Tag Archives: education

Saying Farewell to the Angry Black Man part 1 (Tristan)

Angry Black Male Studying Black Antiquity

abm antiq

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Tristan Samuels is a MA student in Egyptology via the Near East Studies progam at the University of Toronto. His major research centers on race in antiquity and the relationship between Kemet (ancient Egypt) & Nubi‎a.

I’m a Black male university student born and residing in Toronto: a city that thinks multiculturalism is anti-racism (oh the fallaciousness). I’ve have a Classics BA and I’m currently studying Egyptology in an MA program. As the subtitle indicates, I study Blacks in the ancient record through these fields. In Classics, I was able to write a BA thesis on Greek and Roman perceptions of Black people and I saw much enthusiasm for my work at conferences. In Egyptology, I have a professor who has no problem acknowledging that the ancient Egyptians were Black/African. In addition, I have a professor that shows interest in my application of critical race theory.

However, I have been characterized as an angry black person. The most direct was in an introductory course for Near Eastern archaeology which was really the first time that I got a true understanding of what I was up against. The professor was a Syro-Mesopotamian specialist. I argued, in my essay proposal, that the ancient Egyptians were African/Black and, in turn, the Nubian rulers of Egypt (ca. 800 BC) should not be called ‘the Black Pharaohs’. The portrayal of the Nubians as the bonafide Black people of antiquity means an imposition, deliberately or subconsciously, of ‎whiteness onto the ancient egyptians. Ex: calling those Nubian rulers “black pharaohs” sneakingly implies that the indigenous Egyptian rulers were “white”‎. A good example of this is the New national Geographic rise of the black pharaohs documentary on the Kushite/Nubian dynasty. My professor, framing himself in a ‘progressive’ sort of way, accused me of “racism in reverse” because I brought up race. However, I never made the claim that Ancient Egypt was superior because it was a Black civilization. I simply said that the ancient Egyptians’ identity is misinterpreted because of Eurocentric racialism and that Black identity is more complex than treated in Egyptological literature. So, I sent him a response e-mail clarifying my intentions – I got no response. So, I let my writing do the talking. I made sure to include a comprehensive section on
white privilege and white normativity. I got 92%, but that does not eclipse the bigger problem: A Black Male challenging epistemology is treated as a threat.

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My issue in Classics has come through publishing issues. I had submitted a work on the Herodotus, a famous Greek historian, perception of Black bodies to a joint British-US journal. The first readers, there were two anonymous readers, said that I needed to revise which I certainly agreed. However, some comments troubled me. Reader A felt I just needed slight additions but suggested my tone was inappropriate because of this comment: “McCoskey’s approach is sound for the most part, but she underestimates…”. Reader A felt that I was treating McCoskey as a grad student. I just specified a particular problem in her work – why the tone policing? They shouldn’t *know* that I’m black per se, being that I don’t have to disclose my identity, but I believe it was assumed because of my essay’s subject matter. I take it as ‘okay, but remember your place Negro’. Reader B argued that I was being anachronistic in calling Herodotus racist. More specific, this reader thought that Herodotus accusing Black men of hypersexuality and describing them as having black semen “unlike other men” did not constitute racism. Apparently, I was being too simplistic. It is quite disturbing that this explicit sexualizing of Black men is not understood as such. I seriously wonder if the reader believed one or two of those stereotypes. While I got a 2nd attempt, these response are very problematic.

The 2nd reading was done by one referee and yielded interesting results. Itwas 3 or 4 days after I resubmitted – that is fast. The reader, which was clearly a different person, strongly disagreed. My critique of classical scholarship’s handling of Herodotus & Blackness was dismissed as “mud-slinging” – I’m just a real angry black person I guess. I was also told that I didn’t “get” D.E. McCoskey’s book, Race: Antiquity and its Legacy (I.B. Tauris, 2012), even though I wrote a published review on that very piece. In fact, I cited that review in my essay, so that the reader could go to it for further discussion of her mishandling of Blackness. I guess to him I don’t have the intellectual capacity to critique her. This reader also accused me of playing the race card. So, this reader definitely assumed that I was Black. I never once accused any scholar of racism and, in fact, two of the classicists that I critiqued are Black. It was very clear to me that the reader was polemical and saw my work as a threat to his white supremacist fantasy.

I responded to the editor to notify him that I appreciated the second opportunity, though I found the review perplexing. He, definitely a white male, responded telling me that he is a professor and that I needed to “learn some manners”. I could hear a ‘boy’ at the end of that sentence. I responded stating that he was in no place to make such character judgments about me and emphasized that I simply disagreed with the reader. His only response “I’m not a doctor” – I had referred to him as “Dr.” Again there is this sense that Black bodies are animalistic/savage in need of taming.

god remain grk

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While I’ve grown up race-conscious, I’m starting to really understand the depth of anti-Blackness in a way I never understood before – something only experience can teach you. No matter how logical the arguments you put forth, your resistance is a threat. The Blackness of ancient Egypt is a means of dismantling ‘civilization’ – a concept so dear to the White gaze. It cannot fathom a role where it is not in power. When we refuse to fit or compromise ourselves for whiteness we are uncontrollable (e.g. militant, angry). Whiteness can only see its de-centering as an act of reverse racism because they cannot fathom a world where they do not control us. You see, the only ‘peace’ and ‘balance’ for the White supremacist is one where people of color know their place, or else they are nothing but angry savages in the chaotic realms of otherness.

On 'Civility' and Privilege: a guest post

Travis Greene is a stay at home dad and occasional chaplain in Tampa,  Florida. His convictions are in the Ana/Baptist and emerging church traditions and he is passionate about the collision of the Christian faith with the American prison system and solidarity with those inside it. Follow him at @travisegreene.

First, a social location disclaimer, since I’m a guest here. I am a healthy cisgender straight white guy. I literally have all the privilege, and much of what I have to say is directed toward other privileged people.

If you follow progressive social justice-y Christian type people on Twitter, you may be aware there is often debate about “appropriate” ways to engage around questions of justice with respect to race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. Usually some well-meaning white person will say something , be critiqued for it, and then push back not against the substance of the critique but the tone or manner. Alternately, a person of color may say something, then get critiqued by a more privileged person (again not so much for content but tone or timing or something).

This Sarah Bessey piece (which I like very much, even though there’s a But coming) is a rather vague reaction to all this, I think.

Or, for a not exclusively religious example (though I think there’s lots of overlap), this piece by Freddie diBoer (http://dish.andrewsullivan.com/2014/08/21/where-online-social-liberalism-lost-the-script/). He writes,

“It seems to me now that the public face of social liberalism has ceased to seem positive, joyful, human, and freeing. I now mostly associate that public face with danger, with an endless list of things that you can’t do or say or think, and with the constant threat of being called an existentially bad person if you say the wrong thing, or if someone decides to misrepresent what you said as saying the wrong thing. There are so many ways to step on a landmine now, so many terms that have become forbidden, so many attitudes that will get you cast out if you even appear to hold them.”

I think this is a common reaction by people who think of themselves as allies but are concerned about maintaining kindness, civility, etc.

Later, he writes, “On matters of substance, I agree with almost everything that the social liberals on Tumblr and Twitter and blogs and websites believe. I believe that racism is embedded in many of our institutions. I believe that sexual violence is common and that we have a culture of misogyny. I believe that privilege is real. I believe all of that. And I understand and respect the need to express rage, which is a legitimate political emotion. But I also believe that there’s no possible way to fix these problems without bringing more people into the coalition. I would like for people who are committed to arguing about social justice online to work on building a culture that is unrelenting in its criticisms of injustice, but that leaves more room for education.”

Now that in general has been my basic attitude toward this whole question. The “You’re not wrong, but you should be nicer.” And I still think, at least on a purely pragmatic level, there’s merit to that. (Here’s the But…)

But.

Two recent blog posts have helped me think through this all a little better, I hope. The first is Sarah Moon’s post called “No, We Not All On The Same Side”, where she draws on bell hooks to point out how “forced teaming” has the effect of sidelining the concerns of traditionally marginalized groups. I encourage you to read the whole thing, but here was the crux for me:

“…even among folks who all ultimately long for a more liberating world, there are “barriers to solidarity” (hooks’ phrasing–pg. 50) that keep us from truly “being on the same side.” Ignoring our differences–our different standpoints, goals, experiences, and needs–in favor of cheap peace, forced teaming, and shallow “allyship” does not challenge those barriers. It only reinforces them.”

It is vital not to smother potentially productive conflict with false niceness. Moon attributes a lot of this on the part of more privileged allies to conflict avoidance, which is no doubt true, but I suspect there’s more going on in the particular reaction of the privileged progressive to being critiqued by the less privileged. Underneath our reaction to this (and along with many genuinely good motives) is a rather childish desire to be affirmed as one of the good guys, to be acknowledged as Not Like Those People: your racist relatives, Sarah Palin, whoever.

I got a further insight from Rod’s post, particularly this bit:

“We hear from one side, well, yes, I know I needed to be called out, but you could have been a little bit nicer, and then the same civilized party admits later, I needed to be called out to persons who give them similar feedback, but its nicer because their interlocutor may look like them.”

I don’t doubt that this happens, a lot. Race and gender construction affects everything, evening the seemingly disembodied world of online interaction. But I suspect some of the time something else is happening (let’s take race as our example). Perhaps the white person is more responsive/less likely to tone-police the criticism of another white person because they’ve been socialized to take them more seriously (systemic racism). Or they might be more responsive because the white critic, since they are interacting with a past version of themselves, is uniquely able to help the person being criticized. That cannot replace the crucially important movement toward solidarity with marginalized people by listening directly to them, but it may be able to help that process along.

So my proposal is this: maybe those of us (white folks) who do want a more “civil” space, with, as diBoer says, “more room for education,” need to take that on as our particular responsibility – not tone-policing women or gay folks or people of color – not trying to control how they speak and act and engage – but perhaps by being the “good cop” who takes the time to educate people encountering all this for the first time (or perhaps not for the first time, but who are still resistant).

There is danger here. My idea would not be to interpret or speak for (“What John is trying to say is…”). And the point of all this is not to (yet again) center the experiences of white folks, nor to dismiss them, but to relativize them. When I respond to something on Twitter I am not doing so as a generic “reasonable person” who gets to decide what civility or kindness mean, and how all confrontation should happen and when.

Maybe we need to be the ones who engage the trolls. God knows it’s our turn.

Dispatches from Campus Ministries: Sharing the Gospel

So, while I could probably write a whole book about this topic, I intend to keep this post short, sweet and simple because at the end of the day , the issue of sharing the gospel/missiology does simplify rather easily.

If you’ve been involved with campus ministries during your college years for even a minute, you would be familiar with the zeal and passion that engenders these campus ministries when it comes to “reaching our campus for Christ”.  As a young, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed freshman involved in Cru ( when it was still called “Campus Crusade for Christ”…bleh..), I was taught the importance of having “spiritual conversations” with friends(relational evangelism) and “walking strangers through” the gospel with these vague pamphlets with interpretive figures and drawings to get them to think about spiritual matters/ God. Since I was a freshman , we were constantly pressed at the weekly large-group meetings to be having these conversations with friends/strangers, to be deciphering their world view and pointing them to Christ through words and wisdom. We were told that their eternal destiny may hinge on our willingness to share. In the on-campus International Cult Church of Christ para-church ministry, called “EPIC: Everyday People Imitating Cults Christ”, I have heard that their “bible studies” are sometimes really just sessions of acting out skits and anticipated situations for students to talk to students about God and the gospel.

You get the gist. Inherent with many college campus ministries is this calculated (and oddly imperialistic, often) notion of having “spiritual conversations” and evangelizing the campus through placing such a strong precedence of simply making sure students/friends know the gospel + convincing them that it is true ( and let’s not get into how problematic their interpretation of “the gospel” sometimes is..). When I was more involved with Cru, I remember feeling an immense pressure ( and I was not the only one) to have these forced, contrived (“spiritual”) conversations concerning the gospel with my friends or other strangers that I knew did not identify as Christians. The two main issues with this approach, that I have come to realize are: 1) This posits a morally/politically exempt and often naive student evangelical circle against a theoretically corrupt public student circle – this dynamic is problematic because a) it reduces the willingness ( and believe me it does) for honest dialogue between Christian/non-Christian student dialogue  because it tends to foster this self-righteous attitude as though we are somehow exempt from the same forces of life as everyone else and b) we’re led to believe that strangers/friends will be unable to pick up on our motives.. so in our naivety we treat them as though they’re naive.. ( kinda reminds me of colonialism..) But most of all 2) These calculated methods of engaging the campus for Christ places a greater precedence on telling people about Jesus , as opposed to BECOMING like Jesus. It prevents us from loving them as fully as we’re called to (ya know, that whole neighborly love thing?)

Christ said “Whoever says he hates his brother but does loves me, does not TRULY love me” (immense paraphrasing), but what he definitely did NOT say is “whoever does not have contrived spiritual conversations with friends but says he loves me dot not truly love me”….we need to rearrange our priorities. Of course, this has implications for even beyond/after college ministries. What I’ve found is that when place a greater precedence on being conformed to Christ’s image through the HolySspirit (calling the weak , poor , and dispossessed blessed and caring for the least of these), this makes more of an impact for Christ and opportunity for dialogue than a planned, forced conversation about Jesus. The gospel is supposed to actually be good news to the world ( imagine that), and so maybe if we allowed that to inform how we lived our lives and people saw that, more students would be drawn to campus ministries.