Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Race Traitor

On the incomparable Slate.com, sister Debra Dickerson asks the provocative question:
"Why am I the only honest bigot?" Check out some of her reflections:

"In a nation riven to its very core by race, I appear to be the only remaining racist. Off and on, I'm homophobic and anti-Semitic, too, but mostly, I'm racist. Yet unlike the rest of you, I'm honest about it.

I'm the only person I know who routinely admits to being a racist. When I redeemed my Mother's Day spa package, I was assigned a lovely young black woman as my aesthetician. As we chatted, I found myself searching for words. Eventually, I realized I was trying to find a way to ask about ! her credentials. In 20 years of spa trips, I have never had a black ae sthetician, and I have never thought, let alone asked, about one's competence, even when they disappoint me. It appears that I, too, think black people are stupid, uninformed, and graceless. Criminal, too—day before yesterday, after finalizing the details of working in a public housing complex, I dreamt that night of herds of rapacious, animalistic blacks robbing, assaulting, and generally terrorizing me there. (Birth of a Nation was more subtle.) So, counting yesterday's incident, which I will recount shortly, that makes twice just this week that I was a racist.

It was yesterday's incident that got me thinking about how racism is lived. The New York Times recently won a Pulitzer for a series on how race is lived, but that's not quite the same thing, is it? Most of us agree that racism is far from dead and that we're all responsible for helping to end it. And yet, so charged is the issue of race that it is virtually impossible for those who! do not already agree about it to discuss it. Without a free exchange of ideas, progress is not very likely; conservatives will continue to preach to their choir and liberals will do the same." (This is definitely worth reading in full)

Dickerson's thinking inspired me to share some of my own recent thoughts about race, which the Baha'i writings identify as America's "most vital and challenging issue". For most of my life I have endured the accusation of being a race traitor in one way or another. Essentially I have failed in various ways to meet the requirements of a racial authenticity test called "black enough". What I've been thinking recently is that it might be empowering to embrace the identity of a race traitor, not in the way that my detractors have suggested (which has never been true by the way) but in a very different way. I am not a traitor to any particular race but to the idea of race itself. I renounce my citizenship in a racialized social order and commit myself to overturning this order through attacking the idea of race itself. Why? Because racism is inseparable from the idea of race. It is a strange alchemy that seeks to disentangle racism from race, no more successful that the quest to turn copper into gold. Of course, in a racialized social order this kind of betrayal is like waving a red flag before the eyes of a bull, I'm asking for trouble. My response to race and the world it has built is to quote the immortal Fugees "Ready or not, here I come, you can't hide." Growing up in a society driven mad by race, I'm ill prepared for such a contest. I'll make many mistakes, lose many battles, and may lay down my bones at the end having failed in my task. I have to try though because I believe it is what God is calling for:

"God did not make these divisions. These distinctions have had their origin in man himself. Therefore, as they are against the plan and purpose of reality, they are false and imaginary. We are of one physical race, even as we are of one physical plan of material body -- each endowed with two eyes, two ears, one head, two feet."
(Abdu'l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 299)

"How good it is if the friends be as close as sheaves of light, if they stand together side by side in a firm unbroken line. For now have the rays of reality from the Sun of the world of existence, united in adoration all the worshippers of this light; and these rays have, through infinite grace, gathered all peoples together within this wide-spreading shelter; therefore must all souls become as one soul, and all hearts as one heart. Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life."
(Abdu'l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu'l-Baha, p. 76)