I’ve been sitting with a burden for quite some time, and now I’m very tired of it.
Some time ago, I received two documents. One was a very colorful meter, and the other was an explanation of said meter. Developed by a professor at Northwestern University , The 8 White Identities might be one of the most heinous things I have ever seen passed off as educational curriculum. It breaks up the entire population of White America into subcategories in an effort to teach them about how much work they need to do to be better people to people of color.
I will never knock freedom of speech. However, I really do wish there were such things as crimes of manners because I cannot think of anything more rude to do to any group of people, especially when the same approach has been used against the race that this curriculum is supposed to be helping
Let me explain: being from Alabama and having a dialect that sounded more like Caucasian people than a Black person, I learned that this particular characteristic made it easy for Caucasian people to say certain things to me that they would not dare say to another black person. The best example for the purposes of this post would be the multiple times that a Caucasian person, in relaxed conversation, has shared with me their view of how black people should be categorized. In many of these shares, I was told that we should be seen in certain groups as follows: decent Blacks, smart Blacks, uppity Blacks, cool Blacks (“you know, like you, Adi!”), a few other levels that I can’t quite recall, and of course, niggers.
I can’t really say which part shocked me the most; the statements or the confidence with which the statements were made. Somehow, it was assumed that because I sounded more like them and had a love for the same kinds of music and such, I would agree and validate this misguided way of thinking about other human beings. In some cases, I gave rebuttals in attempts to educate, and in others, I simply remained silent. The temperature of the room matters, right?
Now, that I’ve seen this same mindset being taught in the opposite direction from a college level, I admit to having been absolutely livid when I first saw it. Now, I’m mostly heartbroken because I remember how I felt when told how deplorably I should see my own race. It makes NO sense at all that the same narrative many believe to be the fuel behind this nation’s racial disparities is being used to dominate the race originally blamed for perpetuating it. It is a snake willfully eating its own tail, and there is something deeply wrong with a snake that will do such a thing to itself. A body is not whole (or sane) if it is willing to do irreparable damage to half of itself in order to make the other half feel better.
If we are so blind that we can honestly claim to not already know the kind of national trauma such a narrative as The 8 White Identities is creating, we are in way more trouble than we think. We’ve already seen it, and now we’re behaving as if we truly believe it will, somehow, produce positive results this time around. It doesn’t matter who wrote it, how educated they are, or the motive behind it. It was wrong when so confidently used to treat me like some 8th world wonder, and it is presently wrong to so confidently make people feel like they owe some penalty for simply having been born with paler skin than others. Literally, no one likes to be considered as no more than a list of cold definitions on a sheet of paper, but we just keep on doing it…with the same results.
The only two categories any human being really fits in are either loved or hated. There are no grey areas in this. We either love a person or we hate them. Is it a loving thing to prefer ridiculing a person for what they may not know? Is it a loving thing to teach one group of people to harshly judge another? Is it a loving thing to teach a group of people to hate itself…that they should be sorry for being born since they don’t understand what it is to be another race or nationality…or to consider themselves unworthy because the people they’re supposed to look up to tell them so?
If I have no reason to apologize for being black (and I don’t), it would make no sense to make a white person regret the color of their skin either. So, why have we allowed this meter to appear useful at all when if such a thing were to be created by a white professor regarding 8 Black identities, that professor would be fired and sued to homelessness within a week’s time…and we all know it? Just why?!
And what does this teach us Black people? Are we supposed to see things like this and think, “Finally! An educated approach to our racial crisis. We’re gonna be free at last!”? According to The Racial Healing Handbook, we are to be excused for speaking rudely, ridiculing, or even flat-out abusing white people since we’ve been so oppressed by them for so long. So, maybe we are supposed to be glad this meter exists so that we can decide who is good enough for our kindness, or compassion, and our love. Apparently, they have to earn it in a way that we shouldn’t have to.
How about “NO”! How about we start taking responsibility for our part in this racial mess? For starters, we can start speaking to ourselves differently. We are not slower in the mind than white people. We are not lazier than white people. We are not gonna be just like our lowdown mommas or daddies. We are not destined to forever be a race of hoodrats, government leeches, or alternative school wall flies. I know that’s what we have been taught (a lot of us by our own stressed out, overworked, depressed, anxious, and single parents), but we need to learn how to speak a different language that can be understood by everyone; a language of renewal of our minds and spirits…a language of victory over the oppression we no longer need to carry.
I’m pretty sure it seems like I’m asking black people to just take the high road…yet again…, but recognizing our value and taking responsibility for the legacies we leave have nothing to do with high or low roads. I’m not asking us to put ourselves last or to allow others to lord themselves over us. I’m also not asking anyone to lower standards so that we don’t have to exert ourselves to reach them. I’m asking us to rise to meet and/or exceed them. No matter what we feel has been taken or withheld from us, we need to own up to the fact that some things taken or withheld were either willfully given away or outright refused.
We all have the same rights. We all have the ability to organize and exercise our rights. I get it, I promise! You could fill a novel-sized stack of paper with the number of times you’ve been told how hard ‘the man’ will try to keep you down, but the idea that ‘the man’ has any real power to keep anyone down has always been a lie.
From the time of emancipation, we have had the ability to stand up, grow up, and live up to the legacies our forefathers tried to leave us. Yes, more white people had the money (and the power that too often comes with it), but how did we get to the place where we are now allowing that money and power to be so important that we would give up our minds, souls, and votes in exchange for what other people think we should just shut up and be satisfied with? Who told us to do that?
My grandmother and aunt – my parents – never once told me I would be just like my mentally ill mother or my absent father. They never stood in my way of trying anything that wouldn’t hurt me or anyone else. They let me try. Some of my teachers told me I would never amount to anything, and that hurt me and stole my hope sometimes, but my parents were proud of every little creative, athletic, or goofy thing I ever did. They taught me about the love of Jesus and how to use it to love myself and other people. They constantly spoke life into me even through my worst moments. They were present even when they didn’t understand.
They spoke to me in the language of love, grace, unity, and victory – with all of God’s precious creations (people). Nothing about color, gender, politics, religion, or lifestyle ever entered into it. Even if the subjects came up, they always seemed to end with my parents telling me that that person – whoever they were – was made by God and deserved to be loved as much as God loves me. And oh, how He loves me…and you!
I am so sorry if you have been spoken to in the language of brokenness, hurt, anger, and glorified struggles. That is not how God intended for any of us to be treated or spoken to. Your worth is not measured by human definitions of worthiness, but by the Creator of the heavens and the earth who makes nothing and no one without a purpose. Your worth was measured by love before you were ever born.
If you have grown up never understanding any (or some) of this, it will take quite a bit of time to unwrap the current state of your mind to make room for a new and deeper understanding of your place on this earth…in our nation…in your neighborhood…in your home. All I’m asking is that you seek the answers for yourself.
Words have power. How we see ourselves at the heart of us is always going to matter more than the color of our skin. Being black (or white, or Mexican, or Indian, or whatever) isn’t going to get you a good job, get you a good education, find you a good spouse, help you raise happy and productive children, or get you into heaven. It will be the Spirit of love, the Spirit of power, and a sound mind that will help you reach the goals you’ve been taught don’t belong to you…the things you’ve been taught to be jealous of and hate others for because you don’t yet have it. The love of God, of yourself, and of others is something no one can take away from you as there are no laws against it. Neither are there laws against the power of thought, emotion, or creative industry (use what you love to love the world). Use the brain and heart you were given to change the world’s mind about you. Use them to change your mind about yourself. Use them to change your mind about others.
You are…They are…We are…ALL so much more than a meter developed by any professor in any university. We have got to stop blaming people for things we are equally responsible for changing, and that will all start with how we choose to see ourselves, how we perceive others who are not like us, and how we represent both.
I’ll let you in on a little secret: Everyone is more like you than they are different. We all have the capacity to hate, and we all have the capacity for love. I’ll let you determine how much of which you can hold, which one will free you, and which one will destroy you faster than any person’s opinion of you ever could.
Love is hard, but love will always be worth it.