Race-work, Race-love

Archive for January, 2011|Monthly archive page

Learning from Race and Love: On Taking Race and Love Seriously

In Uncategorized on January 6, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Race and love. Two big themes in my life. Race kept me hungry for learning more. Love just confused me. Race can be studied, researched, discussed, but love — you only saw love in movies. Race always seemed so near — everywhere I looked there was an instance, a moment of inspiration, a curious question why. Love seemed elusive, confusing, never really at reach.

Race workers use these two themes to inspire, activate, and challenge those around them. Race workers understand that race and love make each other whole. How do we bring them together? How do we as a society become racially whole, complete?

I am imagining that love is at its purest when there is authenticity and integrity. “You don’t just say I love you, you live I love you” — as my friend Maggie writes. And this always strikes me when I read it. How do we live I love you? In saying “I love you” there is the hope that the meaning is authentic. In living it – that is where integrity comes in.

I try to use these lessons in my understandings of race. To be racially conscious is to be racially authentic. It means never having to say I don’t see color (when I know you do). It means not ignoring a person’s feelings by making a racist joke and then say “You know what I mean”. Racial integrity cannot just be full of intentions. Intentions are inventions of the mind. Integrity is actualization of those inventions.

Race workers, in addition to love, value authenticity and integrity. Being a person of your word. If you say “Power to the people”, it means you distribute power, not take it away. In personal relationships, it means you stand for racial justice and bring those values to your home. You don’t abuse your partner, take his/her power away and then blame your job or your past. As a race worker you distribute resources, you don’t take them away.

Sometimes, it is the value of race work that brings people together in love and relationships. In my own relationships, I think this was certainly true, particularly when I have dated Asian American and African American men. Our main passion for race work has often made us see that the thoughts and messages we get from media or from our own friends and families (e.g. “he won’t date me because I’m Latina”) are often dispelled among race workers. It is race that unites us in thought, love temporarily, but always in thought.

This does not mean that there is no racial anxiety that is manifested in the relationship. Even though we are united by this work, it does not mean we do not each have our own anxieties. For example, I remember dating an Asian American man who identified as Japanese American. His favorite spot to go to was a Korean pastry shop. The first time we entered, I felt all these eyes on us. I thought, Oh Lord, they probably don’t like the fact that I am Latina. He felt anxious too, and why he held on to my hand a little tighter. I thought it was to comfort me. When we sat down, I inquired about this scenario. He was shocked to hear my perspective. He said “I don’t think they were looking at us because you are Latina. I think they were looking at us because I am Japanese and there is a long history between Korean and Japanese people.”


And then I thought, what if we both weren’t right. That is always entirely possible. At the end of the conversation,I think we both felt pretty confident that it was probably a mixture of the two.

Love is often relegated to an analysis of emotions, self-help books, thoughtful commentaries. When it comes to race and love – there really isn’t much out there. Here I think about Hill Harper’s book The Conversation. In it he provides a personal account on love and dating, but gives an interesting perspective on how history, particularly racist history, has affected the ways in which Black men and women communicate and love each other. He very interestingly connects the effects of slavery and the Jim Crow era in how we communicate with each other now. I also think about a book by bell hooks called All About Love. I read this book a while back but here she provides an understanding about how love manifests itself in different times in our lives and the messages we get from these life experiences. She does not ignore social identifiers such as race when she speaks about love. These are just two examples in a very short list.

The treatment of race in the research of love is quite often not written so obviously. But for many race workers, the use of love is quite often infused in the work. I am not talking about the racist’s love for “their people” – I am talking about those race workers who see the mistreatment, the miseducation, the abuse that people of color in particular face in our society. We distribute resources, such as education, health, wealth, to our communities because our communities have been given scraps by the government, by teachers, by health workers. Love is pervasive in race work. But there is such poor treatment of race in the area of love and love research.

I also think that when we talk about love and race, sometimes we just focus on the appearance of the individuals (e.g. “he is only dating me because I am light skinned” or “White men may want to date me, but would not want me to meet his momma”). But we have to interrogate this further and really dig deep – like Hill Harper does in his book or bell hooks does in hers. We have to really get at the historical reasons to these questions (the preference of light skin, or the fear White people have in dating outside their race). These questions must first be recognized, then they must be asked, then they must be interrogated. Work on race and love cannot just end on these questions.

In essence – race and love – need to be taken more seriously. Because we do see it (race) and we do feel it (love). To deny any of that – is not being authentic.

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