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Archive for the ‘Dave’ Category

All Black Everything

I have a knack for being a late-comer to all things fashionable, so of course I have just now discovered Lupe Fiasco, an amazing hip hop artist who I take to be one of the most prophetic artistic voices that you are ever likely to hear on the radio. I’ve been infatuated with this song over the last week, letting it sink in as a theological text of eschatological vision that encapsulates what I take to be the sort of social imagination that Christ makes possible in a world of structural whiteness that positions black life as locked into and determined by a particular ideology of history: one that is articulated through and recycled by the socially embedded and culturally celebrated idea that the West’s progressive trek across land and time–an imperial campaign of terror that claims for its own historical project of bodily and spacial accumulation those (non-) subjects determined as ahistorical or not sufficiently historical–was the way that history necessarily had to turn out. Here Lupe Fiasco is calling for an end, and therefore an apocalyptic reversal, to that history. He is calling for  a poetic imagining of the end of the world that is both an end (an apocalypse) and a new beginning (an eschatology) all at once. He is producing through what Anthony Pinn calls “creative disregard”, the questioning and disruption of normative sites of power through artistic and novel imagination, a new history in which black life is no longer determined by the terror of whiteness. “All black Everything” means the end of whiteness, and therefore the end of blackness as determined by whiteness. It means that the world has ended and that an eschatological reality has been inaugurated in Christ’s body–the body that has re-made all bodies so that human existence is no longer defined by the destructive and ontologically forced confines of whiteness, accumulation, and Western imperial reality. Have a listen and imagine the possibility.

“All Black Everything” by Lupe Fiasco

[Hook] You would never know
If you could ever be
If you never try
You would never see
Stayed in Africa
We ain’t never leave
So there were no slaves in our history
Were no slave ships, were no misery, call me crazy, or isn’t he
See I fell asleep and I had a dream, it was all black everything

Uh, and we ain’t get exploited
White man ain’t feared it so he did not destroy it
We ain’t work for free, see they had to employ it
Built it up together so we equally appointed
First 400 years, see we actually enjoyed it
Constitution written by W.E.B. Du Bois
Were no reconstructions, civil war got avoided
Little black sambo grows up to be a lawyer
Extra extra on the news stands
Black woman voted head of Ku Klux Klan
Malcolm Little dies as an old man
Martin Luther King read the eulogy for him
Followed by Bill O’Reilly who read from the Quran
President Bush sends condolences from Iran
Where Fox News reports live
That Ahmadinejad wins Mandela peace prize

Uh, and it ain’t no projects
Keepin it real is not an understood concept
Yea, complexion’s not a contest
Cause racism has no context
Hip-hop ain’t got a section called conscious
Everybody rappin like crack never happened
Crips never occurred nor bloods to attack them
Matter of fact no hood to attack in
Somalia is a great place to relax in
Fred Astaire was the first to do a backspin
The rat pack was cool group of black men
That inspired the five white guys called the Jacksons
Eminem fitted in but then again he inspired a black rapper tryin to mimic him
And thats what really rose up out of Michigan, the sign of white rapper by the name of 50 cent

[Hook]

Uh, and I know it’s just a fantasy
I cordially invite you to ask why can’t it be
Now we can do nothing bout the past
But we can do something about the future that we have
We can make it fast or we can make it last
Every woman queen and every man a king and
When those color lines come we can’t see between
We just close our eyes till its all black everything

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9/11/11

What a weird day comprised of a mixture of sentimental memory, incoherent media drivel on ‘the proper way to remember’, and this odd inclination to assess the last 10 years of my own life because that seems to be what everyone else is doing. I’m doing everything in my power to resist this virtual ceremony that the forces of an imaginary collective ‘we’ are telling me to participate and  remember only in the ‘safe’ way that they want me to. Does a memory wrapped up in the constantly deployed slogans of ‘an attack on freedom’ or ‘those people died for all of us’ really help us to make sense of the last 10 years? Does it really honor the departed to find some way to make death itself (of course only ‘our’ deaths) meaningful?

I’m trying to resist. And I’m trying to remember truthfully. I’m trying to remember that 9/11/01 really changed nothing in a world where state and cultural power function so that enemies necessarily exist and war is a never-ending reality. (Perhaps the only thing it really changed is that these power concentrations were exasperated.) I’m trying to remember that we are all complicit in the conditions that led a group of nihilistic murderers to kill 3000 people on that day. I’m trying to remember that in the wake of that event, thousands of American troops have been meaninglessly killed in wars in which hundreds of thousands of innocent people have died at the hands of an imperialistic force fueled by the idolatrous and blind support of handing over to Demigods the rights to protect us and our ‘right to shop’ (thanks George W.!) ‘by any means necessary’. I’m trying to remember that 10 years ago today I was already in the thick of guilt.

Perhaps the only way to remember on this day is to, in a sense, not remember, but to look ahead into the future and see it as being opened up by God’s disruptive and surprising action that rips apart the idea that we have the ability to bring God’s Kingdom to ourselves and to others. This is not to forget that horrible day 10 years ago, but to see it in the light of Christ’s future that breaks into the past, that reveals history as residing under his Lordship and uncovers the grace that frees us from being locked into a past that tells us that the way things have turned out is the way things have to be.

As Franz Fanon observes, true freedom resides in the ability to resist the chains of a history that has been written for us: “I am not a prisoner of History. I must not look for the meaning of my destiny in that direction. I must constantly remind myself that the real leap consists of introducing invention into life. In the world I am heading for, I am endlessly creating myself.” The forces that are trying to write our history for us seem to be uncharacteristically visible today (they usually try to remain deceptively hidden). On this day, though it seems almost impossible as I sit here writing, interrupted every few minutes by a stupid inclination to check Facebook in order to see who’s remembering and who’s not, I am trying to remember that my very existence (past, present, and future) is continuously being invented anew by Christ, and that in him we are not prisoners of History but captives set free to live into a future that is gracefully disrupting our efforts to secure history for ourselves and contain it (and remember it) for our own distorted desires and purposes.

 

 

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I thought that the sermon/discussion last Sunday went quite well. Here’s the link to the audio (sermon starts around 29 minutes):

http://www.emmausway.net/media.php?pageID=9&itemID=47

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In ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows how we do not recognize Jesus because we fail to ask the one question that really matters as we encounter him: “Who are you?” None of the white characters in the story ever think to ask this question of the peculiar character that walks amongst them. Instead, the question that is asked of the stranger is “how might you fit into our world?” The hostess at the Colonel’s house is concerned with how interesting this stranger will be as a guest at her dinner party (that is, until she discovers the color of his flesh—then the question become “how can I get rid of this stranger?”). The rector asks how it is that the stranger seems so familiar. The wife of the farmer answers here own question of how could she possible give bread to a negro when Jesus’ voice reassures her as that of a white man. All of these characters are operating under the assumption that if Jesus was to visit them, surely he would fit into their world without causing any disturbance; surely Jesus would look, speak, and act like one of us! Surely Jesus would be a good evangelical! Surely Jesus would be against what we are against and fight for our causes! These assumptions always and everywhere keep Christ in the shadows, not allowing him to step out and reveal himself for who he really is. These assumption are what give us the false and poisonous ‘assurance of the voice of a white man.” These assumptions leaves us blind to the fact that Jesus will not be classified under or assimilated into any human program so as to remain in our control. Jesus will speak for himself.

It is only in the question “Who are you?” that we allow Jesus to speak for himself. This as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, is the question of “dethroned reason.” It is the question that turns our world upside down and moves us to live as the new creation inaugurated by Christ. The “who” question is the question that confesses that we have nothing to give to Jesus but our broken selves. This is the question that relinquishes any claim to knowing what the world ought to look like and gives ourselves over to the surprising and disruptive work of God’s presence in the world. The “who” question allows us to meet Jesus in the face of the other, in the body of the abject who has been ground up beneath the forces of whiteness and other universal systems of ordering the world. The “who” question is the question of prayer, it is the posture of worship.

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In ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows us that at the heart of Christianity’s complicity and production of the racialized world—where black and other non-white folks are always already put to the question as to whether they are “really one of us”—is mistaking the identity of Jesus for someone who looks, thinks, and acts just as we want him to. This is not to say that we white folks are consciously crafting Jesus into own images, purposely interpreting his life and words for our own satisfaction. Rather, we allow ourselves to become so blinded to the cultural power that whiteness affords that we have lost the very ability to imagine Jesus as anything other than “one of us.” Though we love to spout words to the contrary, the borders and checkpoints of race, class, nationality, religion, and culture remain fixed in a world where these signifiers still overwhelmingly determine who is allowed in and who is out. DuBois shows us how “good Christian folks” have been at the center of perpetuating the excluding power of “belonging.” As the women responds (after being “reassured at the voice of a white man” and insistent that “there are none I hate; no, none at all”) to the visibly hidden mulatto Jesus’ question about whether she loves her neighbor as herself, DuBois describes:

“I Try—” she began and then looked the way he was looking; down under the hill where lay a little, half-ruined cabin.

 “They are niggers,” she said briefly.

He looked at her. Suddenly a confusion came over her and she insisted, she knew not why.

“But they are niggers!”

With a sudden impulse she arose and hurriedly lighted the lamp that stood just within the door, and held it above her head. She saw his dark face and curly hair. She shrieked in angry terror and rushed down the path, and just as she rushed down, the black convict came running up with hands outstretched. They met in midpath and before he could stop he had run against her and she fell heavily to earth and lay white and still. Here husband came rushing around the house with a cry and an oath.

 

Before this conversation, Jesus had met on a country road an escaped black convict that confesses to Jesus the surprising and gladdening words “why, you are a nigger, too” when Jesus reveals himself as mulatto. The convict has recognized Jesus as he really exists: as the one who has taken the form of a slave, as the one who breaks the chains of oppression and fear and opens our arms to the embrace of God’s reconciling work. The convict, who after talking to Jesus has been working for an exploitative farmer who’s wife is having the conversation with Jesus, sees Jesus talking to the women and runs to embrace him, only to be met in collision with the women fleeing Jesus as she realizes that he is not white. As the two find themselves on the ground, the convict is taken up and lynched by the angry white mob that has been hunting him down. This powerfully captures the grim reality of how a world of whiteness, a world that cannot bear the Jewish flesh that marks Jesus as Other, stands as the false and violent mediator between the world and those for whom Jesus has come to set free. The woman flees from Jesus because she cannot recognize him. She cannot recognize him because he does not fit the mold of who she thinks Jesus ought to be. She cannot recognize Jesus because she does not know how to let him speak for himself, just as she cannot let those in the half-ruined cabin speak for themselves. Everyone—including Jesus—is interpreted through a lens of whiteness that judges identity in terms of white and not white. Because Jesus is assumed to be white (“one of us”), he cannot be recognized for who he really is. In the wake of such misrecognition, those that have been caught on the underside of a white world are met with the force of a whiteness whose reflex in the face of Otherness is either to eliminate it or forcefully manipulate it into its own service.

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I was asked by my pastor to lead the sermon/discussion for this Sunday’s service. We are currently in a “Fiction” series, so I have chosen to focus on W.E.B. DuBois short story “Jesus Christ in Texas.” In preparation, I’m writing out my thoughts as I think through how our congregation might have a fruitful discussion about race, religion, and the identity of Jesus Christ. For all of you faithful readers out there, I would love to hear what you think.

…………….

One of the preeminent social critics and civil rights activists of the early 20th century, W.E.B. DuBois was a black intellectual writing in America at a time when the failure of post civil war reconstruction had transitioned into the segregated and systemically racist reality of the Jim Crow south. In his most well known book, The Souls of Black Folks, DuBois asks the question that had come to define the experience of black folks in the social hierarchy of racialized America: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Writing from the perspective of those that had been cast as outsiders to the inside of white privilege, in our short story for this evening ‘Jesus Christ in Texas,’ DuBois shows us that one of the major engines driving such a racist and segregated social imagination was (and is) a religious one: a Christianity that had become part and parcel of white superiority and the social ordering of society that determined all non-white flesh as suspect and a threat to the orders of social power. DuBois gives us a peek inside what it looks like to do the work of searching for God from the vantage of having been deemed an outsider, from the shadowy corners of black existence in a white world that has put a hedge around the work of Christ so that white, “authentically Christian” culture is not disturbed and is sustained in its position of social power.  DuBois shows us how such white claims on Christianity have created a world where Jesus’ presence as he who has come to set the captives of the world’s prison of social hierarchy free–as the one who “took the form of a slave”–is domesticated into an affirmation and justification  of the order of things. Rather than tearing down the borders that have determined the world as segregated and racially ordered, Christianity becomes a border producing cultural site of a white status quo.

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You are affirmed by God

Here’s a wonderful quotation from my professor, J. Kameron Carter, for whom I am currently writing a paper on Jesus and human particularity:

“It can thus be said that all particular persons, in the unique and often tragic histories that constitute them as persons, by virtue of their residence in the prototype–or stated differently, by virtue of their histories being embraced from beyond themselves through the incarnation–are of eternal and salvific significance. Christ as prototype frees creation in its fullness–from persons and their histories, to the ecological order, the the animal kingdom–to be a symphonic expression of the freedom of God, for in him the opposition between the universal and particular collapses inasmuch as he is the concrete universal…the One-Many, that sets all particularity free to exist beyond itself or “to be” in and for God. He is the tune–a jazz or blues tune of suffering divine things–that the symphony of creation, the many, plays.”

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