Thursday, April 19, 2012

"He just happens to be black"

Every time I see this phrase (as I just read it on another blog), it kind of cracks me up.

Now, I do sympathize. The reason people say this is because they don't want someone to make the house fall on them. They don't want to be racist, and they don't want to be called racists.

Usually, what they're actually saying is something like, "It is of some interest in my story to note a high level of melanin in this particular person's particular epidermis, but I don't want anyone to think I'm saying something bad or making a big deal out of it... though, I guess, in a way, I am making a deal. Just not a big deal. Well, not a racist big deal. So like I said, he happened to be black. Anyway..."

So as I say, while not unsympathetic, every time I hear it I picture myself as a black person hearing the speaker, and I stop him. "Now hold on just a minute. I don't just happen to be black. I'm black on-purpose! It's part of a very deliberate, meticulously-crafted plan! It took thousands of years of breeding for me to be black! Don't you dismiss it as a just-happened-to-be thing!"

Hopefully, nobody would be that mean, though I bet my (very deliberately) black readers are chuckling. Like you, I long for the day when we can just talk with each other, and not all be walking on egg-shells. You don't have to say "so I was talking to that sister who just happens to be a redhead, and..."

My mental image is of some guy who's walking down the street, minding his own business, mind a thousand miles away from his own skin-color, when suddenly wham! He's black! He just happens to be black! Shazam.

Because of course we could legitimately be deeply theological about it. Truth is, nobody "just happens to be" what he is. All the beautiful colors on God's palette — red and yellow, black and white, and all the variations — are part of God's sovereign and meticulous plan. If He made the blind and the sighted, the hearing and the deaf (Exod. 4:11), then surely he made all the epidermal hues as well. Nobody "just happens to be" what he is, in the final analysis.

Yours for less tension in communication,


Randy Talley said...

It reminds me of Titus 1 where Titus is told to rise above sinful aspects of Cretan culture and those who profess faith in God but deny Him by their deeds.

My wife read a book a few years ago where the main character (and he just happens to be black... sorry, had to throw that in) states that every day he is reminded that he is black. It might be due to what someone says, something he reads, or the fact that most of the people around him aren't. But there was always a reminder - a sad but true commentary in many ways.

Daniel Comings said...

"Just happened" to come across this post. (If "just happened" means clicking on the link on your twitter feed).

Could it be that the instinctive impulse to use phrases like this reveals a prideful root in our hearts that cares too much about what other people think?

If a person isn't racist and doesn't go around saying racist things, then he can let the conversation move forward unencumbered by reputation enhancing or protecting phrases.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded of a favorite family story...

My wife and I were having dinner with some friends in California. She happens to be white and he happens to be black.

I noticed a nice picture of an older couple (who happened to be black) and I asked in all seriousness: "Whose parents are they?" Everyone started laughing and I stood there confused. They had to explain it to me.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, what'dya know. I just happen to be a redhead ;)

jmb said...

Years ago a certain political commentator said that he never notices somebody's race. I guess he never notices their gender either - then he'd be a sexist.

candy said...

I'm just trying to figure out the "white hispanic" with which the media labels George Zimmerman. I wonder why they don't call Obama "white black"?

trogdor said...

I can't imagine a situation where that phrase is remotely cromulent. If someone's skin color is pertinent to the story, just say so. If it's not, why bring it up in the first place?

Mike Westfall said...

A nice lesson on the relevance (or not) of certain information from Pastor Dan, who just happens to be a bit folliclly challenged.

DJP said...

Yeah, I definitely did not plan that bit.

FellowElder said...

Hey bro,

Really appreciated the post and all it does to (1) lower the tension in communication and (2) affirm the intentionality of God in creating us each as He designed. Grateful for your thinking.

One of the things I do notice about this phrase's use is that often it's a bit of information that's completely irrelevant to the story being told. Somehow the speaker thinks being Black enriches the story, often humorously or poignantly. But often it doesn't. As trogdor suggests, the key is asking ourselves "If/how is skin color relevant to the story?" Or, as Daniel suggests, "Am I trying to protect myself or gain some points in dropping this skin color factoid?" Checkin' ourselves along those lines will help a lot.


Charlene said...

Great post. And realizing that we are not truly different colors but different shades of the same color makes that phrase seem even more chuckle worthy. "He just happened to be a few shades darker than me..."