modern nation-state, political theology, race

The ‘Racialized’ Hoodie at the Intersection of Church and State

I am sure you all know about the Trayvon Martin shooting, and the wearing of hoodies as a show of solidarity. The hoodie already ‘radicalized’ (“an urban thing,” which is code for black, or sometimes simply not white) is now being used as a sign for identifying with the ‘urban’ and exposing that this assumption wardrobe is racist. There are a multiplicity of voices about whether hoodie solidarity is actually on the whole a positive move or not. But that was before Rep. Bobby Rush wore a hoodie on the house floor as he read the hopeful promises of the Bible.

Of course much of the issue around the shooting is race and segregation. I do not mean to detract from that, but instead deepen the issue because Representative Bobby Rush, like many others before him, exposed that the issue goes much further to the confluence of race, Christianity, and politics in America (and beyond, quite frankly, but I’ll stop there for now). I have have plenty of questions, but many of them are being asked by others so I will skip over those here. However, there are some questions that are not being asked. So I will raise one here.

As preface: the question I am about to ask is quite serious, rather than dismissive. Also, it is intentionally set at a nexus of many issues; it is at heart a short question that demands a very long answer to be answered well: the fact that the complex relationships between race and Christianity, Christianity and state power, and race and the state are all interconnected is just the beginning. The goal of the question is this: by highlighting the complexity around race, Christianity, and politics in America, I am gesturing to the depth racial issues go, and that therefore racial issues go far deeper in the American psyche than most willingly recognize. Of course this is not original to me, but I have yet to hear the issues brought up through the avenue used in this question:

In light of the video below–Rep. Bobby Rush being kicked off the House floor for wearing a hoodie while reading the hopeful promises of the Bible–I have yet another question: what good are the legislative chaplains if the Representatives will kick out their own for this?

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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:

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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.

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race, war

Surprise, Suprise

From Salon:

Rooting out extremists is difficult because racism pervades the military, according to soldiers. They say troops throughout the Middle East use derogatory terms like “hajji” or “sand nigger” to define Arab insurgents and often the Arab population itself.

“Racism was rampant,” recalls vet Michael Prysner, who served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004 as part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade. “All of command, everywhere, it was completely ingrained in the consciousness of every soldier. I’ve heard top generals refer to the Iraq people as ‘hajjis.’ The anti-Arab racism came from the brass. It came from the top. And everything was justified because they weren’t considered people.”

Another vet, Michael Totten, who served in Iraq with the 101st Airborne in 2003 and 2004, says, “It wouldn’t stand out if you said ‘sand niggers,’ even if you aren’t a neo-Nazi.” Totten says his perspective has changed in the intervening years, but “at the time, I used the words ‘sand nigger.’ I didn’t consider ‘hajji’ to be derogatory.”

Geoffrey Millard, an organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War, served in Iraq for 13 months, beginning in 2004, as part of the 42nd Infantry Division. He recalls Gen. George Casey, who served as the commander in Iraq from 2004 to 2007, addressing a briefing he attended in the summer of 2005 at Forward Operating Base, outside Tikrit. “As he walked past, he was talking about some incident that had just happened, and he was talking about how ‘these stupid fucking hajjis couldn’t figure shit out.’ And I’m just like, Are you kidding me? This is Gen. Casey, the highest-ranking guy in Iraq, referring to the Iraqi people as ‘fucking hajjis.'” (A spokesperson for Casey, now the Army Chief of Staff, said the general “did not make this statement.”)

“The military is attractive to white supremacists,” Millard says, “because the war itself is racist.”

I don’t think this should surprise anyone.

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race

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.

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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.

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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.

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