Friday, May 11, 2012

Racial Terms?

I'm attempting to write about some Masonic history that makes reference to different racial backgrounds in Freemasonry.  My question is, how should I refer to "white" Freemasonry.
Sounds silly because it is.  As a Prince Hall Freemason, we typically refer to ourselves as "Prince Hall Freemasons".  Most people recognize this as a historically African-American or "Black" tradition within regular Freemasonry.  We do not typically say "Black Freemasonry", not because we are particularly offended by the term "Black", but because "Black Freemasonry" has come to refer not only to Prince Hall Freemasonry, but also to some traditions of Masonry that many Prince hall Freemasons would consider "irregular".  It has become expedient to simply use the term Prince Hall Freemasonry to refer to Regular Masonry, at least among many Prince Hall Freemasons. 

But I'll struggle with Black Freemasonry in another Post.  I only explain that to describe the difficulty in accurately referring to "non" Black Freemasonry, while being accurate, and not offensive to anyone.  This may not be possible, but this is my attempt.

For many within the Craft, the term "Mainstream Masonry" means "regular".  For others, it means "white".  For Prince Hall Masons, it is a problematic phrase, because we are "regular", and by any accurate description of the term, at least in a race-less world, we would consider ourselves in the "main stream" of Masonry.  "White" as a descriptor is obviously not correct or appropriate for so many reasons, I don't even want to bother.

In most circumstances, we wouldn't have to differentiate between "types" of Masonry.  But to write about Freemasonry in America, it's history, and development along different races, one needs terms to describe different traditional groupings.  We are left with Black, White, Non-White, Non-Black, Prince Hall, Mainstream, Regular, Irregular, each of which have cross-connotations and innacuracies, and each of which might be offensive in some settings.
Admitting my racial shortcomings, when I say "mainstream", in my mind, I'm thinking "White".  And, I suspect when many mainstream Masons say "Prince Hall", in their minds their thinking "Black".  Now, I know there are Black people in "mainstream" Lodges, as of course there should be.  And mainstream brethren may not know that there are non-Black members in Prince Hall Lodges, but it might not surprise them too terribly.  We are probably thinking of a historical tradition, unique to the nature of race in America, and to our somewhat parallel founding.

While African-American Masons might not be too offended by the concept of "traditionally Black regular Freemasonry", many mainstream Masons might be quite offended by the concept of "traditionally White regular Freemasonry".  Many mainstream Masons are only aware of "Black" Freemasonry, not being greatly concerned with the variations with which we denote ourselves.  Many are surprised to learn that African-American traditions have deep divisions along lines which we would consider based on questions of regularity.  It thus places us in an awkward situation to refer to ourselves as "Prince Hall" Freemasons, which we acknowledge connotates a "Black" tradition of Freemasonry, and referring to other regular Masons as "mainstream", when we also consider ourselves "mainstream".

I find it difficult if not impossible to write about this because we do not possess a language capable of describing the bodies, traditions, and groupings involved.  So, here is my "ask".
How can regular Freemasonry be referred to in a way that differentiates it from Prince Hall regular Freemasonry?  Is the term "Mainstream" the only way?  Is it the best we can do?


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