Race: March 2007 Archives

This time it's about whose house is greener. Guess who wins? This thing has been circulating around blogs and through email, the latter of which is usually a good indication that something in it is inaccurate or misleading, but according to snopes.com it's pretty much on the level. The Texas Bush home is actually extremely energy-conserving, while Al Gore's house in Tennessee is extremely energy-consuming.

It actually doesn't surprise me that Bush's Texas residence is very energy-conserving. He strikes me as having tried several times (unsuccessfully in most of his attempts) to get his party more interested in environmental issues without adopting economically unfeasible plans like Kyoto or doing something that would trickle down as a burden on the average person the way price controls, additional taxes, or further regulations generally do. One might question whether his proposals would be good, but I think he genuinely wanted his energy pill to pass and then to succeed. He just couldn't get enough Republicans in Congress to go for it.

I've been trying to find somewhat favorable ways to think about what this means for Gore. Is it an inconsistency? It seems so. He has the resources to have a pretty energy-efficient house. Is he a hypocrite? Not necessarily. Hypocrisy requires understanding that your lifestyle doesn't accord with what you preach. Maybe he's just got some kind of intellectual disconnect. But I don't think that's the issue. I suspect he's got the same general view that I find common among those who allow government policies to count as The Solution to any problem that individuals, if they would just live a little more responsibly, could do something about collectively. Let some policy absolve your conscience. Don't worry therefore about how you live your life. As long as you support the right policies, you don't need to live your life in a responsible manner. So I think there's a way to make Gore's lifestyle consistent with his moral views, if his assumption is what I'm suggesting. The only problem is that it just makes the view so ridiculously implausible that it seems tantamount to coming up with a bad excuse for not living in a morally decent manner.

(I should note for the record that this is a standard way for some white liberals to appease their conscience on race issues. Support affirmative action, and then you don't have to worry if your daily actions are perpetuating racist narratives and social structures that harm people of less-advantaged groups. This is by far the most common complaint against liberals from the far left. I notice it regularly in the critical race literature. It can be true of conservatives as well, but the people I'm talking about are much more reluctant to concede that conservatives have any decent bone in their body, never mind a conscience, so they focus their criticism on liberals, who they're more optimistic about possibly changing their ways.)

In a post about how white evangelicals often do but should not assume what he calls a "white presumptive" perspective (something I wholeheartedly agree with and have discussed in the past under the term 'normative whiteness'), Mark Dever says something in passing that I'm not sure I agree with.
African-American Christian history is more fundamentally Christian than it is African-American. I realize that may be a controversial statement, but inside the body of Christ, we must realize that our racial identities (while seeming in Revelation to last into eternity) are not as fundamental as our Christian identity.

Again, his main statement there is something I wholeheartedly agree with. Black evangelicals, in my experience, are more likely to resist this biblical truth than white evangelicals, at least in their explicit beliefs. But white evangelicals can often give it lip service to it without realizing how much they are in fact tied to their white identity, as instanced by the very occasion of Mark's post. Whiteness is invisible to most white people, and the fact that white people affirm this statement doesn't mean they really understand what it amounts to and how their lives would have to change were they really to incorporate its truth into their lives.

But the disagreement I have with this statement is not in what it says overall but in what he says in passing in parentheses. He says racial identities seem in Revelation to last into eternity. Is that true? Now it may be that the things that inform our identities racially do last into eternity. Does that mean we will still have races in eternity? I don't think that follows, but I think the question of whether we will have racial identities in eternity is separate from the question of whether the book of Revelation includes anything that should seem to indicate that racial identities will continue in eternity. There are strong indications that the believers gathered around God's throne is a united body of people from every tongue and nation.

But two things make me think it is not teaching that racial identities continue into eternity. First, these descriptions are not just about eternity. They are about the gathered people of God, who are spiritually speaking around the throne of God in heaven. This isn't a resurrection scene. It's a teaching about the nature of the church now. Second, it doesn't say that these are people defined in terms of racial identities. It says that there are people there from every tongue, tribe, and nation. These are people called out of the world and into the people of God. It doesn't mean racial identities are wiped out, but it doesn't say they're not. It simply says that people who were of all the tongues, tribes, and nations are gathered together as one.

Obama and Slavery

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Some black Americans are convinced that Senator Barack Obama is not black or not black enough Stanley Crouch is a good example of someone holding such a view. The reasoning seems to me to be not so much that he's mixed race (which is compatible with being black) but more that he is not descended from West African slaves in the U.S. What that has to do with the concept of blackness in the U.S. is something I can't understand. Most Americans treat Barack Obama as black, and thus he is black by the operational concepts of race at work in this context. But it's certainly true that some components of what some black Americans see as crucial to their black identity are not part of his life at all (or at least not naturally; when he puts on a Southern black accent to speak at the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, that doesn't count as normally speaking that way), and being descended from West African slaves in the U.S. is one of those elements.

But now it turns out that Obama's white mother is descended from white slaveowners. It's sort of ironically funny, but what serious import does this revelation have? It's worth thinking about what significance people might find in this. The same is true of every black American descended from white slaveowners who raped their slaves, which produced mixed race offpspring who were then labeled as black. That ancestry is fairly common among black Americans today. There is one difference in this case, though. Senator Obama's maternal ancestors who were the beneficiaries of white anti-black racism (whether intentional or not) are much closer in his line than is the case with those the eventual result of slave rape. In fact, the victims of white anti-black racism are not at all in his line, at least until him, since he of course is treated as black in a society that still manifests racism. But it is the latter fact that would make him black, not the former.

Perhaps justice issues related to ancestry from slaves that some black people will have and he won't (or won't as much). But that issue is a problem for those who think certain kinds of justice are due to all black people. Trying to get around that problem by defining those who would not benefit from such proposed measures aren't really black seems to me to be illegitimate.

But this does (technically) lay to rest the claim that Senator Obama's ancestry didn't have anything to do with American slavery. For some fun video, see this Racialicious post, which contains Debra Dickerson's appearance on The Colbert Report (defending the same position as Crouch) and then a Saturday Night Live parody of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton discussing how black Obama is.



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