Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Katie Grimes' Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice: Theological Reflection to Cheer About (2)

There's more I want to say about Katie Grimes' Christ Divided: Antiblackness as Corporate Vice. (See yesterday's posting for my initial comments about this book). I think Katie was likely working on the book prior to the election of Donald Trump, but in so many ways, it is now a prophetic (as in prescient) statement about the deep racism inhabiting the body of American culture and its body politic — inhabiting white bodies, such that a majority of U.S. white Christians voted for the moral monstrosity now occupying the White House.

To say that this fact should give American Christians pause to reflect — very seriously — would be quite the understatement. Something is seriously wrong with the white iteration of Christianity in the U.S. — wrong across the board, from white evangelical churches to white Catholic parishes to the Mormon world to mainline Christianity. More than half of all members of all of those groups voted for Donald Trump — and, in the case of white evangelicals, 8 in 10 did so, and, in the case of white Catholics and Mormons, 6 in 10 did so.

Katie's book offers valuable analysis that helps us understand what lies behind these moral-political choices, though she did not write it as a political statement or a polemic about Donald Trump. It's a serious, probing theological reflection.

One of the key concepts of her book: slavery has an afterlife that continues in American culture (and other cultures). That afterlife is inherently connected to antiblackness supremacy.

One significant way antiblackness supremacy manifests itself in societies (that is to say, in white bodies) nurturing the afterlife of slavery is, Katie maintains, by spatialized antiblackness. The social worlds we white folks inhabit have constructed themselves spatially to exclude and stigmatize black people — though the spaces that accomplish this for those of us who are white are usually invisible to us, allow us to pretend ignorance of what's really going on around us racially.

We do not want to see that Starbucks can be and often is a space of antiblackness supremacy, a space constructed by white bodies inhabited by the vice of antiblackness for the use and benefit of those white bodies and with the deliberate intent to make black bodies unwelcome.

To be honest, I have to bring these ideas home. The neighborhood in which I live, in which I grew up until my family moved to south Arkansas in 1958, in which my maternal grandmother and my mother's family lived from 1947 to 2001: it was the first suburb of Little Rock, and long had a white covenant. It is a neighborhood constructed on the principle of spatialized antiblackness, on a principle designed to extend antiblackness supremacy through the boundaries of the neighborhood.

When Steve and I returned to Little Rock and bought a house here in 1997, I did not give a lot of thought to any of this. We chose a house in the neighborhood in which I had grown up because I knew it and like it, and still had family members living in the neighborhood when we moved here.

It says something about me, however, that I did not think about the history of this neighborhood and what it meant as I chose to settle in it: it says something about me that I didn't think too deeply about any of this when I made that choice. This has long been a neighborhood in which it's possible to be white and "liberal" about racial matters — from a distance.

By contrast, Steve and I had previously bought a house in a neighborhood in New Orleans that was 97% black. I have to ask myself why we did not seriously consider a more racially integrated neighborhood when we came back to Little Rock. Part of the answer to that question is that we were preocuppied above all with my mother's health needs and wanted her to be in a place that was familiar and close to her two siblings who were still living in this neighborhood when we came back here.

But part of the answer to that question, if I'm honest with myself, is that I did not put considerations about the tacit and "hidden" antiblackness supremacist commitments of this neighborhood — as exhibited in its longstanding whites-only covenant — first as I made my choice. I am capable of talking nice about race, and then making choices that do not do nice. And I need to know this about myself.

So much that Katie has to say about the concept of spatalized antiblackness and how it extends the afterlife of slavery in American culture and white American (and other) bodies: it's so critically important to think about and discuss after the election of Donald Trump, isn't it? It's so critically important to do so in a period of this nation's history in which the chief justice of the Supreme Court can announce a fictitious day of Jubilee which pretends that we now live in a post-racial society, while black people sitting in Starbucks can be arrested just for sitting there, or black people barbecuing in a park can be harrassed by police due to a phone call from a white woman policing the park space, or a black woman lounging in a swimming pool at a hotel in Orlando can be verbally assaulted (and one of her family members physically assaulted) by a white family communicating to her that this is their space, not hers….

The concepts of spatialized antiblackness and the afterlife of slavery as antiblackness supremacy analyzed in detail in Christ Divided: they are extremely useful as we discuss these matters, aren't they?

The photo of the cover of  Christ Divided is from its Amazon page.

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