By Ismael Hernandez
Race consciousness is a great impediment to our life in the republic. Some insist that race consciousness is now a healing element, using race to combat racism is seen as important in advancing social cohesion. The uniqueness and wonder of every individual person is often lost in an expansive and yet shallow sea of color. In the process, the human person qua person retreats and fades, becoming scenery in the drama of group identity. Persons become tokens of a race, specimens to be observed and kept in a collection. They also become weapons of political struggle in the hands of race hustlers and poverty pimps who use them to advance agendas.
The social construct of race is but one aspect constituting us as persons, one element in a collection of organic elements constituting a being. It must never be allowed to become a totalism giving radical meaning to our reality as persons. When what is partial becomes primary we lose sight of true human dignity and run the risk of commoditizing the person. The person becomes not a being with subjective value but an object in an array of shades of color. This is so evident now in the recent death of a young black man whose subjectivity is slowly descending into the background of race wars. This incident reminds me of a lesson I learn long time ago, one offered to me by my beloved mother.
My bicycle came to a screeching halt causing me to fall. There I was, trying to get up and Migdalia was angry. It is true that I almost hit her but it was just an accident! ‘Oh Boy, it seems that it is going to be one of those days’, I thought. An uncontrollable and angry torrent of words was coming out of her mouth as I laid there with the burning rays of the Caribbean sun bathing my face. Finding myself the target of her discomforts, I was confused.
— ‘Why don’t you look where you are going!’ she blurted.
— ‘I am sorry Migdy, I did not see you,’ I replied.
— ‘Didn’t see me! Anyway, you are just a nigger.’
Puncturing the core of my soul, those words pierced my being. I didn’t know what to say or where to go but I certainly wanted to crawl somewhere. My mouth wide open, I just laid there in agony and in silence. The whole incident could not have been more than a few seconds, a shadow of a moment that strangely felt like an eternity.
Suddenly, and coming to my senses, I was angry. My mind filled with confusing thoughts as my body tightened, commanding me to launch at her. But, thank God, at that moment, I remembered. ¾ ‘Yes? Well, remember that when you come back asking me to draw something for you!’ Migdy retreated immediately as if in fear or perhaps in shame. She certainly needed my help all the time and I thought that my words truly got to her.
Yes, at that very moment I remembered the wisdom of my saintly mother. She always stressed the importance of accomplishment and the need to be studious. She was so proud of me. Having only a third grade education, unwillingly abandoned out of the pressing needs of a poor family in the Puerto Rican poverty of the 30s, she always understood how important the books were. Loving, protective, and rigorous, her influence on me was considerable. Without knowing it at the time, on that burning sunny day in my beloved island I found the antidote against racialism and the answer to the meaning of my life in its deepest sense.
I felt great! Refusing to become a victim or the enemy, on that day I did not let my race define me in the absolute nor let others define me that way. Without realizing, I reclaimed my life as a free young person from the clutches of race consciousness. All of that happened on that day by an act of free choice baked by prior but unbinding dispositions under the bright Caribbean sun. On that otherwise ordinary moment, the reality of my race took the backseat in my life. My heart sutured and my body relaxed, I went back home to tell my story, one I have never forgotten. The implications no longer escape my gaze as now I can see: I am more than my color, I am a person. My accomplishments and my skills do have a power that transcends the accidents of my birth. Migdy remained a good early-years friend and readily came back for help, which I offered without complaint. I had dignity! I was somebody!