Whenever imperialist white supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy is threatened the dominant culture hunts Black bodies. There is something about losing a firm grip on power and privilege that taps into a primal fear that often manifests as rage directed toward marginalized people. The global pandemic known as Covid-19 seems to be threatening the stability of every power structure. Economics, education, politics and government, and every sector of public and private life has been radically destabilized, the impact of which is fear. Fear that supremacy and privilege cannot be sustained, fear that the comfortable may be discomforted, and fear that those who are familiar with special rights will feel what it is like to live without them. As we learn who the real essential workers are, we are forced to wrestle with a society that sees the economic independence of the essential worker as anathema to a power structure that depends on cheap, exploitable, right-less labor and requires subordination (Anderson 2016). In the United States of America, the fastest way to exert supremacy is the dehumanization of Black bodies. Once Black people have been sufficiently terrorized, other minorities are reminded to stay in their place in the social hierarchy.
There is no surprise that the murder of Ahmaud Arbery who was “jogging while Black” was videotaped, as was the murder of George Floyd at the feet of Minneapolis police. No matter when these events happened, the release of the footage of the murders does as much to dehumanize Black bodies as the murders themselves. Just like the historical American lynching narrative, these digital records serve to reinscribe narratives of supremacy and fear. As though Black people are not experiencing enough with the existential angst connected to a global pandemic the dominant culture thrust upon us the undo threat of violence meant to crush the hopes of justice emerging. In order to feel like control is not slipping from their grasp, the purveyors of whiteness seek for ways to demoralize communities, and simultaneously, the dehumanization serves to bolster the idea that white equals will participate. Amy Cooper called the police on a Black man in Central Park and immediately weaponized his melanin skin by stating that an African American man was threatening her life. She was acutely aware that his Blackness would engender a particularly harsh response. These videos serve to provide evidence of the brutality of whiteness, but they also serve to extend the terror and psychological torment of Black people. Each time we see the video footage or still image of the murder of a Black life it normalizes our torture and terror. With every news report and social media post, our fear and rage in response to police violence and state-sanctioned dehumanization become less egregious to the dominant culture.
When speaking of whiteness in this context, it is not a skin color, because the parameters of whiteness change historically. Whiteness is then the social construct of power and domination rooted in anti-Blackness that serves to disinherit and marginalize those considered radically other. Race is not a concrete or static reality, but an imaginative construct created in particular times and places by specific influences and impacts (Fletcher 2017). Blackness is then anything and anyone rendered socially other, by those situated closest to power and privilege. Whiteness is the cultural obfuscation of what it means for Black people to reflect the image of God because it impairs their ability to self-love and the love of others (Douglas 1999). Racial exclusion was designed to protect the elite heteropatriarchy of native-born whites. In the racial logic of the nation-state, immigrants and other nonwhite bodies were racialized as the antithesis of hetero-patriarchal ideals. Race as an American institution is an invitation to power and privilege or excommunication and exclusion stemming from that same power and privilege. The construct of race is built to identify proximity to power. As ethnicity and social construction were invented racial exclusion and ethnic assimilation provided the genealogical context for sociology’s inscriptions of race and sexuality as socially constructed (Henderson 2005).
As we live through this global pandemic and beyond, the Church is positioned to make a difference in the realities of race relations. The Church can lead people to divest themselves of whiteness. Since whiteness defines itself by contrast, white Americans actively disinvesting in white supremacy would equal nothing short of reenvisioning their basis for identity. What if the Church offered a narrative rooted in the Kindom of God that was so compelling that She becomes the epicenter of the progressive vanguard, calling forward the best of humanity. The church has the opportunity in this moment to center talk about God that doesn’t privilege the authoritative universal voice found in Eurocentric theological musing. This theology does not abide by an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality. The authoritative universal voice usually indicates white male subjectivity masquerading as nonracial, non-gendered, objectivity (Crenshaw 1989). Instead, this is a theology that sees race as a linguistic tool that we use in myriad ways to ascribe meaning to ourselves and others. As it assigns difference and value to varying configurations of race, class, gender, sexuality, etc., race thereby becoming serviceable as a theological device (Fluker 2016). The Church can finally be the place of deliverance.
Non schola, sed vitae,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry| Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Anderson, Carol. 2016. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. New York: Bloomsbury.
Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .
Fletcher, Jeannine Hill. 2017. the sin of white supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Fluker, Walter Earl. 2016. The Ground Has Shifted: The Future of the Black Church in Post-racial America. New York: New York University Press.
Henderson, E. Patrick Johnson and Mae G, ed. 2005. Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology . Durham : Duke University Press .