J. Kameron Carter, political theology, race

Misguided Ways of Dealing with Race and Racism

In the wake of Obama’s inauguration, I’ve seen a number of responses across the news, on the internet, and amongst friends. And so, what follows is a brief endeavor to list a few problematic responses and point out their underlying logic. Interestingly, the logic of each point in the list that follows, have much overlap between each other.

Colorblind: Some people (I’ve only heard this from Christians lately) still seem to think that the proper way to deal with race is to act like one shouldn’t see race. I have a sinking feeling why this is still so prevalent is because it was Contemporary Christian Music’s way of dealing with race (when it rarely did). To accept the colorblind philosophy is to accept a notion of making what is visible, invisible. Essentially, to be colorblind is to divest a person and people group of their story — the history that has formed them as a group. Specifically when this comes to race in America, such a move ignores the historical context of suffering and community bonding in the face of structural oppression that at least still fuel vestiges of privilege. This skips steps that have yet to be made. Justice and reconciliation looks the past straight in the face and deals with the repercussions that occur today. Thus, to ignore one’s story and the formation of the community past that still exists out of necessity today, is to take away one’s positive relationships, while ignoring struggles. This in effect dehumanizes people and leaves people exposed to the rending of the foundation of identity: relationships. In sum, we still live in a world where the color of one’s skin plays an important role in our historical and contemporary stories and actions. We should not ignore this by claiming to be colorblind.

Just let the old people die out, because their tired, old fight doesn’t translate today. Post-race means we’re past our history and we’re pretty much past racism: We aren’t post race. J. Kameron Carter has an excellent critique, and shows that racial categories are predicated on modernism and its theological and scientific grounding. Racial categories are in themselves racist. Also, to live in the modern world is to live in a racialized world. Even if we could adequately deal with Obama’s hybridity in public, we’d still be in some form of racial categorization, but probably taking a step in a positive direction that recognizes the hybridity in most (if not all) of us.

But how do we square the imposed racial categories of modernity’s scientific and theological logic with the need for community in the colorblind point above? For instance African Americans, Asian immigrants, Latin/South American immigrants, Native Americans, etc. form their own communities, partly out of survival. These communities are good, even though they have been categorized with the modernist racial category. This survival is done in the face of colonial violence and a theological divestment of their humanity. In fact, one could say that these communities of the oppressed function as the salvation for those who do not see their own humanity slipping away as they are the ones who have enforced these colonial categories.

But to find the good in the oppressed communities still stays within the racial modernist structure. Thankfully there is something else. To divest a person or people group of a skin color, that is considered beautiful by God, is partly the action of a terrible creation theology. Creation theology does not have a semi-gnostic persuasion that turns colors to grey, but helps recognize what is created and encourage flourishing. Even if colorblind philosophy is only symbolic, insomuch that it attempts to address the racist assertion of a qualitative difference between skin color, the right response does not mean the elimination of beautiful skin color. Thus, while the skin color is beautiful and God given, the divisive work of racial categorization must be dismantled by first looking it in the face, rather than ignoring it. Both the colorblind philosophy and its new protégé, post-race, take the strides that have been made and assert them as the fulfillment of MLK Jr.’s dream, while ignoring MLK Jr.’s warning against colonial America. So where can we all stand? In solidarity.

Therefore (either because we should be colorblind, or the old people live in a different world) don’t speak about the racial categories, its divisive: Well, not really. If the racial categories still exist, and if privilege still exists in structures, then to call for us to ignore the currently divisive, racial, modernist structure is to yet again ignore reality in favor of a white narrative (Yes, I’m using white here as a symbol. Don’t get your underwear in a knot.).

If someone else, like a white person, said this…: From my post on Rev. Wright: Dr. Wright is also not a “reverse racist” (as if only whites could be true racists…). This is not to say that a black person cannot be racist, however, what Newt Gingrich purports assumes that racism does not continue to exist in any large way. Yet, if what Wright does say is true, understood within a racist culture at large, than it merely rings true. However, Wright is not engaged by others at the level of his and his community’s experience. Instead, Wright’s words are taken from his mouth – from his black body and black context – and put into a white person’s body and context. In some senses, it seems that even Wright speaking cannot be understood as a black person speaking; rather, culture at large must think of him as a white person. How is that not itself racist, stripping him of his own humanity? Sure, maybe if we took Wright’s words and gave them to an oppressive people, the content of the words might sound racist, because they would be coming from the oppressive people’s lips. The body and context from whom the words come from are infinitely important. To call Wright a reverse racist merely on the basis of what he said in his speeches, based on forgetting the black community’s story and acting like he is a white man, is bullshit. This is just another way to marginalize a black man speaking prophetic truth.

So what common theme ran through this list of points? Divestment. To divest someone within the category of race is going to lead to some form of racism. Hell, to divest a person or community of the opportunity to be wrong likewise divests them of their humanity, as it fetishizes them rather than recognizes their failure. Divestment — racism — can only be met first by a honest and deep look that continues until the community is no longer segregated. I’m looking at you, church.

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10 thoughts on “Misguided Ways of Dealing with Race and Racism

  1. firesam says:

    “the racist assertion of a qualitative difference between skin color”

    Of course there are the troublesome quantitative differences between the supposedly non-existent races which are taboo even if scientific.

  2. firesam says:

    Perhaps I did, I found the piece confused and rambling. I believe physical and intellectual features breakdown according to race in fairly definable patterns. I do not think race is a product of modernity as you seem to. So of course we are not post-race unless that means we can deal with all this without being mean to each other which I do think is increasingly true. But self-segregation into communities is part of evolution not colonialism. I’m not sure what saying that skin color is “God given” is supposed to contribute to the argument, seems like melanin is more relevant.

    So much of this is just schoolbook nonsense. The world can’t be forced into this ideological view especially if one hopes to understand crime statistics, running a school district, modern medicine, sports.

  3. Well, I did cite J. Kameron Carter. Perhaps following the lead to an admittedly much more systematic work, rather than simply believing something and calling this post “out of touch,” may help clarify a piece of “confused rambling” that uses bold formatting and links to help direct the reader.

    If you have questions, ask them.

    As for the creation theology, perhaps some theological education may make it more intelligible. I don’t always write on the popular level. However, if you are curious, in point of fact, this post does metaphorically touch the ground. I suggest re-reading the last paragraph.

  4. Liraz says:

    I think we should let the old people die out for other reasons. But yes, I think that it is a misconception that the state of racial discourse is all hunky-dory if you will. Just because Obama is in office does not mean that we live in a post-racial world and that white privilege does not exist nor do archaic colloquialisms that promote a racist outlook on the world (EG: cotton-pickin’ hands, gypped, instead of cheated, et cetera). But I do disagree that race is a product of modernity (as I know you like to blame the modernists for everything David.)I also think it’s not enough to live not racistly, you must live anti-racistly. This means not just refusing to use racist terminology or partake in racist activities, but actually speaking out against these things. But this little comment doesn’t really have anything to do with theology.

    • On the contrary, such little comment has very much to do with theology. To live anti-racistly is a very theological thing, which leads me to the next point.

      As for the blaming of modernism, I suggest reading through J. Kameron Carter’s book, Race: A Theological Account. I am not simply harping on modernism, but the inherent colonialism within modernism.

  5. Pingback: Carter’s Race Reviewed « flying.farther

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