Thanksgiving, the National Myth-Making

Thanksgiving is a collective remembering of a national myth. National myths are ahistorical stories that we retell over and over to and about ourselves as a people.

While they may be ahistorical, as though they didn’t happen in a specific time and date and place, national myths are important. They help preserve culture, connections, and kinship and help guard against those things that tear us apart. They can be a bulwark against oppression and suppression, ways of remembering the best of ourselves when the world and empire strike against us. The Torah, for example, is a national myth about Hebrew and Jewish people and their identity that often sets them apart and unique, even as many of the stories are adapted from local myths and legends and then reframed for a different context, a people who imagined themselves differently. Indigenous people throughout the world celebrate and remember national myths. The Iroquois had myths that the Puritans considered dangerous in their encounters. Schools were established to “Kill the Indian and save the Man” by driving out Hopi, Sioux, and other indigenous languages, customs and myths. So recalling those myths are important resistance to white settler colonialism.

We’re very familiar with the dangerous side of national myths, however, such as Hitler’s regurgitation the National Myth of Germany through Wagner, Nietzsche, and antisemitic and racist tropes. And the National Myth of the United States being founded as a paragon of freedom and liberty is especially pernicious in the face that its Founding Fathers denied women the right to vote and held black people as literal pieces of property.

Image result for charlie brown thanksgiving table

But it is more important what we do with our national myths and whether we are willing to interrogate them, especially if, like in the States, it is one of genocide and chattel slavery disguised as kindness and civilization.

Thanksgiving as a whole has its moments. It is a time to spend with family–whether biological or chosen or a mix of both–and a time to practice gratitude, which can be revolutionary in an atmosphere of consumption. But then it’s followed by a day expressly for the purpose of hyper-consumptive capitalism. It’s no mistake then that the main mythos narrative of Thanksgiving is of settler colonialism.

The narrative of a friendly dinner with the natives is a ritualized hand-off of the land and its bounties from the original occupants to the settlers, who now rightfully belong. How fitting that dinner is situated around a land-occupying sport like American football with one of the teams named the Cowboys–another powerful settler-colonial myth about the rugged Anglo individual who tames the Wild West and vanquishes the savage American Indian. It’s also telling that next week, the Cowboys will be playing the Redsk*ns, a specifically genocidal slur against American Indians.

I would argue it is time to confront, rather than run from, what this national remembrance means. To interrogate it as Jewish people do the Torah. To recognize the role it has played in our society and how we use it to erase and murder Native peoples here. And then to set about to make corrections.

Advertisements

School Priorities: Protect the Assets

What I will say following is out of the deepest love and respect for the students, teachers, parents, and faculty and staff of the Chicago Public Schools, as a former or current participant in all but the latter categories.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is going to invest in CPS next year by an additional $80 million from City Hall. Did I say “invest”? I’m sorry, I mean, rather than restructuring the contract with the Chicago Police Department to remove its presence from within the schools and save the city 80,000,000 dollars a year, he’s going to put that money back into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, diverting it from other needed resources.

His plan has always been to take money earmarked for schools and children and give it to capitalists. He does this through expanding the privatization of schools (which doubles private investments within a seven year period); enforcing standardized tests (enriching the testing and curriculum industry while stunting student-driven pedagogy); expanding the hyper-localization of taxes that is known as TIF zones where half a billion dollars a year that should go to schools and parks is redirected to private investors and developers; and shutting down fifty schools in poor Black and Brown communities by ultimatum before selling off half of the properties apart from the input of the community.

Emanuel brought in a CEO for CPS, Forrest* Claypool, who knows so little about education that he needs a Chief Education Officer simply because his main skill–and the reason he was brought in–is dismantling unions. It’s instructive, in fact, that there is a CEO and similar positions heading the operations at the Chicago Public Schools. It says much about the corporation model that neoliberal school systems seek to emulate and where their heads are at. It’s not in the interest of the children. No, in this model, students are no less than points of profit, items to be consumed. Teachers are merely overpaid workers who must be crushed and brought to heel.

Rahm fired an award-winning and high-performing principal for challenging his agenda. Meanwhile, special education classes and students are left to the wind.

But at least they’ll still have police occupation in their supposed safe-haven. The same police that are woefully untrained in even basic developmental psychology. The same police who ride around wearing Trump MAGA hats.

But that’s what police are for, no? To protect private property. The neoliberalization of public schooling is derived from the commodification of students. Students are assets and police in the schools are making sure the assets don’t step out of line. That’s for the bourgeoisie to do.

 


*Yes, that first name is apt.

 

Puerto Rico, Haiti, and the Double-Edged Sword of Racist Environmental Catastrophe

Global warming and its resultant ecological disasters are merely collateral damage to the environmental disaster that is global capitalism. It’s interesting that for decades the mass messaging has been worried about so-called ecoterrorism. But terrorism is a political name of a distinct violence that functionally distracts from the heightened and broad violence that imperialist and capitalist destruction wrought to communities of color. And when it comes to the ecology, this violence is double-edged.

Because, first, the repercussions of ecological damage hit communities of color first, most, and the hardest. We see that in the warming of the Atlantic Ocean and the hurricanes that have devastated the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico, rocking hardest the communities of color that have little protection and infrastructure as they are put in harms’ way. We see that in neighborhoods where garbage dumps and smoke stacks are piled and children of color face enhanced lung disease, such as Chicago’s Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, or Gary, IN, just across the border. In the placement of people of color near toxic dumps or vice versa. In the state of Michigan’s treatment of the water in Flint. People of color are sacrificed to the gods of efficiency because White Supremacy will not allow otherwise.

The second wave that eco-terrorism is wrought in communities of color is that they are then victimized for their survival even as their recovery is dramatically slowed. They are blamed for not leaving beforehand when they have fewer resources to do so. They are qualified as “looters” while white looting is overlooked or sympathized with. Recently, a White news reporter riding atop Houston in a helicopter bragged about calling the police on people of color requisitioning emergency supplies from a shuttered grocery store. We saw this in how Haitians were treated as children by aid agencies and yet, for all their hand-wringing and fund-raising after the earthquake, left to rot by multinational corporations and their NGO wings. Communities of color are given less sympathy and thus less resources with which to alleviate their immediate needs after disasters.

Puerto Rico perfectly encapsulates both ends of this manufactured dilemma. Long before Hurricane Maria came along, the island colony of the US was put in the line of debt and neoliberal privatization to such an effect that it was facing the largest bankruptcy in the history of the US public bond market at $123 billion[1] already back in May of this year, eight times larger than Detroit’s. As a result of this mounting debt and the pressure to pay it off, not only are its beaches being privatized (and thus denied to citizens) and its schools being closed (along with drastic cuts to teacher pay and shutting of other essential services), its infrastructure is sabotaged. The fact that the electrical grid collapsed under the weight of the storm is not due to the negligence of the Puerto Rican people, but to how debt is structured among people of color and the colonized. Haiti had no infrastructure to deal with natural disasters due to its economy being routed towards paying for debts as a two hundred-year punishment for its own Black rebellion against White empire.

By Eric Pancer – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0 

Racism is not only the reason communities of color like Puerto Rico are more susceptible to environmental disasters, but also the reason their recovery from these catastrophes is trashed. Unlike when the Wall St. banks and lenders were insured by the United States after they destroyed the housing market and countless lives, Puerto Rico, a protectorate of the US, is expected to pay debts it could not before the hurricanes. Its debt racked up under a Democratic president and it’s likely that a Democratic president wouldn’t have fundamentally altered or alleviate it. It just so happens that this openly White Supremacist and tactless president let the cat out of the bag by tweeting—while the island was under water and facing months without electrical power—that its first responsibility is to pay back Wall St.  Trump would not only blame the country for its own debt, but then, while failing to give the country the resources it needs for the people’s survival, called them lazy.

Haiti faced similar critiques and was criticized as too poor to prevent or treat the damage left by the earthquake in 2010, yet their blackness and abject poverty were tokenized for fundraising. Thus, even sympathetic aid organizations like Red Cross and the Clinton Foundation neglected or overthrew Haitian input while collecting hundreds of millions of dollars only to leave Haitians little better than before the quake. A Clinton donor, for instance, spent six billion dollars of raised money on building a handful of ‘hurricane-proof’ trailers that left homeless occupants sick from formaldehyde. Nine hundred Haitians died after Hurricane Matthew hit last year. Hillary Clinton, who claimed to be leading the response to the crisis, would as Secretary of State take the side of industrialists seeking to further exploit Haitian workers by working to deny pay increase demands and intervening in their elections. This after George W Bush assisted in a coup of democratically-elected President Aristide, following in his father’s coup of the same in the early 90’s.

We’ve yet to see how NGO’s will react in PR, but we know that banks were offering aid by merely compounding and prioritizing more debt to further consume the country and its public spaces. As a 100 year-old colony of the United States, however, Puerto Rico has very little agency in its own governance and largely relies on the US body politic, an engagement that they have no control over as the island has no representative vote.

To contrast, the neighboring socialist island nation of Cuba—undoubtedly also very poor—takes absolute, comprehensive precautions against these same tropical storms, thus facing significantly fewer lives lost than mainland US even as it takes the brunt end of these hurricanes. The country prioritizes prevention and protecting its most vulnerable people , whereas the capitalist nation state of the US undoubtedly prioritizes debt and economic growth, both at the expense of people of color. Cuba protects personal property, bodies, and affects while it’s clear that the corporations that run the US care only about their private property.

It’s about priorities, and global capitalism is perpetual war against communities of color.

 

[1] Nine times the size of Detroit, which then became another colony for the White ruling class to do with as they pleased.

A Deferred Dream Action

When the Dream Act was being watered-down, stalled, heavily-militarized, rejected, watered-down some more, and rejected again, this heavily affected many of my clients, students at a community college. These were young adults who came here as children, had lived highly respectable lives, went to college and tried to do the right thing, according to the unrealistic, hubristic standards of the American Dream. Many of them—born in but coming from Latin American but sometimes Middle Eastern, South Asian, and the African regions—were relieved when then-President Obama announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

The DACA program was a temporary stop-gap measure for young immigrants (Generation 1.5, and under 32 years of age, as of 2012) who come here as children, graduated from high school, know English, and have completely spotless records that allowed them to register every two years for the chance to obtain an official state identification. These are students who traversed the traps of a country and society that highly problematize and criminalize them. They are raised in an environment of fear and secrecy, not necessarily of their own communities or families (though like any other demographic, that can be the case as well) but of being ripped from their families, communities, homes, and often the only country they know.

This existential fear is not a result of their innate badness or goodness or anything else. For immigration is a necessary lifeblood to both industry and to global capitalism. Yes, often immigrants are used as pawns to drive down the cost of labor, but that is to say that capitalists will not pay living wages and will use others to wedge in those “costs” – and further drive their theft – any way they can. At first it was indentured servanthood, then chattel slavery, then Jim Crow, then the Bracero program. Initially, the program was to bring in seasonal laborers (aka, guest workers) across the border, largely for agricultural work. When the Braceros began to settle permanently, have families, and organize their labor, then the corporations and their puppet state began striking back. In 1954, Eisenhower’s Immigration and Naturalization Services began the “Wetback Program” to round up immigrant workers who were not covered under the Bracero Program. Ten years later, when Mexican immigrants made up a full 15% of the farmhand labor force, the program ended as unions, churches, and competing demanded that both nationalized and guest workers’ wages be raised.

Immigrant rights were raised when Cesar Chavez’s joined together with Filipino migrant workers to protest grape growers’ lowering wages on the Filipino’s to undercut Mexican wages. The groups recognized that they were being pit against each other and worked together to demand fair wages from the landowners. And it worked. For fifteen years, while their wages were never at-par with the median for non-farmhands, they rose considerably. Seasonal farm laborers enjoyed a massive uptick in material conditions as a result of cross-sector solidarity and heavy organizing.

I point this out not simply as a history lesson from merely one group of workers and only a couple of immigrant groups, though the past informs the present and the future. But in light of the fact that the political parties will only serve capitalism and in doing so will seek out to destroy communities that do not meet their needs or have outserved their purpose—this includes immigrant families. Because they seek cheap labor that they can easily exploit we find this alternation between temporary, compromised rights under Democrats and permanent raids under the openly xenophobic and nativist Republicans (especially under Trump).

While DACA gave many young adults a fresh hope and materially benefited them with access to jobs, forms of valid ID, and more affordable college,[1] it only accounts for 10% of the most ‘exceptional’ immigrants (those who arrived by the age of 16, are younger than 32, have graduated high school and do not have a criminal record) and thus places all immigrants in an impossible situation of having to be super role models while under intense scrutiny in a highly criminalized climate in order to be accepted by the wider society, or to live and operate largely underground.

Additionally, the temporary fix that is DACA relied upon the idea that Obama would be replaced with someone of a like mind. The fact that this like-minded person was 1) facing off against an explicitly racist nativist and 2) herself having just repeated an astoundingly horrid nativist sentiment regarding refugee children should have alerted us all to the fact that the work, even the work for that dream-like 10%, was not complete, would not be near complete. The fact that now Donald Trump, Steve Miller, and all the fascists at ICE (and everyone who works at ICE is a fascist; don’t @ me!) have access to all this biometric information recipients is terrifying and incredibly irresponsible on the part of Obama. Further, that even the most-left-leaning national politician, Bernie Sanders, repeated nativist rhetoric about immigrants as themselves actors in lowering wages means that we are going to have to look beyond an electoral strategy.

We are left with the brazen fact that our politicians are failing us, that we must rely on each other. That capitalists only care about profit margins means that whatever actions they are willing to take for immigrant rights will be just enough to maintain their machines and not disrupt them. It is up to us, workers, to band together to make sure that everyone, regardless of race, gender, where they were born, or immigration status, is treated fairly and justly, has enough to eat, adequate income, a decent place to live, freedom from oppression and constant surveillance, and sufficient security. This cannot happen if we allow Nativism, White Supremacy, and Patriarchy—the tools of capitalism—to organize us. It cannot happen if we are mobilized through Islamophobia[2] or the impetus of a police state.

Together, fighting for and with the marginalized amongst us, on their terms, we have nothing to lose but our chains.

——-

If you liked this article and want to see more like it, consider becoming a patron and get access to exclusive material or just leaving a tip . Unfortunately, I have bills and this nation has yet to socialize.

 

[1] Including many of my student clients, some of whom came out of hiding to go back to school

[2] http://www.rawstory.com/2017/09/bank-has-entire-arab-american-family-arrested-after-father-tries-to-deposit-large-check-from-home-sale/

Evangelicals: The Sheepdogs of Capitalism [preview]

The following is from a long essay published on my Patreon page. To read the whole thing, you’ll need to become a subscriber. But you’ll get so much more, including books, chapters, poems, and other fun essays you can’t find anywhere else.

The lagger in this study is organized religion, which by necessity of sacredness takes its sweet time to make change. Since religion needs to codify through theological and linguistic practice, its values tend to run behind the elite culture it mediates for. God doesn’t change, except when God does. And God always needs justification, and for that justification to spread, for the text is sacred and God is eternal. However, this lagging provides a function in capitalism, that of the sheep dog. Preachers and religious functionaries help to keep the regular folk in line until they are ready to be absorbed into capitalism’s newer schemes.

In my experience, the organized religion most closely aligned with capitalism is White Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is a pan-Protestant movement that has erased denominational differences (similarly to how whiteness has erased ethnic and class distinctions between Euro-Americans) to focus on a salvation moment that relies on an hyper-individualistic relationship with Jesus. This in tune with the fact that Evangelicalism is rooted among the White suburban mid-management bourgeois class puts it at a unique position to serve the interests of the capitalist class while maintaining forms of power within the state and worker systems.

Prisons As Rape

prison-fence-219264_960_720

A common argument against the abolition of prisons is the question of what to do with rapists if we can’t put them in jail. And yes, that points to a group of questions that needs to be answered if we are to fully do away with the prison system: What do we with violent people? How do we prevent violence? How do we seek justice and recompense?

These are demanding questions, but one thing is sure. The answers do not lie within but are rather opposed to the current criminal justice and prison system. In fact, the criminal justice system has nothing to do with justice, with making things right, or even with violence prevention. What it does and does well is to promote and encourage violence among certain demographics (namely those targeted by the prison industrial complex). And rape is a key pattern in this. Estimates vary, but roughly 20% of incarcerated people were raped while in prison or jail—whether from other prisoners or from guards.

The criminal justice system does not stop rape. As it should be clear by now, under six percent of reported rapes lead to an arrest, and 0.7% are ever convicted.

Incarceration does not stop rapes.

Rather than discouraging rape, it makes it clear that rape is a tool to punish those that transgress against the law. If people were serious about ending rape or at least preventing rape, they would close the criminal justice system

The same people often asking what to do about rapists tend to think of rape as a tool of retribution. Thus they joke and make light of the fact of sexual violence while simultaneously showing their hand that rape is a preferable type of punishment for certain people, those belonging to these demographics and thus deemed undesirable.

Abolish prisons. Because prison exasperates rape.

Affirmative Gutting

Four initial thoughts on the efforts of the Jeff Sessions-led Justice Department to end collegiate Affirmative Action practices:

1) I know that liberals spent the last few weeks defending Sessions from getting fired by Donald J. Megalomaniac in order to defend both the ongoing Russian investigation and, probably more centrally, some sense of order and precedence in the White House cabinet. True, perhaps we’ll get further on the Russia investigation with Sessions protecting Mueller, et al, then we would if the AG post became a revolving door. And maybe, after a while, the trade off will be worth it just to see Trump packing his bags and the GOP panicking. But the way that Sessions acts while at the head of the single most powerful policing and legal agency in the world doesn’t give me any hope that any investigation into Trump will stand anyway, let alone that anything of value will come about from it. Furthermore, any chance for any procedural decorum is clearly out the window in Mar-A-Lago & McConnell’s stints. Democrats wasted opportunities to blow through filibusters when Obama was in office thinking they could use the procedure when they become the minority power, and to what end? Perhaps we’d be better off with no Attorney General than to stick with Jeff Klansmans.

2) Remember that Trump, like Bushie before him, is a legacy child. Affirmative Action doesn’t mean shit to people who’ve been born into wealth, into connections, into the racist family business. If Affirmative Action is truly a threat to the Myth of Meritocracy, then why are these legacies and inheritances not? Could it be that the Meritocratic Myth is simply a manifestation of and protectorate of White Supremacy and Capitalism? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that property and trust funds should not be handed down to children of wealthy people; the kids didn’t earn that. They should go out into the world with a clean slate like the rest of us poor suckers and make their own way. Maybe, in fact, we should begin this process at birth. Since over one-fifth of all children live in poverty in the United States, it’s not fair that Barron Trump got to shit in gold lame diapers while 400,000 innocent children are placed in foster homes. Send him to the streets to earn his keep!

3) In the post Black Wall St era, the best hope for build-up for Black and Latinx wealth has been through AA programs–not just in college acceptance but in hiring. But then those programs began to be gutted under Reagan and both Bushes, particularly under their judges, and Black wealth subsided. The Republican administrations and legislators also worked to kill federal unions, where the Black middle class was rising. The demolition of welfare under Republican and neoliberal Democratic administrations then took the bottom out of poverty. In fact, this notion that somehow Trump is a different breed of Republican is fully repulsive. He and his are merely trying to finish what their heroes got primed. He’s following the business ethos that Reagan and Thatcher pushed to its logical conclusion: Always Be Closing.

4) If anything, this final swig at Affirmative Action demonstrates we need full-on socialism and reparations anyway. Universal preschools and daycare, guaranteed income, an infrastructure that reaches to the working and permanent underclass, abolition of debt and prisons… It’d also be nice if we can stop relying on prestigious college education to be the determiner of worth.

What I Was Thinking as a Compassionate Conservative

Cross-posted from Medium.

I voted for Bush in 2000, not because I hated poor people or was racist against people of color, but largely because I was both poor and a person of color who was under the impression that he had something valuable to offer us. As a conservative Christian, I was introduced to WORLD Magazine and Marvin Olasky in the 90’s. Olasky — one of several supposed ex-communists with a dubious past and a lying streak — talked a lot about ‘compassionate conservatism’ and the need for conservative (read: White and Middle Class) Christians to support urban people. He argued that we depended on a government that could only fail us and got in the way of success. And who doesn’t want to succeed. So, yes, I voted for the first time on the premise that I was doing good for myself and my community. I think that’s why and how most people vote, and thus positioning material needs as front and center is the key to success. Or the Party of the People can just continue to treat politics as a character-driven drama, I guess…

In the early 90’s, Marv wrote The Tragedy of American Compassion. Newt Gingrich passed it out as homework for incoming representatives during the second wave of the so-called “Reagan Revolution”, helping to lead to the welfare “reforms” of the 90’s as well as the Contract <s>for</s> on America. At the same time, he became an adviser to then-Texas governor George W Bush and helped lay the groundwork for Bush’s faith-based initiatives.

But it was all a lie. All of Olasky’s ‘scholarship’ was hackneyed ideology promoting a spiritualized Free Market approach with a Christian veneer. It was Right Wing Christian deception.

The idea that White Christians could save us poor city folk would prove to be problematic, to say the least, for various reasons. But at the time I didn’t have the vocabulary or experience to tell me. I saw the word help; I understood helpI knew that white suburban Christians had resources and thought they could assist us with those. I didn’t know it was a mining exhibition and that we were the ones to be mined.

Unlike many anti-welfare actors, I never bought the lie that welfare was theft from taxpayers. I knew that was bullshit because we sure as hell weren’t living high off the hog. But I did see welfare as an impediment to working and living securely. What I thought about were the kids I was working with. The kids of single parents, often, who were themselves heading towards gangs. I thought that the continuation of welfare reform would be the necessary shock to the system bringing good jobs and stable homes. Instead, ‘compassion’ brought unprecedented levels of extreme poverty, intense competition for lower-paying jobs, and the destabilization of neighborhoods through gentrification. It didn’t lead to more secure communities through the advancement and strengthening of nuclear families (another perspective fraught with racist and bourgeois assumptions, as well as completely unnecessary), but less-secure communities.

I think I believed in compassionate conservatism not only because I hadn’t yet seen the extent of economic deprivation and theft in Working Class communities of color and other abandoned WC communities. I hadn’t understood the extent to which resources have been mined (both economically and literally) out of our communities and with no replacement. But at the time, I knew and saw the desperation of my Black and Brown Working Class community and my own Working Class family, which had received government subsidies before and after my father lost his employment to privatization, alcohol abuse, and epilepsy. [1]

However, I didn’t make the connection until now. Welfare before the Reaganites and the New Democrats altered it was not going to work on its own because it saw money to poor families as merely a form of aid. It should have realized — as conservativism and more-compassionate liberalism certainly still fail to realize — that child-raising is work. That domestic labor is work. That parents, and particularly mothers, should be paid to take care of children. Children are vital to the lifeblood of a society no matter the economic system of that society.

Instead, women are paid less money than men on the capitalist assumption that certain gendered- and class-based labors should be underpaid or even unpaid. Capitalism assumes that those who labor for society should not only be unrewarded, but should fend for themselves when the chips are down.

This bears out in the gender wage gap. Human Resources justifies, a woman isn’t the primary bread-winner for the home and thus doesn’t need a comfortable standard of living. This old excuse may not (yet still is) vocalized in these politically correct times, but the spirit is still here and thriving in the Gig Economy. Pregnancies are seen as interruptions from work — and thus income — rather than as a form of valuable, creative work in and of themselves. Pregnancies are punished, even before the conservative agendas interrupting reproductive rights and personal autonomy.

Domestic work is a public service. And domestic laborers should be paid accordingly by the public. As long as we’re under capitalism, then all parents should be financially compensated.

——————————————

[1] The order of these items tells you something about causation.

Jesus Is in the Camps. Where Is the Confessing Church?

When we talk about Whiteness, we refer not to a biological race but to a way of organizing the world. Race, as we formally understand it, is a recent social construct. There was no White race, Black race, Indian* race, or Asian race before 1492. In order to justify genocide, land theft, and chattel slavery, European colonizers invented the Indian and Black races. In so doing, they created White people. Whiteness is the daily, encultured justification of White Supremacy. It exists and constantly exercises in order to maintain the violent social and economic position of the White race over all other peoples. This is primarily a means of social and class control. It makes its way through media representation, the mechanisms of politics; it’s a stalwart of philosophies, education, and theology. It is pervasive and structural and systemic.

So understand that the problem with the following paintings is not the tone of the skin of those portrayed in them (though that figures in as well. It’s impossible to not also figure in skin tone since that is the arbitrary marker of White Supremacy). It is the cultural touchstones of Whiteness perpetrated through the entire narrative. This is important because a criticism of Whiteness should not be confused with a criticism of (individual) White people, but of a cultural understanding that maintains White Supremacy. Similarly when White is used as an adjective before an institutional or movement label (eg, White Christianity, White Theology, White Feminism), it refers not to the skin color of those who are encompassed by them, but of the predominant worldview that pervades the practice.

The following image was shared by an Anabaptist-leaning Christian theology professor on Facebook. It is a sepia-toned painting of a White Jesus in a robe, sandals and long, curly hair carrying the bag and rifle of the uniformed Nazi officer he is chatting with. They are alone on a solitary road. The piece is titled The Second Mile, referring to a line Jesus makes in his Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel according to Matthew: “And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile” (Matt 5:41, NRSV). The original FB poster said about it that, “[I]t gets to the core of enemy-love – the way we make space for God to work in reconciling the world.”

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

White Jesus. aka The Second Mile, Michael Belk

This image was made by and shared uncritically mainly among White male Evangelicals, the single largest factor of those who voted for and still support Donald Trump. To say that it is problematic is to not even scratch the surface, but let’s start with the reference.

Peace activist and theologian Walter Wink has pointed out that the way we interpret the Enemy-Love passages from the Sermon on the Mount (Turn the other cheek, Give your cloak, Do not resist the evil-doer) is contrary to what Jesus was communicating with his hearers. Jesus, Wink says, wanted his people to fight back, but not in the direct confrontational means that would see the Jewish people scattered to the winds (as in 70 AD after an uprising). Thus, he demonstrated creative resistance against the occupying Roman forces and the wealthy that were throwing the poor into prison over debt.

In the Second Mile instance, the Roman forces, in an effort to not drive up the angers of those they were occupying, had limitations on what kinds of burdens they would put on the citizens. They could force them to go one mile and carry their stuff, but no further. When Jesus said go the extra mile, he was — at least according to Wink — trying to force the Roman soldiers and officers to confront their own shame in an effort to dare them to force the people to carry their load anymore.** It’s a subversive confrontation and act of liberation.

So that’s the first thing to point out: There is no resistance here. Enemy-love is seen instead as a passive moment making a potential friend. What we experience is a normalization of violent White Nationalism through Buddy Jesus, who has come to lighten the load of the fascist murderer.

Second, notice how this depiction both completely erases Jewishness and centers Whiteness. There are no shema, prayers, cultural practices, or synagogues, but also no concentration camps, no ghettos, no markings, no hiding in secret rooms, no sitting shivas, no piles of bodies. As in most depictions of Jesus in White America, his Jewishness is annihilated — he put upon the cross of Whiteness. Hell, look at his designer sandals. This is not a brown peasant of the Near East circa 30 CE. This is a deliberate choice to whiten Jesus for a White Christianity.

This obliteration of Jewish (let alone any non-White) identity is across the board in Belk’s Journeys with the Messiah collection. But especially and hilariously so in his Metamorphosis: Uncovering the Christ in Youwhere a White man in a turtleneck and khakis enters what appears to be Jesus’ tomb to turn around to a fancy standing mirror. Looking inward, he sees a happy, handsome Jesus staring back contentedly as his own reflection.

wallpaper Jesus

Uncovering the Christ in You, by Michael Belk

White Christian men, as Kathy Khang points out, see themselves as Jesus. Not just any Jesus, but that White Jesus, where Jesus actively and passively reflects back not only themselves but also the performative aspects of Whiteness. They do not come to grips with the fact that White America is the occupying force, is the Roman soldiers, is the Nazi officer. But yet there is that inkling that they know that they are, and that underneath the postures of power and murder, they just need to be talked to and treated as human beings. They need those they subject to violence to come at them politely.^

In light of Richard Spencer, Milo Yiannoupolis, the Muslim travel ban, and hyper-aggressive deportations and raids, White Evangelicals who overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump and that culture (and still overwhelmingly support the Muslim ban) are not in a position to highlight how they want to hold conversations with Nazis and other White Nationalists in order to convert them. The time for niceties is past. It is high time for active resistance from White Evangelicals and their leaders. This centering of Whiteness is an aggressive act of violence against the marginalized and oppressed, the very people Jesus came to seek and save.

As a friend pointed out, Jesus was Jewish and would have found himself dead alongside the road. Jesus would not have a chance to dialog with someone that saw him as subhuman. Where should the church be? I know that a significant amount of non-White Christians are in such a position.

Where is the White Church now? Are they ready to become the Confessing Church of Bonhoeffer’s letters — the opposition to Hitler’s nationalist violence? Will White Evangelical scholars, pastors and leaders resist this rising attack against the people of God, or will they continue to place a high emphasis on racial reconciliation without repentance?

Which is to say, will white-skinned Christians pick up their crosses and follow Jesus to the deportation centers or will they continue to polish their Whiteness, hiding in their feelings until the subaltern learn to be polite enough for their tastes where they just might say something? Will white Christians continue to live in their Whiteness and maintain it through hyper-sensitivity, or will they be brave and question their assumptions about Whiteness and how they operate within it?

Are they truly willing to be like Jesus, or just imagine themselves as reflections of a White Jesus who has nothing meaningful to say to the world?


*Aka, Native Americans or First Nations, generic terms and understandings not used by people indigenous people in the Western Hemisphere until European colonization and genocide forced them.

** Wink. Jesus & Nonviolence.

^Their mantra is “Best not to resist the Nazis lest you become one!” If you punch a Nazi, you take the Nazi’s place. If you hurt a white person’s feelings, you strengthen white supremacy. Etc. etc worldwithoutend.

“Food Is a Weapon”

From theologian James Cone’s The Black Church and Marxism: What Do They Have to Say to Each Other? (paper delivered in 1980):

I have been convinced that the black church cannot remain silent regarding socialism, because such silence will be interpreted by our Third World brothers and sisters as support for the capitalistic system which exploits the poor all over this earth.

For example, between 25,000 and 50,000 people die each day from starvation, a cause that is directly related to the persistence of national and international economic orders that foster distorted development. The former secretary of Agriculture, Earl Butz, well known for his racial slurs, said it bluntly: “Food is a weapon. It is now one of the principal tools of our negotiating kit.”

From a Rolling Stone story covering the Republican National Convention in 76, while Earl Butz was still Secretary of Agriculture (content note for racist/sexist remarks):

Pat [Boone] posed a question: “John and I were just discussing the appeal of the Republican party. It seems to me that the party of Abraham Lincoln could and should attract more black people. Why can’t that be done?” This was a fair question for the secretary, who is also a very capable politician.

“I’ll tell you why you can’t attract coloreds,” the secretary proclaimed as his mischievous smile returned. “Because colored only wants three things. You know what they want?” he asked Pat.

Pat shook his head no; so did I.

“I’ll tell you what coloreds want. It’s three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit. That’s all!”

Pat gulped twice.

Butz resigned a few days after calls were made for his head, but he claimed he did it on his own (that seems unlikely) and that he did nothing wrong.

A few thoughts on reading these:

  • Remember that Pat Boone was himself a nice racist, hired to whitewash the Race Music (as in, Rhythm & Blues and early Rock N Roll that sounded too black) for the innocent White Christian kids across America.
  • Butz clearly outlined his racial animosity, and did so to a reporter and a famous musician. In the open. At a national convention. In the post-Civil Rights era. Don’t think that it isn’t still happening. Paul Ryan may be more careful about his views now, but he’s still racially animositic; in large part because class warfare is his life.
  • Butz was in control of food and production as a kind of supermanager of agrarian companies. What does it mean to black and brown farmers and consumers to have a white racist in charge of food supply and farming justice in the Land of Plenty? Why did it take a directly racist comment to get him fired when he admitted elsewhere that he’d use food as a weapon?
  • Butz was hired by Nixon and stayed under Ford. Until this article spread, no one deemed it fit to question how he operated, only what he said when they were dirty jokes.
  • George W Bush, Reagan and Nixon had a lot of the same characteristics of the Illegitimate President of the United States, but with some charm and/or intelligence and, by degrees only, humility. Many of the safeguards that Trump has taken out or will take out were already proposed or committed by the earlier three. What now is different besides the degree and the speed to which he’s taking it? What sets “p*ssy grabber” apart from Reagan who defunded family planning globally and domestically? I’m convinced that language plays a big part of it. Language and bluster.
  • Like Butz, Trump has no shame. None. Don’t expect Trump to go willingly, either. And since he has no shame and is a blundering racist, sexist, classist idiot, he’s a perfect cover for Republicans who can always say that they were forced to follow Trump, even though they’re informing him and using his bluster as a cover. Expect Medicaid and Food Stamps to be cut, with or without Trump’s blessing. Because food is a weapon.

Radical Muslim Dudes!

In light of the recent extreme acts of the Illegitimate President of the United States of America, I’m thinking of how awful the terms “radical Muslim” and the related term, “radicalized Muslim” are. As a linguist and writer, I’m concerned about words and how they’re handled and understood. Words are symbols and so they mean whatever (social and psychological) power we give them, but words then hold that power and dispense that power. The power of a term such as “radical Muslims” – highlighted by its use in Trump’s defense of his Executive Order banning immigrants from Muslim majority countries – is phenomenal and changes how people not only see, but think about and then act on a group of people.

The word radical generally means “getting to the roots of.” This is at least how many self-avowed Leftist Americans (such as myself) read it. Of course that is not the predominant reading, that largely being somewhat negative and dismissive of activists, due in no small party to American acquiescence to passivity in relation to the status quo. In all of these understandings is a kind of root: That a radical really believes and believes very strongly. Also note when it is used–rarely for something that is considered the norm. We never hear the phrase “radical capitalist” as America and Britain are very radical and devout in their relation to the economic theory. Rather we tend to hear the phrase attached to something that is outside the norm. “Radical communist”. “Radical integrationalist” during the height of Jim Crow and “radical segregationalist” afterward. “Radical pacifist” during war time.

The term is often worn as a badge of honor, the bravery of going against the norms of society. The fundamentalist branches of Christianity that I spent most of my life in loved to be called “radical Christians”. “X Church trains up radical, fanatical Christians” was the motto from one of my churches for a couple years. Radical for Jesus was a way to live, to celebrate an insular community. Christian, Fundamentalist, Born-Again, Bible-Believer, Jesus Freak. A very popular Christian music song from the rap-pop band DC Talk put it, “What would people say if they found out I’m a Jesus freak?” Fundamentalist Christians, radical Christians, should not be afraid or ashamed of proclaiming their beliefs despite a seemingly hostile word. In the US, they were never criminalized nor extradited for stating these beliefs, but that’s what it is..

DC Talk then used the popularity of the song to sell a hip version of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs for the teenage church. The radical Christian is the real, true Christian who is then persecuted by the world for following the real God. This is interpreted as a  positive thing. The problem then isn’t so much the word “radical” but what it is modifying.

As one of my Facebook friends reiterated this phrase “radical Muslim terrorists” on my wall, I can’t help but notice the spread of that specific phrase used by Trump. IPOTUS himself picked it up from its reiteration by the Islamophobic industry before him (which helped propel him to political prominence both through his Birther controversy and then through his Islamophobic comments throughout the campaign) and has spread it like wildfire.

The stigma of the term is now connected insolubly with all those who observe, practice, or are even near Islam, its language, its practices, its appearances.

The term “Islamic radical” assumes that there is something inherently wrong with Islam. Or, more to the point, something wrong with Muslims. Muslims thus are viewed as positive in White Western eyes only in as much as they don’t really believe in Islam (New Atheists have long called non-fundamentalist Muslims “fake Muslims”; believing as Wahhabis do that there is only one legitimate form of Islam. This view does injustice to historical and current Muslims and Islam). And as much as Muslims accrue to Western modes of activity. This view erases Muslim feminism, Muslim liberation, Muslim science and whitewashes Western societies savageries of genocide, hyper-masculinity, and capitalist war-mongering, for starters.*

Islam is seen to be inherently dangerous in itself, despite the fact that it is as large and as diverse as Christianity, that it has many different forms, that most of what we recognize as “radical Islam” such as Wahhabism and related sects are post-modern, illiterate takes on a pre-modern religion and thus stripping it of its historical roots and valid interpretationsto promote a much more violent, reactionary and hyper-masculine version of the religion–not unlike the Fundamentalist Christianity of Jerry Falwell and Franklin Graham. The comparisons don’t end there, either. Wahhabism teaches that whoever does not follow its version of Islam is damned, whether or not they were Muslims. Much as the Bible churches I grew up in believed that only those who believed as they do were saved from hell.

True Islam is not represented by the so-called Islamic State any more than the Ku Klux Klan represents true Christianity. In fact, these are not the sole faces of their respective religions, but only relatively small variants therein. The rest of Islam and Christianity should not be refracted through them, but only inasmuch as they differ from their more violent messages.*

Realizing how powerful and dangerous this linguistic term is is important not just against the standard Islamophobe, but against the entrenched Islamophobia, or rather Muslimphobia that is mainstreamed in standard Euro-American discourse and policy. Because if we’re being honest, this ostracizing, expulsion, and detention of American citizens and workers merely due to the predominant religion of their national origins (regardless of their desire to be US citizens) is making militarized versions of Islam more palatable to those being ostracized.

Maybe what we’re talking about isn’t Radical Muslims but Militarized Muslims. After all, the US and its allies are pushing militancy upon Muslim communities with the hyper-surveillance, the drone warfare, the police raids, the anti-Muslim rhetoric, the nearly-universal suspicion. The turning away and detentions. This racist militancy by the United States, by European allies, and especially by the neo-fascists such as UK’s PM May, French pol Le Pen, and our own Illegitimate One work to create a reaction of entrapment that will be worth all the trouble of breaking international treaties because, LOOK MUSLIMS DOING BAD THINGS! never mind the fact that we forced them into that situation.

It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy of the Never-ending War on Terror. Muslims do bad things because we expect them to and then force their hands until a small segment of them breaks off to do bad things. If only we had ended this racist, fake war eight years ago when we had the chance to.

 


*I know that some reader somewhere is going to get the idea to tell me that The Muslims did and do all these horrific things, etc, etc. Yes, they are human. Yes, they were involved in wars and empire-building and slave trades of their own. This isn’t a zero-sum game.

**As a Christian, I’m well aware of portions of mainstream White Evangelicalism that readily connect to theologies that the Klan practiced. It does not delegitimize Christianity as a whole, but helps to pinpoint how theological practices can remain in pockets and cause violence.

Franklin Graham: The Bible Is Silent About Welcoming Sojourners and Refugees

Here’s Graham to the Huffington Post on how he can square his and Trump’s literal, political xenophobia (literally, stoking fear of outsiders) carried out in Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants and refugees from several Muslim-dominated countries with his Christianity:

It’s not a biblical command for the country to let everyone in who wants to come, that’s not a Bible issue. We want to love people, we want to be kind to people, we want to be considerate, but we have a country and a country should have order and there are laws that relate to immigration and I think we should follow those laws. Because of the dangers we see today in this world, we need to be very careful.

Contrary to the Culture Warrior Christian’s idiotic statement, it’s not only a biblical command for Christians, it’s a biblical command for nations. Recall that the Bible wasn’t written to individuals, but to communities, from the Israelites to the early Church.

When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. – Leviticus 19:33-34 (NIV)

This idea is repeated in Deuteronomy 10:19 and Exodus 22:21: Do not oppress a foreigner, for you yourselves were mistreated foreigners in Egypt.

Throughout the Jewish scriptures, the idea is reiterated time and again as both a national story and as a decree, not only should the immigrant (or stranger or refugee) be welcomed, but treated, befriended, and loved as any other member of the community. Deuteronomy 27, in fact, curses those who mistreat the stranger. The effect is one of continual remembrance; the act of welcoming the stranger is one of communal redemption.

Welcoming sojourners is seen as a definite sign of following God’s commandments. Job, for instance, refers to his good deeds of hospitality toward strangers (in chapters 29 and 31).

Throughout the Older Testament scriptures*, the idea that the Hebrews were aliens, were stuck in a foreign land, and were strange to their own God is reiterated so that the people could empathize with the traveler – those who are forced out of their own land and into a new land, as was Abraham and the people under Moses and Joshua. The Lost. This is a prominent story of Israel, that of a people who were oppressed foreigners and travelers who found a home among God and remember this story through their own hospitality toward foreigners and travelers.

And then there’s Jesus and the New Testament, expanding this national story into Jesus himself (who Matthew recounts as a refugee fleeing the genocidal Herod into Egypt) and then his disciples and Christians themselves (Jesus tells his first followers to go town to town as strangers and accept hospitality, which is expanded in the Great Commission [Go out into all the world and make disciples]; Paul recalls the story before Mars Hill in Acts through an elaborate evangelistic call; Peter does so explaining the new order of Christ-followers on the multilingual Pentecost). The story of strangers being accepted by the community and the parents becomes the story of Christianity, spread throughout the Pauline letters and other epistles as well as through the Gospels themselves.

In Matthew 25, Jesus makes it clear that those who welcome and are hospitable to  the stranger are welcoming him; that those who reject the stranger reject him.

The Newer Testament book of Hebrews again retells the national story of Israel, God’s people, as being aliens and strangers and then closes to remind the expanded people of God (according to Christian theology) to:

Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those who are in prison, as though you were in prison with them; those who are being tortured, as though you yourselves were being tortured. (Chapter 13. NRSV)

[Oh, now there’s that pesky commandment about torture and imprisonment, both of which Franklin Graham is silent about as his presidential preference is promising to increase.]

In short, we see that while White Evangelicalism promises to be exclusively biblical in following Christ, it is fundamentally cultural, which is to say it is foundationally a linguistic and political theology that establishes and reinforces Whiteness. Franklin Graham is emblematic of this approach, this sin, this heresy of White Theology.

Not that I’m working on a book about this or anything… **


*For instance, Genesis 15:13; 23:4; Psalm 39:12; 105:12; 119:19; I Chronicles 16:19; 29:15; Leviticus 25:23, 35

** I am working on a book about this. Really, two books. Please subscribe to the newsletter for updates.