Tag Archives: speaking truth to power

#Negrophobia, Spiders, and America's Fear of Talking About Racism

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So rather than have an actual conversation on race, the editors of Time magazine decided to publish a post on their Web-exclusive online site entitled “Negrophobia: Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and America’s Fear Of Black People.” A number of persons on Twitter suspected that Time magazine was taking aim at #BlackTwitter, and I think they’re right to suspect so. This article was so atrocious, however, and hardly persuasive at that, that I would have to call this one of the worst attempts at being both anti-racist while trolling for hits.

Let’s start with the actual content of the essay. Mr. Hill starts out with some basic Carl Jungian psychology 101, talking about “phobias,”: “Phobias are extreme aversions embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with the thing we fear. Some people are afraid of black people.” True to the classical liberal fashion of our society, Mr. Hill opts to discuss racism on an individual level. Anti-Black racism and violence is a problem of interpersonal interactions between powerful individuals and black persons. Our psyches, our subconsciousnesses, our very souls are for the most part, unknowable, and we are left often times to irrelevant pseudoscience. Hill repeats, “Phobias are extreme aversions. They are embedded deep in our psyches, activated when we come face-to-face with with the things we fear. For me, spiders trigger overreactions. For others, it can be people.”

A couple of problems with this sentiment. First of all, when we talk about personhood and face-to-face confrontations, what Hill avoids discussing is the number of practices that make black persons remain fa celess subjects at the bottom of the well. The “triggering” encounters that individuals with anti-black phobias (supposedly) have is not one of face-to-face, but of face-to-faceless, the citizen shunning the fugitive, the civilized keeping the barbarian at bay. Secondly, the comparison of Black people/anti-black racism (even on the individual level) to arachnophobia is highly problematic. Black people are not animals. White supremacist narratives animalize Black bodies, especially Black men as Wild Bucks, in order to justify racist practices such as police brutality. Lastly, if I may make myself an example and come clean. I am not afraid of spiders, or roaches, or bees or wasps. These insects do not BUG me. What insects do scare me, especially when I was in third grade, are crickets. That’s right, crickets. I would see them everywhere in our back yard, and when our basement flooded back then during tornado season, I had crickets in my room hopping around, not leaving me alone. I had not learned anything about what crickets actually were, and what value they had in the food chain. However, I did find out one day that in some cultures, crickets are signs of good luck. From that day on, I tried really hard not to bother them. Who wouldn’t want to have good fortune?

Just as #NotAllSpiders are dangerous, #NotAllCrickets are scary. The thing is, is that I had been socialized to ignore the crickets’ worth. Coincidentally, when Mr. Hill highlights the police officers calling Ferguson residents “animals,”

“I hate to think this is what the police see when they approach any unarmed black person- a predator that has escaped captivity that must be tranquilized before he or she wreaks havoc.”

It is because the officer has been socialized to be anti-black through White Supremacist story-telling, and the practices that reinforce those stories. The idea that there is a “lens of phobia,” a fear that is natural as the hair on our head that plays a major role in anti-black racism is actually a FALSE MYTH that sustains the story of White Supremacy. Racism is not natural and is immoral. It is not a “deep aversion” to be excused for, but a set of practices and beliefs to be torn down. The liberal notions of “diversity” that Mr. Hill refers to at the end of his article will not suffice; only a complete rejection that blacks and the difference we represent have to be “intimidating” in order for justice to pave the way for greater human intimacy.

Civil Discourse & The Apostle Paul: The First Angry Christian?

Athena column at Academy of Athens.
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Today’s Our Daily Bread Devotional this morning featured Acts 17:16, which the passage provided in the small devotional book read like this, “While Paul waited for them in Athens, his spirit was provoked within him  when he saw that the city was given over to idols (ESV).”

I could not find this version of the passage in either the KJV, the NIV, the NRSV, or the NLT. But I found out it was the translation of the English Standard Translation.  Although the ESV comes closer, it still seems to me that the English translations of the Greek verb paroxusmos, meaning to be angrily provoked or irritated, fall short.  It seems that the idea that the apostle Paul (and included in that, Christians in general) could get angrily irritated over the practice of idolatry [much like the Judge Gideon ;-)]  is non passe, since we believe in good things like niceness, tolerance and civil discourse.  As usual, we can just pretty up the message of this first century Jewish rabbi, make him whatever we want him to be, as long as he is not confrontationational about  anything.

In the same manner, this is how theologians responded to James Hal Cone, in the early days of development of Black liberation theology. The negative stereotype of the Angry Black man was used sublimely as a critique of his work (his theological project is not without its blind spots).  Cone used his rage to go to war with the idol of race in its ugly U.S. American manifestation.

Somewhere I learned that the 16th century Protestant Reformer Martin Luther said, “for when I am angry, I can write, pray, and preach well,” and this rang true for the apostle Paul.  For while Paul was angry, he did not resort to violence or insults, but he engaged the Athenian philosophers, managed to begin with a common ground (“the unknown god” & the one from which we have our being–Acts 17:28), while at the same time, teach about the equality of all humankind and the resurrection of Christ (Acts 17:26;31).

I get mighty suspicious of  calls for “civility” because I would like to know exactly whose definition of “civil” we would need to play by.  Honoring everyone, rather than just mere toleration, as Miroslav Volf has suggested is the appropriate path for believers, but that should not prevent Christians from speaking truth to power.

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