“… runners take your mark; get set…”
Left. Right. Left, right, left, right, left… The FINISH LINE was in sight
running… (right, left, right, left…)
giving my all
running… (right, left, right…)
with all my might
running… (left, right…)
I KNEW I could win
But running the lane to my
right, sprinting pass me
at the speed of a
tortoise, he raced
right pass me —
In utter disbelief
I looked at my racing feet,
ever faster and faster
than the man racing pass me. How?
My mind wondered… struggling
to make cents of his feats.
I realized, with certainty,
I was the one running… on a treadmill
while he was not even moving his feet.
By the mere thought of moving toward the tape,
without exerting any effort at all,
he had already raced right by me, and everyone else busting their ass
running… right, left, right, left…
in place on the treadmill of life.
Arms in the air,
with only the FINISH LINE in sight,
he was transported to victory on a Segway
while my feet where left… right… left… running…
I wanted to win the race but with all I am I KNOW I did not lose.
by Niger A. Woodruff, Assistant Director of Admissions and Vocational Discernment, Vanderbilt Divinity School
Referring to persons of color as a “minority” has always been a rather artful way of calling non-white persons “niggers” to their faces. I wonder what will become of our colorful use of majority/minority language when white people are considered a minority group? Come 2040 or high water, white people will no longer be regarded as a numerical majority in America. However, besides the actual populace of the planet, the truth is, “white folks” have always been a minority in this country.
James Baldwin, in Notes of a Native Son, is more than correct when he proclaims white as a recent historical invention. For instance, prior to being greeted by Lady Liberty, European immigrants from France, Germany, Ireland, Poland, or Russia were recognized by their national ethnic origin. In other words, as their feet first stepped onto American soil they had already left a long trail of historical footprints on the earth as French, German, Irish, Polish, or Russian persons, respectively. But, once those European immigrants settled into the soil of this “new land,” an offer they could hardly refuse was made. Relinquish your national ethnic identity and put on the whole armor of whiteness. Baldwin accurately describes that historical phenomenon as white privilege. Thus, in an instant, the whole body of pale-skinned immigrants became greater than their individual feats as French, German, Irish, Polish, or Russian persons. Furthermore, and up to this very 2014 moment, the primary privilege enjoyed by the recently constructed racialized category of “white people” is the guaranteed distinction never to be (mis)treated, that is, obliterated like the indigenous Indian tribes or enslaved like the African peoples. But once the veil of endowed white supremacy is lifted, in 2040, and the possibility of a greater number of Asians, African-Americans, and Latino/as sharing power with white folks is a numerical reality in this country, how shall we speak of one another?
The fear of a perceived loss of (white) power and the dread of the actual loss of (white) power is provoked by statistical demographics that empirically prove a point many white people simply do not want to add up. Consider the increased regularity in which Fox News and its affiliates bemoan the fact that white folks will soon be called a minority group in America. Such a public lament reveals the biased, distorted interpretation of reality and white privilege itself. Most non-white Americans have a slightly different interpretation with respect to white people “becoming” a minority group. Rather than seeing white people as somehow losing power, which, consequently, is absolutely correct, as a black man from Decatur, Alabama, I see the truth: no racial group will have a numerical majority monopoly on power. Hear the difference? White people may lament losing power. But I proclaim all people will have a unique, historical opportunity to share power equally in this country for the very first time. However, given the looming legacy of white supremacy, the incarnation of the white supremacist doctrine as white racism still dwelling among us, and the spirit of the doctrine, which we know as white privilege, blowing wherever it will, what we understand to be the dominant, normative narrative in this country can and, unless somehow interrupted, will most likely continue to maintain a majority influence upon our domestic (and international) policies, procedures, and unwritten rules even in 2040 and beyond. So, the question is, as our dear brother Baldwin insists, how can persons currently considered a minority group in America exercise a majority influence on our culture, economics, education, housing, immigration, LGBTQIA rights, politics, and theologies? Facing Race: a national biennial conference of multiracial, inter-generational persons concerned for racial justice is a way.
Thursday, 13 November 2014 – Saturday, 15 November 2015 my dear Chonga sister, Priscila Mojica, and I were in Dallas, Texas to attend the conference. Civil Rights (“slave rebellion” as Malcolm X called the movement) luminary Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Toshi Reagon, and Tashawn Reagon, presented the keynote address. It was an honor to share a moment in their presence. Likewise, it was an honor to share with persons who attended sessions on Reimagining the Bible Belt: Race, Religion, and Power in Dallas and the South; The Poem and Social Space; Life Cycles of Inequity: A Colorlines Series on Black Men; and Olivia Pope Notwithstanding: Strategies to Transform a TV Landscape Causing Everyday Harm to Black People, which featured a panel consisting of Arisha Hatch, dream hampton, Victoria Rowell, Emir Lewis, and Issa Rae.
The entire event itself was saturated with spirituality. Creative expressions from every racial/ethnic group featured sacred song, music, chants, dance, drumming, and spoken words. Peculiarly absent in the sharing of any spiritual expression whatsoever were white men. Nonetheless, in all our time in Dallas, perhaps nothing affected my spirit more than the intimate conversations Priscila and I shared with activists, artists, authors, educators, filmmakers, journalists, students, community organizers, and other leaders from all over the globe. I say this, in part, because I am not nor do I aspire to be a black apologist. I feel no need to explain my blackness, ever, to anyone, but especially to a racist. I have never heard a white man asked to rationalize why he dresses a certain way or eats certain foods or listens to certain music. I have never heard a white woman asked to explain her grade of hair or the Daisy Fuentes Secret Extension she purchased online. Thus, it is racist for a white woman to investigate my baldhead. It is racist for a white man to examine my beard. Nonetheless, in Dallas, something rather interesting happened to me while sharing meals (and a few drinks) with beautifully intellectual, wonderfully courageous black womanists and Latina feministas.
In a space where, to my attentive brown eyes, the demographics of over 1,600 people, in numerical order, were: African-American women, Latina women, African-American men, Latino men, Asian women, white women, Indian women and men, and white men, the air we shared inside the Anatole was clean, pure, unpolluted by a white, hetero-normative ethos. It was like being decongested, if only for a brief moment, of the noxious contaminates of white supremacy. Indeed it remains a rarefied occasion for anyone, let alone 1,600 persons of color, to breathe air in and out, deeply, in a space not deliberately constructed by a white, hetero-normative ethos. In that most sacred space, whenever a person asked me about my black manhood, my very being, or my black male experiences in America, I did not feel as though I was explaining my existence or having to justify my being. No vindication of my manhood was necessary. I was accepted. I was understood. I was at home. It was like eating cake with family and friends. It was like I was sharing a slice of me with people who appreciated me for who I am. The racist, on the other hand, does not necessarily want to enjoy a slice of me. The racist wants to examine the cake that is me. The racist wants me to explain what the cake is, how the cake is made, how the cake looks so very different from what she/he grew up nibbling. The tragedy of all this is that after one attempts to explain such things to the racist, she/he still does not understand. No satisfactory explanation or justification of self can be given because the racist will always adhere to the fine print ethnocentric terms and conditions by which she/he will determine whether or not your slice of humanity even makes sense. And in the very likely event that the racist does in fact want to taste a slice of me, it is only for the sake of some bucket list type of experience. It is to say that she/he has experienced something exotic. But once the racist has had her/his fill; once the racist has consumed enough of me, she/he goes back to eating white cake, exclusively, with her/his white spouse and white children, in a white neighborhood, with her/his white neighbors, at a white school.
Facing the global reality of race in the 21st century is a matter of how one positions oneself at the table to appreciate fully the delicious slices of humanity, i.e. cake. Facing the reality of race today means looking into the beautiful faces of our beloved children, and with regard to how we talk to them about who is the majority and the minority in this country, and indeed the world, I say, let them eat cake!