feminism, race

Dark Girls and Miss Representation

Dark Girls. I found out about this documentary right after we covered Traci West’s “Policy: The Bible and Public Reform” on Mary, the magnificat, and poor, single black mothers. I wish I had known about it before. It is on my list for videos next semester. You should really check it out:

Miss Representation. Another documentary, on women again, but more about image and marketing in general — although in my book, a bit less compelling than Dark Girls, but still, what Miss Representation covers is very important. Check it out:

insanity, James Cone, liberation, race

Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology

Well, I’ve got my piece up at The Other Journal titled: “‘Everyone in This Room is Now Dumber for Having Listened to [Him]’: Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology.” I like it. I think other people should read it.

Also, I should probably note here that the tone is rather caustic. And some may find it rather off-putting. I attempted a line that is difficult to walk, and perhaps failed. How do you not legitimize Beck and his project, but still address the narrative he helps push that permeates society? How do you show that Beck is not learned — cannot speak well, nor well read — in this discourse? And perhaps most importantly, how does one not give into gentle language that would avoid showing the ugliness of what Beck has done? But on the other hand, how does one avoid becoming like Beck who seems to love name calling?

I determined that my first priority was truth-telling: to appear a bit crazy in an insane world may be the most sane thing someone could do. I ought not sugar coat the issues at hand, and I should keep a sharp edge. So I decided to follow the master, Terry Eagleton in his review of Dawkins. Now, I am not under the delusion that I have Eagleton’s mastery of the English language, or wit. Still, the method seemed apt. The poverty and ugliness of Beck’s work, and the popular narrative he is working within, has to first be exposed for the falsehood it is.

And so, I do not see this piece as simply character assassination or preaching to the choir, after all, I tried to keep the pejorative comments directed in how Beck stumbles, rather than Beck his person. This piece, instead, is aimed at achieving a moment of clarity, even if it is fleeting. This piece is also designed to give James Cone a fair hearing. And it would not be wrong to read this piece much more about Cone’s project and evangelicalism’s need to reckon with race, than Beck himself.


What Ignoring Does

Now this white Catholic marginalization of Black theology makes a statement to black Christians. It says, “Your experience of struggle, suffering, and triumph and your Christian reflections on your experience do not count.” this is the cultural devaluation and psychological violation that constitute racism. Whites are victims, too. To declare, in effect, that the slave trade’s cost of fifty million ancestors, that the torture endured by the slaves and their descendants, that the martyrdom of Christian slaves at the hands of slaveholders outraged by their slaves’ conviction that God loved them and wanted their freedom, that the degradation of Jim Crow and the reign of terror known as lynching, that the faith-born and faith-nurtured resistance to these atrocities, which was sung in the black spirituals, proclaimed in black preaching, interrogated in black theology — to declare implicitly that all this has nothing significant to contribute to a Catholic Christian understanding of the gospel for our time and nation is a drastic truncation and impoverishment of Catholic theology.

Interrupting White Privilege: Catholic Theologians Break the Silence, pg. 19-20.

J. Kameron Carter, race

Carter’s Race Reviewed

From The Christian Century, Peter J. Paris’ review of J. Kameron Carter’s Race: A Theological Account:

Carter is primarily interested in how theology contributed to the process by which humans came to be viewed as racial beings, and thus was a willing ally in the modern project of empire building. He contends that theology reconstituted itself in order to establish race as the defining characteristic of modernity. This shocking claim establishes Carter’s argument as a revolutionary critique of theology’s affirmation of modernity as a racial project.

More specifically, Carter argues that modernity’s racial imagination originated in the process by which Christianity was severed from its Jewish roots. The modern West began viewing Jews as an alien, inferior race and their religion as the nemesis of Christianity. This type of reasoning implied the natural supremacy of white European peoples and the corresponding superiority of Christianity over Judaism. Carter’s thinking dovetails to some extent with Cornel West’s critical race theory and Michel Foucault’s theory of sexuality.

… Carter’s call for a new kind of theological imagination that moves beyond the traditional theology that strips Jesus Christ of his Jewishness is an insightful approach to the difficulty that confronts 21st-century theological discourse. Few scholars have demonstrated so convincingly how ancient theologians such as Irenaeus, Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Great can be helpful resources for current theological discussions about race, colonialism, slavery, tyranny and oppression—to mention only a few major problems we have inherited from the theology of race and modernity.

As an ethicist, I look forward to future writings by Carter that relate his theological enterprise to the thought and practice of the social gospel movement, the various African-American religious struggles for racial justice, and especially the work of Martin Luther King Jr. It is more than a little troubling that Carter did not discuss such figures and events in this major work. Nevertheless, it is a great book by any standard. Its breadth and depth are impressive beyond measure.

For those of you having a difficult time with certain assertions made about modernity and racism on this blog, it would do you well to read through this book very carefully. I have found it very helpful and informative and one would probably misunderstand anything more than the general thrust against modernism’s inherent colonialism without exposure to this book.

J. Kameron Carter, political theology, race

Misguided Ways of Dealing with Race and Racism

In the wake of Obama’s inauguration, I’ve seen a number of responses across the news, on the internet, and amongst friends. And so, what follows is a brief endeavor to list a few problematic responses and point out their underlying logic. Interestingly, the logic of each point in the list that follows, have much overlap between each other.

Colorblind: Some people (I’ve only heard this from Christians lately) still seem to think that the proper way to deal with race is to act like one shouldn’t see race. I have a sinking feeling why this is still so prevalent is because it was Contemporary Christian Music’s way of dealing with race (when it rarely did). To accept the colorblind philosophy is to accept a notion of making what is visible, invisible. Essentially, to be colorblind is to divest a person and people group of their story — the history that has formed them as a group. Specifically when this comes to race in America, such a move ignores the historical context of suffering and community bonding in the face of structural oppression that at least still fuel vestiges of privilege. This skips steps that have yet to be made. Justice and reconciliation looks the past straight in the face and deals with the repercussions that occur today. Thus, to ignore one’s story and the formation of the community past that still exists out of necessity today, is to take away one’s positive relationships, while ignoring struggles. This in effect dehumanizes people and leaves people exposed to the rending of the foundation of identity: relationships. In sum, we still live in a world where the color of one’s skin plays an important role in our historical and contemporary stories and actions. We should not ignore this by claiming to be colorblind.

Just let the old people die out, because their tired, old fight doesn’t translate today. Post-race means we’re past our history and we’re pretty much past racism: We aren’t post race. J. Kameron Carter has an excellent critique, and shows that racial categories are predicated on modernism and its theological and scientific grounding. Racial categories are in themselves racist. Also, to live in the modern world is to live in a racialized world. Even if we could adequately deal with Obama’s hybridity in public, we’d still be in some form of racial categorization, but probably taking a step in a positive direction that recognizes the hybridity in most (if not all) of us.

But how do we square the imposed racial categories of modernity’s scientific and theological logic with the need for community in the colorblind point above? For instance African Americans, Asian immigrants, Latin/South American immigrants, Native Americans, etc. form their own communities, partly out of survival. These communities are good, even though they have been categorized with the modernist racial category. This survival is done in the face of colonial violence and a theological divestment of their humanity. In fact, one could say that these communities of the oppressed function as the salvation for those who do not see their own humanity slipping away as they are the ones who have enforced these colonial categories.

But to find the good in the oppressed communities still stays within the racial modernist structure. Thankfully there is something else. To divest a person or people group of a skin color, that is considered beautiful by God, is partly the action of a terrible creation theology. Creation theology does not have a semi-gnostic persuasion that turns colors to grey, but helps recognize what is created and encourage flourishing. Even if colorblind philosophy is only symbolic, insomuch that it attempts to address the racist assertion of a qualitative difference between skin color, the right response does not mean the elimination of beautiful skin color. Thus, while the skin color is beautiful and God given, the divisive work of racial categorization must be dismantled by first looking it in the face, rather than ignoring it. Both the colorblind philosophy and its new protégé, post-race, take the strides that have been made and assert them as the fulfillment of MLK Jr.’s dream, while ignoring MLK Jr.’s warning against colonial America. So where can we all stand? In solidarity.

Therefore (either because we should be colorblind, or the old people live in a different world) don’t speak about the racial categories, its divisive: Well, not really. If the racial categories still exist, and if privilege still exists in structures, then to call for us to ignore the currently divisive, racial, modernist structure is to yet again ignore reality in favor of a white narrative (Yes, I’m using white here as a symbol. Don’t get your underwear in a knot.).

If someone else, like a white person, said this…: From my post on Rev. Wright: Dr. Wright is also not a “reverse racist” (as if only whites could be true racists…). This is not to say that a black person cannot be racist, however, what Newt Gingrich purports assumes that racism does not continue to exist in any large way. Yet, if what Wright does say is true, understood within a racist culture at large, than it merely rings true. However, Wright is not engaged by others at the level of his and his community’s experience. Instead, Wright’s words are taken from his mouth – from his black body and black context – and put into a white person’s body and context. In some senses, it seems that even Wright speaking cannot be understood as a black person speaking; rather, culture at large must think of him as a white person. How is that not itself racist, stripping him of his own humanity? Sure, maybe if we took Wright’s words and gave them to an oppressive people, the content of the words might sound racist, because they would be coming from the oppressive people’s lips. The body and context from whom the words come from are infinitely important. To call Wright a reverse racist merely on the basis of what he said in his speeches, based on forgetting the black community’s story and acting like he is a white man, is bullshit. This is just another way to marginalize a black man speaking prophetic truth.

So what common theme ran through this list of points? Divestment. To divest someone within the category of race is going to lead to some form of racism. Hell, to divest a person or community of the opportunity to be wrong likewise divests them of their humanity, as it fetishizes them rather than recognizes their failure. Divestment — racism — can only be met first by a honest and deep look that continues until the community is no longer segregated. I’m looking at you, church.


Now this, this is a benediction.

Despite some certain reservations about a confusion of state and church here and there, I very, very much like Rev. Dr. Joseph Lowery’s benediction. Especially at the end. Mmmhmmm.

In other news, some have some pretty asinine analysis, calling Lowery racist. Sigh.

At least Obama in office brings race to the forefront. Perhaps we can fulfill one of Cone’s little sayings “Ya’ gotta talk about it!” I’m just not looking forward to all the future clashes — I expect they’ll get redundant and tiresome, but then again, the problems were always there and now maybe we can finally deal with the latent, “invisible” racism and profoundly impoverished understandings of race (i.e. its good to be colorblind) that are made more visible.

Martin Luther King Jr., race

On the Inauguration and King

Today will be a day of great rejoicing in America. And rightfully so. A hurdle will have been crossed for the first time. It doesn’t mean the end of racism, but it is tremendous that someone of African descent will be behind the desk calling the shots, rather than cleaning.

However, despite the fight that has been waged, we should not forget the words of the late Martin Luther King Jr. I speak not of the early King who’s dream has been co-opted and is used to eclipse his other work, but the later King, who at Riverside church gave his speech: A Time to Break Silence. It is a fantastic speech and one necessary to remember on Martin Luther King, Jr. day and inauguration day.

We live in a nation-state where the moralizing arm declares, “The bottom line is: George Bush is a healer.” The truth, shown in King’s speech above, is that the notion of Bush as a great healer is simply not true. Of course acts of charity are good, but this is like calling Carnegie a humanitarian. The structures are imbalanced and our acts of giving money has the ring of the old feudal system or the colonialism that we claimed to have left behind. While some money is given back to the world in hopes that some of life’s problems will be fixed, this philanthropy is at best an act to ameliorate the guilty conscious of the ones who have profited greatly from privilege, at the expense of others. However, when we target the purses of those in power, I suspect we will go the way of the later King.

In truth my hopes for Obama’s actual work is small — he is within a structure that seeks its own ends. And to this end, I want to remind those who think life will fundamentally change, “Memento mori! Respice post te! Hominem te esse memento!” However, in the same breath, despite the state’s sacral pageantry, I am proud to have Obama sworn in. To open up boundaries and inspire imagination, in a culture that is unable to imagine, is a terrific thing. I have seen tears of happiness on many faces. With the suspicion I maintain about the state and the language of change and hope, I still rejoice in this. Whether this is a culmination of struggle for some who faced suffering, or for others, a direction for a new path forward, I want to rejoice with and for those who have had their horizon expanded, even though I cannot fully grasp it because my horizon has never been limited, nor my humanity called into question. While I do not believe Obama in the presidential capacity to be salvific, the rejoicing and seeing people rejoice over it, I believe is. It has helped me see in new ways, or old thoughts in a new way, and in ways far bigger than the temple mount in DC may care for. Let us never forget King’s words.