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they would respect us if

With the Ferguson movement and other protests around the country highlighting the dual but interrelated problems of police brutality and racial profiling in African American communities, many public intellectuals have been pondering the reasons why Blacks are more likely to be profiled, brutalized, or worse, murdered in cold blood as Mike Brown was. A few such famed thinkers, such as Pastor Voddie Baucham, actor Bill Cosby and CNN’s Don Lemon continue to push the false myth of Black intellectual inferiority as the reason behind Blacks’ natural criminality. If THEY, those hoodlums will pull up their pants, not dress like ratchet ladies we see on them hip hop videos, and get a job, perhaps the police would less likely assume that (presumably) poor blacks were all criminals. In marginalized communities, there is this pervasive, dogmatic belief that if marginated persons assimilate to the dominant culture, and go along just to get along, everything will be alright.

Respectability is depicted as a panacea to heal cross-cultural divides. In many ways, Respectability can be co-opted to subvert the status quo, to debunk stereotypes and to exceed expectations by the mainstream. On the other hand, Respectability Politics, when it is taken as an absolute, can be a dangerous affrontery to the disadvantage of the oppressed. If only Black people, immigrants, and First Nations people would cling on to the American dream like the middle Blacks who strived so in Prince Georges County, Maryland, better day will be ahead. We are often told it’s not WHAT you know, but WHO you know that will help you get that promotion, or perhaps make it to an Ivy League school like the New York Times’ Charles Blow’s son did. For those that are unfamiliar with the term, according to Trudy, respectability politics are

“cultural, sexual, domestic, employment and artistic “guidelines” or “rules” for racially marginalized groups to follow in the effort to be viewed as “human” in a White supremacist society and by individual Whites. Some of the most noticeable manifestations of the politics of respectability occurs among Black people because of the history dehumanization because of slavery.”

The humanity of Black people and People of Color, has to be earned in other words. Rather than all of our humanity being accepted as a gift of God, Respectability Politics is a heretical rejection of the Imago Dei, the infinite sacred worth of all human beings. Respectability politics is an attempt by limited human beings to measure the immeasurable. When it comes to respectability politics, writers usually start with political and social commentary without regard for the religious sources behind respectability, and the blasphemous theology behind.

Last February, conservative evangelical theologian Roger E. Olson referred to Respectability as “most pernicious and pervasive heresy in the U.S. American Church.” Olson’s class analysis and use of Karl Barth as an argument against pastors who exist simply to make us feel comfortable and the exclusion of ordinary congregants from participating in worship is only part of the problem when it comes to Respectability and Christendom. Olson’s observation falls short because he fails to address the racialized nature of respectability and therefore Christianity’s complicity in the history of White Supremacy.

Speaking from a Church History standpoint, the adoption of Respectability Politics has been a long time practice for Black Protestant communities. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones endured persecution while working for the social uplift of both Free and enslaved Africans. Allen was well-respected and somewhat duplicitious in his actions, being friends with revolutionaries such as Morris Brown and Denmark Vesey (Wilmore, page 104), as well as playing the respectability card in the name of holiness (Wilmore, 124) as he participated in temperance societies, encouraging Blacks to avoid drunkenness so that they would not give White people any ammunition to perpetuate racist beliefs (See Gayraud S. Wilmore’s Black Religion and Black Radicalism: An Interpretation Of the Religious History of African Americans). Wilmore’s text neglects the religious life of Black Catholics particularly during the time of African enslavement due to its soft Protestant triumphalism.

In Uncommon Faithfulness: The Black Catholic Experience, Diane Batts Morrow’s essay “The Difficulty of Our Situation: The Oblate Sisters in Antebellum Society,” tells us of some of the history of the Oblate Sisters of Providence who were located in Baltimore, Maryland. This was a society where Coloured Women “renounced the world to consecrate themselves to God, and to the education” of Black women. Very much like Richard Allen and Absalom Jones in Philadelphia, these sisters encountered opposition and persecution from Baltimore’s Catholic community. In 1829, the Oblate Sisters of Providence were finally allowed to “pledge themselves to a life of service and faithful observance of the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.” Clergy remained disapproving of a Black sisterhood. Black women were deemed as incapable of embodying virtue. “The image of Black women as the sexually promiscuous Jezebel became fixed in the white public consciousness. Negative stereotypes of black women remained so widespread in American culture that long after the history of slavery,” religious leaders could not imagine “the creation of a virtuous black woman.” The White enslaver class believed that biology and morality were inherently fixed. Not matter what Blacks did to earn respect, it would never be enough. Grace was insufficient.

In thinking about nature, grace, and Respectability Politics, my friend Tapji Garba and I have arrived somewhat at a tentative theological case in fierce opposition to the false god of Respectability. Critiques of “respectabilism” are part of a quite Protestant stream of thinking that lends itself toward iconoclasm. Taps used the example of Martin Luther’s criticism of indulgences, that just as indulgences were viewed polemically as ladders to reach God, so too does respectability function as a ladder for the oppressed to achieve their full humanity. If marginalized persons do so choose to appropriate respectability, they should only do so as what Taps rightly observed as engaging in the task of naming that which is fictive. Respectability is a false atonement, and is as just a falsehood as the racist stereotypes the Oblate Sisters of Providence fought by practicing chastity and poverty. A respectabilism that is used to sustain these untruths means the continued humiliation of Blacks and People of Color. Ultimately, bowing at the alter of Respectability is an atonement TO sovereignty: the state, the market, and privileged elites. To the extent that the oppressed use Respectability Politics to expose imperialist lies which tie biology to virtuosity, they assert their own God-given human dignity.

(Photo description: picture taken at a bus stop on the eastside of Fort Worth. The poster read: ‘Why they respected us then’ underneath a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. and friends locking arms, dressed in suits. On the bottom of the poster:’ why they don’t respect us now’ as a caption of what seems to be a screen shot of a hip hop video, with young black men sagging, looking quote/unquote “thuggish.’)

Over at Patheos: Progressive Brands, Sexism & DudeBro Politics: #CloseGamerGate

Link to original post: here

Because this was now being handled in public, I was fortunate to receive the support of hundreds of people on Twitter – as well as attacks from others. I always expect some form of trolling, but I did not expect one of the attackers to be an editor at Salon, Elias Isquith, who questioned what my potential rape meant for “hashtags” and “brands”. “– Sarah Kendzior, On Being A Thing

Encountering the Emergent Church Brand

For a span of 2 years, my final semester of undergrad up until my second year in seminary,I tried and miserably failed to fit myself in the white Calvinist evangelical mold. As a black man in his early twenties, I didn’t fit in anywhere in predominantly white Christian educational settings. Some of my first friends in seminary were a group of white Christians who were well read with Emergent Christian literature: Tony Jones, Doug Paggit, Rob Bell, and Brian McLaren will all names that were dropped during our weekly Tuesday night taco dinners.  I would eventually leave the Neo-Calvinist movement on my own terms and started to see some freedom in the Emergent Church movement. Two of the more influential books on my journey were Scot McKnight’s The Jesus Creed and Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. My Calvinist friends (who had not read these book/authors) were calling me a heretic for even reading these books, and as I look back then seven years ago, I can laugh.

I once preached a sermon on the Emergent church as the future of Christian tradition, and I even taught a Sunday School class on Black theology and Emergence Christianity.  However, I began to experience disaffection with the Emergent Church. All of the topics and controversies that the EC leadership wrote about/spoke about still made Whiteness as the center. Believers from marginated contexts were welcome to the table as long as they tacitly submitted to the ways of the dominant culture. In essence,  Emergence Christianities have become more about personal brands and the platforms of their recognized overwhelmingly White male leaders rather than being about the “future of Christianity.” You see, since we only live in the here and now, all talks of the “future of Christianity” are speculative. Yet, there is much money to be made when small groups of people decide to severe the multiracial Kingdom of God from any notion of the future. The “future” winds up looking very much like the status quo, and defenses (yes, even “progressive ones”) of the status quo are quite profitable.

Liberationist Killjoys And DudeBro Christianity

At Killjoy Prophets, there is a two-fold mission: first, we desire to center the experiences of Women of Color in Christianity, and secondly, we work to end DudeBro Christianity. Now, we often get asked, “what is DudeBro Christianity?” First of all, DudeBro is a descriptor of character traits; it is a politics in which any person of any gender, sexual orientation, or ethnic background can embody.  DudeBro Christianity is the passive embodiment of dominant cultural norms that conceal commitments to White supremacist and male supremacist narratives as defaults. The bodies of women and People of Color are made to be objects of contempt. The practice of DudeBro Politics includes someone who insists that all social encounters occur on their terms.  The future of Christianity is their private property (“post-Christendom”); like the plantation oligarchs, People of Color and the bodies of women are to be supervised by DudeBro Christian leaders.

Emergent Christian leaders often make excuses such as, well many PoC and women just do not have a big enough platform to draw a big enough crowd for conferences. In other words, profit is the driving force behind abstract discussions of “the future” rather than the Kingdom of God, which is justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.  DudeBro Politics is the anti-Christ, posing as an angelic voice of progressive Enlightenment in order to deny faithful victory over the sins of White Supremacy, rape culture, and economic exploitation. DudeBro politics can play out in non-liberating events such as a White Cisgender queer male informing me that I use too strong of language when describing economic policies as anti-black racism. DudeBro Christianity is when for the sake of inclusion in the United Methodist Church, a White CisHet man uses his privilege to compare the General Conference to date rape. In order to build her brand as a magenta politics leftist, one political theologian dismissed Sarah Kendzior’s claims to being threatened with rape. Jason is right: in order for DudeBro Politics to remain the pre-eminent regime in this kyriarchal, White Supremacist economy, men have to control the bodies of women and PoC.

“but I think it’s pathetic for some [recognized Emergent Church leaders] to stand around and comment on the failings [of Mark Driscoll/Mars Hill Church], while cowardly never admitting your own sh*& (which is strikingly familiar!!) misogyny, mental and emotional abuse all hidden behind a new found liberalism and feminism because the times they are a changin’, jumping on the same sex marriage band wagon because its the hot new ride in town, and you just might get to be relevant again…these people are very cunning and smart and they will use anything (theology, controversy, sensationalism) and anyone to get ahead. it’s a clinical diagnosis and a pathology that looks like this kind of carnage, and they ALWAYS leave bodies in their wake. soliciting white male leaders of the emergent church willing to cover it all up for their crony. wipe out evidence on organizations website. lies and betrayal.”– Julie McMahon, comment, Tony Jones On Mark Driscoll, What Came First, The Thug or The Theology?

On Ending DudeBro Christianity, #GamerGate, & #NotYourShield

Emergence Christianities and their leadership has unfortunately found itself more often than not on imperialist quests for fame and fortune rather than being in solidarity with the least of these. In the process, as Julie McMahon pointed out, brand-creation and marketing leave the bodies of the marginalized in its wake: objectification, emotional, physical and mental abuse, gaslighting, racist microaggressions, and “post-modern” defenses of White Supremacy. Progressive spaces such as Emergence Christianity have made it okay for others to promote themselves at the expense of others (women mostly). For example, the whole #GamerGate #NotYourShield movement is a whole group of gamer dudes violently backlashing against women gamers who have spoken up versus misogyny. Last week, my friend Drew Hart discovered that a #NotYourShield sock puppet had been using a picture of his to advance the racist*, sexist agenda of #NotYourShield / #GamerGate.

#GamerGate is more than a few Internet trolls. They harass their critics, take down their blogsites, spread vicious rumors, and send emails promising gun violence and sexual assaults towards women who dare speak out. It’s time for progressives to find new ways to brand themselves, and this should start by rejecting DudeBro Politics. It means living by the preferential option for the marginalized (women & People of Color), preferring to choose human life and people over profiteering and brand-making.  Such a rejection also means a public rebuke of #GamerGate / #NotYourShield.    #CloseGamerGate #CloseGamerGate #CloseGamerGate

“[…] upon this rock I will build my church; the gates of hell will not prevail against it.”- Matthew 16:18 KJV

Buffy the Vampire Slayer "The Gift"; gif found on Tumblr

Buffy the Vampire Slayer “The Gift”; gif found on Tumblr

* I refer to #GamerGate/ #NotYourShield as racist because of #1, the persistent blackface sock puppeteering that they do, and #2, their reliance on negative stereotypes of Blacks as thuggish, criminal, and culturally “backwards”/homophobic.

Videogames as Story-telling: Protagonist Love Interests & Race

Well, last time we saw how racist myths can be kept afloat in videogames, even through anthropomorphic means. This post will be different , but yet the same, in that the central issue uniting all these problematics in these virtual narratives is one that sets that which is white as “default” and admirable.

There are myriad videogames one could choose to illustrate any of this. However, I’m going to stick with my experience and what I know.  As with the last post, I mentioned playing a lot of Sonic the Hedgehog games, in this post, I’ll feature a game whose narrative had a great impact on me and that I greatly enjoyed – Custom Robo!

I’ve always been into the battling robots  concept for as long as I can remember. Whether it was Gundam, Power Ranger’s MegaZords ( they looked like robots) , Medabots (which more people need to know about!), I seemed to have always been enamored with the concept of commanding/controlling a mecha-robo to engage in futuristic combat. Perhaps I’ll save what I think the significance of the mecha-robo combat is for another post…

Continuing with my interest in robot-combat fiction/games, I first played Custom Robo around Middle-School and it didn’t disappoint. I loved the futuristic aesthetic in the graphics and the music and character designs, etc. The story ( which, again I may cover in another post because it has significance) was captivating and I still remember it all so vividly. But what I also remember vividly, was the main character , called ‘Hero’ by default, looking like this:

He’s supposed to be the archetype of the honest-eyed, bon-homme (good-natured boy) – and he also happens to be a jolly white boy. And so being the honest, impressionable, and oft-naive bonhomme your main character is made to be, you naturally will need aside-kick, who may need to be a bit more worldy to round him out. Enter, Harry:

Yup. This is Harry (*sigh*..) Now we can go and deliberate all day as to what his race/ethnicity actually is because of his blond hair, but if we’re honest with ourselves, we know the motif of blackness being a side-kick to whiteness- Custom Robo isn’t the only place we see it.

Now, in Custom Robo, he serves as more of a guide/mentor to the hero joining the local Custom Robo mercenary squad. He’s a charismatic, entertaining character to interact with,although he is portrayed as a wily, sloppy, lazy, womanizing guy. You know, like many black man side-kicks we see….

His character actually doesn’t bother me as much as another one… or rather what seems to be the game’s disposition towards her.. Harry’s sister, Mira

She’s the head commander of the Police Squad in this game and she’s a black female. And much like her bro, Harry, she’s got a sweet funky hair color! Anyways, in some ways her character makes me happy- it’s good to see a strong , black female who’s actually reverred and respected in the story. What I don’t like, however, is the message her character sends about black females being perceived as beautiful and objects of male affection- esp. when they have natural hair styles.

Throughout the game, these are the women that the womanizing Harry and all the other gentlemen of the game are gawking over are the white, flowy-haired women, wearing more effeminate clothing. It’s almost as if to say that black women , with their natural hair texture, cannot possibly be seen as effeminate and desirable to men. I find it interesting that virtually every other female in this game wins the affection of a guy except Mira. And before someone would like to wrestle me concerning the colonialistic gaze on black natural hair and beauty, perhaps I should remind you (or bring to your attention) Meteorologist Rhonda Lee :

 

If you’d like to check out some of the game’s lunacy for yourself, with good commentary, I recommend you follow the youtube user who actually inspired me to do this post, Black Preon:

Until next time!