Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Black Atheist; The Red Tape Edition

We all have a story to tell and share. Our backgrounds, socio-economic status, education, geographical region, parents, race, gender and many other factors have a role in determining how we transmit our own narrative. The descriptions we use do not exclude others from hearing, understanding, or sharing the narrative with other people but there are some who are completely unnerved by particular words. I tend to document my days as a former Christian in Black churches because I identify myself as a Black man. The previous sentence is seen by some as an attempt to remove myself from other people and that is simply untrue. If anything the descriptions within the sentence are indicators of my experience, what I think is important and how I plan to let you know about it. The words in no way tell you that I am more special, honest, caring, compassionate, intelligent, etc than those who do not use such words. I encourage you to document your experience in the way you see fit, despite the groaning from privileged folks. Removing race as some move toward a "higher" goal is completely unnecessary and by saying such you may be saying far more than you really want.

Race is a social construction:
That particular truth is used to make the further claim that "race is not needed and can be pushed aside". I disagree with the later and here's why. Simply pushing aside "race" does not change the minds or the actions of those who will still use race to negatively stereotype, mislabel and mistreat others. Doing away with the concept as a whole does not automatically fix the negative usage of the concept. Furthermore, there's a bit of conflation going on with those who wish to ditch the social construct. Negative usages of race is seen as the totality of all usage therefore it should be eradicated. That line of thought is false. Simply because some people go out of their way to misuse the concept for a set of reasons does not mean positive and meaningful usage should hit the road too. The best move is to target the negative usage and do what you can to diminish the power within it. Race is a social construction with real-world affects and implications. Those who want to get rid of the concept because of their conflation problem are generally not affected by race. Since they are not affected negatively, they attempt to police those who are and those who try to use the concept as something meaningful and positive. They think race is overdone, over-used, unimportant and say such things like "I don't see color and I value everyone" or "I see humans and not color". Unless you are actually colorblind, there's no reason to make such statements. If you are pissed off about negative usages of race, then get off your ass and do something about it but do not confuse negative uses with all uses.

Inclusion narratives:
Some people tend to think that using race is some kind of division mechanism which is made to keep us separate from one another and continued usage of the concept will drive us further apart. This is only true if you buy into the idea that using race actually divides people. The only people who are claiming to be divided are those who are privileged enough to not be affected by race. In order for them to be included in the discussion, everyone else MUST BE LIKE THEM, which is why particular descriptions are problematic. The inclusion narrative is not about you, but it's about them. Using certain words means you cannot get inside their bubble. You are making them uncomfortable because they have concocted an idea in their own head that in order for you to connect as human beings, particular words must be excluded. That's why charges of not being "inclusive" and "you are just turning people off and dividing them when you talk about race" are leveled. Notice the general move I made 2 sentences ago...."you to connect as human beings". The line has a substitution, wherein "human beings" actually means ME. Your story is you separating yourself from me. No it's not. Not once have I thought of a White person, a woman, or a homosexual who is telling me about their life and what has shaped them as some sort of enterprise on their part to separate themselves from me. You use the words that are most important to you for a set of reasons. Those words most likely have some kind of historical, social and possibly even political antecedents to them and for me to tell you to not use them is actually telling you to chop off essential features of you and your story.

This is not about whether we value other humans or not. This is totally about the red tape involved when documenting a particular experience with certain words because some people are walking around with erroneous assumptions.  The proposition is not some either or deal. You can easily appreciate a person who uses certain words, like their race, gender or sexuality, and not think they're making some call to exclusivity. The person is simply saying, "this is who I am and these words matter to me". The next time someone tries to tell you what to say or how to say it with regards to your particular experience, ask them why they think their tape is necessary. As far as I am concerned, I will continue to speak on gender and race and all of it's usage and target the bad usage. I hope more people will do the same.