On a hot summer day in Columbus, Georgia a flier circulated around the city. In two weeks, a big sale was taking place. Everyone was invited. The flier listed the items for sale—ordinary items that any farmer could use. Mills, mules, hogs, wagons, and carts were available to own for the highest bidder.
And so were Negroes.
Black men and women were listed alongside wood-crafted items and slop-covered animals. These men and women were presumably created in God’s image—except in Columbus, Georgia in 1860.1
Is America Postracial?
One-hundred sixty years later some Black men and women find themselves, not on fliers, but murals and billboards. Today, organizations and corporations spend tens of thousands of dollars on larger than life portrayals of Black actors, models, and professional athletes. Who can forget the large banner in downtown Cleveland welcoming LeBron James back home after a brief stay in Miami?
Are these billboards palatial signs that we have long forgotten the dehumanizing efforts of racist men and women in America in the 19th Century? Can we point to these success stories and declare with confidence that we now live in a post-racial, colorblind society?
For some, talking about race has joined politics and religion on the Mount Rushmore of topics we should never discuss. Kelly Brown-Douglas notes, “…the only thing postracial about this time in this nation’s history is the refusal to talk about race. The subject has almost become taboo.”2 In some instances, mention race today in normal conversation and an awkward silence ensues.
The Myth of Colorblindness
Here’s the thing, though. Making race a taboo topic usually requires that people of color (especially Black Christians) take a colorblind approach. What is colorblindness? Colorblindness insists that racism has one solution—ignore racial differences.3 Besides, that’s what Galatians 3:28 says, right? And race is a social construct, so it’s something we made up anyway, right?
True enough, race is a social construct. But race also has social implications. And people of color are impacted by those social implications. To ignore those social implications tells men and women created in God’s image that their pain and suffering isn’t worth discussing.
Some Things are About Race
Granted, in America everything isn’t about race but some things are. And we have to honestly talk about what may or may not fall in the category of a racialized event. Refusing to talk about race in America is dangerous. Not only does this refusal to talk about race fail to recognize the elephant in the room, it looks to remove the elephant completely.
A graphic representation might help capture the necessity of talking about race in 2018:
This image tells the haunting tale of the slavery/Jim Crow period in our country. At most, a post-segregation America is but a small representation of the historical realities of race relations. In fact, some would argue that the Brown vs. Board of Education decision in 1954 ended segregation and racism legally (de jure) but not factually (de facto).
Time to Soak
If we aren’t careful, we can forget the vast number of years that chattel-based slavery and Jim Crow laws were in place. In doing so, we create a society of our own making that assumes we can wash away the stains of racism as if it were a load of laundry on a Saturday morning.
It will take much more than a Saturday morning wash (or a few federal laws) to wash away those stains. Some stains require soaking and racism is no different. I want to surround myself with others who create time, place, and space to soak those stains away rather than will them away.
It is impossible to discuss a color-blind culture when America hasn’t had a color-blind history. Can we be a nation that stops ignoring the elephant in the room and start dealing with it the only way we can? Yes, there are hundreds of years of layers to address. The elephant of our racist past is an imposing figure. But how do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite.
Anybody want to join me at the table? Let’s eat.It is impossible to discuss a color-blind culture when America hasn't had a color-blind history. Click To Tweet
- This story is adapted from Kelly Brown-Douglas’ book, Stand Your Ground; Black Bodies and the Justice of God. ↩
- Brown, Kelly Douglas. Stand Your Ground; Black Bodies and the Justice of God (Kindle Locations 4503-4504). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition. ↩
- George Yancey has a great treatment of colorblindness in his book, Beyond Racial Gridlock. He unpacks the different views of Black and White Christians and provides helpful categories for conversations on this topic. ↩