America’s Race Problem

During the Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park here in Boston last night. This is true — even if you are color blind. Party for Socialism and Liberation page stated, “Today, the United States is an example of this kind of “prison house of nations. Since its origins, racism has been a characteristic of U.S. society. This racism has often disguised the fact that the Black population within the United States has emerged with all the main features of a nation within the borders of the United States. Racism against African Americans is a manifestation of national oppression.”

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Confederate Monuments

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New Orleans started the process of removing Confederate monuments. Over the years I have discovered that folks know little about historical actors like Jefferson Davis, who was not a great leader. I wrote an essay below for The Christian Century Magazine with a colleague as we noted, “[W.E.B.] Du Bois observed how little had changed in America from his mid-20th-century perspective. Perhaps the conjunction of the #blacklivesmatter movement with challenges against Confederate monuments can help bring about some change in our own day.

See essay here: Confederate Monuments and American Citizenship

The Emergence of Black Atheists in American Culture

I am hoping to get some feedback on a research project I am in the process of conducting. Below is a rough abstract to a paper I will deliver on a panel this summer.

The church — both the Black Protestant and white church cannot fully reconcile their racial differences, due to the barrier capitalism poses toward social and class progress. After 1970, capitalism transformed the Black church from an agent seeking radical change, to one procuring cultural materialism, as noted by a consumer-driven culture that seeks status and measures of wealth. As a result, the Black church continues to fall short of being a revolutionary change agent for Black folk, in the dawn of the 21st century, as self-interest and wealth have usurped the Gospels. Such measures of self have not only divided the Black and white working class from their achievable class interest, but have furthered intra-racial division due to commodification and economic inequality.

W.E.B. Du Bois contended that the white church was incapable of mending the color line, but the Negro church, though flawed, provided hope for Blacks, as it held onto the roots of Africa, which were transported to North America. Du Bois also noted that the Negro church presented challenging divisions among its fellowship. Though he did not delve too deeply into the nomenclature of class division within the Negro church, he took a systematic approach in understanding the notion of faith – and Negro religiosity. Du Bois did, however, write about apathy and self-care, as they pertained to the church. And while Du Bois saw the Negro church as a cultural center and fixture for Black congregants seeking rescue from a racist society, he examined the paradoxical nature of religion and individual values. Carter G. Woodson expressed grave concerns when he noted that the Negro church “suffered from a generational divide, a class divide, and regional one but ultimately from a division over ideas”. By the 1950s, the Negro church evolved into the classical Black church, as E. Franklin Frazier published a scathing critique of the Negro church, he noted it no longer existed; as the Negro church died…it was reborn.

This paper offers a lens to critique the historical and emerging shift away from the Black church and religion. My research furthers that notion, as many within the Black community continue to showcase their religious conservatism and belief in God, while others have slowly drifted away, often due to greater economic opportunities at the expense of the Black community. Due to integration, this post-1970 Black bourgeoisie progressed from the Black church—as well as from religion. With black educational attainment and hence the rise of the Black middle class, more and more Black people are reflecting their values by asking, Do I believe in God? Can I afford to believe in God? This shift, in part, reflects the stark class differences among Blacks by the 21st century. This class divide and shift in faith morphed by Blacks to reflect an emerging non-churched bourgeois attitude. Through countless interviews, observations, demographic studies, and discussions with Black atheist network leaders, my research looks at the rise of Black atheists, and the importance of class and materialism, over the church in the age of Black Lives Matter. For some racial identity will be sacrificed, while for others the loss of religion will advance a new consciousness.

MLK Jr. and the Black Bourgeoisie

After Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream Speech” in Washington D.C., Malcolm X stated:

“The Negroes were out there in the streets. They were talking about how they were going to march on Washington…. That they were going to march on Washington, march on the senate, march on the White House, march on Congress, and tie it up, bring it to a halt, not let the government proceed. They even said they were going out to the airport and lay down on the runway and not let any airplanes land. I’m telling you what they said. That was revolution. That was revolution. That was the black revolution.”

Malcolm X was able to capture the ears of many who grew frustrated with America’s lack of political and economic progress. Moreover, with that heighten sense for change, King started to see his voice silenced within the black community. The recent film Selma showcased this well. However, earlier king would write in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

“You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self-respect and a sense of “somebodiness” that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various Black Nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad’s Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negroes’ frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible “devil.”

King was aware of the challenge Malcolm X and other Black Nationalist groups presented; his voice was soft and passive, though he was a powerful and articulate speaker. Blacks’ sense of Christianity was one of division. Why follow a church and a God that allows such hatred to take place — many contended. King feared the evils of materialism and comfort as many who made up the black bourgeoisie became comfortable with their status in life. As I stated before, today the black middle class is far more conservative than many realize. In part — this comfort is an indictment of the failures of the civil rights movement.