Building (Racial) Houses

A house can be many things.

It can be a place where a family grows; where people gather to nourish each other with food and stories; where they go to rest and rejuvenate after a long day. A house can be a location that someone names as the place where they live; points to as home; associates with memories of being loved for and attended to, nurtured and grown.

A house is always constructed. It uses elements and resources from the earth. But it is always built by people. This makes it real.

A house can also be a place that someone builds on someone else’s land. It can be a place occupied through lies and deceit by someone other than the person/people who envisioned it, built it, lived in it (first). A house can be a location that someone recognizes and knows as a place of violence, peril, and wrongful formation; associates with memories of being lost, alone and confused.

A house is always constructed. It uses elements and resources from the earth. Sometimes these are stolen from the people to which they rightfully belong. But, it is always built. And, it is always real.

Houses are shaky. They change with time. They look different in different landscapes. Laws impact how they are constructed. Sometimes they require re-wiring. Sometimes people make additions. (Sometimes the truth that they are constructed inspires us to make even better houses; houses more able to nurture home and community. But sometimes this truth simply makes us envious of the hard work our neighbors have done on their now beautiful house, cognizant that we have let ours remain–too often–places of loneliness and violence and immorality.)

But whatever they are, houses are built.

They are not illusions nor delusions.

And this is just one of many things I want to say today.

The spectacle that unfolded last week in Spokane should not lead us, any of us, to say “this shows clearly that race is an illusion.” A construct, yes. An illusion, no. And, even saying “construct” only means so much.

The fact is I could force, sweet talk, break, lie my way in to someone else’s (constructed house). I could falsely present myself as the building, owner, legitimate occupier.

That I could do any of these things does not make my actions legitimate.

That I could do any of these things, does not an illusion of “home construction” make.

(That I say this right now does not make me someone who has, in my delusion, bought into the belief that “houses” are “essentially” real and exist “in nature.”)

To know that houses are constructed (and not “essentially” real, pre-existing “in nature”) is important. It can challenge and inspire me. It can make me realize there is much I am able do to build, and re-build, and sometimes tear down and then re-build again, on/in my own house–that I must do so if I perceive myself to be a person committed to justice and humanity-of-all; It can empower me to learn construct it in ways that make it more like a home that nurtures beauty and less like a residence that sanctions silence in the face of and sanctuary for violence.

To do that is difficult. It’s hard work. It’s life long. But the spectacle of last week makes really clear (again) how urgent that particular (white) work remains. But that clarity will only be useful if we don’t get confused: the fact that one can take up residence in someone else’s house doesn’t mean this is all just an (racial) illusion after all.

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