Monday, July 29, 2013

Smart People Saying Smart Things: Post Trayvon Martin is America's God a White Racist? And If So, How Would You Even Know?

I am touched and impressed by the generosity of those who read We Are Respectable Negroes. You have reached out from the ether, and have been so very kind in supporting our twice a year donation drive. 

We talk about so many things here on We Are Respectable Negroes. The diversity and range of what we discuss is, for me, one of the joys of the site. 

For example, I have been following the discussion about faith in the aftermath of George Zimmerman's acquittal for murdering Trayvon Martin with no small amount of interest. 

WARN is a labor of love. If you like what we are trying to do here, and if you can, and are able after your other commitments, do please throw some change into the donation bucket. Good things are coming in the near future. All of your support makes that happen.
Sunday is the most racially segregated day of the week. Is there anything that can be done to change that fact?

There are three elements in how religion intersects with the colorline that are of particular importance.

Faith involves a belief in such things that cannot be proven by ordinary means.

Theodicy involves trying to reconcile an all loving, good, and omniscient God with the problem of evil. Where was God during the Holocaust? Where was God on the slave ship and at the plantation? Where is God when children are held captive as sex slaves? Would a "good" God allows such wickedness to occur?

Racism is a political, philosophical, religious, economic, and scientific system of thought and belief that privileges one group of people, marked by their "color" and "phenotype" as naturally and preordained to be "less than" relative to another group of people and types of bodies, marked in a similarly arbitrary way--but normalized by Power--as being naturally dominant and empowered.

Racism is a true lie and fiction made real. Racism is a response to existing social and political questions. Racism is evolving and changing; it is one of humankind's greatest inventions.

When these three variables are put together societies can be made. When they are challenged and undone whole societies are forced to rethink their assumptions and organizational logic, and regimes of racial (and other types of power) can potentially be unmade.

Trayvon Martin is a test case for how those essential concepts can be either reinscribed or undone.

I am not religiously minded; I am however fascinated by how religiously minded people work through what George Zimmerman's murder of Trayon Martin reveals about white racism, white supremacy, the colorline, and faith in post civil rights Age of Obama America.

Writing over at Religious Dispatches, Anthea Butler and Willie Hennings are first-tier thinkers.

How they work through this puzzle is an object lesson in critical thinking within one's own theoretical, epistemological, historical, and philosophical priors and training.

Anthea Butler deftly and provocatively argued that:
God ain’t good all of the time. In fact, sometimes, God is not for us. As a black woman in a nation that has taken too many pains to remind me that I am not a white man, and am not capable of taking care of my reproductive rights, or my voting rights, I know that this American god ain’t my god. As a matter of fact, I think he’s a white racist god with a problem. More importantly, he is carrying a gun and stalking young black men. 
When George Zimmerman told Sean Hannity that it was God’s will that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin, he was diving right into what most good conservative Christians in America think right now. Whatever makes them protected, safe, and secure, is worth it at the expense of the black and brown people they fear. 
Their god is the god that wants to erase race, make everyone act “properly” and respect, as the president said, “a nation of laws”; laws that they made to crush those they consider inferior.When the laws were never made for people who were considered, constitutionally, to be three-fifths of a person, I have to ask: Is this just? Is it right? Is God the old white male racist looking down from white heaven, ready to bless me if I just believe the white men like Rick Perry who say the Zimmerman case has nothing to do with race? 
You already know the answer: No.
As a complement Willie James Jennings observes how:
Dr. Butler also points out the contradictions of American Christianity embedded in this legacy. At this very moment, the Christianity of America in all its varied and magnificent forms is yet to reckon with the incredible power of whiteness. Whiteness is not biological fact or a bedrock reality of culture. It’s a way of looking at others (especially people of color) and oneself that grew powerful in America as arriving immigrants sought to shed perceived cultural impediments to their full assimilation into a white American identity. 
American Christians must take on the difficult work of understanding how whiteness has been woven like a cancer into their Christianity. It is the power of that whiteness to shape our social worlds—defining good and bad, beautiful and ugly, true and false—that is at heart the reason this wound will not heal. It is the reason why some people deny our grotesque racial history even as it stares them in the face with the case of George Zimmerman.   
Denial is one option in the face of pain, but there is another: Struggle. Enter the struggle against our racial history and against the concept of whiteness that covers American Christianity like the Kudzu that blankets our landscape smothering any species in its path. The senseless death of Trayvon Martin and the senseless menagerie of judicial logics when it comes to justice and fairness for people of color are constant reminders of the struggle of faith. 
What keeps me from giving up even as I see yet more spilled blood and spoiled lives is the simple fact that I am not struggling alone. Indeed my faith comes from a God who, found in human flesh, struggled in the face of suffering, and torture, and death, and who drew my questions and frustrations into the divine life before I would know them as mine. God is known by God’s actions. 
I love wonderful writing by smart people. We need more of such intervention in America's public discourse.

Both essays can be read here. Please read them in their entirety.

For those of you who are churchgoers or otherwise part of a religious community, how did you all talk about the Trayvon Martin tragedy? Was it even discussed? Were you able to situate and locate the Zimmerman trial, and its outcome, within your given faith tradition, and use that saga to make sense of a world in which God and evil exist side by side?


Learning is Eternal said...

It all started @age 8. The scene in Roots where Kunta was forced to accept his "christian" name. I looked @my grandpa & asked "If 'we' already christian why does he have to accept his christian name?" He looked @me & laughed. That began a new level of our relationship. He knew the game he was about to put me on was of my own curiosity & not his influence. What he told me was the Truth. Told me to think for myself & logically. Ask questions, form a hypothesis. Many come to religion not knowing their parents have already mind-fucked them long 'for the preacher ever got to 'em. I've seen what I thought were some highlighted individuals only to see them throw common sense out the window @autobahn speed. De Vega do you think our people support white supremacy by supporting a religion our ancestors died trying not to accept? Why do we accept white jesus rather than research & accept our own?

chauncey devega said...

I thought Jesus was black? I guess I watched too much Good Times.

Internalized racism and religion make for a powerful opiate for the masses.

Religion, like any other type of mass hypnosis/psychosis can also be used to manipulate people to work for "positive" ends too.

Is it biology, i.e. some people's brains are more hardwired to accept the idea of God or socialization or both? Maybe others have some thoughts on these matters to share.

vintagepeugeot said...

Wow. Thanks for sharing, those articles would not have appeared on my radar otherwise.

I was never forced to attend church as a child (25 now) and recently joined my first church, the local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I joined because it's diverse, open, friendly, and heavily involved in good community work.

The way my pastor addressed the TM ruling was quite moving. He wore a hoody, and pulled up the hood as he approached the pulpit, to some crowd reactions, and just shared his thoughts. He said "this nation has a deeply fractured soul, and we all need to work to repair it." UU is less about a powerful being and his will, and more about our power and responsibility as human beings to work for a better world. Which is a perspective I prefer. Then we had a super emotional and deep poetry from a local troupe. The following week, a visiting pastor spoke on endings in life, from the semmingly mundane to death. I was awesome, and definitely what I needed to reflect.

If you're looking for somewhere that has a problem with the segregation on Sunday and exclusion of anyone, check out your local UU.

chauncey devega said...

Wow. That does sound powerful. How did the congregation respond? We need more folks who are willing to live the best of their faith as a means of bringing us together and not the worst parts which divide us.

vintagepeugeot said...

Really positively, he hit a chord. People were much more vocal than usual and he got a round of applause after.

RtRDH said...

Hey Chauncey, loved those articles too by Willie Jennings and Anthea Butler, as well as J. Kameron Carter. We know people by their fruit, and we know that America's god is a white supremacist because of the (devotional) practices/prayers if you will, in the form of "law and order" white nationalist politics. I also had a response to the 3 professors above and Anti-Intellect's great piece: