What is Whiteness? A Provisional Articulation

Council on the WayBy Jim Perkinson

Note: this is a long working definition of Whiteness. Dr. Perkinson laid this down for a committee reflecting in the wake of The Council on the Way (right), an October 2019 gathering of white men envisioning and embodying a redemptive white male theology. The conversation over two days in Washington D.C. was conceived and coached by Ruby Sales, theologian and veteran of the Black Freedom Struggle.

What is whiteness? I would understand the paler shades of skin color that are typically referenced, when the term “whiteness” is used, as a kind of shorthand for a whole social system of infrastructure and expectation, as well as conscious/unconscious identification. It is a system that is rooted in European Christian colonialism taking land on this continent by force (either violent conquest or coercive legal imposition) from indigenous peoples and making much of that land yield “resources” by means of enslaved African peoples (as well as other coerced peoples of color, and to some degree even coerced lower and working class European heritage peoples). Continue reading

If They Are Not Taking Notice

RankineFrom poet, playwright and Yale professor Claudia Rankine, the author of Citizen: An American Lyric, in an interview with The Guardian in December 2015:

Racism is complicated. White people feel personally responsible for racism when they should understand the problem as systemic. It is interfering as much with their lives as with the lives of people of colour. And racism can lodge in them. It isn’t them yet it can become them if they are not taking notice.

Much More Complex

GafneyFrom Dr. Wil Gafney, the author of Womanist Midrash (2017), in her podcast interview with Peter Enns and Jared Byas:

If you take seriously that women have heard throughout the centuries that what is masculine in some context is more closely identified with God, that what is feminine is other, and we even go back into church fathers like Tertullian for whom women were the devil’s gateway. I mean, there’s a whole lot of theological work that’s heavily invested in God being male and exclusively male. In fact, there’s a text that says men are the image of God and women are the image of man or something. That sets up a whole world of church and theology that marginalizes women. Yet for people who come out of the community that I did–the black church–for whom it really matters, what does the Bible say? It matters that the biblical text says repeatedly that God’s gender identity is complex. Binary language is used because the Hebrew Bible has two options. Masculine and feminine. But God is presented in a much more complex way. And that matters when we’re talking about people and hierarchy, particularly when those earthly hierarchies are entrenched in gender which is then claimed to be based on God and the Bible.

MLK was a Radical

MLK

PC: Underwood Archives/UIG/REX/Shutterstock

By Dr. Cornel West, for the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., originally posted in The Guardian

The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one. King’s courageous and compassionate example shatters the dominant neoliberal soul-craft of smartness, money and bombs. His grand fight against poverty, militarism, materialism and racism undercuts the superficial lip service and pretentious posturing of so-called progressives as well as the candid contempt and proud prejudices of genuine reactionaries. King was neither perfect nor pure in his prophetic witness – but he was the real thing in sharp contrast to the market-driven semblances and simulacra of our day. Continue reading

The Moral and the Ethical

CornelFrom Cornel West, in an interview last month with Salon.

Part of [the global struggle for human rights] is realizing that we are in a moment now where people’s conception of community has been degenerated into a conception of constituency. It’s that people’s conception of a cause has been degenerated into a conception of a brand. People’s conception of the public has been degenerated into PR strategies. This creates a spiritually and morally impoverished culture. And so in order to have some notion of human rights that is actually full of content and substance, one has to have some primacy of the moral and the ethical. The calculations cannot be just the Machiavellian. So much of the culture just comes down to strategies and questions such as, “How am I going to make more money? How am I going to get something out of somebody?” Continue reading

Merely Adequate

MVSFrom the Facebook page of Mark Van Steenwyk (right), executive director of The Center for Prophetic Imagination.

I’m working on giving myself permission to be merely adequate. Otherwise, I hold myself to a ridiculous standard that I don’t hold others to.

Part of being a white man is internalizing a message that dominance and excellence is a birthright. And that to not achieve these things means one is a failure. Continue reading

Liberation Feminism

ImaniFrom an interview that The Nation did with professor Imani Perry, the author of Vexy Thing.

I wanted to produce a work of feminist theory, or as I call it, liberation feminism, that would speak to the particular conditions of neoliberal capitalism and the hypermedia age—this eruption of digital media, where things that look like democratic spaces are at the same time corporate platforms.

I saw so many uses of the term “patriarchy” that didn’t actually apprehend the structure of domination. Patriarchy is a project that coincided with the transatlantic slave trade and the age of conquest. It’s not just attitudes. It’s legal relations between human beings, which lead to very different encounters with violence and suffering. The book begins with where patriarchy comes from, and then morphs into the current landscape, in which conditions are different but where that foundational structure is still present. Feminism is ultimately a way of reading the world with an eye towards reducing or eliminating unjust forms of domination, violence, and exploitation.