Thursday, February 16, 2006

race reconciliation and the spiritual left

I'd heard of Andrea Smith and her work for a couple of weeks now (thanks to Brownfemipower for the heads-up) but wasn't quite sure how to respond to her or connect her work to any other ideas. But I just realized that she provides a good interaction with Michael Lerner's thoughts about the Spiritual Left.

For several years now, there has been a movement among evangelicals who are concerned about racism (especially on a religious/personal level) and have developing the concept of "race reconciliation". In her piece which appeared in Colorlines, Devil's in the Details, Andrea Smith looks very critically at this "Race Reconciliation" movement and points out their basic limitation:

While progressives generally understand that racism is a set of institutional practices that reinforce racial prejudices and maintain white supremacy, evangelicals generally understand racism as individual prejudices which can be transformed through the saving grace of Jesus Christ. Evangelism is presented as the solution to racism. To quote the Christian Coalition, "We don't have a skin problem in this country, we have a sin problem." Ironically, this failure to acknowledge any sweeping material or ideological basis for racism enables periodicals to print articles on the evils of racial prejudice and then follow them up with calls to repeal affirmative action, support immigration moratoriums, and oppose multicultural curriculums in schools.

I definitely think Andrea Smith's analysis rings true as far as it goes. At the same time, in the context of Michael Lerner's ideas about developing a spiritual left, she comes off a bit harsh. And it might be better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

For example, consider Alexis Spencer-Byers, a white-Asian evangelical Christian and author of Urban Verses. I actually sort of know her. She's the person who first introduced me to the phrase "race reconciliation" (at least in an Christian context) by many years ago giving me a copy of More Than Equals: Racial Healing for the Sake of the Gospel by Spencer Perkins and Chris Rice. After graduating from college, she moved to Jackson, Mississippi and has been there for about ten years, to be part of a multi-racial religious community which lives out the idea of race reconciliation.

So on the one hand, I would say that Andrea Smith is totally justified in criticizing those who would replace a serious understanding of and struggle against institutional racism with easy slogans like "We don't have a skin problem, we have a sin problem". But on the other hand, some evangelicals who wave the banner of "race reconciliation" have definitely demonstrated a real commitment to the idea through the choices they have made in life.

In terms of building a "Spiritual Left", instead of demonizing the "race reconciliation" movement outright, it might be more productive to work constructively with them, tap into their energy, and encourage them to probe more deeply on the causes and effects and manifestations of racial inequality. At the same time, those Leftists who tend to downplay matters of the heart could probably learn a few things from the encounter as well.


brownfemipower said...

hey abdul, i like this post!!! (i wonder why??? could it be that you are discussing my idol???? ;-)

Seriously tho, I think that the peice you examined of Andy's is not really reflective of her "official" stance on the christian right...she had this peice:

published in the ann arbor mag "critical moment" in which she discusses exactly your critique of the "devil' peice.

Also, like I mentioned to you, i have taken several of her classes before and in most of them, she underscores how important it is to find ways to coalese with what we traditionally think of (as progressives) as our "enemy"--for example, I did a paper on how mexicans could possibly start a movement for reparations from spain, and one of the major comments she had was that the people who would most support a movement like that would be what I would consider to be "enemies" of the cause, the Christian right (specifically, pat buchanan)--the logic being that if mexico was given reparations for colonialism, it would become a more economically stable nation, and as such, mexicans could stop immigrating north. I had to use my paper to find a way that I could reconcile my movements need for big player support, while at the same deal with the fact that my big player support would come in the form of racist white men who want mexicans to stay out of the US.

in short, i'm agreeing with your critique, but also saying that I think andy would support your critique as well!!! ;-)

i'm glad you're grappling with her...

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I know you are talking about more meaningful constructive coalitions, but one of my "favorite" examples of such devil's bargains is hearing that Marcus Garvey had actually had conversations with the Klan to work on re-patriation. Garvey wanted Black people to go back to Africa. The Klan wanted Black people to go back to Africa. And so they were like "bet... let's talk"

brownfemipower said...

see, and that's the thing, I don't *think* I could create an alliance with the KKK, but andy talks quite a bit about how in not shutting off racists as potential allies, Native people have been very often able to eventually get the same people who throw rocks at Natives and call them squaws and say things like 'save a fish, spear a squaw' to eventually turn around and become allies. The CR also has helped to get land returned to native people, and activelly works against mandetory drug sentencing. I think that andy is more offering a critique of the unapologetically racist folks who are using religion to further their own racist agenda (hm. sound familiar???) ;-)
do you think you could ever form an alliance with the likes of the KKK or Pat Robertson? (brownfemipower shivers)