Race-work, Race-love

Down With The King: A Personal Conflict Between Race and Religion

In Uncategorized on October 19, 2010 at 11:06 am

I was raised a Catholic Ecuadorian girl. When I entered a Jewish sponsored university, I wore my scapularies or escapularios that either had a cross or a picture of a saint. These were relics of a religious past that my mother gave me as a form of spiritual protection while I was away from home. In her absence, she saw these symbols as important and functional while I was far from home and away from her supervision.

But once I arrived to campus, I saw how unwelcoming some people on campus were about anything Catholic. My favorite story is the time when my friends and I attended a barbecue our freshmen year. We split up to get food — I was asked to get the hot dogs for the group. Once I finally arrived to the beginning of the line, the young man serving food very specifically avoided me. At first I thought my minds were playing tricks on me. Did he not see me at the front of the line? Maybe I didn’t make myself heard. “Excuse me – can I have some hot dogs?” I asked louder. When my friend Beth saw what was happening, she pulled me out of the line and said “Let’s go.” As I turn to leave, I hear him say to his friend, “What is this, Jews for Jesus?” For some reason, I looked down and see my little wooden cross on a string around my neck and realized I was a Catholic girl on a kosher line. And before anyone asks, no there was no sign. I was the only one with a sign around my neck.

At this realization, I turned around and I yelled, “No you fool, this is food for people!” Being a first year student on a predominantly Jewish campus, I had no idea what kosher was, the limited quantities kosher food is made, and why I couldn’t participate in the kosher food experience. All I wanted was to be informed properly. But I wasn’t. And today I write about it.

Over time, I stopped wearing my cross. I found that in the classroom, religion was not very accepted either. Unless you were in a class that specifically focused on religion, the topic of religion was regarded as totally subjective and without rationale. I met Marxists who felt that religion was “the opiate of the masses”, atheists who could not even fathom the thought of a God, and people (like me) who were grappling with the concept of a god or multiple gods — particularly those of us who were raised in intense religious environments.

I began to separate my ideas between God and religion. I learned about the history of the Christian/Catholic church toward my people. I read in the Bible about the ways women and Black people were subjugated. And my academic self separated from my personal beliefs. How could I, as a woman of color, participate in this organization that has done such damage to so many people?

Growing older, your experiences become deeper, more tragic, occurring more often. One event after another, and no healing, and at a moment of loss, heartbreak, or life shattering moment, you break, you lose, you feel shattered. And when you are stripped to this level, the teachings come back. Things you learned as a child – the Passion of Christ, the voice of God, whatever you call it, whatever I learned came back. And you feel the need to go back home.

I think about the back breaking work my parents and grandparents have made to ensure that my sisters and me were born and raised in the US and not a farm in Ecuador. They invoke the healing words of what they have learned on their spiritual journeys. I learn from African Americans whose family legacies often include the experience of slavery: their spiritual teachings passed along generation after generation replete with inspiration and triumph. I am reminded of the film “Stand” by Tavis Smiley. In it, Dick Gregory reminds us of the role the church played in the lives of African American people during a time of legal segregation, where the Black church was the only place they heard good news about Black neighbors. How can I ignore this history?

But my brain wrestles with the fact that there are so many people still excluded from the church – gay people in particular. I cannot understand the role that the church played in stripping away the languages and religions of indigenous people in the Americas. I cannot understand the abuse inflicted to so many children who continue to suffer today. How can I ignore this history?

And I am asked how can someone who knows all this, still attend a Catholic church?

And I tell them quite simply, because it is where I learned about God. And God is the voice I hear when I am in trouble. And I don’t have to accept the damage people have done over time in God’s name to invoke some psuedo-power. I may be down with the King, but I am certainly not down with some self appointed chiefs in our kingdom. I fight those people – I question their interpretation, their understanding, their ignorance. Maybe, if they can be soldiers, I can be a soldier in this kingdom too. I can struggle for more Truth, more recognition of a sordid past, more race-work to heal those old wounds. And I also don’t have to believe that God is a King — because if I am made in God’s likeness, well then — Queen might be better suited…I digress..

Today, I understand that there is a force bigger than us, whatever you want to call that force. I believe that to consider human beings as supreme beings is to be quite arrogant – when we can learn from all things around us that are not human…I learned that I am willing to learn more about your teachings as long as you can respect what I believe – and let me know when I am on a kosher line, especially if I am wearing a cross around my neck.

So why do I believe in God? Why not?

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