black dignity

Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 4

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Is Critical Race Theory “UnChristian” Part 4

Written by: Dr. Matt Mullins (Assistant Professor of English and History of Ideas/Associate Dean for Academic Advising)

In the previous posts in this series I introduced Critical Race Theory (CRT)explained its origins, and began to explore some of its core beliefs. In this post I outline more of its core beliefs.

What Do Critical Race Theorists Believe?

-Colorblindness is a Problem, not a Solution-

Colorblindness sounds like a good idea. Adherents of colorblindness typically believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of their personal backgrounds, religious affiliation, racial identity, and so on. But for CRT, the idea of treating people the same “regardless” of their histories is why racism persists.

If racism has evolved over time into an integral part of the structure of our society, and if that structure holds some people back and gives others a leg up, then to treat all those people the same is to maintain a status quo that disenfranchises some and privileges others. In other words, if two equally-matched people are running a marathon and you give one a head start, then no matter how similar their paths, no matter how equally hydrated, no matter that both are chasing the same goal, the person with the head start will always win. It wouldn’t be fair to say to the loser, “Well, you ran the same race, had the same amount of water, and crossed the same finish line, why didn’t you win?” For CRT, turning a blind eye to the disparity at the starting line is like claiming that we should be colorblind when it comes to addressing racial inequalities.

-Interest Convergence, not Pure Progress-

Interest convergence is the idea that dominant groups only acquiesce to minority interests when those interests converge with their own.  Derrick Bell developed this concept in an essay about the famous Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board of Education. In Brown vs.  Board, the Court outlawed the segregationist policies of “separate but equal” education in the United States. But Bell claimed that the ruling did not simply represent progress. Instead, he insisted that this landmark decision was reached because ending segregation was in the best interest of the dominant culture, not because it was truly just, fair, or best for minorities.

The Court had not had a genuine change of heart, Bell argued, and neither had the American people. Rather, for a number of other reasons it had become untenable to maintain segregation. Richard Delgado and Jean Stefancic summarize the argument, pointing out that African American soldiers returning home from World War II had glimpsed a different world and were not likely to go quietly back to Jim Crow America. The Court feared instability. They also note that the United States was in the midst of the Cold War and being a hotbed of racial unrest and white supremacist violence didn’t help the country win hearts and minds away from Communism. Interest convergence is a pessimistic feature of CRT. Critics of CRT often point to it as evidence of an unwillingness to acknowledge any kind of progress in race relations.

-Whiteness is Normative-

Another core belief of CRT is that whiteness has come to seem normal over time, making everything else non-normal, or other. To put it another way, whiteness and everything associated with being white has become the standard for how a person should be. You should hear echoes of colorblindness here because CRT criticizes the idea that we can be neutral, objective, or colorblind when it comes to race. If we are trying to be neutral, then we are inevitably reinforcing the status quo, or the norm, and the norm is to live and behave like white people.

Remember, most proponents of CRT also believe race is a social construct, so that means they don’t think there’s anything biologically superior about being white. Instead, they argue that whiteness has come to be dominant and desirable over time. In the colonial era and then in the early days of the Union, many people and groups from across the world who are now recognized as white were not considered to be white. People from Ireland and Italy were not white in the eighteenth century.  Benjamin Franklin maintained that the Germans were too “swarthy” to be white! And yet, over time these folks have become white, not because their skin color has changed, but because they have assimilated into the values associated with whiteness.

This is where skin color is important.  Such assimilation was impossible for people of African descent no matter how completely they adopted the values associated with whiteness because they were easily recognizable based on the color of their skin. And over time (especially in the seventeenth century), dark skin had come to be synonymous with slavery, an institution justified by pseudoscientific claims that skin color was a reliable indicator of inferiority or superiority.

 

Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, A Critical Review

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Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, A Critical Review

The Black Power Movement in the late sixties sought to ascribe dignity and self-worth to black people that impacts all areas of life. The revolution liberated black people from the crushing effects of racism socially, economically, and psychologically by using violence if necessary. The religious implications of the Black Power movement allowed J. Deotis Roberts to unpack Black Theology–interpreting the Christian faith from the black perspective while in a white racist society. Being a black Christian in America means one shares a culture that incorporates blackness and Christian faith in the face of an unjust and degrading history.  In Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology, Roberts answers the Black Power movement’s call for liberation by considering the Christian faith from a black perspective and demonstrating that Christianity liberates black people and reconciles them not only to Jesus but to their white neighbor as well. Liberation is an inherently Christian idea as Christ’s work liberates believers from sin. Spiritual liberation makes it possible for believers to be reconciled to God. In the same vein, Roberts presents that the Gospel liberates the black person so that they may experience reconciliation with others.  However, for there to be genuine reconciliation between whites and blacks, there must first be an understanding of the inherent dignity and worth of black people because, “liberation leads to reconciliation between equals” (95). Roberts establishes that the Christian faith is foundational to appreciating this dignity. Understanding God as Creator and the person and work of Jesus Christ the black theologian testifies to this parity. When both blacks and whites embrace the theological truth of equality it creates an “authentic existence” between the races as members of the body of Christ (7). Black theology considers how reconciliation between blacks and whites begins with understanding black people’s unique history as a suffering people. Roberts illuminates how suffering, when viewed correctly, can serve a greater purpose. Black people can be “instruments of God’s salvific purpose for all humans” (27). This is not to say that suffering by way of slavery was necessary or “an act of God” so that black people would be conduits of reconciliation among creation. But, by looking at the past for the sake of creating a better future, Roberts calls the black theologian to “transmute suffering into victory.” In doing so, “we see reconciliation through our role as suffering servants” (27).  Thus, Roberts makes a powerful case that the trials black people faced have great implications for people’s souls and the relationships between blacks and whites. Roberts further addresses black people’s dignity and destiny by examining existentialism and christology through the liberation and reconciliation lens. The doctrines of humanity and sin demonstrate the black person’s dignity and destiny are realized in a reconciled relationship with Christ. “Through the reunion of the separated—God and humanity, and person and person—health and wholeness come to individuals and communities. Hence the liberated person is also the reconciled person” (55). This divine reconciliation encourages a black person to know why they exist and why they should continue to persist against “all threats to their existence.” Roberts’ theological interpretation captures the spirit of resistance in the Black Power movement and reveals the theological foundation for humanity’s shared destiny. Once realized, black dignity is fleshed out in the symbolic black Messiah. The ability to view Christ from the black experience not only creates equals between whites and blacks, it also unites black people with a “particularized” Christ—who participates in their story. At the same time, Christ is “universal” and is able to be particularized for all nations—thus leading black people to be reconciled to others. Roberts continues to respond to the spirit of the Black Power Movement by considering the need for liberation to speak to societal ills not just the spiritual hope that is to come. He argues that liberation must be a present reality as ethics and eschatology are a “bridge between the now and the not yet, the promised and the fulfilled” (90). Our future hope in the Kingdom is the reason believers can engage in restorative acts in the present. The Kingdom ethic of Black theology supports constructive methods of catalyzing change like voting instead of the more violent “by any means necessary” mantra associated with the Black Power Movement. Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology benefits both black and white believers. Black Christians gain a nuanced and culturally relevant understanding of Christian theology that both liberates and reconciles believers to God and to others. Roberts restores black personhood utilizing Christian theology, as a result, he satisfies Black Power advocates by demonstrating the relevance of the Christian faith to black life. White believers do well to consider Roberts and Black theology if for nothing more than to consider a different theological perspective. White believers benefit from liberation theology as participants in the diverse Kingdom of God. Learning from a black theologian, who offers a diverse perspective, helps white believers critique their cultural perspective which has been seen as normative. When cultural norms are interchanged with theological norms it diminishes other perspectives. Since white American culture is rooted in racism, liberation theology helps eradicate that which is culturally sinful and creates division in the body of Christ. Being liberated from the racism propagated throughout society and reconciled to their fellow believer only strengthens the body of Christ. Reconciliation and unity authentically bear witness to the unity found in Christ. Liberation and Reconciliation: A Black Theology by J.