Refusing to Reconcile: Against Racial Reconciliation
January 19, 2014 by amaryahshayeAmaryah here. I’m going to be writing what will probably be a three part series on refusing reconciliation due to its anti-blackness and supercessionist white theology, and black disbelief and black theology as necessary to the struggle against white supremacy and anti-blackness.
This series is inspired by many things, but I wanted to note Andrea Smith’s essay “The Problem with ‘Privilege,’” Daniel Barber’s recent paper presentation on immanence and the refusal of conversion in Malcolm X and Taubes, Jack Halberstam’s introduction to and the entire collection of essays in the Undercommons by Fred Moten and Stefano Harvey, the film The Best Man Holiday, James Cone’s “A Black Theology of Liberation”, Delores Williams’ “Sisters in the Wilderness,” and Ashon Crawley’s collection of tweets on blackness and disbelief.Refusing Reconciliation:
Racial reconciliation Sunday was an odd liturgical interruption every year growing up. Primarily because it was always a failed interruption. For those who have never heard of racial reconciliation Sunday, it is a Sunday, usually in February, when congregations that are predominately one race, usually black and white, come together for something of a liturgical mixer. The host church rotates each year between the two congregations. The guest pastor preaches and the guest choir leads the musical selections. The host congregation welcomes and provides refreshments for the awkward social mingling that happens afterwards. (It’s possible this is just another terrible idea Southern Baptists invented. I am not sure.) The intent of racial reconciliation Sunday is to make people friends across racial lines because of our aspiration to unity in Christ. It’s supposed to celebrate the diversity of our liturgical styles. It’s supposed to interrupt the homogeneity of weekly church gatherings. Instead it is a failure.
Racial reconciliation Sunday’s failure is not primarily due to the awkwardness of the gathering or the inability to appreciate different worship and preaching styles. The failure is built into the framework of reconciliation itself. That is, reconciliation is always already a failure because it is always already white (More on this further on).
But it’s failure is precisely what becomes it’s biggest asset as a Christian framework. Within a Christian narrative of a hope-filled eschaton that will eventually bring about a perfected vision of reconciliation, reconciliation as a framework is an extremely successful failure because it is able to reproduce itself through Christian narrative’s of hope and futurity. It is always able to paint itself as the best, most logical, most reasonable, most possible choice for ameliorating our contemporary racial situation because it will eventually be completed in Christ. Like many Christian ideals, it sounds so good albeit a bit challenging. How could any one be against it?Supercession, Reconciliation, and Anti-Blackness
I want to be clear here that conflict resolution at an interpersonal level is important for life together, but the framework of reconciliation, even when it attempts to speak about justice, values the confession and the future to come above the present. Reconciliation displaces structural analysis for narratives of various experiences that end with a unity in Christ and a theological vision that is white. These narratives are used to imbue hope for the possibility of reconciliation but they actually prevent the possibility of ending white supremacy, anti-blackness, and racism because it is the supercessionist framework itself that is the problem. Reconciliation thus becomes a way of displacing structural dominance and oppression to the level of inter-personal conflict and confessions of privilege, moving our focus away from the ways Christianity itself structures racial domination and racial formation. Because reconciliation is never able to call Christianity itself into question as a problematic framework, only white people. Reconciliation continues to reproduce an inability to recognize itself as that which produces the division in the first place through its narration of identity as things to be superceded. Rather than clarifying relations of power, reconciliation mystifies them.
One of the main ways this mystification of power happens is through the idea that multiculturalism is a remedy to racism. A large vision of reconciliation frameworks is multi-racial congregations. But uncritical deployment of multiracialism as the solution to racism ends up as only representational politics without a confrontation with the larger narrative of reconciliation that erases violence by requiring unity. In many ways, then, the reconciliation framework is emotionally manipulative and ethically bankrupt. It deploys the rhetoric of reconciliation and assembles christian narratives of racial frustrations leading to hope, laments and confessions that reproduce the worst of white guilt, and a religious formation that is a white racial formation, in order to subdue the retaliation to actual repeated abuse blacks experience because of Christian logics of reconciliation, unity, and conversion. Reconciliation is a framework beholden to white theology and, thus, is not capable of confronting the violence of white supremacy. Instead, it must always find hope beyond the now. It must always find a way of turning the narrative of violent erasure into one of Christian triumph. Reconciliation is primarily a narrative trick that deters us from seeing the ways practices of confession, reconciliation, and Christian religious formation, are one of the primary ways white supremacy is maintained and repeated.
Reconciliation is profoundly uncritical in its inability to see that the constant in white supremacy is Christianity and Christian religious formation as unity in Christ that transcends earthly identities and thus holds the logic of the world together. This universal and totalizing logic of reconciliation is precisely the problem. For it is not able to imagine a world that would actually value blackness as blackness, only a world that is able to transform blackness into a lesser whiteness, to transform unreason into reason. Similarly, it is not able to hold a concept of whiteness as a violent and violating unity. It can only think whiteness as a repetition of forgetfulness, or the unthinking itself, that whiteness always performs (present currently in the “post-racial”). It can only think whiteness as a present failure that is not really a failure. A failure that will be made right in the future. For example, John Piper’s recent chat with Douglas Wilson [with brilliant twitter commentary by Sarah, here] had Piper applauding Thabiti Anyabwile because he bent over backwards to try and “understand” Doug Wilson’s racist treatise defending slavery. In the framework of unity and reconciliation, this is the mode in which blackness can be valued—in how much it defers to and submits to whiteness as the organizing logic around which we must confront race. A secular example of this could also be noted around Mandela’s death and the utility Mandela’s writings about peace and reconciliation quickly found themselves divorced from his radicalism and one-time support for armed resistance in order to shore up neoliberal ideals regarding democracy, global capitalism’s expansion, and hope in capitalism as the harbinger of democracy. In each instance, It is the same position blackness must hold—a thing to be reformed and transformed until it can speak in the language that recognizes whiteness as the savior and the structure of the world’s reason.
Because it is not able to recognize itself as a reproduction of the violence of white supremacy and anti-blackness, reconciliation discourse and frameworks encourages the emotional abuse of people of color for the benefit of white supremacy and for the benefit of white people as the primary people who must be borne with in order for the world to really change. It encourages the redemption of a white supremacist world through a reconciliation that extends the white supremacist world in a nicer more inclusive form. Reconciliation sets itself up as the only solution to the problem it creates, as the only remedy to the violence it produces.
In the end, the model of racial reconciliation posits a white positionality. Like James Baldwin’s critique of Norman Mailer (“There is a difference . . . between Norman and myself in that I think he still imagines that he has something to save, whereas I have never had anything to lose.”), Racial reconciliation still thinks it can save whiteness and white theology through its transcendent white Christ. It still thinks it can save black people and other people of color from blackness, too, through the same figure. It can only figure identities as things to transcend through the unitive figure of incarnation, Christ.
This white redemption and this white Christ is what is refused when reconciliation is refused. The extension of global white supremacy in its Christian and secular forms must be refused. In order to refuse reconciliation, we must first refuse conversion. We must first stop trying to convert people, especially white people, to a framework of reconciliation.In my next post, I’ll think through how black theologies refuse reconciliation and offers us a concept of Christianity that, in this refusal, opens us up to solidarity and life together not based in conversion but based in the now.http://womenintheology.org/2014/01/19/refusing-to-reconcile-against-racial-reconciliation/