I was reading over this morning’s post and I realized there’s one last thing that I’m not looking forward to, and it deserves it own post. Readers who have followed me here from the old blog will have heard me discuss this issue a million times, but new readers may not have thought about it.
I am not all black people.
I realize this statement is so obvious as to be nearly ridiculous, but I will explain what I mean. My experience has been that people are really shy when it comes to discussing race, regardless of their background. This is understandable – racism has left a psychological scar on our society for generations and is an ongoing source of strife. When someone is willing to talk about it, people are uncomfortable at first. Once the initial reluctance wears off, people then launch into a long list of questions that they didn’t realize they’d always had.
I’m sure you are familiar with this phenomenon if you are the only atheist in your social circle. Making your faithlessness plain to your friends shocked them a bit at first, but eventually you had to start fielding questions. Some of them were out of genuine, benign curiosity (“so are you at least spiritual?”), while others were a bit more hostile (“so what, you think I’m just a piece of soulless meat?”). If you were the only atheist they knew, you started getting confessions about how they had doubts, or attempts to proselytize to draw you back in, or unsolicited opinions about how much they hate Richard Dawkins, or whatever. You became the one-stop shop for questions about atheism.
In the same way, the first person to poke their head out and talk about the taboo of race gets that kind of attention.It is par for the course, and I don’t mind. However, what I am cautious of is that people consider my responses as ‘authoritative’. As I have repeatedly and explicitly pointed out in the past, I am far from being an ‘expert’ in any meaningful sense on the topic of race. My education on the matter comes, like my education on theology or politics or law, from a deep interest in the subject matter and a lot of free time to explore. My interest, which is tied to my perspective, comes from my own background and experiences with race and racism. Yes, I have done some reading and learned the language, but that’s pretty much it.
It would be more accurate to say that I’m not even most black people. I grew up in a little mountain town in British Columbia before moving to a suburb of Toronto. I’ve spent most of my life in social groups that are mostly white. I didn’t grow up in a U.S. city where I was deeply immersed in African-American culture, or even places like Ottawa and Toronto with strong ties to the Caribbean community (my own national heritage). As a result, I’m quite out of step when it comes to understanding ‘the black experience’. That being said, my own experience is just one other facet of ‘the black experience’, and insofar as that is the case, I can talk about it. Where there are overlaps, I can extrapolate my own experiences to those of my ethnic brethren, but those occasions are rare.
I guess the point of this little ramble is to specifically caution you that mine is one voice among many that articulates a position based on personal experience and a bit of knowledge gleaned from book learnin’. If I say something is a certain way, there’s a chance that I’m wrong. I try my best not to be, but my own (in)experience handicaps me in that regard sometimes. Just as you wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking on behalf of all atheists, or all women, or all peg-legged accordion players (yeah that’s right Craig, I know you’re reading this), I am not emblematic of every minority, or every black person, or (most likely) most black people.
That being said, I am happy to answer any and all questions you may have about the issues. Most often I try to answer them in the form of “some people think this, some people think that”, because many topics are disputed, even within the anti-racist community (does that remind you of anything?). Just please don’t confuse anything I say with ‘the answer’.
Thanks, and I hope you keep reading. Tomorrow will be way less heavy, I promise 😛
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