Friday, April 4, 2014

The call to queer race or Queering identity, and liberating the soul or why in the hell should race be the most intimate identity in the United States



Why should race be the most intimate of identities to the human condition in all facets and matters of life in the United States?  At some point the human condition must move beyond this juvenile engagement of life.                                                               

I am an intellectual, an academic and a mystic at heart.  I engage social justice issues regarding race, gender and sexuality from that reference point.  That said, the context presented in the opening statement and throughout this post in regard to queering race seeks to present a most intimate encounter of the republic.  I must say that in my experience, both at the personal and institutional level, race is the most intimate affair of humanity in the North American U.S. context.  Seemingly, all things great and small begin and end with race.  I humbly ask the reader, "Is this my imagination?"  Now, I am compelled by the memories of Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, and the transgender and queer communities, of which I am apart, to engage this master deception of race.  I am also compelled because of the shifting demographics which require, no, demand that race be less of a factor in American life.  To contribute my thoughts and reflections to this transformative, even liberating discourse.  My experience of “truth”, “authenticity”, “hope” and their credibility in regard to race is that they can be very emotional and tense, inflicting physical as well as spiritual violence upon the mind, soul, and body, they can get really, really messy.  As such my goal is to frame these particular contexts in terms of healing, sustainability and a longed for embrace of the intimate sacred. 

Literary text:  James Baldwin

One of my favorite authors, James Baldwin writes, in On being White and other lies: The White World and Whiter America writes eloquently of racial credibility in America.  He writes of the many communities in the United States and how these communities, through a process of racialization become white, like it or not.  People formerly Irish, French, Jewish, Swiss, who, when they enter the United States, historically through Ellis Island in New York City, become white[1], these identities then given access to economic empowerment and realization, in essence, I suggest here that they become the imperial identity with all the rights and privileges not afforded to those of a lesser hue.

Primary and Secondary Biblical Texts:  Genesis 1:26-27, Galatians 3:28, 2 Timothy 2:15
On queering Sacred Text:  For a moment I would like to focus on the sacred text.  Queer rips off the deception of white supremacy as it seeks to uncover the realness of a diverse humanity and not some representation of empire.  Queer, whether a question of being or doing empowers a critical lens that should be applied to the sacred text as it cannot and should not be separated from the people and their agency, i.e., institutions of political, social, cultural or economic power in which it was written.  Human interactions and associated agenda’s have a huge say in what goes in and how interpretations arise.  One might ask, “Where then is God in all of this?”  Well, I suggest that God is looking and watching and is intimately engaged and does partner with each of us yet will not violate our human agency except on occasion, culturally and historically known as miracles.  That said, there are no qualifiers regarding “made in God’s image.”  Whatever qualifiers there may be are related to power, position, voice, fear, responsibility; policies of colonization, but God has no particular qualifiers beyond a divine spark of imagination. 

In Genesis 1:26-27 there is no mention of qualifications except that the human is created, gifted and given a name.  In Galatians 3:28, God’s image is taken further by the Apostle Paul to say constructs of identity fall in the presence of God.  So, then the only qualifiers put upon “God’s Image” are pretty much a matter of deception for the sake of some type of survival usually experienced as human empirical control.  Into the mix of this deception, the one who finds themselves in this unfortunate situation, that, for some actually seems concrete and normative, understanding life as inherently unequal, and accepting that “this is just the way it is”, 2 Timothy 2:15 provides solace as this text provides some relief if received from a point of non-qualification.  This text is critical as we queer the construct of race.  

The text reads, “Study to show thyself approved before God a worker that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”  Now while this text, at least in my experience, has been traditionally interpreted for some as an external call to study the bible, I suggest that it should be interpreted as a more intimate internal calling of God.  What I mean is that you and I are the book; you and I are the incarnation as well as cosmological presence and authenticity of God and this has no qualifier.  In this sense race becomes the ultimate deception leading to a culture of exploitation, and self hatred.  And this is what maintains white supremacy.

Race, similar to the constructs of gender and sexuality are tools of white supremacy, a legacy of the plantation culture of the southern slaveocracy.  This has become the ground of race, gender and sexuality and their many institutions in the American context.  And this is the context in which the biblical sacred text is immersed.  Queering race, queering consciousness then is subversive in that it challenges the very deception of white supremacy and a sacred text which has been sequestered and even perverted.  It seeks to impart a different consciousness of human existence as it addresses the very real inequities of the American construction of race. 

What does it mean to queer race?
I.                 Queer is living beyond the constructions and norms determined and authorized as true by the Church, culture and/or society and supported by interpretations of sacred text as a matter of colonization framed in terms of survival.  Queer then is living out loud a particular divinity.  Queer necessarily challenges the accepted common vernacular narrative in place.  In some sense queer is a matter of doing and being what sustains you and not those interlocking oppressions which are the ground and support of white supremacy.  The one who lives queerly recognizes that race, like gender and sexuality is a construct, challenging indeed.  

Queer engages those questions which address, “how do I live authentically and awake “and” survive within those interlocking oppressions agreed upon and determined by American society as structures of and for survival. 

As one who seeks to live queerly, this is a matter of critical faith. Queer means not living or embracing the deception that, for some, means survival.  It is what Martin Luther King, Jr. terms cruciform living.   Queer, for me as one professes Jesus of Nazareth is grounded in cruciform living, which is shaped by the cross and not necessarily by even the institution of the church. 

Bodily mixing and matching or going where no one has gone before

I find a fair number of people embracing more than one race.  They proudly define themselves for themselves and not as the “systems of racialization” dictate.  They move in the world of hybridity becoming a new gospel for the world to experience.  They realize that race is a construct as they bend and blend this construct as they see fit in accordance with their authenticity, and their survival.

II.                The call to queer race

a.       There are significant issues that need to be addressed that are obscured by race.   Reflecting on the words of  preeminent scholar and activist Dr. Cornel West, daily I experience a catastrophe visited upon humanity which is never addressed as race becomes a means to separate people, who, although have a different color of skin, actually suffer from similar issues.  Poverty, crime, homelessness, unemployment, etc.  I remember when I went on an immersion in Appalachia where I met people and systems which had similar experiences to South Central Los Angeles.  Race is the ultimate distraction!!!  Race consumes our humanity for the sake of power and profit which denotes further a plantation culture.

b.      To authentically engage those interlocking oppressions which impact each one of us.  The interlocking oppressions seek to maintain the power of the wealthy, the well to do, and the 1%.  Engaging oppression must be an “all in” strategy.  No one can be left out.  As such race, gender or sexuality cannot be privileged.  You may ask, “why?”  Simply put the privileging of one identity over the other negates the very intimate work so needed to liberate humanity from the vestiges of white supremacy.

c.       If we are going to live into this liberation a new consciousness must emerge which frames humanity in terms of a different ground of legitimacy.  We must transition notions of legitimacy from white supremacy and its various regimes to one that is life giving and sustainable.  What I mean is that my legitimacy is intimately engaged with sustainability.  Who I am then comes down to a matter of sustainability and this at a personal spiritual level. 

d.     Creation of a common ground begins as we no longer look to white supremacy for the words, cues, concepts and ideas of a common ground based in and on social-cultural and economic disparity rooted in a plantation culture but on a radical non appropriated love.  This non appropriated love calls for a critical lens that really looks at love and the agenda’s that emerge from love.  Is it the type of love displayed by Jesus on the Cross, a love that regards the Simone Weil’s needs of the soul or is it a Madison avenue or k street kind of love with it various agenda’s.  

e.       The construct of race is unique to the U.S. North American context.  It is a means to promote certain modes of privilege and consumption as well as economic and political discourse.  It imparts a false sense of importance becoming abusive to the soul.  In his book, Dog Whistle Politics:  How Coded Racial Appeals Have Reinvented Racism and Wrecked the Middle Class, published by Oxford University Press, Ian Haney Lopez, The John H. Boalt Professor of Law at UC Berkeley writes of a Republican Party that seeks to reconstruct race through expanding the definition of white. Their strategy, because of the increase in the population of black folks and folks of color, they are actually using a strategy to embrace certain Hispanic, Asian and other groups as white.  What this means is that for the Republican Party and more conservative groups such as the Tea Party and their allies and agents America must always be a “white” project designed and produced for the consumption of whiteness.  It is about controlling and maintaining power.  In other words white supremacy must always define what it means to be American.  For these groups then shifting demographics is a crisis of immense proportions creating notions of global war terrorism.  Whiteness actually inhabits a state of terrorism.  Now while this strategy has not been embraced by more conscious democratic justice oriented peoples this is the narrative put forward by those elements who value racist political and economic realities and power.

f.       Queering race is queering consciousness and in this sense it is about creating new space, to shift the thought processes from one of white supremacy to a different more “diverse” thought process.  Shifting demographics is an opportunity to create new spaces of thinking, to transform the structure of thought from what bell hooks calls a plantation culture to one that actually reflects a country and an economic system of the 21st century.

g.      Holding space.  I recently mentioned this to a friend who told me that there are groups like the Buddhist who are holding the space as demographics shift.  I suggest here that this that must be an interfaith project welcoming all in this space of healing.

III.             A question of obligation, who or what are we obligated to?

a.  For the sake of liberation, freedom and the evolution of mankind we have an obligation to queer race.  When you know the truth there is an obligation to live the truth.  Without this obligation the questions of life go unanswered, as the deception, like pacman, eats away at your humanity.   Simone Weil, French philosopher, mystic and activist has a lot to say about this matter.  She writes, in her book, The Need for Roots, of obligations to mankind and in this sense to the soul and the criticality of that obligation. 

b.  Considerations of persons and institutions.  Rising suicide rates, unemployment, various forms of abuse are signs that race and its associated constructs are unsustainable and as such become systems of abuses.  Within this discourse we must question what French philosopher, mystic and activist Simone Weil entitled “needs of the soul”

c.  Obligation becomes a matter of history as we remember the ancestors.  Remembering those who have gone before and made the way in which we journey.  

d.  An obligation to contribute to a discourse which seeks to decenter and delink race regarding the various systems of identity that characterize life in the U.S. 

And obligation becomes the ultimate reason to queer race.  An obligation to the spirit, soul and body of God's humanity and to the quest for a better life for all people in the United States of America.  I guess for me, in the final analysis, it does come down to an obligation to my relationship with God.

[1] James Baldwin.  On Being White and Other Lies:  The White World and Whiter America.  (New York, NY:  Orbis Books, 1987) pp 177-178.