Tag Archives: Black atheism

#Blerd History Month: Black Humanism

Doesn’t Ethelred Brown just look like a Blerd?

The mini-series Blerd History Month starts with a few, randomly selected topics that I wish to cover during Black History Month. In pop culture and in society, black are essentialized as religiously conservative Christians. Sure, black Christians are in the majority in the United States, but that does not mean that we get to ignore those persons on the margins who offer constructive criticism from the outside. One outsider in Blerd History I would like to discuss today is Ethelred Brown, a Jamaican expat who became a minister in Harlem. Right now, Brown’s story is told as a token in the Unitarian Universalists of America diverse pantheon of saints. Fact is, as progressive as the UUA was on the abolition of slavery as a whole [except for that John C Calhoun guy], Ethelred Brown’s ministry was not welcome in white Unitarian circles.

The difference between white humanism and black humanism is not a matter of the amount of melanin in one’s skin, but that, as Juan Floyd-Thomas puts it, “white humanists operate in a realm governed by several key presuppositions, namely that: people of European descent are human beings upon birth.” Frantz Fanon, a black humanist from French Algeria and a number of other black critical thinkers in their work, call into question the notion of humanism all together, and whether or not there is a universal definition of what it means to be human. Once one gets into what makes us generally human, wellllll, then that’s when she has stepped into the realm of religion.

As a Trinitarian and Christian post-colonial writer, I take heart at the story of Reverend Ethelred Brown, how he overcame racial discrimination in the UUA to receive a theological education, as he went on to preach liberation and justice to the downtrodden. An interesting fact about Reverend Brown’s biography that stood out to me was his “conversion” story to Unitarianism, was that he began to disagree with the congregation where he attended. The congregation apparently cited the Athanasian Creed every Sunday, and he became sick of it. After leaving Jamaica and going to seminary, Brown’s Harlem Community Church made a positive impact on the citizenry of Harlem in combatting racial and economic injustice.

What makes me wonder about Brown’s story is the practices he rejected, the recitation of the Creeds, and the Athanasian Creed was all about the Trinity. Just how prominent was this teaching of creedal Christianity, and what were the approaches to social issues in Jamaica at that time? I submit to you that Blerd History Month is not about regurgitating facts, but asking questions related to Blackness and history.

For more on Reverend Ethelred Brown, read The Origins of Black Humanism in America: Reverend Ethelred Brown and the Unitarian Church by Juan Floyd-Thomas

Publishing News: A Forthcoming Essay on Fairytales, Religion, Race, and Politics

Brer Rabbit from London Charivari

Brer Rabbit from London Charivari (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A few months ago in April, TheoFantastique had a call for papers, for Fairytale Collection, asking for a new critical engagement with fairy tales and how they have become popular in fairytales.

“Due to the popularity and familiarity of the tales, not only the layman, but also people inside many academic fields, who are concerned with such works, will find this book more than interesting. Given that this book will consist of a collection of handpicked essays concerning various aspects of these diverse adaptations of the literary fairy tales, an assortment of readers should find this book and its topic of great interest.

While our interests are broad and inclusive, we are particularly interested in papers that discuss fairy tales in contemporary popular culture (TV shows, movies, graphic novels, advertising, toys, video games, popular literature, etc), revisions and adaptations of fairy tales, and pedagogical uses of and approaches to fairy tales. Still, we are interested in as wide an array of papers as possible, so please do not hesitate to send a submission on any fairy tale related subject may it be on cultural significance, on gender, aspects of masculinity and femininity, theory, etc.”

Today, I am happy to announce that I received word that my controversial proposal was accepted to be added to the collection. It was well worth the time and effort. The title of my article forthcoming: “The Soul Of Black Folktales: Race, Class, Ethics, and Humanism in NBC’s GRIMM and Brer Rabbit

My proposal is really too long and complex for a blog post, but I will sum it up with my thesis here:

“I believe that this return of European fairytales to prominence in U.S. American culture is worthy of a critical investigation as it pertains to race, ethnicity, and class difference. In particular, I will examine ideas of European particularity and identity as well as class struggle in NBC’s GRIMM. First, I intend to observe the reception history of the folktales recorded by the Brothers Grimm in their 19th German context and what the implications are for European national identities. By way of comparison, I will also examine Joel Chandler Harris’ dissemination of the folktales passed on by enslaved Africans located in the Antebellum South, and what that meant for black racial identity formation. In both instances, Brer Rabbit and the Brothers Grimm’s stories as folk tales function as secular pedagogical tools aimed at teaching adults and children what it means to be a member of their given culture. I argue that NBC’s GRIMM serves as a hybrid text, as both an other-worldly supernatural (in the tradition of old European fairytales) horror show as well as a this-worldly folktale that addresses contemporary political issues, such as economic inequality and histories of racism, (much like the tales of Brer Rabbit).”

I believe that this article is important for a couple of reasons. First, there has yet to be a comparative study of the politics behind black folktales and European fairytales, and why this is important for the reception of these stories. Secondly, I think it is a good opportunity to have a dialogue with Black humanist and atheist traditions, and their views of black folktales as religious works. Are the politics and histories of black bodies ignored in our readings of Brer Rabbit? What kind of moral agency does Brer Rabbit possess that could be useful for today, and does anti-racist horror tv show like GRIMM have a shared trickster ethic with black folktales?

These are the things I am interested in, and I will keep you all updated!

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