Today’s QUESTIONS are inspired by the discussion among mainstream and social media and general responses of people regarding the racial identity of Spokane NAACP Chapter President Rachel Dolezal. Ms Dolezal’s parents say their daughter is Caucasian of Czech, Swedish, and German descent, with “traces” of Native American ancestry. Ms Dolezal has self-identified as mixed race, including white, African-American, and Native American.
- Question of the Day: How often do you identify as a child of God?
- Question of the Week: What is it in human nature that causes us to treat the “other” as something less than what we are?
- Question of the Centuries: When will we have peace?
- See BBC News article “Rachel Dolezal: Fallout continues unabated” (June 13, 2015)
- See The Guardian’s “Rachel Dolezal accused of ‘blackface’ by adopted brother” (June 13, 2015)
- See The Guardian’s “Civil rights activist Rachel Dolezal misrepresented herself as black, claim parents” (June 12, 2015)
- See Daily Mail’s “Rachel Dolezal doesn’t ‘give two shits’ what anyone thinks” (June 12, 2015)
- See NY Times article “Black or White? Woman’s Story Stirs Up a Furor (June 12, 2015)
At its monthly membership meeting tomorrow, June 14, the NAACP will address the matter (issue of misrepresentation and deception), and in the interim, the NAACP has released a statement.
In every corner of this country, the NAACP remains committed to securing political, educational, and economic justice for all people, and we encourage Americans of all stripes to become members and serve as leaders in our organization.
Rachel Dolezal also released a brief statement to members of the NAACP, saying she will address the issue of her racial identity at the monthly meeting.
UPDATE: Ms Dolezal resigned from her position on June 15. A commenter posted a video of a student interviewing Ms Dolezal about experiences of black women.
This “Reality TV could not have made this up” drama is a good opportunity to expand the conversation about what constitutes a person’s identity, which is what the questions on the Ask Good Questions list (on this blog) are all about.
How often are people limiting their notion of self, defining their life experiences, and shaping their story based on the color of their skin, their gender, their sexual orientation? How often does the media (be it general news, television shows, sitcoms, movies, or commercials) reduce the true identity of a human person to a single or a few physical aspects, and what is lost in doing so? What is the cost of “identity politics”?
Much of the Rachel Dolezal newsstory and responses to it are rooted in what we see with the eyes. How often we get caught up in what we see: skin, gender, age, etc., forgetting what is not seen with the eyes: human beings are both body and soul.
There is so much we don’t know or understand about Ms Dolezal. Details are being revealed piecemeal, and the more we come to know, the sadder and more confusing the story gets. That human beings lie to themselves and others is nothing new. That human beings miss the mark when it comes to love and truth is an old, well-known story. The remedy to this problem is both two thousand years old and as old as the foundation of the world: Christ.
What does the Bible and Catholic teaching reveal to us about our identity as human beings and who we are as Christians? In Christ, we are a new creation:
Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him so no longer. So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold new things have come. —Saint Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:16–17
It is as a new creation, that we begin to walk by faith and not by sight. The faith by which we walk is not blind, though. It is rooted in relationship and our identity as children of God and as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Question of the Day: How often do you “identify” as “Child of God”? How often do you relate to other people as though they were children of God? Has anyone ever told you that you are a precious and irreplaceable “child of God”?
According to Jesus, not only is being a “child of God” not just for children, it is essential for reaching our eternal destination:
“Amen, amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven.” — Jesus, Matthew 18:3
To take on this identity of “child of God” is to enter a relationship of trust: trust in the God who created us, who redeems us, who works all things for the good of those who love him. We are not alone in this endeavor; it is the Church that helps us live as a new creation.
The Catholic faith teaches that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God. In his image, we have an intellect, a memory, and a will, from which our actions proceed. Catholicism teaches also that God is a communion of persons in love: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Human beings are designed for relationship, made for communion with God and with each other. We are made for love: to receive God’s love and share that love with others. This is man’s great purpose and achievement: to be the beloved and become one who loves. Love for love.
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”— Jesus, Matthew 22:36–40
Because God is infinite, love is boundless, learning to return love for love is a life-long project. We never fully “arrive,” where we can say “OK, cross that off my bucket list. I’ve loved and been loved enough.” So what does our ethnicity, our gender, our natural intelligence and ability, our social status have to do with our identity as God’s beloved? Nothing. None of these things impede or influence God’s love for us.
But the Lord said to Samuel: Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, because I have rejected him. God does not see as a mortal, who sees the appearance. The Lord looks into the heart. — 1 Samuel 16:7
Do we allow these things to impede our love for others?
But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. — Romans 5:8
It was his Christian identity that caused Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio to say
“I am a sinner, but I trust in the infinite mercy and patience of our Lord Jesus Christ, and I accept in a spirit of penance.” — Pope Francis, America magazine interview, 2013
What happens when people no longer obtain their identity, dignity, and purpose from God? They look for it elsewhere, yet nowhere else can man’s identity be found in its fullness, except in Christ. Our dignity and equality do not come from the government. It is the government’s responsibility, however, as an institution to serve people, to safeguard and promote the dignity and equality of all human beings. The source of our dignity and equality, however, is God alone.
In Redemptor Hominus (1979), Pope Saint John Paul II says that Jesus “fully reveals man to himself and brings to light his most high calling.” If a person’s identity and value are not rooted in God’s love, on what then are they based and how does a person form his or her sense of self?
If I was to take any sort of guess about how Ms Dolezal came to identify herself as black, it would be to err on the side of love. When she speaks of her racial identity, I suspect she is talking about more than just the color of her skin. (But I’m assuming too much already, and won’t go any farther than that, because right now, not only is limited information available, it is God alone who knows the depths of a person’s heart. And my guesses say more about me than they do about Ms Dolezal and the media buzz she has created.)
I will add only that in our human frailty, our “love” often falls short or is misguided or is tinged with impurity ((sometimes saturated with it), and we end up making a mess of things. When Ms Dolezal steps forward to share her mind and heart with us, and no doubt she will, and the media will pay her well for it, I suspect we will discover that one small decision to move away from truth and reality led to a second step farther away, and eventually began to spiral out of control. Until… one day the media was asking her questions about her racial identity and her story spread more quickly than reporters could gather facts.
With today’s technology and social media, it takes only one thoughtless word, one mistake, before your life or your family disagreements and difficulties end up on international television, and the public begins to misunderstand, mock, shame, and vilify. Because news stories are reported and published in part rather than whole (gathering all the facts and taking time to analyze them, before publishing a coherent article), the public is poised to jump to wrong conclusions (not just once, but each time a new piece of the puzzle is put in place). (How often does reading a news article leave us with one fact and ten questions?)
This style of instant piecemeal publishing in no way serves justice and truth. [What does serve justice and truth is humble repentance, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).] How might have the general population responded differently if the story was thoroughly investigated and the facts presented together with thoughtful analysis. But the tools and technology are what they are, and readers must exercise patience and prudence with “news.”
But there is an important fact Christians do have, even when the other 99 percent of the story is missing: Rachel Dolezal is loved by God. God loves her and us not because of our skin color or our opinion of ourselves or what we have achieved. God continues to love her and us in spite of our faults and failures and hurts we’ve caused. God loves us, because God is love, because we are his creation, and he made us in his image and likeness.
We are put on earth a little space, that we may learn to bear the beams of love. — Poem of the Day: The Little Black Boy by William Blake (1789)
We must recover in the media and in our country the identity of the human person as having body and soul and as being made in the image and likeness of God. Only then will the dignity and value of all human beings in our society be resurrected. We must have the courage to live out our faith and speak the truth in love to a culture that promotes relativism. We must allow God to transform us. We must have the humility to be what we are: human, and we must say, again and again, with Christ, “forgive them for they know not what they do.”
Often we think we are waiting on God — to do or give us something, to change the world, to fix us or someone else. But it is God who is waiting on us — for us to cast a glance his way, to seek him, to acknowledge him, to enter into relationship with him, to return to him after we’ve fallen away, to take the next step toward him. The more we get to know God as our creator, the more we know ourselves and accept what it is to be human, the better able we are to relate to people who seem, on the surface, different than us. The more likely we are to love others, in imitation of our Father who first loved us.
This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. — Jesus, Gospel of John 13:35
Question of the Week: What is it in human nature that causes us to treat the “other” (be it a person of another ethnicity or gender or language or age or religious belief or political affiliation or education level or ability/disability or outward appearance or social status or culture and so on) as something less than what we are? Why do we forget so easily that we are all children of God?
Question of the Centuries: When will we have peace?
When we love our neighbors and our enemies as we love ourselves.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect. —Jesus, Matthew 5:43–45
peace and all good
may you swim in the ocean of God’s mercy
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. — Jesus, Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:9