a need to be something more than human, super human, a special set of humans.  In our quest, we often attempt to reduce the value and visibility of others.  Because we cannot be more human unless we make others less human.  We get our power by taking theirs away.  And there’s really nothing super or special about that.

Instead, it is an expression of pride and selfishness.  It is childish to believe that we are the only ones that should be seen, that everyone else is in the way, that the whole earth is mine and I don’t have to share, that I am God’s only child.

It is a strange desire that we would want to be something more than those around us, that we would create categories of exclusion that would make us less common or ordinary.  It is an awkward expression of our humanity: creating differences, hoarding the earth, making up problems, burning bridges, segregating ourselves, cheating some to enrich the lives of others.  Still, we cannot get away from the truth that we are all the same.

For all of our attempts at creating differences and maintaining them, we are all obviously, plainly, nothing more than human.  No matter what we attach to or associate with ourselves, Paul was right, “There is only one flesh for human beings” (First Corinthians 15.39).  Despite the claims of the social construct of race, we are only human and always family.

 

 

Raise the questions

url-1The question of race is one that I use to wrestle with.  For a long time, it won because I thought that its answers to my identity were stronger and better trained.  Looking back, I think that I let race win because I did not perceive it as an enemy but more like a coach, a sparring partner.  I thought that it was a friendly match and I am not real fan of fighting so I gave in.  I didn’t take the ring seriously.

In terms of race, one of the hardest things I had to do was question it.  In fact, it was a question that answered me:  Do I have to be black?  Because for me, race is about being and becoming.  It is not just about who I am or how society defines me but who I will become.

Raised in the South, questioning authority does not come standard for me.  It is not how I was taught; neither adults or God are to be questioned.  It was understood and I never entertained the possibility.  The mere thought I considered to be heretical.

But, the thought came to me.  And I was also taught not to be rude so I entertained it.  I raised my head, cleared my throat and interrupted the conversation that race was having about me without me.  “Excuse me.  Who  gave you this authority?”

Question raised and I’m still standing.  Question raised and I was not struck by lightning.  Question raised and I am answered.

I fought race and I won.  Get in the ring and raise the questions.

 

Recovering ourselves from race

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

~ Romans 12.3, NRSV

Race has two extremes when it comes to identity: oppressed/ slave/ inferior and oppressor/ master/ superior.  There is no in between.  We are either in or out, on the top or the bottom, powerful or powerless.

And the two don’t mix.  In order for the identities to maintain their stature and meaning, we cannot reconcile.  We cannot unite.  We have separate racial identities that must be segregated.  But, Paul writes to the church at Galatia: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3.28).

Consequently, when we accept a racial identity while claiming to be believers in Christ Jesus, we start a tug of war within us.  Race says, “Separate” and Christ says, “Come together.”  Unfortunately, we practice prejudice and in so doing, choose our racial identity, reject our new position in Christ and fellowship with other believers.

When we accept the social coloring of skin as the means by which we are identified, we have not discovered who we are.  The search is not over when we agree that we are socially colored black/ white/ red/ yellow/ brown/ beige.  Instead, such a decision suggests that we don’t want to go any deeper than what persons can see.

A racial identity is superficial, simplistic and static.  We don’t really go anywhere when we describe ourselves as racial beings.  Instead, we receive and approve what someone else has decided will define us.

Some will say, “Well, just look at you.  Your skin color is ________ so you are _______.  That’s just the way it is.”  But such a mindset says that you are stuck, that you are stuck with what society says about you and there is nothing that you or God can do about it.  This is simply not true.  God is not limited by race and God does not define us by it.

We must not spend our lives becoming who race says that we are but who God says that we are.  We must take back our power to define ourselves and not lean on the understandings of race.    It is not that race already has us but that we give ourselves to it.  We don’t put up a fight but give in to race’s conclusions about us.  We surrender ourselves to race before we realize the importance of the fight for the authentic self.

We will not recover ourselves in steps or in stages.  Our self- recovery begins in our minds.  We must change the way that we think about race and change our minds about race.  We must consider life without it.  We must think racelessly.  Then and only then will we begin to turn and return to our true selves.

 

How Race Changes Who You Really Are

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“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.