Chicago is arguably the capital of black America. The legacy of African Americans reverberates from the Johnson Publishing Company, with its flagship publication Ebony, to multiple black hair-care companies to the first black US congressman elected in the north. All of this before Oprah Winfrey set roots here.
It’s not by accident, then, that the country’s first black president came from Chicago. It was preordained. Chicago, notably the South Side, where most black folk live, reeks of soul. That soul dances in the air in the form of house music, gritty blues, the plumes of smoke from barbecue joints, lounges that cater to “stepper sets”, a unique partner dance.
I imagine none of these scenes registers as what black Chicago is or has to offer to outsiders. The dominant narrative is that the city is full of wartorn corners, with gun-toting black and brown people. Violence has been the singular elephantine story ever since Obama took office in 2009. It’s a fetish. It’s reductive. It’s an incomplete story. We are not Chi-raq, the inane phrase that compounds “Chicago” and “Iraq” in an attempt to describe shared levels of violence.
Chicago murders may make the headlines, but our problems of violence actually stem from something larger, something many other American cities face: racism, segregation and inequity. Chicago is a microcosm of a larger American story. Uprisings in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore illustrate the racial tension that’s in part defined by deep-seated housing segregation.
Natalie Moore in The Guardian.
Institutional neglect of racism and injustice is the exercise of power, the kind of power that refuses to notice and refuses to act.
Protest of moral and historic force begins with people facing extreme vulnerability. For those who have been silenced, rising to the act of speaking is a perilously high climb indeed. For them, protest is not an expression of fear and doubt, but an overcoming of fear and doubt. And when it comes from those at the bottom, it can often be a profound proposition about how to make the world better for all. That’s the difference between the mob whipped into a frenzy by a demagogue and the protesters demanding that institutions address harmful conditions that negate their very existence. One excludes, the other raises up.
– Jeff Chang, We Gon’ Be Alright.
But whatever it may please you to do in a matter which concerns your crown, your soul, and your kingdom, we sons of the Church cannot wholly keep silence about the injuries done to our mother [church], and the way in which she is despised and trodden under foot; for we perceive that these evils, besides those which we lament piteously have already fallen upon her, are again partly inflicted afresh and partly threatened. We will certainly make a stand, and fight even to death, if need be, for our mother with the weapons allowed us, not with shield and sword, but with prayers and lamentations to God…
– Bernard of Clairvaux, “Letter to King Louis of France” (1142).
Was it easier for the church to see its injuries at the hand of the state in the middle ages? Is there a reason it’s so hard for much of the American church to see the wounds now being inflicted upon its multi-racial Body?
Also, what do we mean by “white”? Historically, the category of “whiteness” has been very flexible, gradually extending over various groups not originally included in that constituency. In the mid-19th century, the Irish were assuredly not white, but then they became so. And then the same fate eventually befell Poles and Italians, and then Jews. A great many U.S. Latinos today certainly think of themselves as white. Ask most Cubans, or Argentines, or Puerto Ricans, and a lot of Mexicans. Any discussion of “whiteness” at different points in U.S. history has to take account of those labels and definitions.
Nor are Latinos alone in this regard. In recent controversies over diversity in Silicon Valley, complaints about workplaces that are overwhelmingly “white” were actually focused on targets where a quarter or more are of Asian origin. Even firms with a great many workers from India, Taiwan, or Korea found themselves condemned for lacking true ethnic diversity. Does that not mean that Asians are in the process of achieving whiteness?
Meanwhile, intermarriage proceeds apace, with a great many matches involving non-Latino whites and either Latinos or people of Asian origin. (Such unions are much more common than black-white relationships.) Anyone who expects the offspring of such matches to mobilize and rise up against White Supremacy is going to be sorely disappointed.
– Philip Jenkins, “White Christian Apocalypse?” I’ve noticed a fair bit of commentary about how changing demographics (related to age, ethnicity, and immigration) mean that the recent presidential election will be the last of its kind, a kind of final gasp for the blatant racism and xenophobia that was on display these past many months. Jenkins adds a couple more compelling reasons to the list of why this idea is far too optimistic.
For those who think that these impulses are somehow at a great distance from Trump’s campaign and his White House, we need only note the appointment of Stephen Bannon as Trumps strategist and senior counselor, a position with direct access to and great influence over the president. Bannon himself described his own work as a platform for the “alt-right.”
Many evangelical supporters of Trump have been quick to note that they are not racists, anti-Semites, or misogynists themselves, but they have been slower to denounce the racism, anti-Semitism, and misogyny that have ridden Trump’s coattails like an invisible down-ballot candidate. (Others have simply said that “there will always be crazies” attached to candidates from any party. “There will always be crazies” is not an appropriate response to David Duke and the KKK or to anti-Semitism or to the subjugation of women.)
Any evangelical Christian unwilling to acknowledge and repudiate the hatred that has been stoked by Trump’s campaign, and tempted to claim clean hands because they themselves don’t embody that hatred, should remember both the call to smash false values and the Apostle Paul’s words in Romans 1:32, which condemn not only sinful deeds but also condemn giving approval of those who practice them.
-Noah Toly, “Needed! A New Evangelicalism: Ellul and the Election.” Toly is more optimistic about reforming Evangelicalism that I am but, nonetheless, it’s heartening to hear such clarity from a professor at Wheaton College.
I read two things today that might be related. From CNN:
The leaders of the white nationalist and so-called “alt-right” movement — all of whom vehemently oppose multiculturalism and share the belief in the supremacy of the white race and Western civilization — publicly backed Trump during his campaign for his hardline positions on Mexican immigration, Muslims, and refugee resettlement. Trump has at times disavowed their support. Bannon’s hiring, they say, is a signal that Trump will follow through on some of his more controversial policy positions.
“I think that’s excellent,” former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke told CNN’s KFile. “I think that anyone that helps complete the program and the policies that President-elect Trump has developed during the campaign is a very good thing, obviously. So it’s good to see that he’s sticking to the issues and the ideas that he proposed as a candidate. Now he’s president-elect and he’s sticking to it and he’s reaffirming those issues.”
From Lex Visigothorum (400-500 CE):
No one shall dare to remove, by force, any person who has sought sanctuary in a church unless said person should attempt to defend himself with arms.
Black Atlantic Christianity comes into being with this painful truth. The Christianity it works with is necessary, powerful, and living but not very appealing. It lacks appeal because, enamored of the power and beauty of whiteness, this Christianity presents itself to no one but itself and tragically invites “nonwhite” peoples to do the same. An intellectual life formed in so unappealing a setting becomes crushingly insular… I am not dismissing the important parental legacy of Christianity in nurturing key intellectuals of the modern West, and especially intellectuals of the Black Atlantic. But we must not allow this legacy to blind us to the aching absence of a truly Christian intellectual community at the heart of church life in this world. Such a Christian community would reflect in its work the incarnate reality of the Son who has joined the divine life to our lives and invites us to deep abiding intellectual joining, not only of ideas but of problems, not only of concepts but of concerns, not only beliefs and practices but of common life, and all of it of the multitude of many tongues.
-Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race
Jennings captures something so innate to Western Christianity that it is mostly invisible, namely that its rootedness in whiteness leads to an intellectual life that is not particularly Christian. Consider, for example, current white Christian engagement with the Republican presidential nominee. On one side are the supporters who are blind to the threat this man poses to many within the diverse Christian family. On the other side are those who cannot imagine any scenario in which a Christian could support the nominee and yet whose opposition has little physical contact with the lives and concerns of Black and Brown Christians.
Jennings hints at an alternative in which white Christianity redirects its gaze and the seat of its authorities to “non-white” communities and concerns. There is a common life available but the conversion will be a kind of death for those whose experience of God was birthed in the insularity of whiteness.