Race-work, Race-love

Prince Charming or the Racial Justice Warrior: Choosing Race Work as a Core Value

In Uncategorized on December 16, 2011 at 4:39 pm

ImageNo one has made more sacrifices to realize the completion of this work than Leith Mullings. For more than a decade, she has been my constant companion and intellectual compass as I have attempted to reconstruct the past.  This work is hers.  ~ Manning Marable, 2011.

Swoon.  Intending to read another analysis on the life of Malcolm X, a long awaited work by Dr. Manning Marable, I found this.  I really love reading dedications. But this one took me by complete surprise. The ability to support another in their life’s work is a tremendous attribute.  The ability for two souls like that to meet and like each other – seems almost miraculous.Image

The miracle, I think, is in understanding one’s own values ranging from the general to the specific, and sharing that with a life partner.  For people who truly value racial justice – or social justice in general – this can often be a hard find.

For the fourth time this week, I was told by a friend about a new love interest.  And what excited them was the value of social justice my friends saw in their potential new love interests.  Instead of hearing the following:

“He is so smart!”

“He is so kind!”

“He is just wonderful!” 


I was told this:

“He fights for racial justice!”

“He believes diversity is important.” 

“He is involved in issues of social justice!” 

“I don’t have to explain why I hate “The Help” so much”

Tall, dark, and handsome are what we are taught that we should look for.  Prince Charming also had to be rich and willing to help poor girls out of their socio-economic misery.  Novelas (both in the US and Latin America) taught us the same. Not much more was known about Prince Charming, well, he also had to be wanted by many women. And he may have dabbled with those women, too.

“The idea of falling in love with a good man still lingers. But now I look forward to falling in love with a man whose goodness brings out the goodness in me. The rest is insignificant.” ~ Doris Tan

About a year ago, I wrote about racial intimacy.  In this post I revealed the importance of race-work and racial justice as core values for me.  I am very aware that this should not be the only value I seek in future partners.  But, it is just as important as kindness, desire to learn, ambition, and self-love. It is a mutual understanding and knowledge about a particular value that many have or may have the desire to build:

“Some of us seek racial intimacy. We seek that understanding, that racial/cultural specificity, that knowing glance, that sigh on the other end of the phone line when we describe the racist encounters at school, at work, on the train ride home. We seek that strength to be passed on to our children when they come to us and ask “Why did (insert racist encounter here) happen?” We hope that we won’t have to be alone to answer this question. But some of my sisters are.”


How important is racial justice as values we seek in a potential partner? For journalist and activist Almena Lomax (1915-2011),this value was very important. Lomax was founder of the Los Angeles Tribune and reported on the Civil Rights Movement. Lomax is a woman who can be identified as a race-woman, a race-worker. Her husband, Lucius Lomax, disapproved of her trip to cover the Montgomery Bus Boycotts. After realizing over time that her husband was not only un-supportive of her choices but that he also exhibited some qualities of being disinterested in racial justice, she chose to divorce him.  In her words:

“I faced it at that moment: Montgomery meant nothing to my husband. He hadn’t heard the signal to rise. “The brother” meant nothing to him. He didn’t feel the emotion pulsing rhythmically under his skin when the halting, crippled words of a front-line fighter like Moses Wright, the ancient uncle of Emmett Till, were lined out like a hymn at a mass meeting…He could only say pedantically that it was all part of the ‘struggle against man’s inhumanity to a man’. But he could not exult in the struggle.”

 A race-worker — so committed to her values that she divorced her husband who did not share the same passion for the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

Probably those of us who value racial justice also have a tough time finding compatible educational institutions and work places.  During a talk I gave on racial incidents, a young Master’s student asked me a question that continues to linger in my consciousness. We were discussing the inappropriate ways students often behave when hearing about race.  When these topics are raised, students roll their eyes, laugh, or exhibit some type of exasperated behavior.  Exasperated about the topic. As if they hear “it” all the time.

 She asked “How do you change people so that they become interested in discussing race in the classroom?” I honestly did not know how to answer.  But I did respond as best as I could at that moment: “You can’t.”

She said “You can’t?  But there has to be a way to stop them from rolling their eyes or laughing or get them more interested in the topic.”

 I said “You can only control your own behavior.  Racial justice is a value of mine. It is part of my everyday life, a value that I uphold in my public and private spheres. Because of this, I will continue to bring it up in discussions even at the risk of being mocked or laughed at.”

 But that evening, I realized that my response was not enough. I realized that our institutions, Imagealthough espousing commitment to “diversity” in their mission statements, do not admit students or hire faculty and staff whose values are aligned with these public declarations. Their programs may or may not have core course requirements ensuring that students engage in classroom discussions about racial justice. So the few that do have a commitment to racial justice – will encounter a hostile racial environment. And we are left to think “We can only control ourselves.” This is how we heal ourselves and each other in the same predicament.

This kind of passivity never sits well with a race-worker. And why I was so bothered that I even said that publicly.

The truth is there are not many institutions with a cultural value of racial justice. They may say it, write it up in their mission statements, but these good intentions do not translate into action, into race-work. 

Similarly, we pick partners who may not have a commitment to racial justice — so, we end up creating and producing more environments, both personal and public, that do not foster or nurture racial justice or race-work as core values.

How many of us can say that our value of racial justice is that strong that we could leave our partners, our jobs, our institutions that do not stand just as strongly for racial justice?

On the other hand, how many of us are all too willing to stay with a partner who’s only compatible value is racial justice while all other values – are not ? 

Slowly raising hand…

ImageI must admit – I do not have much faith that many people include racial justice as a core value in their value systems. Men like this, I think, are very few.  Institutions and programs who strongly espouse racial justice and race-work as values are very few.  In my humble opinion, anyway.

But I have hope. I find it very heartwarming that my friends are finding social justice warriors – or at least – partners with social and racial justice as core values. They don’t just say they have this as a core value, as in the superficial “like” that has been popularized by Facebook.  They actually do work to create environments that are infused with racial justice values. 

So I dedicate this piece to my friends – my friends who are brave enough to choose racial justice as their core values – and are braver to wait for their racial justice warriors – even at the risk of being alone.

This is for those racial justice warriors, those race-workers, who continue to pressure institutions and organizations to include racial justice as a value.

This is for those of us who do not sit well with the notion that you can’t change anyone or anything, but who understand that in order for others to see race-work and racial justice as important values, that we must work at these values in ourselves, too.

And that, my friends, is race-love.



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