Tag Archives: allies

John Brown

John Brown was an anti-slavery activist born in Connecticut and who went to war with Kansas and South Carolina over slavery. His actions started the Civil War (white supremacists argue). White supremacists also argue that white people died and freed the slaves so there’s no need for reparations. I think the “lionizing” of John Brown as an “antiracist” martyr is part of white liberal racist logic of the latter, erasing the agency of blacks.  When Black and white antiracist thinkers appeal to John Brown, it  sounds good on the surface, but just how effective has it been?  Why does it take Black death for a few whites here and there to declare themselves allies and not white institutions wholesale?

 

White supremacy and antiBlackness would endure without the presence of White people, as we see with the example of the progressive society in Cuba under Fidel Castro. Black male leaders from the Black Panthers in the 1970’s wrote of the racist reasons why they were denied political asylum there.

 

“Critics of Cuba have pointed to the paradox of Cuba’s African policy: while Cuba has a progressive foreign policy on race, at home Afro-Cubans have often been at odds with the Communist party’s failure to reflect the full range of Cuba’s racial diversity in its leadership structures or to fully address race politics.

Castro’s regime did achieve more for Afro-Cubans in 50 years than previous administrations had in the last 400 years. But as the Council on Hemispheric Affairs concludes, Castro’s policies “only addressed issues of unequal access without changing structural biases underlying society”. And it added, with the new wave of economic changes affecting the country, “race and racism are once again becoming important issues in Cuba” (The Guardian.)

Racialized capitalism with its multicultural neoliberalism and diverse corporate boardrooms will not do; and neither will racialized democratic socialism with its foundation of xenophobia and its sexist understanding of the division of labor.  Blacks are not in need of  a white Suffering Servant, not John Brown, Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton; all three influential allies lionized by the media for speaking out against the worst elements of blatant white supremacy. Black people need accomplices willing to follow their lead in the struggle against structural racism. Accomplices who do not want a pat on the back, facebook likes or retweets because they are just being decent human beings by opposing things like the KKK.  Accomplices who do not wish to gain votes in an already rigged, white supremacist electoral system built to protect a select class of white citizens who enslaved Black women and men. Accomplices who have no desire to create a platform off of the intellectual and physical labor of generations of Black people. Is this impossible? “Indeed it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Can anyone be saved from the sin of White supremacy and antiBlackness? “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.” (inspired by Luke 18:25-27)

 

(Photograph found on facebook and twitter.  It is a picture of a black, red, and green flag with the likeness of a white man with a beard raising a gun with his right hand. The banner reads in white letters, ” John Brown” with LIVES in green letters. There is then underneath those words the red A anarchy symbol with the word “Smash” in white letters,and then underneath that, White Supremacy in green letters.” Photo taken by @brdngresistance) 

 

Batman #44 and Why White Allies Aren’t Heroes

Rick Quinn lives in Nashville, TN where he writes and is part of the core team for The Encounter@Edgehill, a multi-racial movement of authentic community in the city fostering vital conversations, compassionate community, and life-giving action. He is a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity School where he earned his Masters in Divinity and pursued graduate studies in theology at Vanderbilt University School of Religion. Rick has served as a director of Christian Education at the local church level, in the non-profit social service realm, and has taught in adjunct and visiting professor roles at Perkins School of Theology at SMU, Trevecca Nazarene University, and Fisk University. He blogs at RickTQuinn and can be found on Twitter @apophatic1

Even before seeing it, I think I have always resonated with the self-affirmation meme “Always be yourself, unless you can be Batman. Then always be Batman.” Batman is my favorite comic book hero. He is the pulpy, ink and pencil incarnation of a dominant American mythology. Bereft of super powers, Batman is nonetheless exceptional. The exemplary solitary individual, he transfigures his trauma into rigorous discipline, an unwavering passion for justice, and honor. Guided by his code, Batman confronts a violent world with measured violence; he will not under any circumstance take a life. He relies on his keen mind, his disciplined physical prowess, and always true moral compass in the service of redeeming Gotham City from the evil that plagues its streets. Never a victim, he is the noble hero who rises phoenix like from the ashes of tragedy to restore order to a disorderly world. Beaten back at times, he is never bowed.

He is America.

He is also white.

And he is enormously wealthy.

What I am proposing is that the Batman mythology coincides neatly with aspects of a certain American mythology. Mythology is the story we tell about ourselves to situate our lives and experiences within the wider world and to provide sense and meaning. It is an interpretive act and a fictive act. In his 75 year history as a pop culture character, Batman has embodied several traits endemic to the story we tell about ourselves. He is a self-made man. His enormous wealth is used only in the service of good. While prone to injury, he is, for all practical purposes, invulnerable. He doles out fierce, brutal punishment (always deserved) but never takes a life. What might look like torture or excessive force is really necessary enhanced interrogation. He is a vigilante but a real threat only to the criminal element. His extrajudicial activities have the tacit approval of the police powers. His interventions and preemptive strikes are seen as necessary excursions around red tape in the service of justice. His wealth affords him technological powers of surveillance, an electronic incarnational symbol of towering gaze from a perch on one of Gotham’s skyscrapers. He embodies our faith in the raw power of the solitary hero (or nation state).

Of course this is a sweeping overview. In recent decades pieces of this general mythology have been d troubled within the Dark Knight’s corpus. Various stories have toyed with the question of whether the appearance of Batman is a deterrent to crime or if his unilateral interventions unintentionally create more extreme villainous responses. Scott Snyder’s recent run as writer for the Batman title has sought to present a more human, conflicted origin myth where we see a hero in process and the process is often messy and gray. Co-written with Brian Azzarello, the most recent issue, while not breaking continuity, is a stand alone story. But packed within this stand alone piece is a powerful primer on the deeply interconnected causal threads of most social situations and a warning that many situations do not need the usual intervention of outside “heroes.”

Titled “A Simple Case,” it is anything but. It begins with the Dark Knight alone, investigating a dead body in the marshes on the outskirts of Gotham. The young victim has been shot multiple times but the puzzling cause of his death is injuries sustained after a catastrophic fall from enormous heights. The unnamed narrator delivers the comforting promise that faith in this powerful hero and his self-assured sense of justice will reward: “He will catch someone for this. He will punish the one who did it, and stop it from happening again.” This is comic book mythology 101. It is the driving narrative of our most precious myths and the common theme of most hero stories. Yet, it is this promissory note that Azzarello’s and Snyder’s story will deconstruct throughout this incredible book for the purpose of encouraging more substantive and sustained action rather than promoting cynicism.

This deconstruction is performed by a narrative mirroring as Batman learns bit by bit the story behind the death of Peter Duggio, the young black male shot multiple times who mysteriously fell from the sky. He is a kid from “The Narrows,” a neighborhood in Gotham blighted by urban decay. Like Bruce Wayne’s, Peter’s actions are spurred by a family crisis and impending loss. He takes the situation into his own hands and seeks to carve a solution through ingenuity, power plays and bargains. His tragic end could be written off as another unfortunate but expected occasion in a neighborhood gone to seed. Or, mirroring the narrative character shading that too often occurs in establishment media to young, black victims of violence, Peter’s story could have been “explained” by his poor choices and associations (he does reach out to the Penguin, after all) even though he is shot unjustifiably by a reactionary police officer. Instead, Snyder and Azzarello use Peter’s story to tell the story of “The Narrows” which is a story of Gotham, its white power structure and the deep interweaving of the narratives of systemic racism, redlining, urban decay and exploitation. It is unfortunately an all too American story.

The graphic medium utilizes its intertextual power to the fullest. Artist Jock along with color artist Lee Loughridge and Letterer Deron Bennett give life to Snyder’s and Azzarello’s complex story and social criticism in a way which only the medium of comics could allow. The color scheme is mostly gray, metaphorically critiquing Batman’s pursuit of the simple answer and solitary culprit to be brought to justice. Primary colors are shaded in certain panels with powerful effect like yellow, red, or blue filtering on black and white film. The narrative dialogue boxes and illustrations are overlaid at certain points by the inclusion of pieces of news clippings from Gotham’s history. These fragments, out of context with words obscured, serve as archaeological fragments that trouble any simple narrative rendering of this story. They are echos of the Penguin’s mocking observation to Batman’s black and white approach, “You..really don’t know anything about this city, do you?”

Through these snippets we piece together a powerful counter narrative of redlining, systemic denial of access to public goods and services, civil rights movements and the fierce response from the powers that be, police brutality combined with lack of training and disconnect between the police force and the neighborhood, and the not so benign effects of the paternalistic “benevolence” of gentrification.

Piece by piece as the story of Peter Duggio is put together, Batman’s mythology is called into question. Like white Americans (myself included) who rush into the battle against racism with a burning sense of justice and, if we are honest, a paternalistic messiah fantasy, we quickly find ourselves implicated in that which we seek to fight. Along with Batman we discover that our crystal clear sense of what counts for justice and ethical behavior is wrapped in privilege. Our judgments of others is blind to the complexities of their condition and our implication in these conditions through passive acquiescence. As the writer Ta-Nehisi Coates observed in a recent television interview, much of the pathology we identify with oppressed communities is a direct result of the “boot upon their neck.” To address the pathology is impossible without removing the boot on the neck. In this comic, Batman/Bruce experiences the painfully necessary discovery of the outline of his foot within that collective boot.

Like any truly honest narrative, there is no neat resolution to the story. There is no single villain whose tracking, pummeling, and capture can serve as the ceremonial scapegoat for our complicity. In a last brilliant ironic gesture, the writers and artists place the title of the comic, “A Simple Case,” on the last panel as an ironic critique of the tendency to ignore complex social situations. Batman though, decides to stay in the midst of The Narrows, but not as the hero. “Because he got it all wrong.” He stays to listen. Even if in that listening he is implicated and his mythology is decentered. In that sense, perhaps he demonstrates that white allies are not nor should not aspire to be heroes. In embodying that very lesson perhaps he is, to paraphrase Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, not the hero white America wants, but the example that it needs.

An Open Letter To White Allies

Rebecca Lujan Loveless is a multi-ethnic girl from Maui, Hawaii. She lives with her husband Josh and kids Gavin, India & Kingston in Orlando, Florida. She loves writing, cooking, reading & traveling the world.

Dear White People,

Try, please, please try to read this post without defense. Take a deep breath and know that I am not personally attacking YOU. I don’t know you. I don’t believe you are a bad person. Talking about racism is NOT about you as an individual. In fact, I actually believe that we are all made in the image of God and that our truest selves are good, curious, compassionate people. So if you can read this while laying your armor down, I really believe that the grace in you will respond to these words like a shot of epinephrine. Take a deep breath now…

In recent weeks there has been a lot of information being passed around about systemic racism, classism and the privileges that creates those systems. It seems for the past two years, social media posts and hashtag trends have tended to address race and racism. My newsfeed and timeline have been flooded with a lot of white people gently tiptoeing into a conversation that actually goes on ALL THE TIME, just not in most White-dominated social circles. One Facebook friend even said, “the last time this was brought up was when Trayvon Martin was killed.” In this friend’s dominant culture perspective, he hasn’t had to listen to the outrage in Chicago/Texas over the murder of Sandra Bland,in Ferguson over the murder of Mike Brown, or the criminalization of Marissa Alexander or the breach of justice of Eric Garner or the horrors Denise Brown and her 4-year old grandson experienced or the throngs of black and brown bodies enslaved in our mass incarceration system.

It seems that the #BlackLivesMatter movement has sparked cautious conversation amongst white people around the idea of being an “ally”. This term, while not new in the realm of racial equity, seems to have become a buzzword lately as white people try to figure out what to do with concepts that conveniently have been hidden from their viewpoint. The idea was birthed out of a well-intended place that dominate culture should consider issues of race and side with people of color. In and of itself, being an ally can potentially be beneficial for both parties involved by strengthening their fight against their common enemy. However, as a white person, YOU represent the enemy. YOU represent the system that keeps minorities out of reach from opportunities so that you can succeed.

Now, I know you might be thinking right about now. You may be saying to yourself, “All lives matter” and “Not All White People.” You may be thinking that you don’t fit into this category because you’re not a White Supremacist like the KKK and you believe in equality and all that. I get it. I do. But what if I told you that your self-preservative thinking might be part of the problem? So if you are setting up your arsenal right now for why you aren’t racist and how you’re an “ally” because you have black friends or you have a half-Asian cousin, this next part is for you (FYI: statistics show that this is a lie a vast majority of the time anyways).

Being an “ally” is really only another, more dressed-up version of White Savior mentality that inadvertently says that PoC can’t experience equity without white allies sticking up for them. Being an “ally” is rooted in the reality and faulty belief system that white people have always been and therefore, always will be at the center of what is good and right and moral and just. Being an “ally” often means that white people get to say what is or isn’t racist, sexist, classist etc. Being an “ally” puts YOU, your actions and convictions at the center of making things right. It’s just another path on the same journey that keeps minorities on the margins, voiceless until we give them permission to speak.

In my own personal life, over the past several years, I have been coming to terms with my own deeply-seated racism and my ignorant complicity with all kinds of systems of oppression. This is a terrifying and heart-breaking realization to go through. Believe me, I had the instinct to run from this realization. To dismiss it as “I didn’t know so it’s not really racism”. My own self-preservative predisposition was to listen to well-meaning advice of my loved ones to “not be so hard on myself”. But if I didn’t give myself the chance to sit in the discomfort of what I was taught and subconsciously believed and lived out, I would never have had to opportunity to begin building a new belief system from scratch. A belief system where it was necessary to where PoC can freely do the educating. As a result, I have sought out education by and relationships with PoC who have graciously and many times sternly, with righteous anger, helped me see how very ineffective ally-ship actually is.

I have become increasingly interested in being a co-conspirator in the fight against oppression [in this case, against PoC]. The difference for me is that I can stand back and support my minority culture friends who are leading the battle and rely on them to know how to do it in a way that makes sense to them. It de-centers ME and puts PoC at the rightful helm of the cause of justice and equity.

Some would say that even the term “fighting” for justice is counter-active to peace. I disagree. MLK says, “Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of justice.” You cannot have actual peace, real-long-lasting-soul-pervading-unexplainable peace until you get at the root of what is disturbing that peace. Conflict isn’t the absence of peace but it is often the path we tread towards it.

White Christians, can we let our minority culture brothers and sisters lead us? Are we humble enough to admit how we’ve participated in their oppression? Are we courageous enough to plumb the darkest parts of our hearts and see how we’ve participated in hate? Can we take a listening posture, and hearing about how negative stereotypes effect the lives of People of Color while confronting our own biases, seen and unseen? Can we feel the sorrow of that, without running away, until it compels us to true repentance? Can we openly, honestly admit our wrongs so that we can begin the long path towards justice and reconciliation?

If you like the idea of being an “ally” then go talk to ten people of color and ask them how they feel about you being their “ally”. Listen. Really listen. Dig deep into the recesses of your self-control and let people of color tell you what that means to them. I believe having actual conversations with actual people who actually experience oppression would be very eye-opening for dominate culture to experience.

I truly believe in all of humanity being made in the Image of God. Let that infinite worth by the power of the Holy Spirit rise up in you and let it lead you to reveal the things hidden in your heart that maintain our White Supremacist culture and may She guide you to persevere in the dismantling of racial oppression. I believe in you.

With heart-breaking and bold love,
Rebecca

essay originally posted here.