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Creating a Clear Vision for Our Liberation as We Eliminate Racism

This article is inspired by the People of the Global Majority Workshop 2014 led by the amazing Barbara Love, International Liberation Reference Person for People of African Heritage in RC.

Whenever I go to a workshop led by Barbara Love, I find myself wishing that all my friends and fellow RCers could be there with me. I often get inspired to take next steps in my RC leadership. At the recent People of the Global Majority Workshop mentioned above, Barbara encouraged each of us to create a clear vision for our liberation, and the liberation of our people. As I move forward to do just that, I want to share with you some of my thoughts.

I am born of mixed-heritage parents, each of African and Native American heritages. One of my grandfathers is of European and Native American heritage. Despite this biological diversity, many in my family have historically identified as Black and consequently so have I. This is because, in the mainstream of U.S. race culture, a person with a parent or even a grandparent of African heritage is often regarded as Black—that is, if not racially ambiguous. Any additional heritage is often rendered invisible, unacknowledged, or a part of a diaspora of “Blackness.”

The idea of separate races among humans is not supported by modern science, but it has resulted in the racism we all deeply want to eliminate. As a social construction, it saturates our lives and our world, including our languages. Though it can often appear to have been around1 since the beginning of time, it was actually created quite recently in the context of recorded human history. It is the consequence of a mistaken but historic ideology of European supremacy.

What many of us have understood to be the “White race” was actually constructed by a group of European aristocrats and scientists in order to make it easier for them to dominate other humans. They constructed a “Negro (Black) race” to make it easier for them to subordinate and ultimately enslave Africans. Overall, the construction of these races was intended to uphold the socio-economic class system these Europeans were accustomed to and to “justify” the enslavement, colonization, and genocide of others from whom they desperately sought to obtain land and other resources. After some time, this same socio-economic system would grow to hold in place an ideology of U.S. supremacy.

It’s certainly no surprise that the oppressions of racism have become both widespread and deep. As I process the how and the why of it and try to figure out forward movement toward my liberation and the liberation of others, here are a couple of questions I have been grappling with: (1) If the very ideas of “Black” and “White” are the result of white racism and based on the mistaken ideology of European supremacy, is it truly re-emergent for us to identify with them? (2) Despite our best intentions, are we in many ways reinforcing racism by continuing to identify racially, often confusing race with ethnicity? For example, “Black” and “White” are colors often used to indicate biologically based racial classifications, which are not supported by modern science. “Latin” and “Asian” make references to geographic locations and diverse sets of ethnic and cultural experiences. Still we often refer to them as racial classifications.

Many people of African heritage around the world currently identify as Black, and many do not. Some seem to use Black more as a descriptive classification, even though it was historically intended to assign value. When Jesse Jackson ran for U.S. president in the 1980s, he started calling those of us in the United States “African Americans.” He stated that we were not one particular color. This caught on,2 and for some time it was more politically correct to say “African American.” Interestingly, today many African-heritage young adults, as well as other USers of African heritage, are identifying as Black again. Could this, at least in part, be because our current U.S. president identifies that way, seeming to embrace it as a social construction? I wonder if he is politically and socially motivated to better align himself with “Black Americans.”

Through the years, we USers of African heritage have been creative and inventive in the most amazing ways. We’ve been so good at “making lemonade out of lemons,” both figuratively and literally. We’ve made delicious “soul food” out of our master’s scraps, and the list of course goes on to far greater things that have profoundly impacted the entire world. “Soul food” has served the wonderful function of bringing people together, along with providing nourishment and energy for work to be done. It also has fed our souls by being so delicious. That being said, I think it is important for us to remember that it was still once the master’s scraps. Eating that same way today, on a regular basis, will clog our arteries and contribute to diabetes and heart disease. It could literally kill us. In fact it has killed many of us. This is, at least in part, because the majority of us no longer work on plantations where our bodies could make better use of such a diet. Today, thanks to those who fought and died for the civil rights and liberation of our people, we now live under different conditions and have access to a broader and more global perspective on who we are.

We know that many of our African ancestors were taken from Africa to become enslaved Negros and later Black Americans in the New World (the Americas). We also know that many Europeans left Europe to become White Americans in the New World. I recently saw a counseling session in which a native European counselor said to his client, “Good-bye, my sister. I will miss you!” The client got to imagine she was leaving Europe for the New World, perhaps never to return. She discharged what seemed like the deep pain of leaving her people behind and consequently leaving a big part of herself behind too.

I just wonder, as we dare to visualize a world without racism, what we Co-Counselors of African and European heritage would get to discharge if we claimed our African heritage more than our “Blackness” and our European heritage more than our “Whiteness.” Would this deepened sense of connection to our European and African ancestors connect us more to ourselves and consequently more to each other? I imagine we would need to look at the European enslavement of Africans in a bigger way. I also think we would need to look closely at the events that led up to the enslavement, as well as to genocide and colonization.

Here’s a snapshot: Toward the end (the 1300s to 1400s) of Europe’s Dark Ages, Europeans were continuously at war for a hundred years, fighting each other for dominance, land, and other resources. Just outside of every village was what was called a “hanging tree,” where people were hanged to death for the smallest of crimes, like stealing a rabbit or a loaf of bread. Even after death, their bodies were left hanging on the tree to serve as an example and a reminder of the terror that could come to anyone at any time. At this point in the story that Barbara told at the workshop, I heard the sighs of other Co-Counselors and couldn’t help being reminded of the historic regular lynchings of African-heritage people in the southeast United States. Barbara reminded us that in RC we have the clear understanding that when we get hurt and don’t have an opportunity to heal, we pass the hurt on.

Moving forward in loving connection with each other, I think it will be important for each of us (people of the global majority and allies alike) to get as clear a picture as we can of our people, extending back before the rather recently formed race cultures in which many of us currently live. Who were our people and what happened to them? We all need to heal from the effects of what got passed on to our people, so we don’t continue to pass it on to others. With all of our diversity and all of our sameness, in the end it is, as Barbara has said, “about liberation. It’s about having lives that support us to be fully and completely human.”

Gregory Lipscomb
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

1 “Around” means in existence.
2 “Caught on” means became popular.

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00