Tag Archives: talking about race

What are we talking about when we talk about race?

We’ve got to come back to ourselves.  We’ve got to take more than a few steps back and  we will have to step on more than a few toes in the process.  But, let’s begin to walk it back.  Let’s go back to the beginning.  Return to the first Word that is certain to be the last Word, Alpha and Omega.

Race is not God’s story with us or for us.  Race is not even a narrator.  It has no speaking role.  Instead, it is a rumor run rampant, a hand me down lie that has never fit our humanity.  An 18th century invention, it has no theological support.  Still, we cheer it on, take it on as apart of who we are.

But this race talk has got to stop.  I call on your tongues to push back.  I ask that your souls not budge, that you not give it an inch or an ear.   Instead, we must listen more deeply as race is simply skin talk, superficial gibber, surface level banter.  When we talk about our skin and its social coloring, we literally have not scratched the surface of our human being and its understanding.

Still, we carry on with our prejudicial assumptions and segregated living arrangements.  But, we must not make room for race.  Because we’ve gotten no where with it.  Carried down through these hundreds of years, carried on the backs of one generation after another, we’ve got nothing but bent back and broken hearts to show for it.  We’ve got to leave it on the side of the road now, admitting that we do not need it to survive but have used it to serve our pride, greed and lust for power.

We’ve got to confess that this has gone too far, gotten out of hand and that we are tied up by our own tongues.  Our freedom is literally on the tip of our tongues.  We need only speak the Word to return to God’s story.  Race has created this distance between us and the Divine.  A hierarchical humanity, this is a step down and far, far away from what God had in mind when God called us by name– not by social colors.

When we talk about ourselves as racial beings and not human beings, we are talking ourselves out of our shared humanity.  Our common denominator is not color but our Creator.  To be sure, race is not a likely substitute, a shoe in and certainly not a stand in, which is why we have to really think about what we are saying about ourselves and each other.  Because we are more than out on a limb or hanging ourselves out to dry when we suggest that the totality of our existence depends on our skin when Jesus came to save souls.

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).

Race is something to talk about

I’m not one to shy away from a conversation on race and today, Prada had an unplanned one after a passerby noticed a bag in the window of a shop in Soho.  There appeared to be a blackface accessory attached to the bag.  Cue the removal of the bag, a statement from Prada and another conversation on race.  Described as “monkey trinkets,” many people are asking, “How did this happen?”

“What year is this?”  “I thought we were farther along.”  But, should we be?  What have we said about race that propels us forward?  What of our conversations about race have brought understanding and healing?  When have our conversations about race not been reactive?  How have we prepared for conversations on race?

Still, we shuffle along, pretending that our cross- cultural relationships are all patched up, only to have someone point out another hole.  We missed a spot.  The job was rushed.  The material was not the best and thus, not able to withstand another brush with race.  We’ll deal with it later or when the time comes.  Well, here we are again.

Deep sigh.  “Why do we have to keep talking about race?”  Because questions of identity, belonging and membership continue to arise.  Because we are not saying what needs to be said.  And we don’t know what needs to be said.  Because we end the conversation at the first sign of discomfort or disagreement.

Because we give race the silent treatment.  Rather than have vulnerable conversations, we enter with our guard up.  We decide that we will only say so much.  We would rather be disingenuous than open up.

This means that our exchanges are not authentic.  Instead, we feign interest, outrage, empathy and/ or understanding.  We don’t invest much more than a head nod and a pat on the back.  “I just don’t know what to say.”  And if we are honest, we have not taken the time to learn what to say.

We don’t want to keep talking about it.  But, that’s the problem.  Conversations on race should be on- going.  We need to keep the conversation going so that the Prada bag never even makes it to the shop in Soho.

Hello Racism!

Race and its progeny, prejudice, racism and stereotypes, are the elephants on our pew.  It’s a jungle in here on Sunday mornings and more than a tight squeeze as we attempt to lift our hands in worship, to fold our hands in prayer, to grab the hand of our neighbor in fellowship.  Let’s be honest.  They are not visitors but members of the Church in North America.

Disregarding our attempts at colorblindness, we can see that this is not working.  Still, we gave them all the right hand of fellowship the moment we accepted a new creation narrative: “In the beginning, God created white people and then, beige, brown, black, red and yellow people.”  Yes, this is the way that the race story goes and we are its narrators, its co- creators.  Race comes from our mouths.  Race is the covenant that we have made with each other—not God.  It begins, “Only my people are God’s people.”

It is the word we have fashioned with our own tongues and made fact by our decision to treat each other accordingly.  It is the way we choose to perceive people and consequently, certain places in the world.  It is the way that we choose to know each other, its categories help us keep track of where people belong or are expected to be, if only for our self- serving purposes.  And it is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ, in whom we are made one body, one people and one nation.

No race card, no race baiting, race and racism are a part of our personal theology and its practice.  We hear it in our reading of Scripture and its interpretation: “Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as wool” (Isaiah 1.18), in our singing: “Jesus loves the little children/ all the children of the world/ red and yellow, black and white…”  But, this is not how Jesus loves us; this is how we love each other.  Most obvious, the social construct of race informs and influences our fellowship.  Buses and schools, water fountains and restaurants, hospitals and even cemeteries have all been integrated, but, not the church.

Our willingness to see persons created by God as somehow lesser or greater than based on the social coloring of skin is the issue.  Race is the word we made flesh.  White is the color we have deified and those who are identified as such are made socially righteousness.  This is good news in America, which should not be confused with the message of the coming kingdom of God.

Persons labeled socially colored beige, brown, black, red and yellow have no chance of experiencing this kind of salvation; there is no deliverance for them. They are subjected to seemingly endless abuse, aggression and assault.  And no matter how many times it happens, it is their body’s fault.  No body else’s.

We have to take responsibility now.  With countless video recordings of racial profiling, harassment, false arrests and even death, we have to change the story of the Good Samaritan.  True to the parable, this generation assumes that the Church will not get involved.  See no evil.

But, there is much that we can do.  I do not offer three steps to a more inclusive church, seven steps to a multicultural ministry or twelve steps to a race-less church.  The moves are not so easy as they must ensure that we all get there together.  Because we are not as far along in our conversations about the social construct of race as we thought or had hoped to be.  No church is doing it right until the Church rights its wrongs concerning race.

So, let’s start from the beginning.  Rather than race introducing us to ourselves and to each other, we need to learn more about race, where it comes from, what it does and how it predetermines our relationships with others.  Not simply repeating after its prejudices, we must question them.  Rather than continue to pretend that race does not exist or claim that we are all apart of one human race, let us accept that it does exist and that it does not help us.  Then and only then can we deal with the meaning of its reality and its implications in our practice of discipleship.

Because we must also interrogate ourselves, asking, “What would the Lord have us to do about race and racism?  How am I complicit in the compromise of Christian community formation?  What of my sight needs to change for me to see persons across cultures as my brothers and sisters?”  And then listen for a response.

Let us begin.  Say, “Hello Racism.”

 

 

Note: This post was originally commissioned by and featured on the Ethics Daily website on June 5, 2018

When you’re tired of the message but it’s all you have to say

I am tired.  Worn out, worn down, worn thin by stories of racialized abuse, bias, bullying, harassment, hatred, mistreatment, misplaced vindictiveness, the continued willful ignorance of the pain and suffering of persons socially colored other than white, the choice to not engage.  Because it is more important to be our “race’s” keeper.  It is hard to keep up with all the stories, to maintain the momentum of this message of racelessness some days.  And maybe this is the point, to leave me in the dust.  Sweat stinging my eyes, I am not crying.

This race against socially constructed evils is not for the swift but the steady.  But, my voice is not steady.  I am angry sometimes.  My hands are not steady.  They shake, hoping to free the words stuck to my fingers.  Say something.

The machines of empire churn on and for every win, there is another battle to be fought, another argument to be had, another truth to be defended, protected, shielded.  Lies are sore losers; they will get the victory by any means.  So, don’t let down your guard, I say.  Don’t stop talking.  But, I am tired of standing guard, crying loud and holding nothing back.

My throat hurts.  And they have heard this all before.  The prophets have said this all before: You shall have no other gods before me– including yourself.  Year after year, day after day, it is the war of words.  Words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus words versus …

For every bridge built, there is another that is burned, destroyed, blocked with dead bodies.  The hate piles on and so do the names.  So many names, how can we ever get through to each other?  It seems we will never get through this.  Everyone is taking sides.  How can we then get to the other side of this?

And the lies keep marching on.  I can’t watch.  It is hard to stay awake, to keep watch and pray.  Consciousness is a choice.  Looking on and looking away are the other options.  See no evil.

I am tired of seeing these words in front of our humanity: beige, brown, black, red, yellow and white.  This reduction of being, this re- creation of story: “In the beginning,” white people said.  I am tired of this racialized relationship, these color codes of silence and violence, these hate cycles.

I am tired of the game of race: Anything you can do I can do better– because I am better by reason of skin.  I am tired of the cyclical arguments of race, when we know where its going because we have been this way before.  This is not our first run in with this reality, not our first rodeo, not the first time we have seen this elephant and managed to squeeze past it in the room or try to carry on with polite conversation as if it was not sitting on our chest, barely able to catch our breath.  But, we kept right on talking to keep up the appearance of civility, of clean hands and professionalism.

Feigned ignorance, we choose not to blink, not to look.  And even when we do see something, we don’t say anything.  I am tired of the pretentiousness, of the excessive excuses, of the extraordinary lengths that we will travel to maintain this image and our covenant to protect whiteness.  We will say anything to prove its innocence even though we are witnesses and perpetrators of its crimes.  We will blame any body and other bodies, just so that whiteness is free.

We act as if there are no other words to describe our humanity.  God- given or race- driven, we choose the former.  Well, I know that I am not black, that race does not speak for me, that it leaves out all of my humanity.  Stuffed with stereotypes, my skin labeled according to its prejudices, I would have no tongue or the language for which to construct an exit.  And this is the strategy: Talk me out of my humanity and into a color.

But, I don’t see it race’s way and though I am tired today, I wouldn’t change a word.  We are race-less.