People of Color often engage in an activity known as "Counting." When we are in large groups of people, whether it's attending a Broadway play at the civic auditorium or as I found myself this past weekend, in a group of over 400 church people listening to author Richard Rohr, we "count" the number of obviously non-White faces in the crowd. For the record, I did not see another obviously non-White person at Rohr's presentation.
One’s identity is acquired and continues to be experienced, reinterpreted and lived out within a context – the context of our early childhoods and family lives where we learn who “our people” are, the context of our education and larger society in which we meet the world around us, and the context of the places where we live, work, shop, play and worship where we experience how the world views and treats us. Part of my identity within The Episcopal Church is being one of a very few non-White and even fewer Asian faces here in Colorado. I don’t attribute any judgment or value to this phenomenon; it is simply fact.
The fact of being one of a few or the only of your kind in a group can be received and experienced very differently from person to person. The treatment of the few or the only by the larger group of people who consider themselves to be “the same” in ways such as skin color, ethnicity or cultural heritage ranges from indifference to kindness to discrimination to scapegoating. How one of the few or the only reacts to her or his treatment also varies, depending on personal character, ego strength, love of family, community support, mental and physical health, and faith in God. Different people respond differently in what appear to be similar situations. Sometimes it’s as simple a variant as what day it is. People of Color are individuals and not monolithic within their cultural groups. I can no more speak for all Asian people than a White person can speak for all White people.
A fellow parishioner who also attended the conference this weekend told me on Sunday that she didn’t see colors, that she saw and treated everyone “the same.” This is known as being colorblind, which at first might seem to reflect a benign attitude, but is actually a denial of the gift of our differences that make us individuals, each created in God’s image. God is so immense and beyond our comprehension that only small measures of who God is can be contained in any single human being. If we do not see and acknowledge the differences, the individual characteristics of God manifested in each person, then we have failed to see and appreciate the person as he or she is.
Only part of my identity is being a Person of Color. There are many other parts of who I am that also define me, such as mother, wife, daughter, sister, writer, teacher, trainer, volunteer, friend, colleague, neighbor, poet, administrator, banker, marketer. Actually, I think of myself in terms of mother, wife, writer, teacher, much more often than in terms of “Person of Color.” Why, then, you ask, do I and other People of Color engage in “Counting”? “Counting” is a form of seeking the face of God that is your own face in the faces of others. When we deconstruct the attendance demographics of something like this weekend’s Richard Rohr conference, we note that registration and attendance were by self-selection, since the conference was fairly widely advertised. Yet, in many cases, people attended because they were invited by a friend from church, and the vast majority of our churches are mostly White in membership. “Counting” is about acknowledging the reality in which we live that marginalizes People of Color and being intentional in how we live into our Christian commitment to “Love our neighbor as ourself” – to be inclusive in actuality as well as in principle.