Tag Archives: Black atheism

If White Supremacy Is God, Count Me as an Atheist: Religion & the #GeorgeZimmerman trial

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”- Ephesians 6:12, NRSV

 

“Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life.”- John 11:25 NRSV

Today, I would like to do a thorough theological examination of the religion, race, and the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman trial. I would like to start briefly with a story, an encounter that happened to me in church just two days ago. It all starts really July 14th, the Sunday after George Zimmerman was acquitted for murder. In solidarity with the #MillionHoodies movement, and a protest against white supremacy and racial profiling, I put on my church clothes blue khaki pants, dress shoes, and a collared polo shirt, with a hoodie over top of it. God blessed Texas that day because all week it had been sunny and awfully hot, into the triple digits, but Sunday, it was cold and raining, and I couldn’t stop smiling. The weather gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my love for people and justice. In church, I kept on my hood, and several people asked me, “are you cold? is it cold in here?” I just nodded yes and smiled. Only the pastor was aware that I was wearing my hoodie for Trayvon. After church, a member commented that it was just like me, to wear a hoodie in church and smile all through service. I was filled with joy, in spite of, and I even sang my least favorite CCM song, “Days Of Elijah; don’t get me started. Yet it was only this Sunday, a whole week after the fact, one of the church members ran into me, and told me, “I saw you last Sunday, you were wearing a hoodie for brother Trayvon.” I said, “Yes sir.” He asked me, “Did you know anything about him? Didn’t he have marijuana in his system?” I responded, “Well, did you know Trayvon Martin was an honors student, with a 3.7 GPA?” I didn’t want to bring up the celebrity who had died of a drug overdose, but I did say about the marijuana, that no one was perfect. The church member, I remember, had a stunned look on his face. He could hardly believe that Trayvon in fact, was successful in school work. I had a feeling that this person had only heard/read one side of the story, so I encouraged him to do some research.

So who is talking about God and religion when it comes to the Trayvon Martin George Zimmerman? First batter up, it was George Zimmerman himself who said it was God’s plan for him to act on his racist assumptions, profile an unarmed 17 year old, and then murder him in cold blood. Zimmerman’s capricious god not only hates black people; it has chosen them to experience nothingness and death at the wrath of white supremacy.  Christian pastors, especially of the white evangelical stripe, did nothing to condemn Zimmerman’s abuse of God’s name.  In fact their silence + their blaming of the victim, a child wearing a hood, reveals their commitment to white supremacy far more than any notion of the sanctity of life.  For example, evangelist Pat Robertson said that it was Trayvon’s fault that he, as a teenager, wasn’t wearing a dress suit instead of a hoodie.  One of Robertson’s co-hosts tried to reason with him, questioning Robertson’s assumptions, but he remained stubborn, and dedicated to the white supremacist mode of thinking. Trayvon deserved what he got because of his skin color and his clothing style. It is just not the far right of white evangelicalism that has a soft spot for white supremacy; even the more “moderate, progressive” Emergent church has yet to deal with its racism.

For example, author Donald Miller pointed to African Americans as the ones who let their emotions get in the way of truth; whites are the objective subjects of reason. The idea that blacks are incapable of being rational, and that we have always clinged to this race-based group think is a false myth of white supremacy.  How come Miller doesn’t address the emotional arguments of “self-defense” and the fact that Zimmerman’s whole defense was based purely on emotion and the subjective feelings of the all-white jury? Miller’s post is nothing more than white supremacist whitesplaining of race-relations, that his knowledge and  his experience (which is of course more objective than the blacks) is the solution to the problem.  Miller denies the existence of racial injustice in the name of colorblindness and the racial hierarchy that comes with it.

The weeks leading up to the verdict and on into the following days have felt like moving days for People of Color. All over social media as well as in IRL, George Zimmerman’s supporters celebrated as well as cautioned that blacks would riot, and we know when blacks riot, it gets really violent (RE: people with darker skin are more criminal, once more). It was the uncritical defenses of racial profiling and violence that lead a number of writers to air their concerns, especially to the whereabouts of God on high.

The blogger, Anti-Intellect:

“How many more Black people have to die before we realize that that we are on our own? There is no god looking out for out race. There is no god protecting Black youth like Trayvon Martin and Aiyana Jones. There is no god protecting Black adults like Marissa Alexander and Marco McMillian. It should outrage Black people when someone tries to rationalize the violence visited upon us daily with an excuse as disrespectful as the notion that a god is on our side. I love Black people too much to see us disrespect ourselves with continued belief in some White man in the sky, supposedly looking out for us. I want Black people to believe in each other. I want Black people to call on each other.”- from Where Was God?

Other religious thinkers from the Black American communities have chimed in from Religion Dispatches blog:

Anthea Butler’s piece, which apparently hurt the feelings of white conservative evangelicals (crocodile tears?):

“The lamentation of the African-American community at yet another injustice, the surprise and disgust of others who understand, stand against this pseudo-god of capitalisms and incarceration that threaten to take over our nation.

While many continue to proclaim that the religious right is over, they’re wrong. The religious right is flourishing, and unlike the right of the 1970s, religious conservatism of the 21st century is in bed with the prison industrial complex, the Koch brothers, the NRA—all while proclaiming that they are “pro-life.” They are anything but. They are the ones who thought that what George Zimmerman did was right, and I am sure my inbox will be full of well-meaning evangelical sermons about how we should all just get along, and God doesn’t see race.”

The Zimmerman Aquittal: America’s Racist God

Willie Jennings:

“We especially need Christians who believe that God is known not only by God’s gracious actions of solidarity with those feared and despised in this world, but also by our actions of solidarity.

Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, not against the George Zimmermans of this world, but against those powers and principalities that teach the George Zimmermans of this world that weapons are gifts given by god, that violence is a good quick solution to our fears, and that there is a God-given natural racial order to this world. Anyone who accepts these precepts is following a god who is powerful, flexible and moves around America as if he owns it. That god is, as Dr. Butler pointed out, a white racist.”

What Does It Mean To Call God A White Racist

J. Kameron Carter:

We must struggle against this “American god” or the idol of the white, western god-man. Indeed, we must struggle against this god with an eye toward a different social order and under the realization that things don’t have to be this way—and that they must change.

What I’m in effect calling for is a Christianity uncoupled from this nation-state project, from the project of social purity or “proper” Americanness, with its (racially inflected) legal protocols and its vision of racialized criminality and institutions of incarceration. I’m calling for a Christianity that no longer provides religious sanction or the cloak of righteousness to the political project of U.S. sovereignty and its vision of who is normal (and in the right place) and who is abnormal (and thus out of place). I’m calling for a Christianity whose animating logic is no longer tied to that false “god-man.” The “god” of (or that is) whiteness is a god toward which we must be thoroughgoing atheists and religionless.

Christian Atheism: The Only Response Worth Its Salt To The Zimmerman Verdict

In each piece, the four blog posts above, both the atheist and Christian view is shown to be that white supremacy is an active principality in the United States. This principality is something that has received honor and recognition, through institutionalized racism in our judicial system. George Zimmerman pulled the “god-card,” and played the media as a devout man while the white supremacist media portrayed Trayvon as someone who didn’t go to church, a criminal and violent person who liked “street fights,” oh, and he used the N* word alot on twitter, that definitely points to him being damned for eternity. An unrepentant murderer was shown as an angel of light. What kind of god is that? That is the god called white supremacy. White Supremacy of deity is worshipped by dedication to hierarchy, “law and order,” and self-righteousness. For example, same Christo-fascist white supremacists in Arizona who took down “racist” Mexican/Black studies programs are the same people who take away the rights of persons who choose atheism. The White Supremacist god is on their side, and they will force you to believe in him, or you will not get your high school diploma.

White Supremacy whitewashes history, and ignores the plights of historically oppressed people groups. White Supremacy believes that the U.S. Constitution was divinely inspired, and it was, by the god named White Supremacy. How else could we explain the 3/5’s “compromise” as if the full humanity of real persons is something to be bargained with? I have been told that I have used too harsh language in discussing White Supremacy. Let me be honest: I really do not care. White supremacy does not want to be named. White supremacy is the god that will not be named. White supremacy tries to hide, white liberalism is the white Jesus of Luther’s Deus Obsconditus,the hidden cruel divinity lying just beneath Jesus’ white flesh. Any god that is unnameable, is unknowable, & therefore stands in as the invisible hand that transforms into a fist, in favor of the status quo, and against the livelihood of the oppressed.

There are many well-meaning believers, like Emergent Christians, who want us to turn to a god who is ineffable mystery. What makes your god any different than Thomas Jefferson’s white supremacist divinity? Given the fact that some of the (now basically irrelevant) emergent church’s leadership is very much committed to white supremacy in all things theology, it should come as no surprise.

Over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire felt threatened by a group of women and men they called “atheists.” These atheists proclaimed that the one Creator of us all revealed Godself to us in the body of a Jewish day-laborer, and when that rabbi was killed, in three days, God raised him from the dead. No god can ever be that good. Jesus’ mission was to be raised from the dead so that we could all experience resurrection. Many Christians act like Jesus said, “I am the crucifixion and the death,” and all they care about is his suffering. In fact, a group of Christians talk about “cruciformity” and “cruciform hermeneutics.” The oppressed simply cannot adopt worldviews that will endorse their suffering. That would be no better than bowing to the god of white supremacy. The cross comes from the greek term, Stauros, and it was a method of Roman-style execution. Basically, the electric chair; would it make sense for POC, who are the most likely to receive capital punishment, to base an entire system on death, and the death penalty? Jesus is the Resurrection, and our hope, he came so that we may live, and live more abundantly. White supremacy tells us that we are not meant to survive, that we were meant to die. Being an atheist in the 21st century means, from a Christian standpoint, to celebrate the victory of Christ, and to resist any and all forces of death.

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W.E.B. Du Bois: American Prophet

I received a free copy of this book but I am not required to do a review for it. But I am anyway.

W.E.B. Dubois: American Prophet by Edward J. Blum

WHAT I ENJOYED ABOUT THIS BOOK:

What can I say? I started this text as a cynic in all honesty. I had read and been transformed by DuBois’ biographies done by David Levering Lewis (which are gigantic volumes by the way). Lewis had ingrained in me the idea that DuBois was an atheist, he was a Communist. But there wasn’t really citation, it was just a well known fact. DuBois was portrayed as a bitter revolution who left this country for the shores of Africa. DuBois’ depiction was one of a quitter. Well, using facts like actual prayers and church attendance records kept by the government on DuBois, Blum breaks down the “secular orthodoxy” of Lewis’ books. I am now persuaded that DuBois was probably more of a theist who was committed to social justice. I don’t want to give any spoilers away because I highly recommend this book, but why did it not ever occur to historians to track down speeches DuBois gave at Christian colleges and universities? Or to look over his written prayers? Or to read his novels as narrative theology like we do with C.S. Lewis? Does race has something to do with it? Does it have to do with religion? Perhaps both! I will let you decide for yourself (no actually I haven’t!). 😉

WHAT I DID NOT ENJOY: It was WAYY TOO SHORT! I wanted more, more more. I am greedy, I know! I am already re-reading this book again. I hope that Blum follows up on this with a look at DuBois’ literary contributions.

Concluding #Blerd History Month: Blerd As The Next Harlem Renaissance?

DID I DO THAT?: REDEFINING BLACKNESS WHILE REJECTING STEVE URKEL

English: This chart shows three groups of majo...

English: This chart shows three groups of major contributors to the flowering of the New Negro Movement during the 1920’s and 1930’s in Harlem: Niggerati writers, New Negro intellectuals and Negrotarian patrons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today being the last day for February, the shortest month of the year, which also happens to be Black History Month, I would like to conclude this experimental mini-series “Blerd History Month. You can find the first three posts here: Blerd History Month: Introduction; Blerd History Month: Black Humanism; and Blerd History Month: Black Theology.

In my previous posts, I discussed how religious leaders, both humanist and Christian, redefined what it meant to be an African American living on U.S. American shores. Being black is not something that is fixed and static. It is ever changing, just as all cultures are ever changing and fluid. Problems occur when people of all “colors” (colors/races which are social constructs) try to cling on to a solitary definition of what it means to be from this or that racial identity. To deny the fact that this change occur is a very denial of our very own humanity. Fixed notions of race and social identity in term of nationality make it easier for racist and nationalist gazes to fix themselves upon persons who live on the margins of society. This is why it is ever important for cultural change-agents to continually challenge racial and cultural stereotype as resistance to hegemony.

One such example? Frederick Douglass:

Frederick Douglass, if you ever read his Narrative, was determined to learn how to read and write. He faced consequences for his learning, but he used his education for the benefit of the down-trodden. In my post about theologian James Cone, I mentioned that he worked to redefine African American experiences in the USA, and he stresses that he was influenced by Malcolm X and his notions of blackness. It was Malcolm X that made the label of “negro” (something that was imposed on black Americans by whites) one of shame, and black, a matter of pride, something evil that was reclaimed for good. Malcolm X however did not write and think from some blank slate. No, he was raised by a father who was caught up in the theories of the Harlem Renaissance movement. More specifically, the New Negro Movement; the New Negro Movement was started by a group of writers and cultural creators in the late 19th century through the 1930’s. The New Negro Movement, with persons such as Hubert Harrison, Marcus Garvey, and Countee Cullen, sought to challenge what it meant to be a Negro American in those days. The Negro Churches (African American Christianity after Emancipation/before the Civil Rights Movement) was portrayed as being lead backwater, immoral priests (read W.E.B. DuBois study “The Negro Church”)and the institution was far to ineffective in addressing the economic oppression caused by Jane and Jim Crow.

Some thinkers in the New Negro Movement thought promoting the idea that repossessing Africa by African Americans would be a sign to prove that African Americans were valuable and worthy of being seen as human. This was why Marcus Garvey made a name for himself back then. The New Negro Movement was seen as a threat to the status quo: one example is that Hubert Harrison, senior editor for a New Negro magazine lost his job because he challenged Booker T. Washington’s leadership. Booker T. Washington was seen as THE Negro leader in the eyes of whites, and to confront his power was to challenge his ability to speak for the Negro race.

The New Negro Movement rejected what it meant to be a Negro prior to the Great Depression; the Black Power movement discarded the label “Negro” and all the problems that went with it. One of the problems, like the solution of going back to claim Africa, seems to ring of an imitation of Europe, to colonize African societies just so Negroes “can earn” their humanity. Starting empire would not be the best way to prove how human you were; it would be just another display of inhumanity. The Black Power movement was about Black people loving themselves, accepting themselves as who they were, situated here on North American shores. Afro-centrism was about bringing Africa to the States.

While I won’t get into the problems of essentialism and problems I have with Afro-centrism here, the point of reclaiming Blackness in the late 1960s was a matter of self-affirmation. Yes, the black power movement made tremendous progress in bringing to light achievements by African Americans in history, but with cultural and political backlash, it became impotent in challenging Reagan conservativism, the Southern Strategy, and the school-to-prison pipeline. Blacks’ roles in society were stuck in the quagmire of being “the athlete” and “entertainer” all the while being stereotyped as lazy and evil. That’s why we could have Michael Jordan and Oprah Winfrey speak for us, as Booker T. Washington spoke for us because of their cultural achievement and choices not to challenge the status quo. Being a black nerd, someone who refused to just an entertainer or jock, was something to be ashamed of.

During the Harlem Renaissance, George Schuyler wrote a science fiction novel entitled Black No More where a business had discovered the cure to racism: a machine to turn Negroes white. If everyone is white, there would be no racism! In the hit 80s show, Family Matters, the program chronicles the awkward misadventures of one Steve Urkel, a clumsy but brilliant black science nerd. Urkel’s nerdiness is the barrier that keeps him from his true love, Laura Winslow, so Urkel has an idea. An invention that will transform him from geek to chic (the character Stephon Urkel), so he can win Laura’s heart. The problem with this is that we never ask if Steve loved himself first. Black nerds were to be ashamed of themselves, as things to be negated; meanwhile, Laura, Eddie, and Rachel Winslow stand as the norms expected by middle class blacks, I mean, Tyler Perry.

The brilliance behind the cult classic movie, “Scott Pilgrim Versus The World” is found in the genius ending. Rather than this being the same old same ole narrative about a guy fighting for the love of his life, Scott Pilgrim wins at the end because he “earns the Power of Self-Respect.” In the same way, I think the Blerd movement is important (for this point in time, anyhow), to return African Americans back to the Black Power movement’s original purpose of celebrating black self-respect. Blerd is also important as a label for me because all of my life I have struggled to embrace my nerdiness and my blackness together. Blerd as a label for me expresses what it means hybridity, to have a complex identity that can’t be simplified. More importantly, Blerd maintains the importance of not just education, but being bookish, well read and well aware of the world around us. Blerd is subversive. Blerd is both the present and the future.

A couple of ideas on how to move BLERD forward:

1st, I think it is important that the face of blerddom not be bound up by popular blerd male figures:

Image taken from The Examiner

Blerd should be viewed as a gender-inclusive term. Part of the problem with the Black Power Movement is that many of its figure heads were down right misogynist, and we need to recognize that history if we are to move forward. Elderidge Clever is but one example, Huey Newton another. When it comes to redefining black identities, it should be an effort by women and men respectfully. And let’s not forget, a lot of the most important “blerds” in U.S. American history were women: Octavia Butler, Pauline Hopkins, Zora Neale Hurston, Shirley Chisolm, and Ida B. Wells just to name a few!

Secondly, in an American society that has become more anti-intellectual and more hostile toward integrated, public education, Blerd should be willing to make literacy sexy and hott. Books, whether we are talking about on Kindle, iPad, paperback, and hardcover, are the best alternatives to moving forward (except for garbage like the Twilight series, but I digress). Over and against the plantation antics of Lil’ Wayne and Beyonce, Blerd must resist our culture’s dependency on negative black stereotypes.

Blerd for President.

Image from Cross Fit Harlem

What does you hope for the Blerd movement? How do you see it now?

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