Retexturization of a Tradition by Alison P. Gise Johnson and Wilmore’s Black Religion and Black Radicalism: an Examination of the Black Experience in Religion the chapter on The Deradicalization of the Black Church. This is a very tough chapter to understand at first as far as the total deradicalization of the church, but I would say that there are some other forces at work that must be looked at to understand and determine how the deradicalization has occurred. The forces have more to do with the way African Americans in particular view their progress and ask the question is there a need for a radical struggle? Our views in this class and the contrasts are not far from the discussions, comparisons and contrasts of W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington; Martin L. King, Jr., and Stokley Carmichael talked about the differences of their philosophies of freedom and struggles, philosophies agriculturists and urban blacks and the philosophies violence and non-violent disobedience.
Many of the concerns have always and may continue to be about social status and economics. The argument has been steered toward and has never seemed to leave the subjects emphasized by the media and current mainline churches of prosperity and racial equality. An issue such as teaching African Americans to read is never the struggle, yet is was against the law for many Blacks to read, vote, and share public accommodations with Whites. The feeling that “they have arrived” based upon public accommodations is far from the dreams of the radicals of earlier centuries of a people prospering. After Nat Turner’s rebellion in Southampton Virginia, the restrictions in Virginia were made law and through the lack of education and social structures still in some ways restrict certain meetings, gatherings and travel of Blacks.
There is an effort by this nation’s mainstream press and politics to vilify many of those who today decide they may become social activists. From accusations such as tax investigations and sexual misconduct to mail-wire fraud those who decide to struggle, that are not a part of the majority white population will be weakened by the courts of public opinion and debate within their own community.
My belief is that until the masses are moved by the fervor of radicalism, change is only a dream of some prophetic person who may or may not have a following of persons who share in the struggle with the same passion. The persons who are most in need of change and help are historically the most reluctant to accept the words and actions of the radical on a consistent basis.
Radicalism has also been equated with violence and the overthrow of the current governmental system, linked with communism and/or socialism which are misunderstood and seldom ever spoken of as means of change. The thoughts or threats of any minority gaining power by violent means has most times met with violent means and have been conformed into a part of the system, receiving funding to support their goals of lifting people socially and economically.
When persons receive the lift economically or socially, and no matter how small the lift persons feel as though they have somehow arrived yet many strategies and layers of discrimination have yet to be uncovered. One of the oldest strategies is to implant into the people a consciousness of personal inferiority. They had “to know and keep their places,” to “feel the difference between master and slave,” to understand that bondage was their natural status. They had to feel that African ancestry tainted them… Wilmore states in the chapter that literature, politics and science work hand in hand to make sure Blacks were on unequal footing then and the result would be they would always be on off balance as far as radicalism goes.
Writings by Darwin, Count de Gobineau and Houston Chamberlain presented theories of racial inequality and others who wrote in support of degradation of blacks. Black resistance waned and the church was used to pacify many who would become radical. A weak church and a system of perpetuation of ignorance is enough to deradicalize and neuter the radical church from the 1800’s. In a speech on abolition of slavery, given January 16, 1832 by Henry Berry, House of Delegates of Virginia. “…We have as far as possible, closed every avenue by which light might enter their minds…to extinguish the capacity to see the light and our work will have been completed; they will have been reduced to the level of beasts in the field.”
Civil rights organizations and denominations seemed to be created to moderate social strategies and not fight for concerns of social or judicial nature. Wilmore says the church rejected the radicalism of Henry Turner and this alone states the thesis after examination. The fact that the church is used to deradicalize the Black Race is not a new argument, but one with each passing year gains more and more strength and the church grows weaker and weaker.
New knowledge gained by this course is that we must be conscious of the struggle, develop strategies to continue the fight and never forgetting that there is a concerted effort by others to continue to assimilate blacks into a place of inferiority and powerlessness. The church and the Black preacher must either struggle or stand by silently watching the further extinguishment of the flames of Black radicalism in the church and America. Black radicalism has to be redefined to fit the current condition of America and its people. There may never again be a radicalism that portrays violence, but one where political and social struggle continues exposing the inequities and violence perpetuated against a race and other races of people who join in the struggle.
The struggle to continue the traditions of establishing and supporting institutions of higher education, social agencies that provide benefit and training youth to provide necessary services in the fields of health. The church must take the lead in providing these solutions through the meeting of the minds who still surrender to the church and the leadership of the Black preacher. The Black preacher must be held accountable and feel as though they have a vested interest in the community by which they find economic stability.
The argument in the chapter that states that Pastors drive nice cars and also wear nice clothes has to be discussed in the terms of when will the leaders of churches be willing to take the side of sacrifice, socially and economically to stand for a radical gospel, one not afraid of change for the benefit of the people.
“The apex of white racial ideology was reached when it was assumed that white domination was a God given right.” There is unmistakably a connection between white religion and the Dechristianization of Black Radicalism. In the chapter on dereadicalization it speaks of the weakness of the church and its refusal to continue the fight. The next chapter speaks to the social structures of the Black community used as the gatekeepers of the fight. Wilmore calls the church the “invisible institution” which stands in contrast to the conservative white church and that there may be a conspiracy to continue the status quo, if parties of the first part, and parties of the second part are satisfied with the conditions of Black people. Henry Turner is again used as the voice of those who would be free and his stature represents the juxtaposition of freedom and Black worship. The preacher who once was responsible for the violence toward the oppressor now leaves the banner to others with other agendas that impact the community but never gain the support of the church, but are viewed by the impoverished and the disenfranchised as an option to weak leadership.
History in hindsight provides us with the weaknesses and those movements which also were vilified by the same press and political system. The discrepancies came as more decades of trial and error led to leave the people with more of the “same shattered realities and hypocrisies.”
We must understand that Black slave religion consists of a people who were forced from their homeland; given a religion which falsely gives them hope and detains them at the same time is an oxymoron.
Retexturization of a Tradition
"If I could do it, I'd do no writing at all here. It would be photographs; the rest would be fragments of cloth, bits of cotton, lumps of earth, records of speech, pieces of wood and iron, phials or odors, plates of food."
“You won't hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.”
—James Agee, Author of "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men"
We must begin to understand the importance of the whole of the history and fabric of the Black Family and the community in which it lives since the coming of the slave to the shores of America. A Dutch slave trader exchanged his cargo of Africans for food in 1619. The Africans became indentured servants, similar in legal position to many poor Englishmen who traded several years’ labor in exchange for passage to America.
This gives us the historical background for the start of the Black race in America according to U.S. Historical accounts but I will use for the basis of this argument in her book Katie’s Canon. Dr. Canon talks of the relationship of the unraveling of the family in relation to the plight of the Black woman. Alice Walker first coined the term "womanist" from "womanish," the opposite of "girlish." A "womanist" is one who values this soul and the well-being of the black community. “It is this Womanish, “Womanist,” who was the courageous, responsible, audacious, courageous, serious and traditionally capable, woman committed to the survival and wholeness of her entire people.” It is this Black woman who over time is bombarded with the most heinous, disreputable images ever conjured by mankind, so that her children would no longer be respected and disappear from the accounts in the annals of others history. This I believe leads to the attempts of unraveling her family and the moral and ethical dislodging of a several generations of Black culture and humanity.
Their stories demythologize and reconceptualize in their own terms the history of Blacks in America and the institution of American slavery. This is a history formerly told predominantly from slave-owners' perspectives but now must no longer be told over and over from the eyes of others until residents of the Black community ignore the gains and prgress of a race and see only the unraveling of it.
It is true that the community is not the same, but in ways this unraveling is also necessary for the pathcwork of building a quilt, a strengthening which actually holds together the advances and progress made not to become like the others but to instill in its people, maintain the heritage and develop the culture that helps with the existence of a race known as Black Folk.
Thus The History of Ancient Israel and Judah is an example that gives us an account of the struggles of a Yahwehistic people and their struggle to survive and perpetuate their identity. In order for them to survive Dr. Jerome Ross mentions the seven requirements for survival – administrative structure, economic independence, ideological standardization, common language, selective appropriation, population growth, and land acquisition, all of which are reflected in their theology. Dr. Jerome C. Ross Assistant Professor of the Old Testament, Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology, Virginia Union University carefully gives us a look into the inner workings of a people and community. It is the partly collective failure of a people to achieve this standard expounded by Ross that leads to the outside influences that enable the seeding of myths, stereotypes and bafoons to represent the life of a culture of people. Who cares that the Black American is gone from the face of the earth? Certainly our stories written and rewritten of the people related will answer this question.
It is the brutality we read about in Hudson, Wilmore and Hurston that one is able to read between the lines and view that which goes ignored and unreported. Only woman with stories of struggle and who were not silent; such as Fannie Lou Hamer and Zora Neale Hurston. Men such as Ralph Ellison and Richard Wright that can show the pain and courage mingled into the heart of survival. Richard Wright who lived during this period (1908-1960) "The Man Who Was Almost a Man" some consideration of how Wright revised his work to make it less and less "realistic," and, more and more symbolic. This approach allows for treatment of the issue of universality.
Discussion often centers around guilt and freedom. The most commonly asked questions have to do with a tendency to allegorize the underground journey toward freedom. While exploring what Wright might intend by some of his choices of settings, it is possible to suggest that they are categorical and take him into dominant institutions while exposing the workings of the social values. It is in his work we see the struggle between the making of self, personal aversion and the struggle between, class and race. The audience in the 1940s and 1950s may have been less receptive to the symbolic element, less attuned to the existentialist outlook of a black writer.
He like Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and Katie Canon gives this perspective of races, class and feelings of not belonging to a greater society, yet is a great society in itself. It is Ralph Ellison that first describes what he means by invisible. He is not a ghost or a man with transparent skin. He is invisible by virtue of how others react to him. They do not accept his reality and thus live as though they do not see him. He gives a more direct example by explaining how he almost killed a white man whom he bumped into on the street. He continued to attack the white man as long as the man refused to apologize and kept insulting him. The narrator then realized that the man does not see him as an individual and the narrator walked away laughing at the thought that the man was almost killed by a "figment of his imagination".
Yet in this past century Ralph Ellison (1914-1994) says "The Negro American experience...is indispensable to any profoundly American depiction of reality…” Ellison also makes this personal note as to the invisibility and visibility of the black man in America. “With things going so well I distributed my letters in the mornings, and saw the city during the afternoons. Walking about the streets, sitting on subways beside whites, eating with them in the same cafeterias (although I avoided their tables) gave me the eerie, out-of-focus sensation of a dream. My clothes felt ill fitting; and for all my letters to men of power, I was unsure of how I should act.
In our brazen attempts to show the unraveling we must also not show hypo-tonicity in explaining the brutality, criminal behaviors, lynching, cross-burning and violent society of law makers which left the Black Folk on the outside, even in the expression of the constitution which said, “All men were created equal…” There was a brutal racist societal system in place, which masked itself (The Switching of Hoods and Robes) and has yet to take responsibility for its actions or the actions of a government that through laws supported it. There were judges, law enforcement officials and legislators who also served the desires of the KKK and other supremacy groups. For example, in analyzing the history of the African-American community, Cannon unmasks a structure in which white-supremacist racism functions as the indispensable ingredient for the development of a capitalist political economy, and maintains with Oliver C. Cox that the elimination of a capitalist mode of production is essential to make racism dysfunctional.
The following is a good descriptive of what Canon tries to accomplish. As part of womanism, Cannon describes her heuristic pedagogy of liberation ethics. Its purpose is "debunking, unmasking, and disentangling the ideologies, theologies, and systems of value operative in a particular society." It is performed "by analyzing the established power relationships that determine cultural, political, and economic presuppositions and by evaluating the legitimating myths that sanction the enforcement of such values." It is necessary "in order that we [the black community] may become responsible decision-makers who envision structural and systemic alternatives that embrace the well-being of us all.” It is important, however, to observe that Cannon's womanism does not idealize African-American community. Rather, she critically examines two of its major problems: sexism in the black church, and the failure of their community to recognize different virtues in the context of survival. While the African-American church has been "the citadel of hope" for their community and African-American women have made significant contributions to its "up-lift," Cannon observes that not only dominant Western value systems but also the African-American.
Finally, just as you state that African American religious history has been stripped of the complexities, I also say that is too complex to strip bare. That means to me that as complex as it is, it is also too embedded in our culture, because of the women who refused to stop living in-spite of adversity. Their reward in life has not come in the form of recognition by a greater society but if we view it from the aspect of consequences and place conviction upon the majority or greater society in the framework that has robbed itself of one of the greatest pearls of history and that is the Religio-Historical value of womanist hermeneutical complexities.
The deconstruction of the image-makers may never be realized to the satisfaction of the minority but the painstakingly slow process of deconstruction must begin somewhere and somehow. Anglo-American perspectives are defined as documents created by white women and men, which contain textual references to African-Americans and shed light on the lives and experiences of African-American women. Most of the sources pertain to slavery times from whence very few African-American voices exist. As for today readers and publishers never hear many writers for the lack of literary recognition.
Maybe the question should be who has heard them and what impact have they had? The works of African Americans and leisurely literary works gives notoriety to the genre of African American folk life but the real view point of the African American Woman and her struggle goes almost unnoticed through history. The collection of and compiling of works by African American Women is a tough chore, given the varied circumstances under which these sources were recorded, it is impossible to suggest a uniform approach to the collections. However, it is important that a researcher relying on this information be aware of the multi-layered assumptions from which that information comes. The Bondwoman writings by Henry Louis Gates show how tough it is to authenticate and create a reliable source element among whites for African American issues.
Duke University conference of writers which gives reason beyond comprehension as to why women don’t stand out more says this “Anglo-American perspectives on African-American women generally consist of observations made from considerable distance or their lives with Black women. However, when using documents involving a shared experience between blacks and whites, it is imperative to recognize the existence of separate realities resulting from a complex system of social constructs and power relations which differ greatly between the two blacks and whites.”
In conclusion my appetite and inquiries into how important the Black woman is to understanding the true identity of American life and the unraveling of the complexities of the Black man and why he continues to lag behind in the social order of White folk I believe will be found in the examination of Womanist Hermeneutical Complex. This course I learned that we must take the bitter with the sweet, but the more we examine the bitter sweetness rises to the surface, it is through this exposure that we find out who we really are.
Stampp, Kenneth M, The Peculiar Institution: Slavery in the Ante-Bellum South, New York, Knopf,1956.
Price, Fredrick, Race, Religion and Race, Faith One, Los Angeles, 1999.
James Agee, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Boston, Houghton Mifflin/Mariner, 1939.
Alice Walker, In Search of my Mother’s Garden: Womanist Prose, New York, Harcourt Bruce Jovanovich, 1983.
Katie Canon, Katie’s Canon, New York, Continuum, 1995.
Jerome C. Ross, The History of Ancient Israel and Judah, 2003.
Katie Canon, Inaugural Lecture,The Switching of Robes and Hoods: The Ethical Praxis of Zora Neale Hurston, Union-PCE January 28, 2004
Katie Canon, Katie’s Canon, New York, Continuum, 1995.