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I’ve been paying a lot of attention to the twittersphere since the Zimmerman verdict on Saturday. In the process I started following one of my favorite–now only occasional–NPR voices, Michele Norris. Norris left All Things Considered, which she used to cohost, to write a book, and started something in 2010 called The Race Card Project.
The Race Card Project. I love that name. Have you ever noticed how quick white folks are to play the “play the race card” card?
Yesterday at lunch I was skimming through the site and felt prompted to write my own six-word essay. I encourage you to take a shot at it yourself. It’s a helpful process. Mine–which
hasn’t shown up yet just showed up at the site–follows.
Here’s the link: We don’t want your “White” America.
We don’t want your “White” America.
By all appearances, I’m “white” and I was raised in white middle class America. My biological father was Hispanic (my relatives on that side are mostly pale, like me). My dad, the man who helped raise me, is part Native American. My wife’s son–now my son–is black, technically mixed race. And there’s a hodgepodge of miscellaneous race and ethnicity throughout my family tree.
Perusing this [The Race Card Project] site, I couldn’t help noticing an excess of comments by a few folks claiming to defend our “national identity,” [our white European identity]–defending it from the likes of me and my family.
1) By any sane reckoning, this country was long inhabited by brown-skinned natives before being invaded and colonized by fair-skinned Europeans.This was never a “white” country, except by the most despicable usurpation.
2) Skin color, while it may be a beautiful feature, is an arbitrary means of discriminating among peoples. I’m willing to wager that you could discern neither my character, intellect nor even my heritage by the color of my skin.
3) Despite its checkered past and frequent and flagrant hypocrisy, this nation, as it has existed for the last 200+ years (see #1), was founded on principles of opportunity, equality, diversity and freedom–freedom from, among other things, bigotry and oppression.
4) And we have grown in our understanding and embrace of those principles, grown to recognize and institutionalize constitutionally the rights of women and of blacks. This country is no longer, thank God, a white European good ol’ boys club. We have farther to go, but the progress that we’ve made–not some calcified snapshot of a particular point in the past–is who we are. As much, indeed, as we are in part who we were, we are far more what we are becoming.
5) Our culture is a sometimes chaotic commingling, sometimes harmonic union of a multitude of voices. Our language is notoriously and gloriously bastardized–stolen, borrowed, hopelessly corrupted, inventively conjugated–from every language on the planet.
Diversity is inherent in our national identity. More, it is what makes us great.
A monotone is unmelodic. Monoculture is weak and vulnerable. A palette of only one color–or even a few shades of the same color–offers little opportunity for expression.
This is not your “White” America.
This country has never been and–as long as I can help it–will never be your “White” America. It angers and disgusts me, but, more than that, it saddens me that anyone would want such a boring, insular, inbred construct of sameness. If that’s what you want, go make it somewhere else. If that’s what you want here, you’ve declared war on the nation you claim to be defending and I for one would be happy to see you treated accordingly.
“The views and opinions . . .”
The primary motivation for most disclaimers we encounter is to cover the asses of corporate America and to hedge those asses against litigation (ha: a “hedge of protection,” indeed [inside joke for Evangelicals]). What they should really say is “we, the reigning plutocracy, are, in our great magnanimity, allowing the artist to speak, which we’d really rather not, but, well, just so long as you know not to blame his lunatic rantings on us.”
I don’t claim enough power for corporate America to worry about me (at least not yet). And, frankly, were I that powerful, I’d be ever so happy for the fiery darts to lodge precisely in the aforementioned, ample, posterior targets. I should might not have said that, but there I did. Sigh. There goes the publishing contract.
What I do claim is that people love me–and far more than I deserve. Indeed, that’s one of the things that most amazes me about life: that mine, in particular, has been–and is–full of all sorts of inexplicable love. And, no, it’s not because “I’m good enough” or “smart enough”; it’s just, as far as I can tell, because of grace. By virtue of some great cosmic Luck, I’m surrounded by loving people. And, lest there be any doubt, the credit for their loving me definitely goes to them and not to me.
That’s why I want to take the blame–for this blog, I mean. I’m as willing to make excuses as the next guy. The truth is, in what few words I’ve so far shared in this place, I already have more than once. I sometimes think of myself as erstwhile lord of the pathetic serfdom of prefaces, explanations and cautious contextualizers. The “erstwhile” is hopeful; you will, alas, probably see more. But when I make excuses, I want never to shift blame to those gracious souls whose admonitions–if only I’d have heeded them–and whose affection–if only I’d have fully accepted it–would have delivered me from a path that ends up with excuses.
Certainly, if you read anything profound in these pages, you can attribute it to the influence of, to name just a few (and I’m quite mindful this isn’t exhaustive in any sense), my departed beloved or my parents or my kid or or my siblings or the folks I fellowship with or, truly, the beautiful Spirit of Christ Himself (and God knows I will surely plagiarize badly from all of the above and from many others). But when I offend you, blame it on me. It’s probably my fault (or yours–but let’s not press that point quite yet); it’s almost certainly not theirs.
My being an offensive ass is, in fact, further testament to the character of those people who love me, and I hope you’ll understand it that way. For instance, instead of saying “Those Christians are all idiots (or pathological or pathetic or hypocritical or, ahem, verbose). Why would I want anything to do with Christ?” you ought rather to say “It’s true, then, that the love of Christ knows no bounds; how else could He put up with such an annoying, insipid buffoon? If He puts up with that, he can surely put up with me.” I venture to say you’d do well to adopt that perspective whenever Christians speak–probably especially the ones who claim to speak on Christ’s behalf. But we’ll discuss that in greater depth in the days ahead. For now, please, as best you can, don’t blame my being an idiot or obnoxious on Jesus or on anyone but me. I assure you, I’d be worse without them. And I’d like, despite myself, somehow to honor them.
So, this is mine. I claim it–not so much with pride, but with a sheepish apology and in the hope that you won’t blame it on anyone who rather deserves your respect. I guess, then, you should call this prefatory excuse not a disclaimer but a, uh, “claimer.” (Yep. See? That “claimer” thingy–that’s all me. Unless you like it. In which case, I almost certainly stole it and, what’s worse, I’ve forgotten from whom.)