Look what just arrived at the Brooks’ Henry Luce III Library. I am EXCITED to delve into this work over the holidays as I map out my winter term American Jesus syllabus.

Black Jesus

About: Dietrich Bonhoeffer publicly confronted Nazism and anti-Semitic racism in Hitler’s Germany. The Reich’s political ideology, when mixed with theology of the German Christian movement, turned Jesus into a divine representation of the ideal, racially pure Aryan and allowed race-hate to become part of Germany’s religious life. Bonhoeffer provided a Christian response to Nazi atrocities.

In this book author Reggie L. Williams follows Bonhoeffer as he defies Germany with Harlem’s black Jesus. The Christology Bonhoeffer learned in Harlem’s churches featured a black Christ who suffered with African Americans in their struggle against systemic injustice and racial violence—and then resisted. In the pews of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, under the leadership of Adam Clayton Powell, Sr., Bonhoeffer absorbed the Christianity of the Harlem Renaissance. This Christianity included a Jesus who stands with the oppressed rather than joins the oppressors and a theology that challenges the way God can be used to underwrite a union of race and religion.

Bonhoeffer’s Black Jesus argues that the black American narrative led Dietrich Bonhoeffer to the truth that obedience to Jesus requires concrete historical action. This ethic of resistance not only indicted the church of the German Volk, but also continues to shape the nature of Christian discipleship today.

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Teaching the Atlantic Market Thesis

colonial atlantic map

I have taught this before, and as my students will tell you, it is a staple in my history course. I started the session off by presenting an illustration that conceptualizes the growth of European modernity and the birth of what Arnold Toynbee would call the “Industrial Revolution,” as students looked at the transformation from Lynda Shaffer’s article Southernization to what is called Westernization.

“The Industrial Revolution”is a term coined by Toynbee in the late 1800s and used by Marxist and socialist historians to attack “the captains of industry” and expose “the conditions of the working classes;” after World War II, conservative social scientists like Rostow used Britain as model for industrial “take-off.” Recent scholarship suggests the story is not so simple. See e.g. Peter Sterns.

I worked to draw a conclusion on the relationship between European constitutionalism, mercantilism, geo politics, and the expansion of capitalism. Because of these factors and a number of others, the British middle class promulgated the growth of Atlantic slavery while modeling a new economic paradigm that the French bourgeoisie and nobility would desire. Unlike the traditional Marxist’s interpretation of the revolution that claimed it started as a matter of class conflict between the third estate (peasants & bourgeoisie) and the first and second estates, recent interpretations claim the revolution was a result of the Atlantic market system. Feudal lands and titles no longer carried the wealth that the Atlantic market offered. With an ancient system in existence that prevented the French nobility from prospering in this newly minted Atlantic market, the second and third estate unified to overthrow the French ancient class system. The change in market forces ultimately contributed to the demise of feudalism in Western Europe, though this process was much slower for the East.

Besides the colonial wars fought for geo-political gain in the Atlantic market, the dawn of neo slavery emerged. Paradoxically speaking, this institution heightened during a period in which the literature addressed both natural rights and racial inferiority. I believe the process of understanding European history from 1450 to 1815 rest on students’ understanding of the Atlantic market.

History Department Gathering

I have long valued being a good colleague; I am pretty much the YES person when someone in my department (or in another one) needs help and support. I have found that good colleagues and friends have done the same for me. When I arrived at my last school in Houston, I pushed to have dept gatherings — be it at the beginning, middle, or end of the year. Holiday gatherings have always been a favorite. We are hosting a history department dinner tonight. It should be fun.

history invitation

NAIS SDLC (Part II) 2014

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Look at all of these young high school folks here showing that their hands are up, don’t shoot at the People of Color Conference/Student Diversity Leadership Conference in Indianapolis. They remind folks that Black Lives Matter in the age of Ferguson. I love the energy of being with all types of people from some of the best private schools in the country. You are looking at future leaders here. I think I handed more cards out to young students than I ever have before. I told them to send me an email so that I could learn more about what they will do to transform their campus upon return.

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My New Spring Course

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Next semester after I teach my winter term course, American Jesus, I will teach an African American Studies course; I have worked developing this course. Here is a rough draft syllabus:

Course Description

The African American experience spans almost 500 years in the annals of world history. The dawn of the European arrival in Africa to the advent of forced migration across the Atlantic amidst the trepidation of the most noted middle passage is only the start of the African American journey towards political, social, and cultural emancipation. This course looks at the early stages of this journey, in which African Americans will endure slavery, Jim Crow, and full citizenship by the 1960s. In addition, the course addresses the impact this narrative had on the emergence of African American religion, literature, poetry, music, art, dance, food, and science. Works by Ralph Ellison, Countee Culleen, Toni Morrison, and “Nikki” Giovanni, Angela Davis, and Tupac Shakur are a few of the works that are studied. Conversations regarding the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the rise of “black as beautiful” during the 1960s allow students to critique the changes witnessed for African Americans. This course is a hybrid of the study of English literature, religion, race, history, and film studies, and includes a field trip to the African-American History Museum in Boston.

Course Components

Instructional Method: African-American Studies is a seminar course in which daily discussions involving the analysis of primary and secondary readings, as well as the viewing and listening of African American film and music are addressed. Success in the course is predicated on the student’s ability to engage in the discussions and offer independent thought to the conversation.

Exams, Papers, and Participation: There are two take-home exams per semester. Exams are intended to measure growing knowledge of historical, sociological, and anthropological themes addressed in the course. Students engage in a case study, examining an aspect of their life in which the dynamics of African American culture is a featured construct regarding racism, gender, sexuality, and class.

Grades:                                                           Assessment Value

  1. Two 5 – 7 page papers                                            15%
  2. Independent case study                                          15%
  3. Take-home Midterm                                                25%
  4. Take-home Semester Final                                      25%
  5. Participation & Oral Presentations                            20%

Required Texts

  • When and Where I Enter by Paula Giddings
  • There is a River by Vincent Harding
  • Introduction to African American Studies by Talmadge Anderson
  • Native Son by Richard Wright

Course Outline

  • African Heritage and the Slave Trade
  • The Slave Community: Oppression and Resistance
  • The Free Black Community
  • Civil War and Reconstruction Period
  • W.E.B Du Bois
  • The New Negro
  • Harlem Renaissance
  • Great Depression to the Cold War: The Rise of the Communist Negro
  • Black Folks and the 1950s
  • 1960s and Civil Rights
  • The Rise of the Cosby Decade
  • Black Culture and Political Rap
  • Changing Black Thought in the Age of Tupac
  • Obama and Post-Racial America

NAIS People of Color 2014 (Part I)

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I will be attending my fourth NAIS (National Association Independent Schools) People of Color Conference this week. Last year I traveled with two colleagues and six students. This year I am joined by three colleagues as we travel to the city of Indianapolis. I have delivered two well-received sessions at this conference. In 2011, I delivered a session in Philadelphia titled A Vanishing Identity: Exploring How Independent Schools Can Promote True Cultural Diversity. In 2012, in front of a packed room, I presented a session titled Getting Real with Whiteness in Independent Schools,  a session in which I challenged teachers and school leaders to think about the daily micro aggressions experienced by people of color.

I am excited about networking and learning from my peers and colleagues for this 2014 conference. I aim to blog from the conference about the sessions and my interactions with a diverse group of people from across the nation. As an ambitious and passionate teacher, I seek such venues as a way to further hone my leadership skills as well as reflect on my past experiences and future growth as an independent school teacher.

Black Communist and the Injustice of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin

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Much has been discussed about the relationship of circumstances between Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till in recent months; but, little has been discussed about the role of the Communist Party and Trayvon Martin. From the few black communist that I know, they hold the same place as many other black Americans: This is a classic case of injustice promulgated by a flawed system of guaranteed rights. An interesting point about this topic has more to do with Emmett Till and less to do with Trayvon Martin.

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Above: View from an open casket

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Above: It was Jet Magazine that launched on the scene when it placed an image of the open casket on its cover.

The Communist Party of America is in a vastly different place circa 2013 than say 1950. Black intellectuals and social activist have a number of other forums and groups to use as a sound board for change. In 1950, under the auspices of American conservatism ala McCarthyism, the avenues for American expression were not as open as they are in the 21st century. Hence, thinking about the Till murder, I should not be surprised that the Communist Party, led by an African-American female named Pat Ellis, were the leaders in encouraging Emmett Till’s mother to open the casket at her son’s funeral. Mother Till and the Communist Party wanted the world to witness the extent of racism and hate propagated by American injustice. Thus, the world saw the dismembered body of a 14-year-old black kid who was too young to die just because he whistled at a white woman.

In drafting this post, I have taken notes and gathered primary sources on the Negro plight in America, and their relationship with communism. I have long contemplated writing an essay entitled, I AM A Communist. I thought it would be a fun and very engaging essay on the motives that drove black thinkers to join the Party. As some of you know, W.E.B. Du Bois once noted that it is a strange notion being black in the 20th century.

Selma

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I mentioned the filming of this movie in my hometown of Montgomery, Alabama earlier this year to a number of my colleagues. Watch the trailer and be prepared to get goosebumps. Wow!!!

I cannot count how many times I have driven over the Edmund Pettis’ Bridge when visiting family in Selma. See at 1:40 on clip. Side note: On the other side of the bridge is NBF homes — a Selma housing project I grew up in before we moved to Montgomery. The bridge links downtown Selma to the more rural areas which is pointed out in this clip. In terms or race and the South, that is a significant point. It amazes me how little black teens ponder the significance of that bridge when I am in town. Today Selma is predominately black due to white flight. I recall my shock when I met or saw a white person in Selma. I am pretty sure Janette was the only white person around when we visited.

Carson’s American Jesus Winter Term Course 2.0

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Hebert Above: Stephen Hebert, St. Mark’s School Religion Instructor and assistant chaplain, served as a guest teacher last year. I am getting ready to teach my Winter Term American Jesus. The course went well last year, thus I suspect it will be even better this year. With new scholarship to add, as well as a greater sense of familiarity with Winter Term, I am aimed at making it an absolute elite course. Here is the course description: The notion of Jesus Christ has been a transformative one throughout history. This course will help students grasp the ubiquitous nature of religion as a force in every day life. Students will explore Americans sense of Jesus Christ through the lens of American traditionalism, popular culture, music, and academic thought. They will delve into issues of race, gender and sexuality, as portrayed on TV shows such as Family Guy, South Park, and Comedy Central’s most recent show, Black Jesus, as a point of conversation regarding societal stereotypes. They will study hip-hop artists, such as the late rapper Tupac Shukar, who identified his rhythmic sounds and lyrics to that of Jesus. Students will also visit spiritual leaders of a variety of churches to learn about the diversity of faiths that are part of the American experience. photoblum Above: Noted American Religion Scholar Edward Blum (center) traveled from his San Diego State University campus to be a guest teacher in my course. Paul Harvey and Blum’s book The Color of Christ was required reading last year; it will remain on the syllabus this year as well as John Fea’s book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Professor Fea was gracious enough to Skype into my class as a guest speaker. He shared his research and discussed his book with us. John had some great things to say about this experience here at his blog; I also noted his post below: Yesterday we got hit with several inches of snow. School was cancelled for my kids and Messiah College closed its doors at 1pm. Instead of trying to make it into the office I decided to camp out in my basement study and get some work done. Here is what the day looked like: 10:00: Skyped with Eddie Carson’s “Jesus in America” class at the Brooks School in North Andover, Massachusetts. First of all, I am amazed that Eddie gets to teach an entire course on this subject to high school students. Granted, it is a private boarding school, but it is still impressive. I talked about my book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction and the students asked some great questions. We had a good discussion about the racial dimensions of the rise of the Christian Right. Later this week, the ubiquitous Ed Blum will be joining Eddie’s class in person (I hope you are not held up by the snow, Ed) to talk about he and Paul Harvey’s book The Color of Christ.

Despair

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Playing with words and emotions here. Can you see this scene in your head? I get that it is rough. It is just one short scene.

The ghostly rays were subtle as Isaiah’s uncle’s skin glistened from the slight beams crawling through the spaces of his living room window. His mind watched as a ray of light captured lines of smoke that settled on his uncle’s sinewy body. The smoke emanated a scent of burnt rope, which later possessed a body like odor. His uncle took another toke that freed his mind from the constant pain of rejection. Isaiah watched his uncle take a few pulls before noticing the letter. His senses long associated the room’s smell with despair. Was this it for us? watching his uncle stay motionless on the couch; if he were on the corner of Kennedy court and not hidden by these walls, he would be another nigger in the eyes of Isaiah’s white classmates.

Students and Affinity Groups

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We took 17 students to Governor’s Academy to hear renowned speaker Rosetta Lee discuss the importance of racial diversity, and why affinity groups further both cultural and racial understanding on our campuses. Faculty and students from other prep schools joined Brooks students in a complex discussion regarding the promotion of diversity and affinity groups. Our diverse students were excellent.

Affinity

My Fictional Theme

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This is still very rough, but I am still mapping this out.

Isaiah Jackson, my protagonist, lives in a world in which the duality of race and class is ubiquitous. His anger towards blacks furthers his metamorphoses and sense of self as he ponders the epics of religion, and the realization that God exists in a binary fashion. His tension and disdain regarding the intersection of race, class, and religion are reflected in his emotional ambiguity. Religious imagery, social realism, and Marxist tone carry my protagonist from his urban despair and black anger to a world of whiteness and distrust. Isaiah’s epic mission is a quest. The intersection of race, class, and religion challenges his worldview and brings about new hostilities as he confronts a white God masked under the guise of privilege.

Religious Duality in my Fiction

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It is 3 AM and I cannot sleep. So, I am working on my writing. This week I am practicing parallel structure, dialogue, and time shifts as I further my use of Marxism in fiction. Here is a scene called Religious Duality. This is a far more complex scene, but for now, this will do. Isaiah is perplexed. Due to his black enclave, he honestly believes there are two Gods, though he struggles in his belief. This is pronounced in that this religious duality represents the racial and class dichotomy which he lives.

Black God

Isaiah Jackson entered a white church for the first time with the white man; an image of white Christ appeared as he observed nothing but white faces in the room. “Your Jesus looks like the black Jesus my mother keeps at home…” he said, as his memory traced back to never seeing Jesus help as his mother worked two jobs to afford their small subsidized housing unit. “Does it matter if Jesus is black or white?” said the white man. Isaiah searched carefully before saying, “no…I guess not,” though thinking white folks’ God took better care of them than black folks’ God. He heard talks about white mothers spending hours each day at this church. Not a big deal. Their big fancy homes awaited them. Funny ,with a slight grin, his mother worked all day every day just to spend her one-day off each week at that Negro church with a bunch of hypocrites, he thought.

Practice

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I am convinced with practice I can use my anger towards complacent black folks, distrust of privileged whites, and social critique of religion to write something great. I am practicing as I merge the styles of Ellison, Wright, and Faulkner on paper; I aim to converge social realism and Marxism into modern fiction. I can do this. I can.

Arjay Smith as the Protagonist

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As I continue to get feedback on my fictional writing, I am asking my protagonist to deal with a world where the constructs of race, class, and religion intersect to allow complex imagery.Thanks to Janette Carson who helped me find my black protagonist. It is Arjay Smith who is centered below. I am looking at lots of images of Arjay in shaping my protagonist’s world. Here is a scene I have drafted in my notes; Arjay is the character I am seeing being behind the closed doors..Perception_102_05_Rachael-Leigh-Cook_Arjay-Smith_Eric-McCormack_PHDoug-Hyun-1024x682

Behind Closed Doors

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I like my non-fictional writing. Better yet, I find it easy and enjoyable. But I have not fully challenged myself to date. Hence, me flirting with fictional writing. While sitting around last night, I wanted to shape a scene in which my fictional character had to deal with tension. As you will read, I have yet to really assign names, though Helen will be the female. This scene is one that takes place later in the story. Here is what is taking place in his mind:

Helen is forcing his state of thought while he grapples with his anger towards her. He sees her God and whiteness shine as though he is in the dark needing her light. His bitterness is unclear, as he watches her move uncomfortably throughout the room;  she thinks he is a simpleton, being black that is. The light of her skin forces him to ponder his race and place as a dark stranger behind her closed door. His mind frequents the room in thought while his eyes move from her window frame to the red carpet stain. His body feels a sense of submergence in his state of melancholy. Dark thoughts unfold to resist her light…. What is this light? His mind moves about the room while her blue eyes betray his body. Is it her indictment of his race? His eyes left her eyes as they moved back toward the red stain. He looked up at her wall to find a cross stained of mahogany with beveled edges; it channeled him into a hall of crosses once observed in a church. While looking at the cross, he could still hear her voice as he elapsed into a deeper sense of melancholy. Curious about the nail that held the cross to the wall, he thought about God as her voice echoed from afar. She is ten feet aside but felt ten miles away. He listened to her while eyeing the paralyzed cross on her wall. His anger morphed as she spoke of nothing…. Helen’s voice represents a pain that he pondered, wondering if he is being crucified by anger as emotions enslave him the way her white God once enslaved his kind.

Fiction Anyone?

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I am doing some experimental fictional writing. I am developing a character who is southern and black. I am furthering his complexity as he struggles with the poor black community he grew up in; his lack of clarity regarding his sexuality; his distrust of religion, as well as his anger towards black people and distrust of whites. I will share more in the future as this character grows in my notes.

He is learning to deal with his anger towards folks of his own kind – southern, urban, and black. He is bitter about the hypocrisy of  black and white Christians. His contact with white people is very limited due to the enclave I have placed him in. It gets interesting once he is forced to deal with the white world. But for now, I am keeping him in my journal.

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