Tag Archives: Trayvon Martin

#XMenDOFP and the Nuances of the Human vs “Not Human” paradigm

Blink from the movie, X-Men: Days Of Future Past

Image from i09

The X-Men has long since been my favorite group of super heroes. I have often wondered what it was during my childhood that attracted me to the X-Men more than any other group of super heroes in the Marvel or DC Universe. Was it that I thought they had the best powers, did they have the coolest characters, or was I most intrigued by their story lines? I found myself most readily able to identify with the X-Men because I saw myself in the mutant species. It is no secret that the X-Men series is rich in metaphors for the Civil Rights struggle. In both the X-Men comics and in X-Men TAS Charles Xavier is an allusion to the Civil Right leader Martin Luther King Jr. Even though the X-Men save the world on a weekly basis they struggle to find acceptance, for no other reason than because they are mutants. It was this connection that fueled my intrigue with the X-Men film franchise. Indeed the most recent film X-Men: Day of Future Past is rife with analogies and parallel to both past and modern Civil Rights struggles. For the record the X-Men series in all forms has great limitations in its use as an analogy to the struggle for Civil Rights. Nevertheless, as I reflected on the film and the history of the film series I found that the most provocative feature of the film was the deeper meaning found through how the film questions what it means to be human and perhaps more importantly what it means to be “not human.” In light of this question it becomes important to examine what factors have motivated ethical treatment for those considered human and “not human.” As I reflect on the realities that depict “humans” and “non-humans” I am reminded of the writings of Giorgi Agamben and his work entitled Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life. Agamben describes the process by which groups of people become labeled as “not human” using the term homo sacer. In ancient Rome the homo sacer was a criminal who was declared an unperson. They were deemed inadequate as a form of sacrifice, while simultaneously not receiving any protection from the law.

Without any form of protection from the law through being stigmatized as the unperson, the homo sacer is left with no recourses and thus is a bare life. Agamben analysis of the homo sacer as the unperson, who is without protection, rights, or official recognition. The nation- state is capable of labeling undesirable people within a particular context as the homo sacer. This adequately describes the treatment of the mutants throughout the X-Men film series. They are not given the provision of protection by the government through the legal system. There is no vote on their systematic extermination the perceived fact that they pose a great threat to society far outweighs any rights of humaness that they may have. This feature is exemplified by Bolivar Trask initiative to exterminate all of the mutants because of the threat that they pose in X-Men Days of Future Past, and through the passing of the Mutant Registration Act in X-Men the Last Stand. Both acts are guided by a conscious decision to protect the “humans” from the “not humans.” The distinction between who is considered human and “not human” is clear. It resonates with the treatment of the immigrant population who are forced to “prove” their citizenship and in many instances seen as a threat to our borders. It also resonates with racial and ethnic minorities living in an Urban setting, who are disproportionately killed by our justice system to keep our “streets safe.” In both instances government protection and human status are sacrificed for the perceived safety of the community. Merely examining Agamben’s notion of the homo sacer as the “not human” falls short of a nuanced understanding of examining ethical treatment of humans and “not humans.” To do this one must look at some of the root causes of how one receives the label of homo sacer. Again the X-Men series is helpful towards examining one of these causes as well. An implicit message that pervades the entire X-Men film series is that both mutants and humans fear what they do not completely understands.

Mutants such as Rogue and others fear the humans not only because of whatever damage they can do to them but also because there lack of understanding of the human race. Rogue in a physical level can never understand the ways of humans as she is not able to even touch one without killing them. She still suffers from the the trauma of from touching her first boyfriend and rendering him unconscious. She is also afraid of her own powers because of the damage it can down, her inability to control them, and how little she really knows about her power. More obviously, humans fear the mutants not solely because of the power but also because of they can not fully comprehend the mutants power. Despite the X-Men consistently saving the world humans still question their intentions and the extent to which they use their powers. Even in X-Men TAS the phrase “people fear what they do not understand” is stated twice in the first two episode to make even more explicit this motif in the X-Men series. This at a very basic level alludes to what can be deemed as the chimeric quality of ethical treatment. In Greek mythology the Chimera is a mythical creature sort that is a hybrid of several different creature and is a fire breathing dragon. However, more importantly it as creature that has never been. No one in Greek mythology is said to ever encounter it through personal experience. It exists through fear and the imagination. Despite this in Greek mythology it provokes a very real and visceral emotional reaction. Thus the chimeric quality of ethical treatment is the way people are treated based on the fear of the unknown. Whether it be Mark Cuban’s comments describing his reaction to seeing a black man in a hoodie on the street or a white man covered in earrings. In both instances he said he would cross to the other side. Although there are definite racial undertones to this statement he is also very specifically alluding to the fear of the unknown. In both instances he is not afraid to admit that he is scared of what he does not know about either person.

Unfortunately, in 21st century America the unknown is too often equated minorities and people of color. Whether it be Trayvon Martin walking in a predominantly white neighborhood, or John Crawford III ( fatally shot because he was playing with a toy gun in Walmart and someone got suspicious), the chimeric quality of ethical treatment is a major threat to the bodies of people of color. Just as mutants both good and bad are murdered in the X-Men series on the basis of their perceived threat because of their unknown abilities; scores of minorities are also murdered daily and deemed as “not human” because of their unknown qualities. Realizing the dangers posed by the chimeric ethical treatment model can serve as one way to begin to form a more nuance understanding on how to distinguish that which is considered human and “not human.” Humaness as a general category should imply the fair and ethical treatment of all people regardless of perceived chimeric qualities. While the “not human,” is that which does not provide this basic ethical treatment for everyone. This articulation of humaness is exemplified in several instances in the X-Men film franchise. Perhaps most poignantly is at the conclusion of X-Men Days of Future Past. Mystique finds her own humaness by saving the life of Bolivar Trask. Trask, one of the major antagonist of the film commits a plethora of act making deserving of the title “not human,” including being responsible for the Sentinel program aimed at totally annihilating the mutant population. He appears to not be worthy of such ethical treatment by Mystique. However, by seeing the humaness in everyone she is able to find the humaness within herself. She simultaneously dismisses the chimeric quality of Bolivar Trask as well as the uncertainty of what will become of the mutants in the future. Although both she and the X-Men series do not provide an explicit solution to understanding way of providing the ethical treatment to that which is considered “not human” both certainly provided a starting for this discussion. 

For a possible Foucauldian take on the original X-Men trilogy, see Rod’s 2010 post: Re-Watching the X-Men Trilogy.

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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Racial Profiling, Racial Stereotypes, and the Irrationality Of White Supremacy #GeorgeZimmerman

Concert against racial profiling

Concert against racial profiling (Photo credit: mar is sea Y)

When we talk about race and race relations, the first thing we should ask ourselves is, “what are some of the governmental/social practices that negative impact racial minorities (minorities in terms of social power)?  One of the more glaring examples is racial profiling programs like New York City’s “Stop And Frisk”. We must then ask ourselves, what makes policies such as “Stop And Frisk” possible? What is the underlying logic? The reason why racial profiling has become so accepted in US American culture is because of the embeddedness of institutional racism.  Based on a pyramid of racial hierarchies and death-dealing practices, white supremacy changes its practices while maintaining its own illogic.  White Supremacy is irrational because in spite of accepting concrete facts and evidence, white supremacists eschew reason for their experience, their emotional ties to negative images of people of color. For example, white supremacist talking pinhead Bill O’Reilly, said that a black professor from Columbia University, Marc Lamont Hill, looked like a drug dealer:

Why would a black person with his PhD, dressed in a shirt and tie, look like a cocaine dealer for Bill O’Reilly? Simple. It’s the skin color of that said person, and the racial stereotype that black people are criminals. The facts however contradict Bill’O’s racist comments; statistics time and again show that whites are more likely to abuse drugs than POC. This is nothing to gloat about, this is a human tragedy that any human being would resort to drug use.

Cory Monteith, Finn Hudson of Fox’s GLEE died of a drug overdose, but because Trayvon had traces of marijuana on his person, Trayvon is considered a thug. Why? Because of the color of his skin. Because black men are seen as natural criminals and have to work through racist meritocracies to prove otherwise. In reality, since no one person is defined by the mistakes of their past, shouldn’t we see both men’s passing as tragedies that should not have happened, rather the latter, the black teenage boy’s murder as necessary?

Institutional racism puts up a barrier between people groups, and even allows noble persons with good intentions to defend racist practices, yes, even this includes laws that are applied unjustly, like Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. Marissa Alexander was placed in jail for 20 years for just giving warning shots to her significant other who was abusing her. CeCe McDonald was attacked by NeoNazis because she is black and a transgender woman, and because she defended herself with a gun, she is now in prison as well. If indeed all three cases are cases of self-defense, should not all three (Zimmerman included) persons have their freedom? Institutional racism will not have it this way, and instead what we have is white supremacy still maintaining its presence in our political system.

The U.S. American notions of “reasonable doubt” and “reasonable” suspicion are so subjective and contradictory to the idea that one is innocent until proven guilty, it just proves that we have a disembodied and virtually impossible notion of what can be considered “reasonable.” This is where I like Clement of Alexandria, an early Christian thinker who measured what was reasonable by a person’s actions, according to the Golden Rule. It’s too easy, as I have demonstrated for our cultural biases to interfere with what we deem as “reasonable” or “necessary.” White supremacy is irrational, and institutional racism needs to be dismantled from the top down.

Reflect: What other negative racial stereotypes do we need to rid ourselves of?

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