This weekend, I was on Twitter, and there it was again. Another hashtag, #EricGarner, #JusticeForEricGarner. Much like in the past #Justice4Trayvon, #JusticeForRenisha, #RememberRenisha. I saw the horrorifying, gory headlines, and I was afraid to click the linkbait. What happened this time?
According to newsoutlets, Eric Garner was being racially profiled by New York Police. They were practicing the Stop & Frisk white supremacy enacted originally by former mayor Rudy Giuliani. Now some “news” sources will point to Garner’s history with the police, drug possession. The War on Drugs is a satanic manifestation of White Supremacy, and it is looking like it’s end will be just as racist. Just last week, in Colorado, there was a business convention for teaching White middle class folks how to get into the business of selling legal marijuana. My point is two fold: the hypocrisy of white libertarianism to claim to be helping Blacks be wanting to end the Drug War. Not true. The conclusion of the Drug War if it ends with all 50 states legalizing pot, will still have its casualties: the thousands of black and brown bodies thrown in prison, the poor neighborhood who faced militarized police squads, families destroyed. The lack of acknowledgement of these casualties is revealing of society’s persistent anti-blackness.
And secondly, the mark of criminality imposed on black bodies still remains. Any black persons whose lives are ended by the police, the white supremacist media will find in their records to justify the lethal action taken. This leads our discussion back to Eric Garner, a husband, and a father of six with a history of health problems. One officer used an illegal chokehold on Garner. What type of an environment creates a situation like that? One that tacitly accept racist policies, Stop And Frisk, as well as the national War On Black People, I mean Drugs.
The above social analysis I just gave could be seen as a possible sobering presentation of facts plus the victims’ stories. Stories remind us that victims are real flesh and blood, and not just nameless statistics. Unfortunately, there are would-be “allies” out there who take a less helpful approach. One progressive pastor made Eric Garner’s death an opportunity to talk about the guilt of white churches.
And then, for all the shaming he did, his conclusion wasn’t even helpful. Simply praying on Sundays to end police violence versus Black persons is not enough. Prayer means getting involved in the life of God, which means enjoying God’s presence in the midst of the oppressed. Far from being liberating, guilt trips by white progressives make the stories of victims of racism more about the dominant culture rather than the actual direct sufferers of White Supremacist violence. Unfortunately, advocates of White Guilt more often than not, center their own feelings and narratives, rather than the pain of Others; which, in the end leads White progressives to take no action at all!
That’s the problem when White Brogressive saviors try to discuss racism, because they cannot speak from experience. Guilt is a necessary neutral thing, neither good or bad, but it becomes bad when whites use guilt to shame others and hold them hostage, while at the same time, erasing the agency of People of Color. I agree with Christena Cleveland that guilt can cause the comfortable to feel much needed discomfort, but feelings of guilt, from my perspective cannot be made the center or foundational.
Recently, I’ve been re-thinking the subject of empire studies. While the historical data does add up, there is a risk involved in focusing solely on how bad empires are (collective guilt). This act in and of itself re-centers the narrative on the dominant culture once more, albeit it places it on the defensive, but still Whiteness remains the center of attention. With Austin I agree, the stories of the marginalized are not made for Whiteness. In an essay on Oliver C. Cox and economics, Katie G. Cannon observes, she points out that for Carter G Woodson and Cox, racism was a mis-education. “Black people are presented as negligible contributors to the substantive interpretation of the world, whereas Whites are depicted as the source of all the worthwhile intellectual accomplishments.” (For more see, Racism and Economics: The perspective of Oliver C Cox)
In short, white supremacy denies moral agency to People of Color. To the extent that white guilt centers whiteness and white individual persons’ feelings, the cycle of violence of white supremacy continues. In his opening chapter of Black Theology and Black Power, James Hal Cone addressed White Guilt this way: “White Americans dare not know that blacks are beaten at will by policemen as a means of protecting the latter’s ego superiority as well as that of the larger white middle class. For to know is to be responsible. To know is to understand why blacks riot at what seems slight provocation. [...] they must believe blacks are in poverty because they are lazy or because they are inferior. Yes they must believe that everything is basically all right.”
The problem of Police Brutality and White supremacy is a theological problem, through and through, specifically one of atonement. As Samuel Logan accurately hinted at in his Good Punishment? An American society inspired by a version of Calvinist Christianity is somewhat committed to Substitutionary Atonements. The Guilt of the Criminal Element of our society must be placed on the bodies of those who are in prison, or resemble them. The bodies of People of Color must perish so that the whole can be experience redemption. The Wrath of God is bestowed upon the power of the state, and Black bodies are His sacrifice.
I realize that many White progresives are still growing out of this theological context, where the transference of guilt is made central. Liberationist Christianity provides a way forward. The preference for the biblical and historic doctrine of Christus Victor is an appropriate response to racist systems of violence. Christ came that we may have life, and have it more abundantly. Jesus came and rescued us from the powers of Satan, oppression, and death. The Crucifixion is not a passive acceptance of human or divine brutality; it is the path to true resistance. Christian anti-racist praxis should be modelled in Christ’s Victory is founded on God’s goodness revealed in God’s own praxis.
Just as Christ got up on the Cross in spite of his fear, we should go and do likewise. Act in spite of our doubts, our anger, our overwhelming guilt. Do good now, and then reflect later. Let us work to end the War On Black People.