Evangelicals, Suburbia, and the Mark of Cain

Cain and Abel is the prototypical story of brotherly jealousy-cum-murder. Agrarian brother versus shepherd brother. Both fight over the acceptance of land use, but the Lord finds the shepherd’s sacrifices acceptable and not the vegetable ones. Herds wander, but farmers stay put. I’ve been considering this since my pastor made note of not only how this story ends for Abel, but also how it ends for Cain.

For murdering his brother, Cain cannot remain in his fields – he must wander the country as a vagabond, with his special protection mark. But after some years, he settles again and builds a city.

I am reading this as a critique from a largely shepherding community of the very civilizations that they encountered: Egypt, Babylon, Ninevah. Cities have the mark of Cain impressed on them. Cities are birthed in violence, and that is something to remember in how we approach living situations. Cities have long been the epicenter of violence – both on the creating and receiving ends.

This violence is not borne of the citizens, but of the mechanisms of which civilization bears – industry, empire, colonization, economic injustice and disparity, pollution, exploitation.

And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.
Jeremiah 29:7 (NLT)

The biblical and prophetic witness to the Abels of Israel was to “work for peace” while in the cities. This command I would argue would be extended to all of the people of God. We see it being repeated in Jonah and God’s concern for the inhabitants of the empirical/colonial/conquering city of Ninevah. We are also told to pray for the peace of Jerusalem, which I think is important considering the blood shed by the colonial and conquering Israeli government.

And yet, White Evangelicals – my own background – were among the primary White Flighters, those who not only left the cities to rot under the violence but took with them tools and resources needed to deal with that violence. As if White Evangelicals could leave the Mark of Cain behind them.

They refused to work for the peace of the city and were, en masse, culpable for the unrest, for the insatiable poverty, for the decay, for the water turn-offs.

Retired Cruiser

Retired Cruiser – Chuttlesworth, via Flickr

When White Evangelicals come into the city, it is often as another form of colonialism and conquering. Their churches act as if they’re carrying out terra nullius upon the spiritual landscape. We city folks are aboriginals to be converted and our churches like our rights to our land are void and nonexistent. It’s religious gentrification, values colonialism of white, middle class suburbia. Our values are not valid, our concerns are not valid. People who left us and took the money with them come back with money, to spend on each other as they push us out of the way of our own homes and dismantle our communities.

The missionaries of Spain and England came as emissaries of a military overtaking. The missionaries of suburbia are emissaries of real estate developers and gentrifiers.

So when Evangelicals borne of a post-Cain-ian suburbia complain about living in the city and how the suburbs were so much better, so much safer, so much cleaner, so much better for kids, I sigh. It happens often. Very often. Suburbia may be the womb of contemporary Evangelicalism, but it is also built upon the backs of those left within the city. It is us who have spent these years fighting the crippling effects that their removal have left. It is us that have invested in this city. It is our labor that have created the wealth of suburbia and it is suburbia that has refused to give it back.

“Work for the peace and prosperity of the city” means to work for justice.  Means to partner with us while we seek liberation and peace. To do otherwise isn’t prophetic, isn’t biblical in any sense that is loving.

Blockades and Race Riot Fears

According to activists in Detroit, ten people this morning were arrested for blockading water shut-off trucks this morning. In case you’re not familiar with the Detroit water shut off, here’s a quick run-down. Not all of the activists are black, as one can see looking at the news footage, but they were in solidarity with a black people’s cause and led by a coalition of black and white leaders and preachers. And the water turn-offs continue.

And then we move across the country, to a small town in Southern California, Murrieta. White people there gathered to bemoan how they should not have to receive migrant and refugee children. They blockaded. They carried signs celebrating their nativism, and turning against Obama. They yelled in the opposition’s faces and called them names. And they succeeded, insofar as the buses were turned around. According to some resident friends, these white protesters – who used their bodies to reject brown children and brown mothers with their brown infants – claim victory because they were able to turn away present and future refugee children.  Five arrests were made out of hundreds of blockers – those for obstructing police. Not enough to clear the way for the buses.

Immigrants-rights protesters, though, who blockade buses leaving detention centers are arrested and the way is made clear for buses to continue the deportation process. This happens several times a year. These are white, brown and black people in solidarity with mostly brown people.

I’m also remembering another altercation and another blockade. This one of almost all-white militia members who stop federal agents from removing a white, racist cattle rancher on federal lands. A white cattle rancher who owed much money to the government and who obviously broke laws that he said he didn’t need to observe (as he doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the federal government). How many arrests happened there? It obviously was not enough to gain access. The blockade was effective and indeed held out for months.

The water shut offs in Detroit are continuing to hit black families and black businesses while steering clear of white-run establishments like the Red Wings hockey arena and the Ford football stadium. Places where nobody lives, where water is not needed for survival and where in total over $30 million is owed to the water reclamation district. In effect, white businesses were effectually blockaded from water shut downs.

What is the justification for this discrepancy between how these blockades are handled by police and other security agents? I’m now remembering last year, when that one-man vigilante task force who lynched Trayvon Martin was let off the hook. And all these talking heads and even the president of the United States, himself a black man, urged black people to remain calm and news stations were anticipating something big from happening. But the anticipated race riots never materialized.

I think we’re learning this year that it’s not black and brown people and their allies we need to worry about. The governments and their security forces are treating white people and particularly anti-POC white people with kid gloves.

They’ve come to find that it’s not people of color that will start a race riot. It’s entitled white people they’re afraid of. It’s whites who would start a race riot.

Gentrification Is Not a Solution to White Flight

Chicago has changed significantly over the last fifty years in some ways. In others, it’s been the same old thing – racial segregation tied to economic apartheid. But where and how this plays out has shifted. From the late 60′s through the early 80′s Chicago – like most other north urban cities still in the thralls of exercised anti-black racism in the post-Civil Rights era – experienced massive white flight.

Myopic Books - Wicker Park

Myopic Books, Wicker Park – by MA1216 via Flickr

Actually, that’s a horrible way to put it. First, white flight didn’t just happen to Chicago and second “white flight” is a problematic label that doesn’t in the least describe what was and is (still) happening. What happened to neighborhoods like Wicker Park, Ukranian Village, Lincoln Park, Humboldt Park, Logan Square, and South Loop is what happened to Detroit – white people decided their areas were too tainted, too impure, too scary. And rather than invest in them to make room for all, rather than welcoming, rather than giving back to the very people they’ve (we’ve) stolen wages, labor and wealth from, white people en masse thought it more convenient to relocate.

More to the point, not only did white people relocate to the suburbs and enclaves, but they took the resources, the investments, the capital, the wealth that was made for them by the bodies, the work and the below poverty-level wages and existence that black (and other POC) made for them. When they found that Puerto Rican, Mexican, and Black youth were enacting on the very violence that had been exacted through economic, political and housing segregation, the White patriarchy decided it important to sever ties with the city and retreat to the suburbs. All the better if they could continue to draw resources out of the city and back into the cul de sacs, of course.

White flight, we must understand, is not a problem primarily because White people and their White solutions left the city. White flight is a problem because White people took the dues owed to Black people with them. They stole and then ran.

After a generation of fleeing, they started coming back. In Chicago, they pushed Puerto Ricans east out of the lakefront territory of Lincoln Park and reclaimed it, all of it, for Whiteness. They also discovered that the beautiful buildings and centralized location of Wicker Park were too much to leave to poor black and Latin@ and even poor white folks, so they slowly reclaimed that too, beginning in the late 80′s. They brought in artists and young people, students. All white, all with a bit more disposable income than the current residents. All a little distant from the current community. All raising property value just enough to begin the displacement of the current population. The residents then begin to see their community erode as they lose grip on what they’ve worked so hard to stabilize – community organizations and resources that are mostly built in and through each other and relationships they’ve built over years, decades, generations.

When you are poor, you rely on each other. When you and your neighbors are being forced out, you lose that support. That is what gentrification is: forcing out of black, brown and poor bodies and destroying their supportive networks. But yet gentrification is often approached as a solution, as a counter to White Flight. As if the problem was that middle class and upper class White people and their White ingenuity and work ethic were what was missing. As if the neighborhoods were deteriorating because White People weren’t here. And as if their presence and their example (yes, that is the argument. Yes, that is what they say) would fix what their theft caused.

The main pro-gentrification argument is that the neighborhood improves and bringing in White people with their white money is the only viable solution to improving the neighborhood. What they mean by that is that the neighborhood wasn’t of value under black and brown management. That people of color and poor people don’t have any value to offer. That the crime and poverty is the fault of black and brown people – not their own theft. They are also assenting that property – that the buildings and lots they are referring to when they say “neighborhood” – is more important than humanity – what those of us being gentrified mean when we talk about the neighborhood. And particularly that property is more important than POC humanity.

See, gentrification isn’t the solution to White Flight. It’s the next step. When gentrifiers fill the neighborhoods and the barrios their parents abandoned, they begin a process of completing what their forebearers started – reclaiming their old homes and furthering the solidification of the permanent underclass.

This is what Detroit is about. Forcing out of black bodies so that the city can be reclaimed. To think it’s about anything else is to miss the big picture.

Hobby Lobby Case: Not the End of the World, But a Revelation

Now that we’ve had some time to review, reflect, and consider the Hobby Lobby case, I’m pretty damned sure that it isn’t the End of the World (TM), but yet a realization that the Song Remains the Same. A revelation, in fact. Oh, you know what another word for revelation is, right? Apocalypse!

All hail Lord Darkseid!

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Darkseid

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Darkseid

As we’re probably well aware of by now, this case and its neighbors are not about religious freedom of people – they’re about the rights of some to religiously inhabit the spaces, bodies, and options of others. There is no Third Way here, no room for nuance in this case, no dialog to be had with those who believe that their rights to practice their religion take precedence over other people’s lives and bodies. But because I’m obviously a Comp 101 student or a Baptist preacher, I’ll break it down into three fun takeaways from this case.

The Courts’ conservatives aren’t Originalists when it comes to the 14th Amendment

Since the late 1800’s, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution has been gradually stripped of its meanings to protect Black Americans and reduce the effect that the ideology of personal property has on people. Where it was framed in the context of removing a people from having been considered mere property, from de-propertying them and placing them within full civic and civil rights, the 14th has more often been interpreted to prop up and humanize personal property – literally turning corporations into people. This is a big component behind, of course, both Jim Crow-type laws (which are still being practiced today albeit in less direct ways; c.f., with non-violent criminals) and corporation-as-people rulings (most famously Citizens United). The directly racist patterns that SCOTUS was holding up started being overturned by the Warren Court in Brown V Board, but class is still directly tied in to racism and so racism is still a factor in these recent rulings as they privilege wealthy white men and their corporations over the lives of employees, consumers, citizens, and poor people.

In its decision (pg 3), the majority rule and Justice Alito argued as such:

Protecting the free-exercise rights of closely held corporations thus protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control them.

Again, property trumps humanity. And employees are seen as property – belonging to those who own the corporation. Our rights are extended as far as the corporation can extend its grasp on us. Our religious views are now their religious views. Our loyalties are theirs. Our bodies, theirs.

Alito’s blatant humanifying of corporations continues:

Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.

Hear that, America? Your employers can practice religion – the religion of their founders and executives. And they don’t have to respect yours.

The Wars on Women* & Employees are real

First of all, if you doubt that this was an attack on women, you probably don’t have much skin in this game. You probably, like myself, have not been harassed by the douchecanoes of #TCOT (The Country’s Ogliest Trolls) on the Twitter Machines. In fact, what too many men have said to deny this – from slut-shaming women to claims of ownership of women’s sex and bodies due to paying taxes [people are f**ked up in the head, man] to telling random women on the internet that they have to be employed and then make their own choices [whaddafok??] to mansplaining science with nonscience ["Abortificients?" Bro, do you even biology?] – conservative men have outright demonstrated that they know and will pounce on the central target of this ruling. It’s not just conservative men whose arguments demonstrate the deep palate of misogyny in the good ol’ US of A, but also cis male brogressives - either mocking women* or presuming that their needs aren’t important. And while these jabs vehemently and violently deny the truth, they also demonstrate that it is women*, not Hobby Lobby, who were on trial here and had to prove their worth. It was women who were found wanting by five heterosexual men in robes and seemingly unlimited power. Not a one of the conservative five – and only one of the six male justices – acknowledged that women have to be trusted to make their own decisions regarding their own bodies. In a broader scope, that employers feel that it is their prerogative what employees – and particularly women employees – do with or to their bodies when it doesn’t impugn upon their work is beyond the pale and speaks of a patriarchal neo-slavery. 

This is true not just in this case and with women*, but in how Hobby Lobby treats its employees, telling them, for instance, that they should be home eating dinner with their families at night and not with vendors. It’s true with the HR departments increasingly dependent on social media to screen potential employees and it’s true with bosses using the same to keep current employees in line. Women, LGBTQ people, and anybody else who, out of the hours they are under employ, don’t fit the image profile that the company wants to project of itself – regardless of the extra-curricular activities of board members – are under intense scrutiny as automatons for the will of the company. They are increasingly at risk for at-will firings even as these same companies and rulings strip protections for said workers. Workers need to remain undyingly and intensely loyal to what the company wants. Even as these same companies erase pensions, commit massive and random layoffs, coerce employees to attend to and support favored politicians, and send profits into think tanks like ALEC and SuperPACs that support big business interests and fly in the face of little person interests.

But back to the bodies and choices of women. What Justice Ginsberg in her dissent said is true:

Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.

What Hobby Lobby, their co-defendants and the conservative majority of the SCOTUS have argued for is to reduce a woman’s* options for her health, her well-being, her life choices. While there was no scientific or even faith reason to deny the contraceptives in question, that shouldn’t be reason enough to stop Hobby Lobby and any other closely-held corporation from interfering with a woman’s* rights over her own body.

This of course would include not just Green’s Hobby Lobby and the four-out-of-twenty contraceptive methods they opted out of, but companies like Eden Foods, Gilardi, and Autocam Corp. These companies, led by anti-abortion Catholics, had already filed cases with lower courts recently seeking to opt out of all contraceptive and family planning services covered under the ACA. The Supreme Court is telling the lower courts to re-review their cases under the new ruling. As the US Council of Bishops has made clear, the hierarchy of the Catholic church and most anti-abortion Catholics are firmly against contraceptives. Lower courts had already ruled in favor of the owners behind the Korte and Newland companies who also requested that they also be freed from the shackles of having to provide any sort of help for women who don’t want to be pregnant all the time. So we already know that the precedent is there:

And there’s the un-fucking-mistakable case that the five jurors who agreed with Steve Green and his Cohort of Dominionists are men. Just as those who created this phony “religious rights” argument were also all conservative men. Which isn’t to say that everybody who agrees with this decision is a man or is self-hating, but it highlights the fact that those who don’t need to worry about such decisions nor never truly needed to worry about them are the ones making the decisions for those who do.

Strengthening the case for universal healthcare

This case highlights the ridiculousness of connecting our healthcare with our employment. Healthcare should not be tied to the whims and concerns of the people we work for – nor whether or not they’re able to afford it. Whether we work for Scientologists who don’t believe in mental health meds, or Jehovah’s Witnesses who don’t believe in blood transfusions, or Catholic hospitals who don’t believe in contraceptives or abortion in any circumstance, or just cheap-ass Papa John’s or a string of part-time employers, every single person should unequivocally have immediate, affordable access to full medicinal purposes.These are life-and-death and public health issues and not left to the strongly-held but incredibly ignorant religious beliefs or opinions of dumbass greedy rich people.

So, what is the connection with all three points?

Fight!

Fight!

Fight!

Tomorrow is a new day and next year is a new year.

Fight!

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*I say “women” but “those who can get pregnant and other people who can benefit from the pills” is more accurate.

Our Rights to Exist: Road Safety and Internet Safety

I bike to work. Twelve miles in each direction, sometimes in very hostile environments, but always cautiously. Because, you see, as I am one of the few people who travel by bike down this thoroughfare, often drivers and their vehicles do not know how to approach. And so I – like many other bicyclists – can get angry when it comes to my personal safety. I’ve many times considered carrying a slushie and turning it on whatever car makes a quick right from my left in front of me, or pushes me to within one inch of the curb. I used my longest fingers to salute to a truck driver this morning when he felt that going down a steep, long hill wasn’t scary enough with traffic to my back, but that he should come within a few inches of my body. I get angry. And I’m glad that I get angry. It’s a survival tactic.

Ever have a pedestrian jump out in front of you? Or a bicyclist chomping down the sidewalk where your preschool daughter was preoccupied at spring? Or a junk truck driver making a quick right while you’re walking straight with the stroller through the Walk sign that the traffic gods have given you – and then the stumped driver is miffed that you dare exercise your right-of-way? These are not acts of principal nor opinion. The very steps one takes, the very movements one makes while driving, the slightest deviations on a bicycle could be an issue of life or death. Could mean breaking a neck. These are not trivial pursuits – life can sometimes be dangerous.

It’s one thing to honk at a guy you think cut you off in traffic. It’s another to hunt them down to teach him a lesson. That’s probably going over the line, as it may get both drivers, passengers and on-lookers seriously injured. But yet commuters are constantly hounding cyclists for their reactions to speedy, reckless drivers being in their path. Look at the vehicular homicides of bikers and I can guarantee it is no overreaction. While bicyclists only account for 0.6% of commuters, they account for 2.1% of road deaths and injuries. In New York state, they account for roughly 0.5% of commuters and 4.9% of road fatalities. A twenty pound bicycle will not protect us from your two thousand pound Ford Escort, let alone a 15+ ton Mack truck. Oftentimes, the margin of error that pushy drivers will lead a bicyclist to is close to zero, which convinces me that my own existence on a road that I legally share, is not welcome - that some people would prefer me to be dead than to have to negotiate for my presence or even be aware of my presence. I do not ride for them, though. And I do not need their permission. But I do seek their compliance, even if it comes by shaming and marginalizing their behavior.

I hate to get #NotAllMotorists, but yes, the majority of drivers are kind, give plenty of leeway, wait when necessary, give room for me to navigate tricky potholes, double parked cars, and other potentially dangerous obstacles. Most wait a little extra for me to cross the intersection before they head out. Most also are cautious about opening their doors. The vast majority do not make left turns coming my way when they see me speeding up to that intersection. The vast majority do not honk at me, sending my heart racing, while they are behind me and for no better reason than to tell me I do not belong. And I thank drivers when they are kind. But I’m not going to thank everybody for doing what they’re supposed to by way of law and rights. #sorrynotsorry

Bicyclist safety is integral, and I will not apologize for thinking my life on the road matters, for getting exercise and cutting down on fossil fuel dependence, for losing weight, for saving money. I will not apologize for my body on public roads that are ostensibly made for all. And I will not apologize for using my body and self to raise awareness that cyclists share the road as well and deserve dignity and respect.

Likewise, heterosexual Religious Right Christians will consistently try to run LGBTQ Christians off the road. When they aren’t outright demonizing LGBTQ people and erasing LGBTQ Christians, they often frame the issue of LGBTQ people asserting their own rights as an issue of “opinions” and “thought policing.” One formative and integral theologian and speaker whom I have, until now, admired, made an analogy about the word “marriage” being changed in much the same way that Nazis and Communists have changed words to erase people. Seriously. So when GLBTQ Christians spoke up about this and examined his theology and rhetoric, they were ridiculed and mocked, sidelined, deliberately misinterpreted, heads compared to “empty space.” Their thoughts on their own embodied experiences were, apparently, wrong. And White, cis-hetero men know best, amirite? /sarcasm/

This is a way of curbing, of threatening with big trucks, of trying to scare marginalized people off the road. It’s an abject disregard for the safety of already marginalized people.

Relatedly, people should not apologize for making their presence known online. I’m thinking here specifically of the harassment that women of color, transgender people, and others get just in trying to speak of their existence, make their presence and worth known in a corner of the internet. When White men barge in and say “not all men!”, we tell women that their experiences aren’t valid. As well, we tell them something they already know in a patronizing way that ironically proves a point about the effects of patriarchy and misogyny upon men. Conservative and progressive men (and sometimes women) interrupt, dominate, ridicule and threaten the lives and work of women of color online who try to create their own space and have every right to the *ahem* Information Superhighway that White men have even though we often feel that we are entitled to it and that the road is ours.*

Although black people make up a fairly large (proportionately-speaking) percentage of Twitter users, they are a rare sight in media. In US culture (and elsewhere), they have been effectively silenced from the mainstream. This is doubly true for black women. And more so for GLB women. And tremendously so for transwomen, particularly transwomen of color. Look at how RuPaul – who is a male drag queen – treats trans people, by using slurs and defending his use of slurs. These slurs turn into threats. These threats turn into violence. These tactics of writing them off, calling them complainers and toxic are means of curbing Black, Asian, Latina, and Indigenous women and running them off the road.

Marginalized people pushed to the curb have every right to speak up. I believe it is our fundamental job as progressives to give them an ear, and sometimes a hornThis is how we lean forward – in solidarity.

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*And I know this is where conservative and progressives alike will say that I’m talking in conspiracy theories or whatever. No, study sociology. Racism and misogyny and patriarchy and queerphobia aren’t just about individual attitudes, they’re institutionalized and in many ways a part of who we are as a society. It is an institutional change that needs to happen and will be stunted as long as the dominant groups are insistent that we “are not like that.”

George Will Isn’t Alone in Rape Apologism, Progressives

(TW for Rape Apologism, Slut Shaming, mention of rape threats, mockery of such, etc.)

Like most, I haven’t cared about George Will for over twenty years. He belongs to the Old Guard conservatism, the Martini Republicans like George H W Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor. When the fireball cons like Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich and George W Bush became the face of the American conservative movement, most of us forgot about Will and his bow-ties and boring baseball analogies. So color me shocked that he wrote such an inflammatory piece defending Rape Culture. I’m not surprised, though, that he would defend Rape Culture and mock survivors or say that most claims of rape are faked in order to “elevate the status” of college women – just that he would go all out in 2014. Because whether or not we’re aware of it, Rape Culture is alive and well in not just conservatism but even the most progressive of spaces.

Rape Culture is not just a specific action or thought, it is the elements and the whole of what surrounds us that implicitly and explicitly normalizes, excuses, defends, supports, or condones acts of sexual violence and those who rape. It is what allows at least 1 out of every 6 women to have been raped sometime in their lives while only prosecuting a minuscule percentage of rapists. An aspect of Rape Culture is the teaching that bodies do not belong to the individuals – and specifically that women’s bodies do not belong to women, but to men. This attitude is also big on blaming sexual violence victim, and on talking about the assailant as if he (usually a he but not always) is a victim himself. This culture also says that “boys will be boys” and thus frees them from responsibility while holding females accountable for actions that males take upon the bodies and persons of females. This is but a brief overview of an outdated mindset, but we can see that George Will and his kind are just the tip of the iceberg.

Also to be held as an example of the prevalence of Rape Culture is the formerly-esteemed Washington Post. They published and promoted this awful piece of unscientific, anti-journalism trash. They could have made the decision to pull the article. It’s filled with rhetoric that endangers rape survivors and those who’d be willing to report. Considering that 97% of rapists do not spend a day in jail and 60% of rapes are never reported, articles like George Will’s are dangerous in their own light. The fact that this was sanctioned and published by a mainstream news publication rather than by Rush Limbaugh makes it all the worse. WaPo gave George Will and his horrible article legitimacy and helped to normalize a dastardly Rape Culture narrative.

Another indication of Rape Culture is in the normalcy of online and in-person rape threats targeting women. A few weeks back, I wrote an article about the conservative movement to derail Trigger Warnings. For my troubles, in this very space I was called some misogynistic and anti-homosexual terms and slurs. The thing about this is, this rarely happens to me as a heterosexual male. If I were a woman, let alone a black woman, I know I’d be regularly receiving not just slurs but death and rape threats. Obviously, some threats are from unhinged ultra-conservatives who write for Breitbart, etc. But what kind of noise and how progressive media talks about women who get rape threats via Twitter can be despicable. If someone calls me a “P*ssy” on the internet, yes, I can be offended and all. But that’s not a threat. And threats are meant to be lived outWomen on the internet get real live threats to their bodies, to their well-being, to their families, to their homes. Sometimes those threats are carried out and considering the history of rape as a means of warfare and dominance and population control, why wouldn’t anybody be concerned about these threats?

Sarah Kendzior is no light-weight. In addition to taking on anti-union bosses on a regular basis at Al-Jazeera, she’s also gotten death threats from dictators. She also receives rape threats regularly because, well, she’s a woman on the internet. While she rarely talks about them, they do happen. She talked about it once, in conversation with a fellow leftist/activist. And it was a left-wing/progressive website that decided to mock her for it (Kendzior’s version is here and a version with links here. Another side of the story can be seen here, though.) Kendzior made it explicit that she felt her safety and well-being were being belittled and mocked and yet several writers and editors felt it necessary to defend what they were doing rather than retract and then clarify. That is an aspect of Rape Culture.

Recently, progressive media outlets like Think Progress have taken more notice on how women’s and girl’s bodies are being policed through such things as school dress codes and how they are being shamed for not strictly adhering to male-dominated rules. Notice that school dress codes for men are usually relegated toward professionalism – tucking in shirts and the like. But the dress codes for females are based on how they distract or attract males. These codes are not necessary for preparing children and teens to the adult workforce, and they really have little to do with education. School dress codes are largely obligatory and are designed for the benefit of the school administrators. When students find these rules to be restrictive and prohibitive of their own selves and bodies, they should be allowed to protest. After all, this is the role of education according to progressive ed leaders like John Dewey and Paulo Freire – to cultivate thinking citizens.

 

But to hear some grown men tell it, Think Progress and these students were just whining. “Students are supposed to abide by the dress code and if boys were showing their bra straps, they’d be sent home too.” Sure. The point is that girls wearing clothing they felt was comfortable were reminded by the staff that their bodies do not belong to them and they are responsible for how teen boys act and think around them. The point is that girls have special rules for the clothing they wear and are given special excuses to send them home for the way they wear the clothes because they give boys that funny feeling. Because the boys can’t stop staring. Because they are led to believe that they own girls’ bodies.

Another objection I saw from progressive adult men was that the opinions of 15 year old girls shouldn’t matter on what and how 15 year old girls should be treated. But yet, a grown ass man’s opinions should be? This tells us who is important in this scenario, who is listened to, and who’s lived-in experiences are ignored for the gut reactions of adults who get to ignore teens when they were never even in their shoes.

I was never a teenaged girl, but I can tell you I would not like to be blamed for the thoughts and actions of others when I don’t directly cause them. Nor would I want to be held responsible for others’ reactions to the very presence and appearance of my body. This is the underpinning logic of Rape Culture: that men cannot control themselves and that women and their bodies need to be controlled so that men don’t just go all willy-nilly sexually assaulting.

It should not have a space in our society. Let alone in progressive circles.

Happy Mother’s Day, I Guess?

I’m typing this as I’m garnering up the strength to call up my own mother – who doesn’t do the email or the skype or the book with the faces or the blahging. But I’ve been thinking about the event of Mother’s Day recently and why it’s a big deal as an event relative to Father’s Day. Please bear with me for a minute.

Now, as a Father, of course I recognize that Father’s Day isn’t as well recognized and celebrated. We don’t have special brunches or gatherings. Rarely do we get to stay in bed while the women try to burn waffles and destroy the kitchen so that we can clean it up (I really hope people aren’t doing this to “honor” moms anymore, but…). Church services aren’t usually packed for fathers. It’s just not as a big an event, not a special holiday like Mother’s Day. This is not, however, a lamentation or a whiny post about how dads are forgotten and should be treated better. No, in fact, in keeping with the inverse rule of memorials, I argue that the bigger the event to memorialize/make sacred, the smaller the honor is being spent on a regular basis.

Consider for a moment that Mother’s Day is such a big deal because Western (and particularly US) society doesn’t really honor mothers.

Think about it: What job is of more use to the perpetuation of society than baby-making and child-raising? And yet women have to pay to have healthy children, to feed them, to house them. Poor women often do not have the means to do so properly and are actually punished for not doing it properly. Women who end up severely abused and mistreated sometimes lash out, and for this they are criminalized and go through victimization again – often as mothers. The criminal justice system does not offer them justice nor safety. And even trying to find a way out of domestic violence situations for mothers means that they are rendered from their families again.

In the US, maternity leaves are considered a luxury for the wealthy. Child care is a gamble for the poor and often more costly than staying home. Living wages for people with children are quickly vanishing and other options (such as supplementary food assistance) are also going the way of the buffalo.

Religion is used (in this context) as a pretext to further control women and use them as incubators and child-raisers, without questioning the violence that the mother and children see/receive from the state/society/father-figure. If a pregnant person realizes she* cannot go to full term or doesn’t need to or doesn’t really want to, the religious pretext tells her that she is a murderer, tries to illegalize her, restricts her actions. If she is young, she has to report to her parents, regardless if they are a cause of violence for the child and the reason the child seeks an abortion in the first place.

We shame women for not having children. We shame them for having too many children. For not having them at the right time. For not being able to control their children. For being too dominating.

Mother’s Day began as a revolutionary statement - from and for mothers and their families. Like many such holy days, it has since been coopted by the patriarchy.

Which isn’t to say the day should end, nor that there’s not something revolutionary in the slight role-reversals of the day, of the celebrating of motherhood, in the manner in which the day refuses another workday for many mothers. A day for mothers to treat themselves. But perhaps we can extend that revolution a bit?

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*or non-binary. Because trans people can be pregnant too.

 

Manager Class of the White “Post”-Evangelical Church

The Capitalist Class needs the Managerial Class not just to manage and properly allocate resources and personnel in order to efficiently complete tasks. It also needs managers – collectively as a class – in order to keep the Working Class in line. The managerial class exists to remind the Working Class who is in charge and does so through favors, punishment, and clear or implicit lines of demarcation such as rules, manners, and social boundaries.

When the workers organize, it is up to the Managerial Class to stop them using whatever tools are at their disposal: intimidation, threats, commiseration of faux-relationships, firings, and pleas for unity and understanding. The unity pleas and misinformation usually come before organizing actions, but it is the same idea wherein employers are on the same side as employees. You may have seen or at least heard of anti-union/anti-collective agency videos in workplaces such as Target and Walmart. You’re undoubtedly familiar with all of the classic tropes about “lazy, unworthy” unions and how they destroy productivity and destroy the workplace. The Managerial Class has to believe that unions are destructive, that the “little people” do not really have a voice worth listening to. Either they believe that, or do not care, as they are convinced that their own self-preservation is on the line.

So it comes as no surprise that White American Evangelicalism acts much like Managerial Class as that is its social, organizational, and economic background. WAEs view churches as workplaces to be managed and congregants as workers to be managed. To keep the workers-as-congregants in line, managers-as-pastors threaten them with excommunication and hell, try to cajole them, remind them that they’re on the same side and, when all else fails, remind the congregant-workers that they will surely be fired-as-sent-to-hell.

When a group of White American Evangelicals find themselves cast out by another group of managers, they redraw definitions of Evangelicalism in their own image and set up their own workplace. So now a wider group of workers are allowed in the workplace/church, but there is no fundamental change. Congregants-as-workers are still being manipulated for capital, but the broadening of the inclusive circle is simply about survival, simply about retooling and reforming the Capitalist system of the Western church, rather than making it more like a democratic institution that incorporates the people it is supposed to serve and operate as. And while the threats of hell may not be evident, they call for unity and make meaningless gestures towards reconciling rifts. They still operate as if each person were autonomous and within a class-and-race hierarchy. They co-opt the language of the Working Class and the oppressed but do not acknowledge present realities. And when the Oppressed talk back, the Manager Class ignores them – perhaps because, like their Manager Class peers, they desire to be the Next Capitalists.

 

We're quitting the Christian internet!

We’re quitting the Christian internet!

 

In this New Evangelicalism, women are allowed to preach, but only a nice feminism can be shared. Lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are “welcomed” – but only under similar auspices. Don’t cross the line; don’t question well-meaning yet harmful allies. Transgender people are invisible, of course. And People of Color and People with Disabilities?  Only as far as they are agreeable. Managers gotta manage!

This New, post-complementarian, post-World Vision Evangelicalism is still heteronormative White Male dominated. Because, after all, Managerial Class.

Does Resurrection Got a Ghetto?

It ain’t right but it’s long overdue
We can’t have peace til the n*gg*z get a piece too
I want G’s so you label me a criminal
And if I die, I wonder if heaven got a ghetto

Following the unjust Rodney King verdict and subsequent riots, Tupac Shakur wrote this song that tackled issues dear to many folks at the time, from consumptive capitalism in a land of extreme poverty and extreme wealth to the long historical theft and looting of Black bodies and their resources.

Shakur seems to agree that the sense of ‘justice’ carried out by the riots was not right and destructive, but then he lets his mind wander to another sphere where justice and peace are supposed to reign. He wonders if Black, poor Americans will have a place within this kingdom, or be tossed out there as they have been in the US as well. What color will heaven be, or will all the people of color be subject to the corner, rationed off, denied adequate food, brutalized by the police – made invisible.

White Jesus in White Heaven

White Jesus in White Heaven

 

Here on Earth, tell me what’s a black life worth…
Ask Rodney, LaTasha, and many more
It’s been goin on for years, there’s plenty more
When they ask me, when will the violence cease?
When your troops stop shootin n*gg*z down in the street

I thought about these lyrics more as I consider the losses of life Chicago bears every Spring, when our gangs come out of hiding, when violence paid unto many communities is seen in body tallies. Our news reports on numbers of homicides, most concentrated in poor black and brown neighborhoods like Garfield Park, Lawndale, Englewood, Back of the Yards, and Humboldt Park – very neighborhoods they closed our schools in – but doesn’t include their lives.  The only family they have are reactionary shots. The white and wealthy have obituaries and tributes. Black victims of violence and death are memorialized as “Yet another tragic murder” – as if more of the same.

What will await them in the next life? Will heaven be a continuation: Streets of gold for some; slums and abandoned buildings for others?

Because ghettos are just ghettos. And those who live in them are points on a map to let White middle class people know where the violence is happening and remind them that it’s contained. It’s not coming to their neighborhoods. Comparisons of Chicago to war zones do come. Calls for the military to occupy black and brown neighborhoods do as well. Reinvesting in these neighborhoods, allowing economic opportunity to be resurrected, however, is not an option. Spring is in the air, but when it comes to communities of color in Chicago, White people only think of death.

Even on Easter Sunday.

Oh, Death, be not proud

Death, where is your sting?

The Cross and States of Denial

Content Warning for discussions about DV & erasure.

What do we know about the cross, about suffering, about a God who chose to side with the oppressed and was executed for it? What do we choose to un-know about suffering, about the oppression of black American men, rounded up, imprisoned for petty crimes, denied opportunity, released, denied opportunity, rounded up again? What do we know of women trapped in domestic violence situations and encouraged to stay there by economic, social, and physical forces? What do we know of homosexual, bisexual, or trans runaway teens, violently not welcomed at home, violently not welcomed not at home. What do we know about and yet un-know about how people with learning or cognitive disabilities are scorned, mistreated, abused, robbed?

What do we know of hungry children in a land of plenty, or hungry communities that we extract resources from? For here, we debate over how much food they can eat and in others we talk about our generosity in sponsoring little black and brown individual children, as if we are being magnanimous in either approach when we should talk about restoring to the communities what we have robbed them of, both domestically and abroad.

 

How can Christians contend to understand the suffering of Jesus and yet tell sufferers – either through silence, policies, or through rhetoric and guilt – of all stripes that they need to be content where they are. That their lives are not as important as our comfort.

The claim that we really know where all the black men have gone may inspire considerable doubt. If we know, why do we feign ignorance ? Could it be that most people really don’t know? Is it possible that the roundup, lockdown, and exclusion of black men en masse from the body politic has occurred largely unnoticed? The answer is yes and no.

Much has been written about the ways in which people manage to deny, even to themselves, that extraordinary atrocities, racial oppression, and other forms of human suffering have occurred or are occurring. Criminologist Stanley Cohen wrote perhaps the most important book on the subject, States of Denial. The book examines how individuals and institutions—victims, perpetrators, and bystanders—know about yet deny the occurrence of oppressive acts. They see only what they want to see and wear blinders to avoid seeing the rest. This has been true about slavery, genocide , torture, and every form of systemic oppression.

Cohen emphasizes that denial, though deplorable, is complicated. It is not simply a matter of refusing to acknowledge an obvious, though uncomfortable, truth. Many people “know” and “not-know” the truth about human suffering at the same time. In his words, “Denial may be neither a matter of telling the truth nor intentionally telling a lie. There seem to be states of mind, or even whole cultures, in which we know and don’t know at the same time.”

Today, most Americans know and don’t know the truth about mass incarceration. For more than three decades, images of black men in handcuffs have been a regular staple of the evening news. We know that large numbers of black men have been locked in cages. In fact, it is precisely because we know that black and brown people are far more likely to be imprisoned that we, as a nation, have not cared too much about it. We tell ourselves they “deserve” their fate, even though we know— and don’t know— that whites are just as likely to commit many crimes, especially drug crimes. We know that people released from prison face a lifetime of discrimination, scorn, and exclusion, and yet we claim not to know that an undercaste exists . We know and we don’t know at the same time.
~ Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow, pp. 181-182*

Today we remember a man who rendered unto the poor and marginalized what belongs to the poor and marginalized, one who chose to side with the oppressed against the oppressors. Today, Christians, we dip our bread in the bitter herbs and remember – we know.

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*This quote lifted whole from the comments section on Corey Robin’s blog on Clarence Thomas and Lacanian Silence 

Prosperity & Gospel

Some thoughts about Prosperity Gospel preachers within context of trends I’ve noticed of other Christians – primarily White ones – speaking against them:

  1. The theology of the Prosperity Gospel is one of mammon. So, there, I said it. It worships wealth and accumulations. The God of the Homeless Jesus is replaced by the God of materialistic consumption.
  2. But so is the typical Western, First World Church. The typical white church of means may not be so bold about it, but that’s because they already have the materials and consumption. They don’t talk about it because they’re good in stasis. Many of the loudest critics of the PG preachers themselves already live in abundance that many of the audience members.
  3. Poor people are allowed to have dreams, too. And here’s the gist: We live and breathe the air of capitalist consumerism. This is what we are taught from birth so why are we surprised when poor black and Latino people also find solace in this? Sometimes, hope is all we have, and a drive to bigger and better things energizes those who have felt trampled all our lives. So we blame materialistic rap for this – but we never blame the Capitalist Consumerist Christian Culture that stomps out the poor in the first place. Sometimes, hope is just a survival technique.
  4. We don’t interrogate the White Supremacy narrative that white people get to have the finer things, but get upset when black and brown people desire to have good things.
  5. I think I’d rather go to a church that values and speaks from a position of familiarity with the poor and oppressed than to go to a church that ignores them when it doesn’t look down with disdain on them. Even if that first church has the theology wrong – at least I know I’m where Christ is.
pennybagsandburns

Well, to some it may be a disadvantage…

I’m a strong believer in Christian socialism as an end goal. Every person, being made in the image of God (ie, having a spark of the divine – we are all made out of stars and dust as it were) and being of infinite worth and value should be treated as such – having invaluable, immeasurable worth. I believe we should all prosper. But not in materialistic aspects. Not according to the disposable things and trinckets of Consumer Capitalist Culture. Things like flatter TVs and bigger houses and fancier cars of nicer clothes don’t add any value to our lives. They were made yesterday, worn today, tossed tomorrow. That is a waste of good resources and energy for something that will spend hundreds of years on a trash heap, eating up our scenery and poisoning our air and water for a few minutes of vapid pleasure.

But that a human race can prosper due to adequate housing, meaningful work, fresh food, and good health care coverage is, indeed, good news.

White Christian Indifference in the Age of Black Lynchings

It is frustrating that the White American church – particularly Evangelicalism and post-Evangelicalism – is silent about racial injustice at home. Not just in sermon topics, but particularly in forward-leaning post-Evangelical blogs. The spectre of racism is banished in favor of Christian Celebrity Culture and a very specific form Purity Culture (from a largely White, Middle Class perspective – often ignoring how the same culture affects or views the bodies of black and brown women, for instance). Homophobia is often brought up, but in a pretty narrow category – that of marriage between (usually white, usually cisgender) same sex partners. Other intersections and violences are largely ignored.

I wrote two articles last week about Michael Dunn’s mistrial – or should I say Jordan David‘s mistrial? Because, let’s face it, 21st Century White liberalism is similar to its forbearer, 19th Century White liberalism – a philosophy that believes in the inherent goodness of people and that education can truly change people from bad and barbaric to enlightened and civilized. This is a problem of not being the target of radical, ongoing, and systemic evil. White liberals tend to think that people are overall good and society is nice and the only problem are those dang Republicans. They tend to understand racism as something Paula Deen or that One Hit Wonder/Cat Scratcher/Machine Gun Hunter says. Racism and sexism and classism and other oppressions are Othered – something that we are not responsible for and can’t quite possibly beWe’re good people. They don’t tend to see the deeper issues of racism and other oppressions and how they affect non-white people in a post-Euro-colonized world.*

I would expect White Post-Evangelical Christians to be a bit better, though, in addressing this topic. For we understand sin and evil. We can name it; it’s part of our lexicon. Sin and evil are integral parts of our theology even when we aren’t as focused on it as in our Fundamentalist and Evangelical days. Furthermore, we’re intimately familiar with the story of an innocent man brought up on false charges and made to die for it. Our Christ, our center, our Sweet Jesus was lynched due to the sins of the world as theologian James Cone points out in The Cross and the Lynching Tree*.

What happened to Trayvon Martin and what happened to Jordan Davis and what happened to Renisha McBride are modern-day reenactments of the “strange fruits” from the Reconstruction through the Civil Rights era of the US South. What happened to Emmett Till and Marie Scott and James Chaney happened to Jesus. There is a genealogical tree stretching from Jordan Davis sitting in a car, his body pierced with bullets, and Jesus of Nazareth hanging on a tree, his body pierced with nails.

The violent, ruthless occupying force sentencing Jesus to die for his uprising was the Roman Empire in the first; for Jordan Davis it was White Supremacy.

Image from Wikipedia

Image from Wikipedia

Jesus was killed for acting out of line – for speaking up against the power structure. For being rebellious. Michael Dunn told police he shot and killed Jordan Davis because Jordan –a black teenager – dared defy his White Man orders. The Roman Empire and its surrogates have been replaced by White Supremacy in these United States. And crucifixions have been replaced by the Lynch Laws of Stand Your Ground.

And White Christians are silent witnesses of modern-day crucifixions. There is an assumption here that, in our own land and through our political and social leaders and in a power structure that benefits us white Christians, somehow we are not responsible. Somehow, we can ignore this…

Emmitt Till’s birthday was last week. Trayvon Martin was shot down two years ago yesterday. What are White Christians doing about this tomorrow? Rarely do we, White Christians, talk about the violence and sin that we are complicit in in our own backyards.

Because there will be deflection about “black-on-black crime”, I offer this from Ta-Nehisi Coates to remind that White Christians are responsible for this travesty too:

Spare us the invocations of “black-on-black crime.” I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought insane. The most mendacious phrase in the American language is “black-on-black crime,” which is uttered as though the same hands that drew red lines around the ghettoes of Chicago are not the same hands that drew red lines around the life of Jordan Davis, as though black people authored North Lawndale and policy does not exist. That which mandates the murder of our Hadiya Pendletons necessarily mandates the murder of Jordan Davis. I will not respect any difference. I will not respect the lie. I would rather be thought crazy.

The blood of Jordan Davis is upon us. Take this bread, it is his body. Take this wine- it was poured out for us.

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*For this, we’ll focus on racism.

** My partner-in-crime, h00die_R aka Rod aka Political Jesus, is writing an ongoing series on Cone. You can read the first part here and the second here .re .