The Luxury of Liberation: A Look at the Hagar Narrative

Delores William’s Sister in the Wilderness: The Challenge of Womanist God-Talk is a thought provoking text that questions some of the dominant paradigms in both politics and theology. Her work transcends the fields of theology, ethics, politics, history, biblical studies and various other discourses. In particular she begins by questioning the maleness of African American political theology. Williams was a student of James Hal Cone while at Union Theological Seminary. Cone has gained great renowned for his articulation of the black experience in a variety of different fields including; theology, history, politics, ethics, and anthropology . Williams although interested in the black experience believes that not all black experiences are the same. Specifically she is interested in articulating the interest of the black women from a historical, theological, and political perspective. She traces the historical experiences of black women beyond traditional male patriarchal discourse (black and white) using the Hagar narrative in favor of the Exodus narrative. The Exodus story tells how God delivered the Jewish people from the hands of the pharaoh through his servant Moses. Thus the explicit context of this story shows how God used God’s male servant to deliver God’s people from more male oppressor. The Hebrew people are certainly identifiable as people of color, which brings this narrative into the context of liberation theology. Context places this narrative as the plight of the modern day African American. The implicit meaning is that is that this story actually describes the modern day African American.

The voice and therefore, the struggle of modern day African American women is left out of this conversation. Williams examines the plight of African American women in the modern world to the story of Hagar. Hagar by today’s standards is a second class citizen because she is the maidservant of Abraham. She has no control over her own life and even though God liberates Abraham from his oppressor and gives him promises of prosperity, Hagar has no such promise. Thus for Hagar in this story she is not concerned with liberation because that seems like a luxury for her. Hagar’s concern is mere survival. Abraham forces her to leave and face the world all on her own, which in her day was an extremely difficult task because of the vulnerability of women (especially Women of Color). Hagar has only God to depend on for survival and in one of the most emotional moments in the Hebrew Bible she experiences her own theophany. God appears before her in the midst of her vulnerability to ensure her of her survival. God hears the cries of Ishmael and tells Hagar God’s plan for her prosperity through her son. The immediate concern in this story is survival. For Hagar liberation is so far removed it was not even in the peripheral. T

This is pivotal to taking a look at the various African American experiences that goes beyond liberation. Specifically Williams work have great relevance to many black women/ women of color in both the US and the 2/3rds world today. Many of these women do not have any of the assurance that their male counterparts have and suffer from the same vulnerabilities that Hagar suffered from and thus traditional notions of liberation are not even applicable. Williams speaks to the political domination that women of color have felt historically. Her analysis is multidimensional including aspects of race, class, gender, and even sexuality. William’s use of the Hagar narratives expounds upon an issue that is critical to modern day biblical interpretation: that is necessary to continually develop relevant narratives that go beyond liberation to address the myriad of issues that we are faced with today.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, Lyotard and the power of discourse

This week for those follow the sports world there has been much ado about the video that has recently surfaced about Ray Rice concerning his assault cause on his then fiancé ( current spouse) Janay Palmer. While the details of the video are indeed graphic one does not need to see it to imagine what happened to Janay Palmer in the video. However, judging from its constant replay from various media outlets it would seem that the video completely changed the situation. Whether it is players who have now openly condemned Ray Rice and his actions or NFL who has suspended Ray Rice indefinitely for his actions it would appear that video evidence has changed everything. Examining the way video evidence has effect public perception of both Ray Rice and his actions reminds me of the Jean-Francois Lyotard’s writing on figurative discourse.

Lytorad in his early writing states “What is important in a text is not what it means but what it does and incites to do.” (Lyotard 1984b: pp. 9-10). For Lytorard what a text does is to transmit a message that has a certain effect on the recipients. Furthermore, a text incites transforms energy into other texts such as paintings, photographs, film sequences, political action, decisions, erotic inspiration, and even acts of insubordination. In this way text can broadly be conceived as particular story that is being told through a narrative in discourse. Thus according to Lyotard the video evidence of Ray Rice’s assault also serves as a form of text. When examining this text though we can see what it has done and what it has incited us to do. For starters this text has portrayed a different picture about domestic violence. As many people from various media outlets have already noted domestic violence is not pretty, it presents the very worst in humanity. Video imagery of this has caused many people to no longer leave the portrait of domestic violence to the imagination. This in turn has evoked a very visceral reaction from many people. Previously, those who were calling for Roger Goodell to lose his job over his handling of this incident were minimal at best. Currently, these voices have grown so loud that Goodell has hired and independent firm to investigate the way the NFL has handled this issue. Furthermore, Goodell in recent weeks has openly admitted his egregious mistake with his original two game suspension of Rice and has also adapted new policies and procedures to address domestic violence in the NFL. Not only has the video incited the NFL and the Ravens into action it has also affected other teams as well. Where previously the Carolina Panthers had not given a second thought to playing Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Hardy (convicted of beating and threatening to kill his girlfriend), deactivated him for their week two matchup. I think Lyotard has rightly stated the important of the form of a text within a given context. This evident through looking at narrative stories through the various forms of texts and the reactions that they have elicited.

He elaborates on his notion of text in his work Discours, figure. Lyotard in this work notes that the nature of discourse has primarily been shaped by written text and the language used within a given text. However, he believes that there is another layer to every given form of text. There is a constitutive difference which is not to be read but to be seen (Lyotard 1971; p.9). It is this aspect of discourse that has continually been forgotten. In other words, for any form of discourse Lyotard wonders why it is only the language and the written of a text that perceived by most people. This brings us back to the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Prior to the release of the video written testimony of incident had already been revealed. We had heard from Ray Rice and various other outlets what had happened. However, despite this there was seemingly no consensus on how to view the situation. More importantly those who possessed the power to rectify the situation such as the Baltimore Ravens organization and Roger Goodell did not believe they had enough evidence to enforce a harsher punishment. They privileged the written discourse over the other figures and forms that tell this specific narrative of domestic violence. One could convincingly argue that the first video released along with Rice’s original apology (which did not include his wife) are sufficient forms of text to necessitate a harsher punishment of Rice’s actions than the two game suspension he received in July. The privileging of the discourse as written text is precisely what Lyotard argues against in his discussion of binary opposition in his work Discours, figure. Binary oppositions are the conflicts between figure and discourse.

In this sense discourse is used to describe written text and language while figure implies the various other forms that a text can have. All too often saying is privileged over seeing, reading over perceiving and universality over singularity. He stresses figure, form, and image in semiotic theories over language. It leaves one to question why there is such an emphasis on the written/ linguistic nature of discourse instead of the various forms that discourse can occur in. For the Ray Rice case it begs the question why must video evidence be necessary to truly begin to address the issue of domestic violence in the National Football League. Should not the other forms texts that tell this story also have substantial weight? In any case reflecting on the writing of Jean Francois Lyotard can provide a way to reflect on a myriad of socio-political issues including domestic violence and how we often fall into the trap of binary oppositions. Perhaps the texts we should start with is the stories of survivors and victims of domestic violence themselves, and allow their stories to transform our views and practices.

G.R.R.

Godaime Raikage Richard. Sociology of Religion. Japanime. Sports. Liberation. Brother of h00die_R.

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The #faithfeminisms project and synchroblog

This week, a group of my friends including Suzannah Paul and Austin Brown have launched a writing project on feminism and faith. This will include a synchroblog and 30 second podcasts. As a U.S. Black CisHet male theologian in dialogue with womanist and feminist theologies, the diverse setting and promising goals of the project are exciting. Some of the questions the #faithfeminisms project will be asking:

“How does feminist thought or theory shape your faith expression? How has your theology stirred you to work for liberation? What tensions do you experience, and how do you navigate them? How are you complicit in oppression within and outside the church? How have you failed as a feminist, and what are you learning? What challenges does the future hold for our daughters and sons who will carry on this work? Does fighting for justice make way for peace? What does healthy conflict entail? How are privilege and power wielded for good and ill? How can we honor a multiplicity of voices without perpetuating further marginalization? How can ministries seek liberation and shalom? What does a robust, intersectional, liberative feminist theology look like in practice? What is the relationship of contemplation to activism? Who teaches and inspires you? What brings you hope? How do we grow as a movement for justice and as communities and people of faith?”

I plan on working on at least 2 posts focusing on a few questions: “What does a robust, intersectional liberative feminist theology look like?” And, “What does healthy conflict entail?” And “How am I complicit in oppression inside and outside the church?” If you’re interested in doing a guest post for this synchroblog, comment below.

The synchroblog ends Friday, July 25th, here is a link to the #faithfeminisms website for more details about the synchroblog.

h00die_R (Rod)

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men at work: how sexism operates #CancelColbert

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I have written on the Tone Argument before this year, and I’ll leave you with this here link. What I want to very very briefly talk about is the problem of Tone Arguments and Patriarchy.

For anyone who not living under at rock, writer and activist Stewy Suey Park started a hashtag: #CancelColbert to confront the ironic racism of Stephen Colbert’s supposed call out of Washington [enter racial slur for Native Americans here] owner Daniel Snyder.  The point was not to take away Colbert’s means of employment (hey, it’s always about the allies, #amirite!!!), it was about how ironic racism is not the answer to addressing the racism of white supremacist mythologies perpetuated by making First Nations peoples our mascots.  White liberals and conservatives alike continue to view the problem of racism and institutional white supremacy as that of being one of private, individual sins.  It is this continued failure of listening to the stories and the actual arguments that Persons of Color make that perpetuates the White Supremacist talking point that the anti-racists are the real racists.

The way the conversation about #CancelColbert has been framed, has been, per usual, one that favors the White Supremacist and Male Supremacist Gazes. Take for example the Washington Post’s story on Suey Park’s interview on HuffPo Live. Her interviewer is portrayed as the civil, objective, reasonable host: “Josh Zepps is a host on HuffPost Live. He presides over many interesting and civil conversations with guests on a wide variety of topics. Generally they end in a civil manner.”

Meanwhile, Suey Park is described as “the Korean-American Twitter hashtag activist” who “roared again” in protest of ironic racism. The author of the report, Erik Wemple doesn’t even bother to name the race or gender of Josh Zepps. Because he doesn’t have to. Zepps is the default for what it means to be a human being, and therefore, HE represents all that is universal and rational and good in journalism. Suey is not an anti-racist activist or social justice activist, but “Anti-Colbert” activist, because ironic racism is all about the individual according to the worldview of white liberalism. And once more, just as we discussed with Twitter’s White Supremacist Toxic Wars, Women of Color are once more dehumanized and made more animalistic [READ: dangerous, angry, more subjective, irrational]; Suey doesn’t argue, contend, debate; she “ROARS” which is less a compliment given the way Wemple frames the discussion.

The interview was not that lengthy for the simple fact of Zepp’s vehement sexism, as seen in his denial of Stewy’s Suey’s agency and capacity to reason, you know, and in general, her experience; Zepps’ responded in defense of white liberal men everywhere: “No one’s minimalizing your experiences, no one’s minimalizing your right to have an opinion.” Ummmm Really Zepps? Did you follow the hashtag #CancelSueyPark [frell no, I am not bothering to link that garbage], the Male Supremacist and White Supremacist response to #CancelColbert? Have you ever bothered to read the timelines of Women of Color who are academics/activists/both and see the trolls they have to deal with? So, I think it’s rather a bizarre claim to make, unless of course, Zepps, being the rational objective dude that he is, meant the EXACT OPPOSITE of what he was claiming. Which of course, seconds later in the interview:

“It’s just a stupid opinion.”

And there you have it. The thoughts and labors of Women of Color don’t matter for moderate objective journalists like Zepps. What matters is that his progressive Male Supremacist narrative be kept in tact to silence women speaking out on gender and racial oppression. And Park’s response was appropriate: “You just called my opinion stupid, you just called my opinion stupid. That’s incredibly unproductive. And I don’t think I’m going to enact the labor of explaining to you why it’s incredibly offensive and patronizing.” Frantz Fanon observed in Wretched Of The Earth that the media is always ALWAYS ALWAYS going to oppress the colonized in the name of objectivity, FAIR AND BALANCED reporting. In other words, Objectivity is a weapon by the Oppressor to deny the agency of the Oppressed, in this case, Women of Color. Civility then is usually a White Supremacist dog-whistle that is utilized to shut down the voices of anti-oppression.

Another example of the way we men passive-aggressively embody our Male Supremacist narratives is in the area of religion. Growing up Baptist, I experienced from a very early age how powerful male pastors were and the abuses of power thereof used in the pulpit. Recently, my friend Katie Grimes wrote a post criticizing a local parish priest for using his bully pulpit to make a hostile atmosphere for a family with young children. According to Grimes,

“In view of the entire congregation, he chastised the parents, telling them that it was inappropriate for their children to be eating, drinking, and playing with toys during mass. Even though they were well-behaved (a parishioner sitting within earshot of this exchange had not even noticed the children’s activity until the pastor descended to condemn them), he said the children were “distracting” him.”

Now, the theological assumptions behind this display of Male Power is highly problematic. Children distracting the HOMILIST! Is this really what the ministry of Jesus was about? It was about our sermons? Correct me if I am wrong, but really, aren’t only Protestant worship services supposed to be centered on the Preached Word [andro-centric Logos theology that it is]? Secondly, rather than addressing children as free human subjects, as Jesus and the apostle Paul did, the priest made them objects, mere things that distract HIS LITTLE HOMILY. Christianity is not about MEN standing up in front an altar, reading from our little notecards or Amazon Kindles, sermonizing and lecturing; Christianity is the religion of the Pentecost, where the Spirit fills women and men to preach the Good News of the Resurrection, and God’s love for everyone.

The performance of THE sermon, apart from any notion of Pentecost, remains a Male Supremacist ritual. The Male Supremacist gaze neglects the humanity of women and children, and we see this in the incident that Katie talked about quite clearly. Men are not supposed to take care of children. Children and women are not meant for the public square, i.e., the teaching offices in Christianity. They are only meant to be taken care of at home. That is their sphere. What makes Katie’s story even all the more shocking is that rather than make amends for the damage to the family the priest had done; today Katie updated us (via facebook), that the priest actually called out Katie WITHOUT NAMING HER. Referring to Katie’s work as something written by a student with a Masters’ Degree in Theological Ethics, the father of the parish went on to use the time that’s supposed to be set aside to focus on Christ to talk about his disagreement with a congregant. Now, I’ve seen pastor’s sermons briefly refer to personal disagreements, and it just doesn’t sit well. By failing to make sermons Christ-centered, and instead objectifying dissidents within your congregations, male pastors wind up making the Church the face of Male Supremacy.

Just as Suey Park was not introduced to the audience first as her name in the Washington Post article ["Korean-American hash-tag activist"], Katie went unnamed (but recognized probably) and therefore dehumanized.  By not naming, and therefore not addressing women as moral agents,   Male Supremacy narratives continue to function as truth regimes, especially in the worlds of journalism and religion.To wax James Cone in Black Theology And Black Power, “HE who does not affirm me, OPPOSES ME.”

h00die_R (Rod)

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The Power Of Love part 2: Gendering Black Theology & Black Power

CHRISTIAN NATIONS AND SLAVE NARRATIONS

white heart

To keep up with this series, please read the first post: James Cone’s Relational Theology

In my first post of this series, I took on the burden of showing how U.S. Black liberation theology, and therefore possible all liberation theologies, should be rightfully called part of the emerging schools of relational theologies. Using James Cone as my example for this thought experiment, I looked at how much his earliest writing, the underrated text, Black Theology and Black Power, hid beneath its confrontational and angry tone, a loving God who shared God’s power with humanity. James Hal Cone’s particularly Wesleyan/Holiness Neo-Orthodox [Barthian] understanding of the Creator’s movement in Genesis 1 & 2 allows him and subsequent liberation theologians to do critical power analysis by starting with God in se. By [correctly] locating God’s presence among the crucified persons of history, Cone systematized a theology of God’s love with God’s special election of the oppressed as a fixture. I want to make my purpose for this series clear; this is not an attempt to make liberation theology “palatable” as some Public Relations stunt done in hindsight or reveal anything on my part for Liberation Theology to become “MainStream”; what I intend to do is to look at liberation theologians’ understanding of love and how we continue a refusal to severe our understanding of what it means to be loving from what it means to be just. I am doing this as part of a pushback of what I see frequently being done today in the academy, in churches, and online, with pastors and bloggers wishing to silence voices for justice in the name of being relational [nice & civil], love.

The question I wish to address in this particular post is: What went wrong with James Cone’s revolution? Excuse me if I dismiss the right wing U.S. American politics of the 1980’s with ‘Merica’s several invasions and overthrows interventions in Latin America and in places like Haiti where a liberation theologian was popularly elected as head of state.  Staying in the academic context, James Cone’s awe-inspiring efforts to oust white supremacy were ultimately undone by his own doing.  The popular narrative that we hear in seminary is Tillich and Barth neglected Men of Color, James Cone neglected women, and Womanism supersedes both of them.  This divide and conquer approach to theology is quite unhelpful for those of us who seek to work for liberation. This approach to theology is part of a White progressive metanarrative that conveniently works to dismiss criticisms of racism and is more than eager to return to the status quo (Tillich and Barth, with a little bit of white Lean-In feminism mixed in).  As a Trinitarian, I envision theology and tradition as being done in a circle, with Jesus the Word at the center, and writers, theologians, pastors, bloggers, and laypersons dancing and dialoguing, partaking in Christ’s life, mutually exchanging ideas and our encounters with the Risen King.

Let’s not pretend like our run-of-the-mill mainline Protestant theologian is doing theology by studying the intersections of race and gender too.  He’s not using or writing theological works by Womanists or other Women of Color. Studies have shown the POC most cited by white theologians is the late Reverend Dr. MLK Jr.  The White Progressive Relational narrative of supersessionism keeps the status quo virtually in tact with a few qualifications.  The prophetic challenge made by Cone well over three decades ago goes silently into the night, so one would seem to think.  I have been considering Cone as a relational theologian for quite some time, and even presented a paper on it at a regional American Academy of Religion meeting, in dialogue with Womanist and Patristic theologies.

It was not until recently had I took the opportunity to consider James Cone as a theologian of gender as well.  I had bought hook, line and sinker to the [false] narrative of how Womanist God-talk overcame Black liberation theology [and therefore shutdown anti-racism critiques via academic derailing].  That was until I read, and re-read over and again Amaryah Shaye’s awesome post  Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness. Before you read the rest of this post, please read Amaryah’s post, because this essay is in dialogue with some of her insights. My plan is to move from Amaryah’s points about blackness being gendered into a different direction (or maybe it is the same direction?).

THIS IS A [ANGRY BLACK] MAN’S WORLD

First things first, I am not going to dismiss the criticisms that James Cone’s theology in his early work was patriarchal. In fact, I plan on embracing this weakness as part of this discussion on gender and blackness. With Shaye, I recognize the limitations of Cone’s work, and how Womanist Theology has been offered in the academy as a trump card; Amaryah puts it this way,

“Black women as situated at the intersection of multiple oppressions (race, gender, and class) become the starting point for doing this theology. This move seems to suggest that blackness, which Cone defines as “ontological symbol” and “visible reality”, is limited as a starting place to liberative theology because it is not particularly gendered. It is interesting, then, that womanist theology is often cited as a way of both intervening in and disabling discussions of race, gender, power, and theology which seems to have the unintended effects of recentering white women as proper subjects of gender analysis and black men as the proper objects of racial analysis.”

If you recall, I noted in my previous post for this series that Cone does not believe blackness to be a category that is natural, biologically determined set of traits and personalities. Blackness as a symbol is an orientation towards being in solidarity with the oppressed. If Blackness is indeed a symbol born out of racial and gender violence, then blackness as a way of being, doing and thinking has implications for not only racial performance, but also gender performativity as well.

Let us first start with how James Cone identifies himself before he moves forward with his Christological arguments against White Supremacist Religiousity. In Black Theology and Black Power, Cone says,

“This work, then, is written with a definite attitude, the attitude of an angry black man, disgusted at the oppression of black people in America, and with the scholarly demand to be “objective” about it.”

(page 2)

James Cone’s task for his post-Civil Rights movement theology of love is to form a people. It is in this desire for people-formation, that of a Black Church that practices anti-Racist Christianity that James Cone injects gender into the equation of Black liberation. In another place in BT&BP, Cone claims, “If in this process of speaking for myself, I should happen to touch the souls of black brothers (including black men in white skins) so much better.” (ibid) Another point to be taken away is that Cone locates himself in the United States, and makes sure we know where his anger and love is directed to: “I am critical of white America, because this is my country; and what is mine must not be spared my emotional and intellectual scrutiny.” (page 4)

Black Theology & Black Power is one of a few theological responses written by black male systematic theologians to Black nationalist movements and factions such as the original Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; Two other examples include Liberation And Reconciliation: A Black Theology by J. Deotis Roberts and  The Black Messiah by Albert Cleage.  As a post-colonial writer, I know that there are a few schools of thought pertaining to nationalisms and how they function in domination systems when it comes to anti-imperial resistance.  Ranging from seeing nationalism as cautiously good , to something we should hold with ambivalence, as well  as seeing nationalism and the nation-state as concepts that remain necessarily hegemonic and violent.  In his essay, “DissemiNation: time, narrative, and the margins of the modern nation,” Homi K. Bhabha writes that the notion of “peopledom” or “the nation” are not historical events or” patriotic body politics,” but remain part of a “complex rhetorical strategy of social reference where the claim to be representative provokes a crisis within the process of signification and discursive address.”

Cone wrote in Black Theology and Black Power to create a national culture that would be be centered in the Black Church.  By claiming to speak only for himself, Cone conversely re-positions himself as a representative of the U.S. Black radical tradition.  It is difficult for us to conceive of a discourse on national culture where love and hate do not occupy the same psychic space, as Homi Bhabha argues because nation-states need an Other in which to assert their aggression.  However, because James Cone adopts Anders Nygrens’ theology of love, whereby God imputes agage-love into creation through the election of Israel and the Incarnation of Christ, there is no need for any hate or bigotry in Cone’s relational theology.  Instead, what we have is a revolutionary struggle for the sake of saving the souls of both White Supremacists as well as victims of racism.  Cone’s community does not exist for some imaginary, law and order nation-state; it lives and breathes for the Kingdom of God, which is always on the move with the liberating presence of Jesus.

If It Wasn’t For The Womanists

You would think that this Jesus Juke you just witnessed above gets James Cone off the hook for his patriarchal presentation of blackness. NOPE! It is precisely because Cone relies on the rhetorical strategies of Black nationalist movements that Black theology’s sexism must now undergo scrutiny.  What I am saying is that it is just not enough [and feel free to vehemently disagree with me in the comments] to say that Cone is in the wrong simply because he excludes black women’s experience from his work.  The valuing of inclusion is something that neoliberal institutions such as universities and corporations love to talk about, but they only seem able to talk about inclusion as the end all be all, and not the violent natures and histories of their exclusions.

I have lost count about how many times I have written about negative stereotypes of Black people but Cone defines Black Power as the capacity for black men to not be “poisoned” by the negative tropes White Supremacist narratives have placed on him (page 8).  White Supremacist systems demonically sexualizes black bodies while erasing their genders.  The purpose that dark bodies serve is to be at the pleasure of their Masters all the while remaining threats to their Masters.  I side with Amaryah Shaye’s take on Cone,

“It is precisely because blackness is gendered as ungendered that the violence of violation and exploitation that constitutes black bodies is worked.  Instead, of saying Cone’s theology doesn’t have anything to say about gender, we might say that Cone highlights the ungendered nature of blackness primarily through his engagement with blackness as a struggle against the gratuitous violence that visits black bodies on the regular.”

While Shaye is reflecting on A Black Theology of Liberation, I return once more to Black Theology and Black Power with a few examples.  Pointing to the economic violence of white racism,

“A black theologian wants to know what the gospel has to say to a man who is jobless and cannot get work to support his family because the society is unjust.  He wants to know what is God’s Word to the countless boys and girls who are fatherless and motherless because white society decreed that blacks have no rights”

(page 43).

Enter James Cone’s anachronistic, a-historical reading of black experiences during Jim and Jane Crow law.  Cone portrays the black familial experience of one ideal, nuclear family beaten at the hands of White Supremacy, where the black man is unable to be the breadwinner.  Reality is from the time of African enslavement on these shores to legal segregation and up until today, black women have always shared the title of “breadwinner.”

Waiting To Exile

Cone also argues that America’s racism is “biologically analogous” to women’s pregnancies, either a country is not racist or it is [he's arguing along the same lines as Frantz Fanon in Towards The African Revolution].  Fanon’s line of argumentation was that all imperialist nations are racist because the creation of colonies requires racist logic. Fanon successfully makes his case without the need for a gendered understanding of nations. Unfortunately, James Cone epically fails in this regard.

With nationalist rhetoric, the bodies of women are quite frequently used to represent nation-states; this further perpetuates rape culture, and male ownership over the female body.  Issues of territorialism, war, and economics come to mind, particularly when we are dealing with issues such as the raping of wives, mothers, and daughters as a tactic for war.  Indeed James Cone is at war with White Supremacy, and depends on militaristic language to resist the white supremacist conservative and liberal churches.  Denouncing white intellectual arrogance, Cone questions whether white men’s ability to have the answer to the problem of race:

“Why must the white man assume that he has the intellectual ability or the moral sensitivity to know what blacks feel or to ease the pain, to smooth the hurt, to eradicate the resentment? Since he knows he raped our women, dehumanized our men, and made it inevitable that black children should hate their blackness, he ought to understand  why blacks must cease from listening to him in order to be free.”

(page 21)

Cone goes on to depict White Supremacy as a system that gave “whites’ freedom to beat, rape, and kill blacks” (41). Cone’s concern for gendered experiences are limited to the extent sexual violence is occurred upon black bodies. While Cone remains problematically silent on violence as particularly gendered, what he does do is names rape culture as part of the experience of black oppression. Part of the problem with the so-called victory of relational theologies is that many white Christians, specifically emergents, feel like they need to relate their experiences to everyone else’s when this should not be the case. For clarity, what I am trying to say is that relational theology is both about God’s interrelation with the world as well as God being All-present mystery. Because human beings are made in the Imago Dei, we cannot fully know how each other feel. To know is not only to be responsible as I wrote in the previous post, but to know that we just will never know the other, and respect others’ boundaries and differences because that is what divine love looks like.

James Cone’s use of Blackness as a religious symbol does come with its problems. If Jesus is essentially black, what does that mean for persons in the Black atheist tradition? Are all blacks essentially theists and religious? I find Delores S. Williams’ Wilderness Experience as a nice corrective to such an Exodus/Nationalist approach. The Wilderness Experience is easily reconcilable with Liberation theology, and may look something like what many theologians call an Exile approach to religion, with Christianity’s natural place as one of radical marginality, and always on the move. This is a Christianity without borders, without an attachment to a nation-state, like the story of Hagar and Ishmael, is a story that is as Williams hopes for “male/female/family inclusive.” Finally because Cone works with Blackness as a symbol, he frees up theology from relying on anatomical and biological understandings of humanity’s original sinfulness, and opens up the possibilities for immense human change through repentance.  As a relational theologian, Cone’s theology of gender affirms all human bodies as essentially good.

Next week, in part three, I shall look at James Cone’s theology of the cross and the Culture of Death, and what constitutes Modern-Day lynching in 2014.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Reconsidering Cone: Gendering Blackness by Amaryah Shaye

Europe’s MAD MEN: Don Draper, Norway, Race, and the Rise of the Right

Ephesians 6 and Dominionism

On Utopian Christianity: Rick Perry’s The Response, The Nation-State, and the Bible

Ishmael and Immigration: A Postcolonial Reading of Genesis 16

Origen of Alexandria: the Third Commandment and the Pledge of Allegiance

Recommended Reading:

Sisters In The Wilderness: the Challenge of Womanist God-Talk by Delores Williams

Deeper Shades of Purple: Womanism in Religion and Society editted by Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas

Black Theology and Black Power as well as A Black Theology of Liberation both by James Cone

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White Saviorism and Cultural Appropriation In Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”

WHITE (SUPREMACIST) WALLS, ANTI-BLACKNESS AND BLACK MALE SEXUALITY

As interesting as the year 2013 has been, one thing has remained consistent: the greatest perpetrator of anti-blackness and white supremacist folklore has been the music industry. The examples are numerous from Robin Thicke and Miley Cyrus, to LL Cool J’s and Brad Paisley’s love song to the Confederacy in “Accidental Racist” to the grotesque “Asian Girlz” by Day Above Ground. Going beyond mere cultural ignorance, each case represents a the symptoms of a much larger problem: the death-grip that white supremacist myths have over our social institutions.

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on Februar...

speaking at CPAC in Washington D.C. on February 12, 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In this respect, Hip Hop is really no different from any other style of music. I have expressed my doubts about hip hop as a space for political freedom, and I find it no coincidence that the same corporations that our privatizing our prisons are the exact same ones sponsoring the hip hop industry’s music and movies. Hip hop was once an expression of artistic creativity that began in the 1970’s, as an outlet for surviving economic and racial oppression. Artists ranging from Run-DMC to to Ice-T asked the questions that society did not want to answer. If anything, music as art should be used as a form of inquiring what needs to be asked. Fast forward to today, what I hear from my peers is that hip hop culture is mostly about “boot booty booty music” “twerking” “ratchet” EXCEPT for artists like Macklemore, (the stage name for Ben Haggerty) and Ryan Lewis.

English: Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon. ...

English: Elvis Presley meeting Richard Nixon. On December 21, 1970, at his own request, Presley met then-President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office of The White House. Elvis is on the right. Waggishly, this picture is said to be ‘of the two greatest recording artists of the 20th century’. The Nixon Library & Birthplace sells a number of souvenir items with this photo and the caption, “The President & the King.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Hip hop was a music style created by persons of color; just as rock’n’roll was. White persons appropriating black music styles is not original in the least; before there was Eminem, KJ-52, and Macklemore, there was Pat Boone and Elvis Presley. The logic behind the launching of careers such as Boone was one of racial segregation. Boone had teens swooning to black music, but with a white face. This very much like the logic behind whitewashing movie casts in contemporary Hollywood (see for example, Star Trek: Into Darkness): its the assumption that whites are superior and can make more of a profit from white consumers in a racist market.

With white hip hop artists, things are a little different. In the instances of Eminem and Macklemore, both artists have at one point or another, attributed their success to their skin color, and therefore confessed their “white privilege.” This is the point of Eminem’s “White America,”: “I’m on TRL, look at all the hugs I get.” With that simple hook, Eminem is pointing to the hegemonic whiteness of Music Television. “Make ladies swoon baby (ooh baby!) Look at my sales Let’s do the math: if I was black, I woulda sold half.” Eminem’s is brutally honest about his own experience, “When I was underground, no one gave a f***, I was white.” Marshall Mathers makes it clear that his partnership with Dre is an inter-dependent, fruitful one where lyrical genius meets cultural exchange.

Similarly, Macklemore confesses to benefit from his white skin in his song, White Privilege where he contends that hip hop has come a long way, and is now gentrified. He gets the “music without the burden” but hip hop “isn’t just about black and white.” “What happened to jazz and rock’n’ roll is happenin’ now.”  Of all his tracks, “White Privilege” is one that I find the most enjoyable.

However, saying “I’m sorry” is not good enough.  Apologies are born out of privilege, and you can say “My bad” without ever acknowledging the offended party’s agency.  Even progressive artists can be guilty of perpetuating messages of anti-black racism. White hip hop artists such as Macklemore must work to embody [white capitalist] hip hop’s version of blackness while remaining acceptable to white audiences. In the track, “Thrift Store,” Macklemore begins the song by asserting his proximity to blackness vis-a-vis his hyper male-sexuality:

“Nah, walk up to the club like, “What up? I got a big cock!”
I’m so pumped about some shit from the thrift shop
Ice on the fringe, it’s so damn frosty
That people like, “Damn! That’s a cold ass honkey.”

By bragging about his sexual prowess, Macklemore has ascertained the right to enter a space of blackness (the dance club filled with black people wearing thrift store clothes). It is this opening line that shapes the rest of the narrative for the video.

macklemore pimp

To be black and male, as defined in this song, is to be a hyper-sexual animal, with multiple sexual partners. Ben Haggard is “pimped out” in a tiger fur jacket, reminiscent of an Old School trafficker of prostitutes from the 1970’s. Macklemore, because of his white skin, can CHOOSE to embody this form of untamed black sexuality. What goes unspoken is that this is an image that is prominent in hip hop culture and popular media, but it is a white supremacist relic from the days of USian slavocracy.

Negative racial+sexual stereotypes remain foundational for white supremacist mythology. The Hottentot Venus and Mammy Figures are images of Black women that are alive and well in North America’s racial imagination. Enslaved black males were categorized as the Violent Bucks. According to Womanist ethicist Kelly Brown Douglas, being a black man in a white supremacist culture meant being wild, super-potent, angry threats to white civilization. Black manhood was viewed as the competition for white manhood, a potential ravager of white womanhood, and a murderous criminal to both.

The consequences of black men who were “caught” acting upon their violent buck “nature” included castration, mob violence, lynching, and in some cases, all three. The rape of black women during the time of slavery was not a crime; the myth of the black Jezebel taught that black women’s bodies were the gateways to forbidden sexual pleasures. While the abolitionist movement worked to limit the uses of castration (since it was punishment for cases of fugitive black male slaves), dismemberment was a form of discipline to inform enslaved blacks who the masters of their bodies were. The most effective weapon of white supremacist terrorism was lynching. Lynching during the times of enslavement was used to punish escapees, insurgents, and accused rapists. After the Civil War, thousands of blacks were lynched each year to scare them away from using their right to vote and to enforce Jane and Jim Crow Law.

The invocation of the language of lynching has become rather easy in this day and age. White people like to use to when they feel “persecuted” like Hugo Schwyzer simply because they are asked questions. The easiness of these false analogies are proof of a white supremacist culture. Black people’s suffering is readily made available to anyone who wishes to appropriate that experience; however, blacks are told to shut up when we want to discuss history. This is why we should find it appalling that in Eminem’s “White America,” he compared the government placing a silver sticker on his CD’s and albums with ratings, or “censorship” with the act of being lynched.

eminem lynchingIn no way, shape or form is government regulating the freedom of speech like lynching. The practice of lynching took away the basic right to life from African Americans. When there are pranks on college campuses and high schools, the hanging of nooses are not targetting white bodies. Nooses are for the purpose of putting black bodies in their place. The denial of that historical experience by artists such as Eminem is the partaking in white supremacist culture. Lynching as public policy was sustained by the racist logic that Black men were biologically inferior, incapable of self-control, and therefore not worthy of human dignity.

This leads into my last point about Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop.” While he may not admit it, in the video, Macklemore sees himself as bringing dignity to impoverished people of color by shopping and dressing like them Race and gender are social constructions, and as such, remain public performances. As Amaryah Shaye argued in the above essay on Macklemore and “Same Love,” Macklemore confuses his proximity to marginalized communities with solidarity. One image from “Thrift Shop” the video that is quite telling of Macklemore’s White Savior Complex is the scene where he is standing in front of a paintings of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

macklemore jfk

The underlying message of this frame is, “I am giving blacks and Latin@s and poor whites human dignity by me being here.” Given the thrust of the song itself (which is supposed to be about wearing our grandparents clothes to social occasions), this image was entirely unnecessary. Because he is white, Macklemore is free to impugn hegemonic whiteness, his cultural affinity with upper-class, Northern Elite whiteness [even though he is from the Pacific Northwest] and its “progressive” history while fluctuating into spaces created by the marginalized. Macklemore’s presence in oppressed communities is a sign of humanity trickling down onto bodies of color. To the extent that Macklemore speaks for the maginated, he affirms their humanity, and participates in the whiteness of the white ally-industrial complex. On the other hand, as Macklemore works to co-opt disfunctional male blackness as reified by hip hop culture, Macklemore disregards the God-given invaluable worth of women and LGBTQIA persons. Macklemore should not get a pass in his “White Walls” for referring to women as female dogs, and in another track he refers to person in the LGBTQIA community in homophobic terms.

In the end, there not really a difference between hip hop music today done by black male artists and Macklemore other than skin color.  The crucial difference is that Macklemore benefits and profits from entertaining his audience with white supremacist mythology+ white ally liberal white-washings of history.

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h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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My #NaNoWriMo Project: A Curriculum on Mutuality #NaNoRebel

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to ...

The setup for NaNoWriMo at home, if I need to be portable. Long exposure lit by sweeping an LED flashlight over the scene. clickthing.blogspot.com/2008/10/tennish-anyone.html (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November is National Novel Writing Month and the goal is 50,000 words, but just like last year, I plan on being a NaNo rebel yet again. Last year, I started on a book on church history and I do plan on finishing. Someday.

This year, the cat is out of the bag. Look, on thing that gets on my nerves about egalitarians is that we have all of these critiques we level at complementarians, but guess who has all of the resources? Yup, it’s the comps! So, for this November, I hope to work everyday (in addition to working 7 days a week, and blogging) on a curriculum, tentatively entitled, “Together Forever: A Christian Curriculum for Singles, Relationships, and Marriage.” I have already gotten great feedback from one Facebook group. So, I am open. What questions and/or problems need to be addressed in a text like this?

h00die_R (Rod)

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RE: White Supremacy And Beauty Pageants: Cyber racism & Nina Davuluri

Anti-Racist Action banner from Art Against Racism

Anti-Racist Action banner from Art Against Racism (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Right now, you’re probably like, oh no, not another POC whining on the interwebz because of a few racist tweets. They are just “tweets” after all, nothing more. #amiright? Rather than “whining,” POC in the USA should be celebrating and not give into the “negativity!”

First of all, it must be grand to never have had to encounter racism for yourself. Why don’t you take multiple seats, and check your privilege. Victories when it comes to representation (winning pageants, etc) are always ambivalent at best, so there should both be joy and critique to go along with it.  Representation is not enough.  The challenges to white supremacy must be ever vigilant in the struggle to debunk white supremacy where-ever it rings its ugly head, and in this case, it’s both in the definition of what it means to be an American, and white supremacist definitions of beauty that have been readily embraced by the general populace and the media.

I believe that an engagement with Cornel West’s Prophesy Deliverance would be fruitful here, particularly his first chapter outlining a genealogy of white supremacy.  From the Renaissance Era on, European pseudo-scientists and phrenologists appealed for a return to the Greek ideal body of blue eyes, round chin, horizontal forehead, and Graeco-Roman noses defined the faces of white people as the faces of conquerors.  White supremacy starts with hierarchal classifications of bodies that are first catalogued as fact, and then put into practice by way of conquest and discriminatory public policies.

Fast forward to today, with the white supremacist media, where talking heads can get away with promoting racist views of what it means to be an American like CNN’s Todd Starnes. What makes a white woman from Kansas more American than an Indian-American woman? Oh, that’s right, the color of her skin! Miss Davuluri is a USA citizen, which is a requirement for this “scholarship” program, so what exactly is a real American? Am I missing something here? Or did I already say it [white supremacy]? It is not the tweets of individuals who just happened to be bigots that are the problem. Bigotry by persons is not the problem. Systems, institutions, and racist mythologies that justify them are.

I leave you with a quote from a post I did on Pageants and US American politics from almost four years ago, pretty relevant today eerily:

“What is more disturbing than Palin’s or Prejean’s involvement in an ambiguously moral event that parades as a scholarship contest is the Church’s views on the value of human bodies, and which human bodies are valued. Are American temples of God’s Breathe more valuable than Afghani or Iraqi temples of God’s Breathe? Are there certain human bodies we are more likely to execute via the electric chair or go to war with simply because of the color of their skin? American politics, sadly enough, has become not about what a person stands for or has voted for, but what a person looks like, who that person appeals to. Do we trust governors who claim to be conservative because he looks the part, but has never once voted that way in his career? Do we elect a progressive politician who promises to rule from the “center” when in reality he nominates radicals to her administration? This is the real tragedy that the pageantry in North American politics has become. Because looks can be deceiving.”

- The Pageantry of North American Politics: Palin, Prejean, and Priesthood

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h00die_R (Rod)

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What Zambia And Russia Can’t Teach Us About Discipleship

Flag-map of Zambia

Flag-map of Zambia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On More Christian Politics Without Jesus

The last time I responded to the TGC on “natural law” and the “yuck factor,” I do so only through the blog comment section and a post about Paul Over Jesus.  Unlike Thabiti, I do consider myself a “culture warrior,” just a different kind, I like to call it a “multiculture warfare.”  What is particularly bothersome about Thabiti Anyabwile’s latest post on homosexuality, What Zambia and Russia Can Teach Us About Homosexuality and Gay Rights Debate is the lack of criticism geared toward hegemonic violence.  Anyabwile continues to insist that a return to natural-law arguments would be Christians most effective weapon to win back the culture. In his response to my criticism of such an approach, Thabiti said that if Christians were to bring up Jesus, we would be ridiculed.  What? Christians aren’t part of punch-lines right now? What this reasoning boils down to is more Christian politics without Jesus; Jesus’ life, teaching, and Resurrection are stripped of their meaning as church members trust more in themselves, their “man-power” [Republican leadership, control of the policing forces/military] to hold the culture hostage, to restore a 1950’s Utopia that never was.

Christian politics without Jesus the Messiah is andro-centric hegemony.  Apart from the consequence of backlash (when our “enemies” come to power to exact revenge), the idea that the law ever has to be on “OUR” side is a gross misrepresentation of the traditional Christian sex ethic and those who have pronounced it in prior generations.  The Law is unable to teach self-control, and it definitely not able to compel persons to gain will-power.  The Law is violence, both rhetorical and physical violence, it is an unnecessary evil that can never replace the witness of Jesus’ Priestly Office as our Excellent Teacher and Rabbi or the Christian practices of celibacy and sacrament of marriage between one man and one woman. This witness is a nonviolent witness because it seeks to lead by persuasion and not coercion.  It is a Christ-centered approach, the way of being a disciple of Christ Jesus.

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h00die_R (Rod)

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Difference, Diversity, and Reading Choices: Blog Lists & Popularity Contests

I have written about my issues with blogging lists before so this isn’t a new topic. Running a popular blog means writing is relevant, chasing after hits and going after the latest controversy. As a blogger this means we have to keep our eyes on the 24 hour news cycle, or try to keep up with who said what publicly.

Part of the reason I chose to blog six or seven years ago, or if you want to go back to my Myspace and Facebook and Xanga notes I wrote during class in seminary, was because I wanted to express myself. I had no desire (at the time) to be a writer. But that has changed, but my approach is still the same. I know that recently I have hurt people’s feelings with my posts on here and on Tumblr and facebook, and I do not apologize for that. If you take something I have written personally, the fault may be your own especially since I have only gone after systemic forms of oppression. I know this approach does not win me any more followers, but I don’t write for the majority. What I do is write for myself, and for those who dream of justice. I realize that the words I type can give life to others, and they let me know, and that’s a reason to keep writing. For Resurrection.

An interesting conversation developed on Twitter and other blogs today. First, it started with the publishing of Christian Piatt’s 25 Christian blogs You Should Read. One of the problems was that only one person of color’s blog was posted on the list, Christena Cleveland. Cleveland responded with a list of her own making, and I suggest you check it out: People Of Color blog Too: 25 Christian Blogs You Should Be Reading. I am fortunately mentioned on the list. If you know of any other Christian blogs by POC mentioned, comment on that post or on this one, and I will submit it for Christena.

However, the trouble began when (mostly) white Christians started to criticize Christena for adding Thabiti Anyabwile, who stirred up things with his post on same sex marriage and the gag reflex. As I have noted many times, I was the first person really to criticize Thabiti, both in his blog post comment thread and in a separate blog post. Thabiti’s inclusion is problematic because his post disregarded the Imago Dei in persons who identify as LGBTQIA persons. However, I think is inclusion was probably needed for theological diversity and because he is very influential as a writer. I will go on to say a few things: Yes, I was angry this afternoon that the criticism (which I figured was coming)that a conversation on race had been once again derailed by issues of sexuality and same sex marriage. The reason I did so was because Pat Robertson prophelied an all out race war last week, and no white emergent Christian said a word. Robertson’s white supremacist rhethoric is just as harmful as Thabiti’s words.

Secondly, as Sarah N Moon pointed out on Twitter, none of the white emergents took issue with Tony Jones, among others, being on Christian Piatt’s list. This is because it is far too easy for blacks to be seen as having a culture of backwardness, that’s misogynist (people always bringing up hip hop on my facebook) and homophobic (let’s ignore all of Russia’s policies, but whitesplain progress to Africa!). This is just yet another example of white supremacist double standards at play.

While theologically I am in primarily disagreement with Anyabwile, I think it’s important to note why Cleveland added him in the first place:

Thank you for asking about this. I am so sorry that Thabiti’s comments have caused you pain. As someone who has been negatively affected by hurtful language, I think I understand, in part, how unbearably painful blog posts like Thabiti’s recent one can be.

I think of the body of Christ as a family of imperfect people who are irrevocably interconnected. Each of us is an unfinished work-in-progress with great capacity to love others and also great capacity to hurt others. Despite the risk and inevitable pain that this type of relationship brings, I believe that followers of Christ (of all persuasions) are called to be in interdependent relationship with each other, humbly informing each other’s perspectives.

To this end, I listen to and maintain relationships with many people with whom I do not always agree. It is in this same spirit that I continue to listen to and dialogue with various voices within the body of Christ who have said and done racist/sexist things. We all have blind spots (myself included) that lead us to oppress and it’s in the context of relationship and interpersonal dialogue that blind spots and oppression are exposed.
This list represents a wide variety of theological, social and political viewpoints – and not one viewpoint is perfectly complete. As iron sharpens iron, we gain better perspective in relationship with diverse others.”

From the comment section

Bruce Reyes-Chow’s post today also rang with me, as I thought about this discussion:

“Simply put, I refuse to give up on the idea that being community across lines of difference is holy and I remain committed to the idea that we will only get there if more if us embrace the transformational power of extending our spirit, hands and words of graciousness and not rhetorical or physical violence. Words or actions of graciousness are not weak or soft, in fact, they are powerful and strong and find a way to confront injustice without denying the humanity or stripping the dignity of the one who needs to be held accountable.

So no matter how often I am mistaken for that other Asian Presbyterian or told to go back to where I came from, or hear my ancestral language mocked, read racist blogs or feel unsafe, marginalized or excluded because of what I look like . . . I choose the power of graciousness. It may feel better to strike back hard, but that is a choice I must force myself NOT to make at every turn, every day.

A difficult choice for sure, but one I hope more of us make.”

- Bruce Reyes Chow, How I Survive Everyday Racism

I would say that existing alongside difference is a very difficult choice to make, as Reyes Chow put it, but it is the right one. It is the more peaceful and just one.

h00die_R (Rod)

priestly abolitionist time travelling supervillian

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