Last summer, I announced that I was no longer white. Or I should say, “white,” since one of the impetuses for the rejection of my culturally assigned category is that I discovered that race, at least as a scientifically measurable and valid concept, isn’t real.
I figured, since a few influential people in prior centuries made up “race” and its categories (which have ranged anywhere from three to over thirty classifications through the years), then assigned those categories rather arbitrarily to certain groups of people, beginning with whom they deemed most valuable (themselves) and least valuable (those they wanted to enslave or exploit), then I could decide to reject my assignment. After all, God didn’t invent race; humans did.
This has been such a fascinating, strange journey that I decided to write a book about it. If you’d like to be kept in the loop when it publishes later this year, or be on my “launch team” to help promote it, you can sign up here. In return, I’ll send you a sample chapter and a free copy as long as you promise to read it and share your honest opinions about it to your friends.
Don’t get me wrong, this journey hasn’t been knee-jerk in any way, and it’s not meant to say that we don’t clearly observe various physical traits among us: a kaleidoscope of skin tones (although none that I can find that are literally red, yellow, black or white); differing hair textures; perhaps patterns of eye, nose or face shape. And yes, after several centuries of layering on assumptions based on a moving target of physical characteristics, and shared experiences among those who have been targeted for extreme privilege or extreme persecution based on those traits, there are major cultural markers that have taken shape and often ride along with what we consider racial classifications.
I’m not denying any of those realities. No, what I’m rejecting based on my own personal research is that a) any of those traits can neatly fit into anything resembling clear categories of “race” as we’ve been asked to check off on a census form, and, most importantly, b) any of what we’ve been told to believe about racial categories or traits has much positive utility in how I understand myself or how I relate to others. I can get farther in relating to people if I simply look at them as individuals, or when understanding their community context is required, ethnicity and culture.
In fact, I found the opposite: race has set up a countless set of conscious and subconscious barriers to living a fully human life. So, I gave it up.
Needless to say, my decision to give up my assigned race, and race altogether, can be considered controversial to some, and just plain weird to most. I get it. I often felt strange even studying the possibility, and I still feel odd entering a society each day where race is a primary marker of identity. And some I’ve interviewed along the way have indicated they have learned to value their assigned race, many because they had to fight so hard to prove its worth and it feels like a dishonor to those who battled for equality within the racial structures that were handed down. I certainly don’t begrudge anyone’s right to understand their identity the way they find most valuable.
However, so far I’ve found that living as a race-free individual has more upside than downside, and it’s a daily proactive choice that I’ve decided to keep making. I thought I would share with you a few of the benefits I’ve experienced so far:
- Us vs. Other: So much of my prior life has felt like peering through invisible shields. Who is in my religious, racial or economic tribe who I’m “supposed” to seek out? Why is this social issue an issue for “them” and not “us”? Now I feel a more common bond with any human I happen upon, with less opting out of engagement because a voice inside my heads tells me, “They’re different.”
- Active vs. Passive: Honestly, as a people watcher and thinker more than a do-er, I found myself being very passive even when the moment called for action. Too often I cheered others who spoke out or hit the streets to right a wrong instead of feeling like, “Oh, I think I was supposed to be out there, too.” As an introvert, I’m still not a shouter or a big sign maker, but I am a far more active letter writer, confronter (hopefully always in a hopeful, helpful way), and a changer. My 2018 New Year’s goal is to pick a policy issue, stand with others, and hammer at it.
- A More Stimulating, Relevant Faith: Honestly, I’m really weary of worshiping in a church that doesn’t reflect the breadth of God’s kingdom. No offense to my Euro-origined Evangelical peers, but homogeneity is boring. Staying satisfied with the lack of diversity and unity in the church doesn’t challenge my faith, and it doesn’t draw people to Jesus. I’m praying for and seeking out a truly diverse body of Jesus followers. That might mean I have to start one, I’m not sure. I’m also way beyond weary of watching the world around me burn with racism and economic disparities while we don’t even acknowledge it when we gather. A diverse church family makes it far more difficult for me to keep my head in the sand when the person next to me is suffering.
- A Broader Pool of Potential Relationships: I suppose my marriage to Soni at the end of last year, who is Indian by birth and grew up in Valencia, Spain, is Exhibit A of this benefit. I didn’t seek out anyone of any specific culture or skin tone to date, but knocking down any assumptions about who God might have out there for me led me to meet and marry a woman whose faith, character, kindness and beauty are way out of my league. Her perspectives are also often quite different from mine, which makes our relationship richer. Next up: friendships. My friends have tended to be curated from two primary sources: church and work, two of the least diverse environments in our society for most people. To open the door to more friendships that could be as gratifying as my new marriage, I’ll need to resist the easy path of hanging out primarily with those who our society bunches together in race-based clusters.
The biggest downside, obviously, is that the society around me still very much treats me with the assigned privileges they think go along with the race they perceive me to be. I can’t change that, but I can work subversively to topple those assumptions along with others. Leaving behind “whiteness,” I believe, puts me in a better position to do that.
As I write this on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day 2018, I remember how often in the past I would feel self-conscious about posting a picture of MLK on Facebook to honor him, a man who has been my personal hero since college days. I would think to myself, “Why aren’t more ‘white’ folks doing the same? Why am I one of the very few folks in my Facebook stream or church to even mention the holiday?” Now, with a completely new orientation and race-less lens to look through, I see so many people who share the values of equality, justice and peace. I’m not counting how many are white vs. black; I’m just joyful to be among those who are elevating these values.
I belong, in a completely new way.