(the Gospel of Life, Social Death, Racism, and Prison Abolition)
From the first pages of our Founding documents, the laws of this nation were never intended to protect the lives of First Nations and Black/African peoples. Spawned on the very heels of rape culture, genocide, and religious illiberalism, racism is as much as part of the bedrock of the Constitution as is the “Enlightenment” tradition. White Supremacy (and specifically anti-black racism) is both a hydra and a chameleon. Like a hydra, whenever one head gets cut off, it grows two, maybe even three more. Like a chameleon, anti-Black racism can take many shades and colors, and has spokes persons who may have be POC but still benefit from racist myths and institutions. The eradication of racism is a process, a process where anti-racists are called to PUBLICALLY identify structures that are racist, and COUNTER white supremacist narrations on Black life. The problem is that many times the “allies” who see themselves as helping Black people, are in reality doing FAR MORE HARM than good.
Last week, my pastor/activist friend Gabe and I attended the National Moment of Silence for Mike Brown in Dallas. The means by which #NMOS14 was organized was on Twitter, and I’ll discuss that later, but from what I learned, my experience at NMOS14 Dallas was similar to many Persons of Color. I decided to bring my old NIV bible to the rally, Because I planned ahead of time I was going to be silent. I wanted to hear from victims of Dallas’ police brutality, pray for them. I did get to only hear a glimpse of those stories. What I witnessed was really a shocker( but not really) for me at least. The organizers unfortunately made sure that racism/race was not brought up. This in turn opened up space for a Tea Partier (I kid you not) who, while he had empathetic things to say about Trayvon Martin, he spoke twice, informing the us protestors this wasn’t about race, and he (the Tea Partier) suggested we only talk about the violence of the rioters. To make matters worse, a member of the Workers International Party took 20 minutes to read us a pamphlet how capitalism was the real problem, and this Brocialist went on (as a friend told me) to correct Malcolm X about racism. He argued that if we got rid of capitalism, racism would go to! Lastly, before we bowed our heads and prayed before we left, two guys from Anonymous covering themselves in bandanas held up signs telling the Dallas Police they are watching. OOOOOOH WHO WATCHES THE WATCHMEN?!?!
I realize it was my mistake for not challenging the narrative of Color-Blind Racism, and I have come to the conclusion Critical Race theorists need to get more involved in the public square. Yet errors are are opportunities to DO BETTER. The two Anonymous dudes were not there to help. They wanted to claim they had more power (read: surveillance/policing) than the 5-O. They made this Moment of Silence all about their power rather than the powerless Black victims of paramilitary police brutality. The behavior of the Tea Partier wasn’t all that new, he didn’t want anyone making this a race issue in North Texas. Well mission accomplished! As for the Brocialist who took the most speaking time, he does what all marxist dudebros do when they fail to recognize the value of intersectionality. This isn’t the Oppression Olympics. What he failed to tell the Black people in the crowd is the history of racism in unions, and that White Supremacy precedes capitalism so there was racism before economic liberalism. Also, I don’t think Marxists will be paying Stay-at-Home parents of any background for their labor, will they?
The Co-Opting of anti-racist responses to White Supremacy is not limited to protests on the street. Thanks to Twitter and the Blogosphere, the Public Square has expanded. I have noticed that many Christian men from the majority culture love to use Twitter to promote their BRANDS[tm] and books, but they resent the fact that Women of Color have learned to use Twitter as a tool for political mobilization. As my friend Suey Park argued months ago, Twitter is used as a new way of writing letter campaigns. Instead of wasting paper (destroying the environment/ exacerbating setter colonialism), Twitter can be used to effectively educate others, raising awareness as well as raising funds for various campaigns.
The #NMOS14 is one of many examples of this politicization. Unfortunately, many white Christians continue to despise the ingenuity of Women of Color.
Instead, these “allies” would rather center their feelings and notions of shame and guilt rather than be de-centered and allow the margins to speak for themselves. One such example of co-opting on matters of race comes from writers like Zach Hoag. Citing Osheta Moore’s post,
, Hoag appropriates Moore’s subversive message to promote his Third-Way middle-ground tone policing. He insists that we THE CHURCH (whose church?) must both pray and protest as if these to things are diametrically opposed. No, protests are the prayers and liturgy of the oppressed, much like the Sorrow Songs were during African enslavement. I believe Osheta’s point in her post was that anger is valid, but sometimes anger is not enough, and words cannot encapsulate our raw emotions when it comes to the horrors of White Supremacy.
Here’s Osheta further down in her essay, “Today I raise my hands in surrender. I can’t do this work on my own. I can’t even pray for reconciliation on my own—I need to the Holy Spirit to come and take my jumbled, incoherent words and turn them into something powerful. Lord, place a terrible fear in the heart of the Enemy, and advance your Kingdom of Peace where Violence has made it’s camp.” For Christians, we believe we have help, that the Holy Spirit prays on our behalf when we cannot speak. The Advocate becomes our adversarial politics against the Adversary and its Prison-Industrial Complex. This is why Osheta concludes, she raises her hands in surrender, in prayer, and anger. Osheta and Black Christian traditions present a Truly Nuanced view of social action: Protest is prayer, and prayer is protest.
As I think about it, staying quiet/wanting to listen was not a complete mistake. While the voices who wish to outnarrate the margins won the day, they did not completely. Towards the end, the last prayer was that of a middle-aged Black woman, who brought up racism in her prayer (again protest is prayer). In her prayer she mentioned Jesus as Savior, and consistent with Black theological traditions, Jesus’ saviorship is not about fire insurance. It is about his teaching, and the Way Of Liberation. What I had witnessed was the Liturgy of the Oppressed. This is the true piety where Jesus works as our contemporary, being present with us in our midst in our struggle against modern racism. Many missional writers like to talk about both Jesus’ work and racism as things of the past, see for example: this
So as Christians, it is important for us to realize the domestikkk terrorism that is the Prison Industrial Complex. It is a mistake for Color-Blind racists who claim to read specifically the Old Testament laws as horrendous and yet claim our system is much more “enlightened” and “progressive.” Prisons are only mentioned in the Bible when the Judeans are either under imperial Gentile forces or the rule of monarchies; neither of these are seen as ideal governments in Scripture. Furthermore, the purpose of prisons back then were for two primary purposes: to hold prisoners until they are executed or until they are freed. In today’s world, how can we even consider the torture of flesh for years under surveillance, & social death as more evolved? When the Psalms refer to bondage and prisoner. its mostly in the context of discussions on Sheoul, a place for the dead (see Psalm 107 for ex.). When Jesus tells us in Luke 4:18 that he came to set the prisoners free, we cannot separate that from His words according to John that he came to give life everlasting and abundant. Like the African man who rescued the prophet Jeremiah from prison (and the death sentence on his head) so too did Jesus the Liberator come to rescue us from the bonds of human infliction.
For more theological voices on #Ferguson, read:
By Their Strange Fruit
Austin Channing Brown