Homo Labelmaker

It’s okay to hate the white man. Mitch McConnell has become the icon of what “the white man” really is. Hatred can be just. Even the Good Book says, “I have hated them with a perfect hatred.” I am not a white man. A few months ago I took a community course on racism. The only male participant in the class, as it turned out. The teacher at one point, asked me my race. I answered that I don’t see myself as having a race, nor do I see other people as having races. We are people. I am not white. He is not black. Being “white” seems a choice to me, a mindset. To me, it is a marker of privilege. If you grew up in poverty, you’re only white if you choose to be. We must get beyond our simple labels.

Believe me, I know the counter-arguments. Our shameful history allows no one to forget. As someone “not of color”—who wants to be colorless?—I am automatically privileged. I’m treated differently by others simply because of the way I look. I don’t like that, because I believe in fairness. It’s part of evolution. The point is that since race is a human construct, we should be able to deconstruct it. Privilege thrives on feeling special, better than others. The white man is the GOP, even the female members of the party. The white man is one who gloats that checks and balances can be destroyed so that he always and forevermore will win. The white man is a slaveholder. I choose not to be a white man. I choose to join the entirety of humanity. Personhood over race.

Christianity, ironically, has been dragged into this distorted outlook. It is seen as the white man’s religion. Women, in this view, are explicitly subordinate. While the New Testament says little about race—one of the earliest converts was an Ethiopian eunuch—it was written and lived out in a Jewish milieu. White men like to select verses from the Good Book to take out of context to support their own wishes. It’s very convenient to have God on your side. If we decide to deconstruct this view we have to insist on refusing to be labeled. That’s not to condone the sins of racism past. The white man doesn’t believe in evolution because that makes race random rather than a deliberate act of God at the appropriately named tower of Babel. Besides, the thinking goes, any creature not human is here for exploitation. God, according to the Bible, is so colorless as to be spirit only. To be god-like is to reject labels, for spirit cannot be seen.

Dis-Connected

One of the more bemusing academic exercises is the analysis of the working class. Sometimes sociologists or scholars of religion take it upon themselves to present the view of the underprivileged. While they certainly seem to get some aspects right, in truth, they frequently don’t have a clue. Growing up in a working class household is the only way to have the authentic experience. I am one of a few, and I should I say I know many, many academics, who grew up in an authentic blue collar environment. When I read my fellow religionists discussing what it must be like to be underprivileged, I think, why don’t they just ask? Oh yeah. That’s right, I don’t have a teaching position. Why not? I have no connections. I have no connections because a kid who grew up in small town in a poor family doesn’t know to go to Harvard. I applied to transfer to Harvard from Boston University and was accepted. I decided not to go. A guy with connections would’ve known better.

Those of my colleagues with university or seminary posts tell me that the authentic blue collar academic is a hot commodity. In my blue collar frankness, I would equate that statement with what one might find behind the hindquarters of a male bovine. When a rare academic job opens up, the connections circuit begin to whir. Those of us who are unconnected (and I know I’m not the only one) will be passed up for one-year replacement positions as well as non-tenure track positions. They’ll gladly hire us as adjuncts—the blue collar workers of the academic world. I have been an inside candidate before. Although I knew entire departments I was not hired. I guess I don’t know the right people, dang-nabbit. (Imagine a thigh slap in there, in case you want to visualize your narrator.)

Blue collar workers are hard workers. As everyone, friend and foe, knew at Nashotah House, I worked hard. I obey the foreman. It’s a skill I learned before I finished middle school when I took my first blue collar job. Don’t bother telling me the excuses since I’ve heard them all before. We had to hire a (fill in the blank). So-and-so was already in our mind when we advertised the job. Once a seminary trustee complained to me that he had to get up at 4 a.m. to catch his flight. I get up at 4 every day, sometimes earlier. He was also well known for having an expensive, frivolous, and vain collection. He was the rector of a large and very influential parish. No worries; the poor you’ll always have with you, but be careful not to let them join the conversation. They might interfere with your connections.

Tell, don't ask.

Tell, don’t ask.