February 24, 2013

Conservatives deny "black Jesus," genocide

Anti-racist activist blames Catholic Church for slaughtering American Indians in speech at Catholic University

By Timothy DionisopoulosRenowned anti-racist activist Tim Wise claimed that the Catholic Church is in part responsible for the slaughter of Native Americans in a speech funded by and hosted at a Catholic university on Wednesday.

“The Church was directly implicated in slaughtering the indigenous people on this continent,” said Wise, in his speech at Providence College, a catholic university in Providence, Rhode Island.

“The Church was directly implicated in the conquest of the Southwest,” he continued. “It was directly implicated in sending indigenous children to boarding schools to strip them of their culture, to cut their hair, to kill the Indian and save the man for Jesus.”

In the same speech entitled, “Beyond Diversity: Challenging Racism in an Age of Backlash,” Wise argued the church should render images of Jesus Christ as black for one-year in order to help Christians consider the notion that [humans] “are not race.”

“I will consider this notion that we are not race when we decide to make Jesus black for a year,” said Wise. “Just a year.”

Naturally, Tim Wise himself offers more on the story:

Hearing No Evil: The Amazing Obtuseness of Campus Conservatives

By Tim Wise[H]er friend and conservative colleague’s question—actually it was a statement—was even more interesting. She claimed that I was “anthropologically reductionist” (one of those word casseroles that we learn in college and that some sadly deploy just to show how smart they are), for even noticing something like race. She, on the other hand, in the throes of a deeper (and Scriptural) enlightenment merely saw “people” when she looked around, not colors, and especially “people made in the image of God.” Cue the harps and Vienna Boy’s Choir.

In response, I told her first that such a sentiment was lovely, but, I thought naive. Mostly because even if we accept the notion that we are all merely individuals made in the image of God, the fact is, our identities as whites or people or color, men or women, straight folks or LGBT, have mattered, and have resulted in advantages for some and disadvantages for others. In other words, we can’t treat people as abstractions, removed from their social context and consider that justice. If racism has had consequences—which of course her black friend refused to admit, so no doubt one can understand her confusion—then one must deal with that, and attempt to rectify the injustices that have brought us to this point, not merely gloss over them in the name of some colorblind ecumenism, thereby leaving in place all the unearned advantages obtained by some and unearned disadvantages visited upon the rest. She was, in short, guilty of viewing individuals using a dictionary definition of the term, when what we actually experience in this world in the lives we lead, is an encyclopedic version of ourselves, far more complex than either the dictionary, or certainly the Bible might lead us to believe.

But what I also said—and which apparently created such a firestorm—was the part where I noted that however nice it was to prattle on about people being made in the image of God, that even there, we have a problem in this culture, given how we have created the image of that God to match whiteness. In other words, we have made God white, and Jesus white, as could be seen on any number of crucifixes (or is it crucifi?) around this Catholic campus, including one that was hanging right behind my head while I spoke: a lily-white, Europeanized savior, devoid of any relationship to what first century Jews would have looked like. Until my questioner was prepared to deal with that, and why we had done that, and what it meant, she really was in no position to lecture me about my anthropological reductionism or anything else.

One would think that any reasonably educated person would realize that the whitening of Jesus was an act of white supremacy, undertaken down through many centuries for the purpose of inculcating western and European domination. Constantine, after all, said that the cross was the sign under which he would conquer, not liberate, the world. My comments are not remotely contestable by rational people. But in the eyes of Providence College conservatives, they were heresy of the highest order.

And so today I discovered that someone in the crowd apparently provided a video of my talk to well-known white nationalist (as in, openly so), and Providence resident, Tim Dionisopoulos, and that he had written about it and uploaded it to the web. Therein, Dionisopoulos took special umbrage at my discussion of the white Jesus issue, as if my comments were the height of craziness. And he made special note of the part where I joked that the school should make Jesus black for a year, just to show that his color “really doesn’t matter” (which is what white Christians always tell me when I bring up his whitening, as if to suggest I shouldn’t make a big deal of it). Apparently, some folks think I was being serious and that my comment (obviously intended to lampoon their own unblinking devotion to his pasty whiteness on their campus crosses) suggested some kind of anti-Catholic bias.

The videographers also found it shocking, just shocking that I would suggest the Catholic Church (and really, Christendom more broadly), had been deeply implicated in the genocidal mistreatment of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas. This revelation comes as no surprise to anyone who has studied the history of native peoples, or the church for that matter; indeed, even the Church no longer denies it, though they rarely deal honestly with its implications. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, for instance, has itself noted the history, however bloodlessly as such:Catholicism’s spread to Native people across the United States resembles in many ways the settling of the country itself. From the earliest days French and Spanish missionaries who came to this world newly discovered by Europeans came as extensions of the colonizing powers. The approach was, in many cases, to force the Natives to accept the faith as part of the process of servitude…The history of the Alta California missions are instructive here. These were settlements established by Spanish colonizers so as to rapidly assimilate native peoples there into both European culture and Catholicism, under the belief of the Church that it had a moral right to evangelize and that the Spanish crown had a legal right to land. The missions operated by forcibly resettling indigenous persons around the mission itself so as “convert them” not only from so-called heathens into Catholics, but from savages to civilized peoples, in European terms. Once Indians were Baptized they were disallowed the right to move about the country; rather, they were forced to work at the missions, under the rigid control of the Friars. Indian women, in particular, were housed in such unsanitary conditions at the missions that diseases spread rapidly, resulting in the deaths of thousands. Contemporaries writing at the time noted without compunction that the labor conditions at the missions resembled slavery, and since the native peoples were unpaid for their work—work that ultimately enriched the Catholic Church and the colonial powers with which the Church was entwined—such an analogy is obviously warranted.

Elsewhere the Church contributed directly to the cultural and even physical evisceration of indigenous Americans, in ways that any truly educated person in this country would know, were our schools dedicated to the teaching of anything remotely comporting with truth. For a comprehensive accounting of the evil done in the name of God to indigenous peoples, one need only read George Tinker’s Missionary Conquest: The Gospel and Native American Cultural Genocide, or David Stannard’s meticulously documented, American Holocaust, to see that my comments at Providence, far from indicating a bias against Catholicism, fully dovetail with historical fact, however inconvenient those facts may be for a school that has chosen “Friars” as its sports mascot.

That today’s campus conservatives think challenging the phony whiteness of Jesus, or noting the history of the church’s role in racism makes one a radical is instructive. It speaks to what an utterly sheltered, provincial and fundamentally ignorant world view these persons have been given heretofore, by their parents, high schools, priests and preachers, and by a larger society that has no room for any understanding of America and Christianity that isn’t laudatory. Their inability to hear of evil, let alone address it, is rendered all the less likely by such a sheltering, and their ability to engage in even the simplest rational dialogue with others, or even with history, is made almost impossible.
Comment:  Good job linking ignorance about black Jesus to ignorance about the Euro-Christian genocide of indigenous people. We also could link these things to the hatred of Obama, immigration, and the "welfare state." Or the love of mascots, hipster headdresses, and other forms of casual racism and sexism. Again, it's all about asserting white male privilege over everyone else.

For more on conservative racism, see Conservatives Fear Minorities and White Men Lose to Demographic Change.

Below:  Fictional Jesus vs. real Jesus.


Anonymous said...

Jesus would've looked like a modern-day Mizrahi Jew. Meaning, he would've looked like an Arab and had to deal with the standard level of discrimination in Israel for "looking like the enemy". The same "random" customs inspections at American airports.

dmarks said...

He'd have been safe in Israel, because once he crossed out of it he could be in places like Gaza or Iran, both of which have governments that announce their express desire to kill off all Jews. That can really ruin someone's day, compared to being frisked too much at the airport.

Anonymous said...

You're not familiar with Mizrahim, are you, dmarks? Yeah, the Israeli government doesn't officially condone discrimination against them, but in an everyday context, no one cares. Sorta like how some Chinese immigrants were attacked during World War II.