This panel discussion of "The Religion of White Rage" was held November 2 with the book’s three editors, as part of the Center for the Study of World Religion's series on “Race, Religion, and Nationalism.” This book sheds light on the phenomenon of white rage, and maps out the uneasy relationship between white anxiety, religious fervor, American identity, and perceived black racial progress. Among other things, the book examines the sociological construct of the “white laborer,” whose concerns and beliefs, this book argues, can be understood as religious in foundation. The book argues further that white religious fervor correlates to notions of perceived white loss and perceived black progress.
Stephen C. Finley, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and African & African American Studies and Director of the African & African American Studies Program at Louisiana State University. He is co-editor of authored Esotericism in African American Religious Experience: “There Is a Mystery”… (with Margarita Guillory and Hugh Page Jr, Brill, 2014) and author of the monograph, In and Out of This World: Material and Extraterrestrial Bodies in the Nation of Islam (Under contract with Duke University Press).
Biko Mandela Gray, Assistant Professor of Religion at Syracuse University. He is working on his first monograph, called Black Life Matter (under contract with Duke University Press), wherein he turns to those lost to state-sanctioned violence in order to theorise blackness and religion as critical sites for subject-formation. He has published articles in Religion Compass and Journal of Africana Religions, and he has an upcoming article that will be published in Correspondences on the relationship between blackness and mysticism in the study of Western Esotericism.
Latrice Martin, Professor in African and African American Studies and the Department of Sociology at Louisiana State University. Dr. Martin is also the Erich and Lee Sternberg Honors Professorship, LSU’s Faculty Athletics Representative, and Chair of the College of Humanities and Social Science Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Additionally, Dr. Martin is President of Research for ABIS (Advancement of Blacks in Sports). Her research interests include race and ethnicity, racial wealth inequality, black asset poverty, and the sociology of sports. Dr. Martin is the author or editor of more than 20 books. She has two forthcoming books: Introduction to Africana Demography (Brill Publishers) and America in Denial (SUNY Press).
My name is Charles Stang. And I'm the director of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard Divinity School. Welcome to this very special event. The latest in our series on race, religion, and nationalism. It's an honor and a privilege to welcome professors, Stephen C. Finley, Biko Mandela Gray, and Lori Latrice Martin to speak about their new book, The Religion of White Rage, Religious Fervor, White Workers, and the Myth of Black Racial Progress recently published by Edinburgh University Press.
Allow me to say a brief word about this center series on race, religion, and nationalism, and how this book fits into it. Several years ago, Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, helped us inaugurate this series with a lecture entitled Claiming God's Peace When Whiteness Stands Its Ground.
We've seen recently just how much whiteness is standing its ground but also the many brave souls who stood theirs. Some have paid with their lives for that stand, and this series is a tribute to them. The series responds to the fact that across the world today we witness an alarming rise in old nationalisms, each of which deploys overtly or covertly the rhetoric of racial and religious hierarchy.
We see this happening most acutely right here in the United States where white Christian nationalism has a firm foothold in our federal government. This series at the center seeks to critically examine this phenomenon. We want to ask such questions as, to what degree does religion fuel racialized nationalism?
In our American context how does Christianity support white nationalism? And to what degree is white nationalism itself a sort of religion with its own myths, rituals, and ways of life? It's that last question, white nationalism as itself a kind of religion, that I believe this book, The Religion of White Rage, begins to address.
According to the publisher's page this book sheds light on the phenomenon of white rage and maps out the uneasy relationship between white anxiety, religious fervor, American identity, and perceived Black racial progress. Contributors to the volume examine the sociological construct of the white laborer whose concerns and beliefs can be understood as religious and their foundation.
The contributors uncovered that white religious fervor correlates to notions of perceived white loss and perceived black progress. I look forward to hearing our three speakers walk us through some portion of this argument. So let me introduce them very briefly. Longer bios can be found on our website.
Stephen C. Finley is associate professor of religious studies and African and African-American studies and the director of the African and African-American studies program at Louisiana State University. Biko Mandela Gray is assistant professor of religion at Syracuse University. And Lori Latrice Martin is professor in African and African-American Studies at the Department of Sociology at Louisiana State University.
Let me conclude my remarks by reminding you of a satirical news story from November 11, 2012. That's almost exactly eight years ago. That is immediately after the presidential election in which Barack Obama was re-elected.
Now to call this a news story isn't quite fair. It's from the Onion, so it's a spoof. A satire. The headline from this 2012 satire read quote, "After Obama victory, shrieking white hot sphere of pure rage is the early GOP front runner for 2016."
It's not so funny in retrospect. Maybe it wasn't even funny then. But I remember thinking that once again the Onion got it exactly right. Something we need to reckon with.
Now you can look up the fake news segment and watch it for yourself. There's plenty of satire of religion in it as well. But of course whatever you think of the piece never has the Onion been more prescient. Indeed the GOP did nominate a seething ball of white rage as their candidate four years ago, and he won the election if not the popular vote.
I'm not certain Donald-- I'm not certain Donald Trump is or was such a ball of white rage or whether he simply managed to channel and direct that energy like no other national politician in recent memory. But his demonization of the Central Park Five in the '80s would suggest that this is not just a recent and expedient political strategy.
Be that as it may, tomorrow and in the coming days and weeks, we will see if he triumphs once again or whether he can abide to be called by that label he so loathes. A loser. But even if he doesn't win, and democracy or whatever shadow of it we enjoy in this country lives another day, that same energy, that white rage, will persist and continue to make itself known and felt.
And in order to defuse it we will have to understand it, and for that am grateful for this book and for its authors. So here's how things will proceed. Each of our speakers will take the floor as it were, and thereafter we'll open it up first for discussion among the three of them and then for your questions.
I'll be going through the questions and posing them to the speakers, so please be patient and understand that we almost certainly won't get to all of the questions. But please also note that we keep a record of all the questions, and we always pass those on to the speakers after the event. So without further ado, please join me in welcoming Stephen, Biko, and Lori to the center.
Hello, everyone. I'm going to go first. I want to first-- and I'm sure that Lori and Finley will also thank you all as well. We are so thankful to be here. Thankful to Ariella Ruth and to Dr. Stang for allowing and inviting us here to have this talk with you all.
I'm going to say a couple of things. The way this is going to go, just to echo, I'm going to go for about 10 minutes or so. And then Dr. Finley's going to go, and then Dr. Martin's going to go. And then I'm going to have a bit of concluding remarks. Feel free, as a Professor Stang put it, to put your questions in the Q&A.
I want to start with two scenes, and then we'll get into my prepared remarks. Two scenes that came up for us within the past week.
The first scene, if you are not familiar, happened in New York City on the Governor Andrew Cuomo bridge. And what we saw-- this was just yesterday-- we saw a group of people, largely white largely supporting the current president, and his campaign, and his white supremacists anti-Black campaign. We saw them hold up a bridge.
And we saw no police, no batons, no violence, no pepper spray, no gas, no tear gas, none of these things. The disruptive shut down actions of a largely white mass of white people goes unchecked by law. Conversely in North Carolina we also saw a group of Black people, largely Black people march to the polls to go ahead and vote.
A few of them, so the story goes, actually stepped out into the street. And the police pepper sprayed many of those folks there. In addition to pepper spraying them there were small children who were marching to the polls.
And so police showed up to a group of largely what we would like to call peaceful protesters, peaceful marchers marching to the polls. And yet at the same time we had a group of largely disruptive what we would call in other circumstances violent white people stop up a bridge and hold up traffic.
What's striking to us is not that one is understood as an act of state sanctioned violence or even that the other one is left quiet but rather that the ones that were on the bridge-- and I'm saying this upfront before we get into my prepared remarks-- they were deemed neither peaceful nor violent.
What happened with those white folks on that bridge was just the state of affairs. What that ultimately means is that the two events are consistent with one another. One group of people actually do not need to be policed because their rage, their frustration, their anger is legitimate.
And the other group of people who did not express rage at all, whose rages may be articulated as illegitimate according to Deborah Thompson was visited by state sanctioned folks. And so this actually is the genesis of the ideas for this book. I'm going to transition to some of my prepared remarks now.
As we sit on the precipice of another election it might be good to begin by saying that the idea for the religion of white rage came in the wake of another election 2016. Right after 2016. But it wasn't because of Donald Trump. While what Dubois calls quote, unquote, the other world sobbed uncontrollably at the election of another white man, the three of us weren't primarily upset about the results. We expected them.
We might have been a bit surprised that the majority of white women voted for him, but for reasons that will hopefully become clear later that too wasn't that surprising. Truth is though we didn't edit this text because of Trump or his followers but instead because of his opposition.
It wasn't the Tea Party turned MAGA zealots that piqued our scholarly interests. It was instead white liberals. It was the Democratic Party and the MSNBCs of the world, the Jake Tappers, and Rachel Maddows, and yes, even the Bernie Sanders. Those people who saw what happened in 2016 and thought-- and this is our point here-- that this was primarily or maybe even solely an economic problem.
We were told in 2016-- we are told that 2016 happened because quote, "white working class voters were upset about their lack of economic uplift." All of a sudden or perhaps not so suddenly given the long history of America and American religion, this person, the white worker was the focal point of American politics.
The liberal goal for 2020? Win that white person back. White worker or conversely white working class voter.
The more we listen to election autopsies and political analyses the more this term showed itself. White workers were everywhere filling discourses and shaping political strategy. It was their resentment not their whiteness but their lack of access to economic mobility that everyone said influenced 2016.
They were the focal point. And this wasn't limited to one particular political party or political orientation. Both the Republicans and the Democrats irrespective of their ideology were focusing on this particular person. This specific community of people.
It didn't matter that Black people had been dispossessed by the very work we carried out. All that mattered, all that matters, is this mythical white worker. The one who bootstraps himself-- and this gendered pronoun is intentional-- up to the top.
The story goes that the Democrats lost because they didn't favor this person. This white worker. And the GOP used this group to maintain its hegemonic and explicitly white supremacist grip on American social life. Both parties were attentive to this white person. This white worker whoever he or she was.
And neither party was attentive to the object of the so-called white workers resentment, namely Black people. It turns out that this wasn't about jobs or a failing economy. This was about the white workers resentment of Black progress.
By this time we had read Carol Anderson's text on white rage. We'd been reading Afro-pessimist's work. And we'd read our own colleagues in American religion. And the more we read, the more we thought about it, the more we realized this white resentment and this widespread preoccupation with said resentment exceeded reason and economic concerns.
This was something deeper, we thought. This was something religious. But then that initial thought was just a hunch, and then ironically enough in the wake of another SCOTUS confirmation we heard these words from someone else.
Less than two weeks ago, Dr. Ford publicly accused me of committing wrongdoing at an event more than 36 years ago when we were both in high school. I denied the allegation immediately, categorically, and unequivocally. This confirmation process has become a national disgrace.
The committee has replaced advice and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July there has been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything to block my confirmation. For just over 44 minutes, Brett Kavanaugh laid out a case for himself not simply for his nomination to the Supreme Court but also for his personal character.
His statement was an apologetic, a defense of his goodness, his innocence in the face of accusations of sexual violence. Kavanaugh, in short, was pissed. He was maligned, he told the committee. And it was largely Democrats fault.
Choked up and almost screaming at times, Kavanaugh's vigorously and some might claim-- Kavanaugh vigorously and, some might claim, violently defended himself. And as we know now, it worked. A few days later, Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court kicking and screaming his way to the highest judicial appointment in the country.
This, of course, wasn't the first time a white man had manipulated political processes to gain power. From the Watergate scandal to Willie Horton ads, white men have pulled racialized strings of benefit and privilege in order to gain and maintain political office. In this regard, Kavanaugh's confirmation wasn't surprising.
But Kavanaugh's performance of rage was striking. His screaming, ranting, and raving had everything to do with the myth-- and this is where we get into the religion religious part here-- had everything to do with the myth of the hard working American male whose success is his own and no one else's.
And as such, Kavanaugh laid out an emotional case for himself as the victim. He was clear that it was he not Dr. Ford who was maligned. He, Kavanaugh, the man whose hard work had placed him just a short distance away from sitting in one of the highest seats of power in the United States.
And I quote him one more time, "Senator, I was at the top of my class academically. Busted my butt in school. Captain of the varsity basketball team. Got into Yale College. When I got into Yale College, got in to Yale Law, worked my tail off."
Claims such as these, claims used multiple times during Kavanaugh's statement, do not simply serve to legitimate Kavanaugh as qualified for a SCOTUS seat. They also invoke a myth. A religious origin story. A narrative of symbols and tropes which are central to the formation of the United States.
This is the myth of the bootstrapper, the hard worker, the white worker who works hard in order to achieve success. Woven into Kavanaugh's effective circulation of anger and performative despair was a religious conviction. A conviction steeped in what Charles Long might call an ultimate orientation to what the primacy and normativity of individual grit turns success.
I'm going to skip down very briefly because I want us to get to a couple of things in terms of conceptual terrain before I pass it to Dr. Finley. What we do in this text after thinking with Kavanaugh and articulating his rage as a religious disposition steeped in the myth of the white worker, we have to define some terms. And so we define three terms that we think are important here for our conversation today.
The three terms are whiteness, rage, and white worker. I can't go into full detail, and perhaps you can talk about this more in the Q&A. But we'll offer brief descriptions of what we mean by each term. By whiteness, and this is important, we mean-- and I'm going to read it slowly because this is a long definition.
By whiteness we mean a racialized, social, affective, and religious norm that allows for manifold expressions of outrage at the perception that this norm would be challenged or dislodged. Whiteness is a racialized, social, affective, and religious norm that ironically legitimates rage when this norm is called into question.
Whiteness is an existential inheritance. An ontological entitlement whose benefits are conferred without merit and maintained without question. To be white then is to be gifted the possibility of not only shaping the world but also being entitled to whatever benefits the world provides.
That is, of course, until those not deemed as white start making and laying claim to the same benefits. When that happens whiteness throws temper tantrums. White people become enraged. And then we'll say this-- well, I'll say this briefly. This leads us into our discussion of rage.
Following Carol Anderson, we see white rage emerging as a response to perceived Black progress. We'll talk about that more in the Q&A in terms of the specificity of the Black. Anderson discusses this in policy terms, and we agree. But we also expand her work by providing an analysis of rage from affect studies.
Rage is not simply a reactive response, but also rage is its legitimation. White rage is an end unto itself. And lastly, as I've said before, we see the white worker as not simply a class of individuals or collective of individuals. We see them primarily as a mythical figure.
The white worker is a heuristic figure. A stand-in for the norm of whiteness that shows itself through rage. And I'm about to pass it over to my colleague, Steven Finley. Just want to say, if you get a chance to see the book, the book is broken out into two sections.
The first section articulates white rage in terms of a civil religion. The specific institutional elements that go into white rage largely. And then the second, these are-- and psychoanalytic work goes into that. This book is largely interdisciplinary. And then the second one is the issue of identity.
We think about the question of identity as a religious question in the second part of the book. And with that, I'm going to pass it over to Dr. Finley to take us into his chapter on, as a matter of fact, psychoanalytic approaches.
Thank you, Biko. My chapter is called Make America Great Again, Racial Pathology, White Consolidation, and Melancholia in Trump's America. I framed my chapter with three epigraphs. The first two from Frantz Fanon. "The Negro is a phobogenic object, a stimulus to anxiety."
Then, "I came into the world imbued with the will to find a meaning in things. My spirit filled with the desire to attain the source of the world. And then I found that I was an object in the midst of other objects."
And then finally Robert Hood. "Alternatively, why does Blackness suggest sexual allure in spite of the feelings that it conveys something negative?" In my chapter I was interested in an interpretation of whiteness in our contemporary moment, and I was intrigued by the matter of Blackness and objectification within the spectrum of American whiteness.
What is this phenomena that leads to police brutality? Why does Blackness occupy the bottom center of race relations in America? Why does whiteness consolidate during moments of perceived Black racial progress or desire for progress?
I was also interested in the meaning of and function of this phrase, make America great again, that Trump used and which Reagan used before him. And the responses to it, what I call white consolidation, that is illustrated in the rise of white nationalists, white supremacists, and militia groups. But it's neither limited to conservative groups nor specific demographics but has historically rallied all segments of white communities, including so-called liberals.
White communities come together across differences to maintain their position as subjects around whom the meaning of America and its institutions revolve. What was this all about? And why were Black people constituted and maintain this object within the gaze of whiteness?
These were vexing and perennial questions that grasped my attention, and I was usually not satisfied with the answers and extant scholarship at the intersection of philosophy of race, critical whiteness studies, and religious studies. Particularly when it seemed that scholars, not all but perhaps most, skipped right over the study of religion as having something important to say about the origins, meaning, and endurance of whiteness.
More to the point, my scholarly disposition and my intuition told me that this was a grave error. That religion is precisely the category that we want and need to reorient our thinking about whiteness in this age and beyond it to make a sense of it, which is why I recommend-- and this is a shameless plug-- that everyone in this symposium buy this book and look at the chapters closely.
Obviously, I think my chapter is important, but one will find amazing religious interpretations of the religion of white rage. To borrow a phrase from Jeffrey J. Kripal that I've used before, I employ a psychoanalytically informed history of religions approach to help unpack the issue of whiteness. And the chapter builds on scholarship in the history of religions and the psychoanalysis of race.
James Perkinson, who is trained in the history of religions and described his method as history of religions phenomenology, is one of the more important scholars in the history of religions for what I'm doing. Thus, I want to read from my chapter at this point. Perkinson's article, "The Ghost in the Machine, White Violence, Indigenous Resistance, and Race as Religiousness" seeks to give expression to a coherent notion of whiteness as religion and as religious.
Perkinson articulates what he calls a profile of whiteness which includes individual decisions, economic and political factors, affective moves, and cultural, gendered, and erotic modalities that culminate an interface with the world garnering and accumulating benefits while enacting violence on the world.
In my own words now but still from this chapter, what is religious about the whiteness that Perkinson is describing is that it is an aggregated complex of individual and collective relations of power, corporate networks, institutions, affects, cosmology, myths, representations, epistemes, politics, and economics that congeal in the meaning and status of the bodies of those who live, identify, and are perceived as white.
Which structure the world experiences and relations with and to an extent of others who are not perceived as white. Which function as the organizing interface with the world. In short, whiteness organizes, make sense of, and over determines reality. Back to my discussion.
Frantz Fanon represents another important aspect of my method. Perhaps this is my most significant interlocutor. Fanon and his "Black Skin, White Masks" offers a phenomenological and psychoanalytic insights, although I disagree with the point that he makes that it seems to me deserves scholarly intervention.
I return to this disagreement later as I return to an excerpt from my chapter. Here's what I say. I make two points from for Nolan's work as I interpret the religion of white rage in a psychoanalytic vocabulary of Frantz Fanon, which drew upon Freud, Lacan, Jung, Adler, and others.
Black bodies are phobogenic. That is white culturally constituted objects whose place must be maintained to protect whiteness from its irrational fear of contamination and loss. They are perceived and experienced as bodies that elicit fear and rage. Black bodies, that is.
And here are the two points that I developed from my reading of Fanon. First, the religion of white rage is characterized by the fear, disavow, and concealment of what is experienced as a homoerotic incursion of the Black world into the white world in which it understands itself in the passive position.
Fanon referred to this phobia as destructuration. What he intends here is the white desire and need to maintain the distinction between worlds. The whiteness needs the Black for its own existential articulation of its world and for its maintenance.
By destructuration, Fanon also had in mind the way that the presence of Blackness of the Black object threatened a particularly white cosmology and psychic structure that had at its center ironically and contradictorally a Black object. It is this apparent contradiction of desire and animus, of consumption and explication, of danger and attraction that is the sine qua non of the religion of white rage.
Another feature of this destructuration is that it is as experienced as homoerotic perhaps conceptualized in the androcentric configurations of the Oedipal complex or a critique of them, Fanon in my estimation intimates that white men envy Black men. Regarding the psychoanalytic notion of destructuration I'm interested in the homoerotic implications which appear in sublimated configuration and often coded, racialized, patriotic art forms most clearly seen in 19th and 20th century patriotic anthems, pledges, and cinema to be sure and emasculant militias and movements.
So that's my interpretation that's a form of sublimation sublimating this homoerotic energy. Fanon contends that the Black is eclipsed in these fantasies and reduced to a racist imago, which are then, I argue, sublimated in contemporary white cultural forms.
Second, whiteness is dependent on the Black object and experiences anxiety and irrational fear of its loss. This is a function and meaning of white consolidation. That's my term. That is to maintain Black as object and to protect whiteness from potential transversals and presumed contamination and to ensure the centered endurance of whiteness as a complex.
For this to be so it leads to negative binary meanings that it describes to Blackness, and whiteness does not exist outside of this relationship with Blackness and the greater world of color. Accordingly, this object other is phobogenic for white people, which Fanon casts, following other psychoanalysts, as a neurosis which is linked in my own words to a primary narcissistic object loss. In this case, a subjective insecurity through the absence of a mother.
I conceptualized mother here metaphorically as the absence of or loss of an atavistic conception of origins and belonging. Again, Biko talked about the myth of beginnings. In Freudian terms then this fixation with and need for a Black object is both regressive and erotic. That is a reversion to an early stage in development in which it is psychically invested and bonded, which is to say there is substantial investment of libidinal energy which would occupy an object catheix, the resolution of which has to be realized in order to move through human development healthily.
Instead whiteness is connected to the Black object. Its inability to emancipate Blackness or itself from Blackness because of the anxiety and irrational fear that accompanies the idea of losing its objects and the meanings that it projects onto it out of which its own identity of world emerges means that whiteness exists and indeed is a state of melancholia.
Melancholia prevails when one refuses to release an object on one's investments hence to engage in the process of de-idealization and de-cathexis. In this chapter I elaborate on this melancholia and its connection to Eliade's myth of eternal return since it seemed to me that the two are connected.
I want to note that the first section of my chapter is called, Something Old is New Again. Make America Great Again as a Call for White Consolidation and Mythic Return, which signals my interpretive move. Here's what I say in the chapter.
Whiteness is melancholic and therefore pathological because of a perpetual return to its myth of beginnings and its mythisized representation the white worker in times of perceived crisis and loss. Loss of its symbols, culture, world view, and the benefits therein.
Thus it desires to replace what it perceives as potentially lost with something new. The Black object. The ultimate symbol of the colonial age of conquest and civilization. In America this sense of beginnings is utterly and intersocially linked to the enslavement of African-Americans and the displacement of Native Americans.
To make America great again is therefore a melancholic trope. A cry for meaning and a mythological attempt to transverse time and space to re-enact and re-establish an exemplary model of life for white people. In this case, the Black object. In the case of the Black object whiteness refuses object relational substitution. A transitional object that might allow it to be something else. Something more developed and egalitarian.
Instead it hangs onto the Black object which it drags and dirties. It is tethered to it. It needs it. The fantasy to which make America great again point is, in fact, a myth of ill-eternal return. The call is quintessentially white and religious as the atavistic enactment of an archaic ontology which is characterized by a platonic structure in the attempt to render the mythic and the existential consummate.
In Freudian terms, it is a regression to an idealized state of existence. A narcissism which arrests white communal development because of its resistance passively or actively for racial progress. Returning to Fanon, I articulate my primary disagreement with his interpretation of the Black as object, which I articulated in my second point that whiteness is an irrational fear of the loss of the Black object upon which it is dependent.
Fanon doesn't grant that whiteness needs the Black object, and I strongly disagree. Therefore, I offer my chapter as an extension of an intervention into Fanonian psychoanalysis of race. His argument that the Black object is phobogenic a stimulus to anxiety would seem to imply that it is a necessary condition for the emergence and maintenance of whiteness.
Finally, some would argued that this chapter was a perfect arrangement for object relational. Theoretical interpretation of whiteness. Object relation's another form of psychoanalysis. And as a greater intervention into Fanonian psychoanalysis. And they would be right.
I do however signal that direction at several points in my chapter. I'll move quickly to my conclusion in which I locate the Black object within classical theory of religion. And here I build upon Charles H. Long's significations and Biko Mandela Gray's insights. I read my conclusion, which is entitled Black People as the Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans of the Religion of White Rage. A Conclusion.
Here's what I say. My chapter has contended that whiteness constructs Black people as objects which it needs for its own identity and existence. This whiteness then serves as a primary religious orientation. Whenever whiteness feels threatened, whenever it perceives a potential risk even if this threat is not quantitative or a factual reality that it might be de-centered cosmologically and in the culture thus relinquishing accumulation whiteness consolidates often across multiple indices of violence.
This perceived threat, consolidation, and repetition are structural aspects of the religion of white rage. Moreover, this structure always includes a narrative retrieval that cites the need for a return to a mythical space of white utopia. Make America great again is such a call to retrieve a myth of beginnings in service of this contemporary enactment in the world.
In other words, this structure is one of ritual and myth. I then interpret these phenomena using an extending Fanonian psychoanalytic analysis. My conclusions were about the nature of the Black object upon which whiteness depends. First from Fanon, the Black object is experienced as an irrational fear of destructuration which is read as homoerotic. And I ask you to think of the white militaristic responses.
And second, whiteness suffers an irrational fear at the potential loss of the Black object. That whiteness is ambivalent about the Black object, which many writers in my chapter-- including Fanon, Robert Hood, and Martin Luther King Junior who I didn't go into today, and James Perkinson noted-- frames the thrust of my final observation.
That is to say the Black object is regarded with attraction and repulsion, desire and disdain, hatred and allure, fear and fascination. And I want to suggest that this is the same structure that appears in the classical theory of religion of Rudolf Otto. Otto argues in his classic, The Idea of the Holy, that religious experience is sui generis. That it is irreducible to any other category.
It is a thing in and of itself. It is a state or condition that is wholly other from something other than the natural order. Because it is not rational, neither rational nor irrational, it cannot be defined. It can only be approximated through symbols or idiographs which can only point to-- point the way to it but can never capture what religion is or this experience of the numinous.
Otto says, quote, "It cannot be expressed by means of anything else just because it is so primary and elementary a datum in our psychical life and therefore only definable through itself." Close quote. The primary datum of religious consciousness is this non-rational feeling of the numinous which leads to annihilation of the self, quote, "submerged and overwhelmed by its own nothingness in contrast to that which is supreme above all creatures." Close quote.
One feels only one's creatureliness as the numinous is felt as an objective presence outside of the self. Otto argues that this feeling of the numinous, this irreducible religious experience, has a structure. In his words, mysterium tremendum et fascinans. Fear and fascination, awfulness, terror, and attraction. The same psychic structure. In which whiteness experiences the Black object.
I conclude with this observation. Whereas in Otto schema the numinous, the irreducible datum of the religious is felt as an object outside of the self which annihilates itself we find in whiteness a metaphysical inversion of Otto in which the mysterium tremendum et fascinans becomes the Black object.
Like the numinous, it is experienced as an objective reality external to itself. Whiteness needs therefore the Blackness as a metaphysical principle though it is attempting to produce a metaphysics where it is the principle of being itself. The Black object which whiteness needs and upon which it is dependent therefore becomes the source, perhaps the source sui generis, for the religious consciousness and religious meaning of whiteness. That's my conclusion.
I intend to unpack the structure in the rest of this chapter of Whiteness as Religious as it Appears in Relation to the Black Object Which it Creates and Maintains. And this is for us to make America Great Again, Racial Pathology, White Consolidation, and Melancholia in Trump's America. And perhaps the question and answer period will allow us to fill some of the gaps that appear in the chapter, which I couldn't adequately cover here. I'll now turn it over to Dr. Martin.
Well, good evening to everyone. I'm going to talk briefly about the chapter that I was a solo author of for this edited volume. And I say that to say that it was a pleasure writing a couple of chapters with Dr. Finley and Dr. Gray. So we collaborated on the introduction and the conclusion, which are very powerful.
But I'm going to talk about the book chapter that I wrote that's called American Uncivil Religion, The Defense of the White Worker and Responses to the NFL Protests. And I'll start by saying that I still find it interesting that many people think that sports are just a form of entertainment, and they don't necessarily see it as political.
But historically from the days of slave jockeys until today, we can see how there are so many connections between sports and politics and that sports are best understood as a social institution. And by that it means that sports tries to communicate to us various messages about society, and those messages might be race. Those messages might be gendered, et cetera.
And so we shouldn't be surprised when we see all the isms that impact the broader society show up in sports. And so it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that in 2016, in the summer of 2016 shortly after the killing of Alton Sterling here in Baton Rouge where I am and also shortly thereafter of Philando Castile in Minnesota that you'd have Colin Kaepernick, who at the time was the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, decide that he wanted to draw attention to ongoing racial injustices in the US, including the killing of black men and women by mostly white police officers or ordinary citizens.
And so as many of you may recall although it's customary to stand during the National anthem, he first decided to sit and, later after having some conversations with people who were formerly in the military and also had some experience in the NFL, decided that it'd be more respectful to kneel.
But of course that didn't satisfy many people. We know how that ended. Once the season was over he was unable to find a team and still hasn't played since then. But what I found what was interesting was looking at the responses of the largely white fans of the NFL.
And I found it very curious that in terms of the public discourse as well as in the scholarly treat of it that the focus was on whether or not it was appropriate for Kaepernick and other people who later joined him in the protest-- whether it was appropriate for him to kneel or not, and also whether or not he should receive sanctions, and whether other people should receive negative sanctions for doing so.
So I thought it was really curious that there are a host of other more important questions as I saw it that weren't being addressed. And so, of course, at the first one, Martin Luther King and others have talked about how much they wished that people would focus on what leads people to want to protest and want to engage in direct action instead of debating about whether it's timely or not.
And so that's where my interest came in from this particular chapter. And then I'll also say too as a way of confession that as a sociologist I've only understood religion as a social institution and measured it in terms of church attendance, and contributions, and forms of tithing, and things of that nature.
And so I think it's really important to read outside of your discipline and to be in conversation with people outside of your discipline. So I'm so happy that I'm Dr. Finley mentioned Charles Long, who we actually dedicated the book to and passed away as we were in the process of creating this.
But it was really important for me to understand that we need to think about religion more broadly. And so I've learned from reading some Charles Long that he describes religion as an orientation in the way that one understands their place in the world. And that made so much sense to me then when I started connecting these NFL protests.
And I was also reading about American Civil religion which is a concept that Robert Bellah set forth in the late 1960s. And I was just really shocked that not only did he abandon it himself because of a lot of the flak and pressure that he received that other people haven't found it particularly useful.
And for me it just made sense to connect American Civil religion with this fear of Black progress and what I call a white religious shock. And so I start looking at American Civil religion more deeply. And those of you that are familiar with it and for you that are not, Bellah basically argues that he sees American Civil religion as on par with any other religion or any other world religion.
And he argues that it should be treated with the same seriousness. He doesn't think that it's just another form of Christianity which some people might mistakenly argue. But he says that it has its own set of rituals, of ceremony, of beliefs, and so forth.
And so he did an analysis of some of the founding documents to point to his argument that you have this marriage between American prosperity and the will of God, for example, and that Americans, specifically white Americans, are co-workers, if you will, with God and making sure that America is the great nation that God predestined for it to be.
And so he Bella talks about the Constitution. And he talks about the Declaration of Independence. He does an analysis of presidential speeches.
He says that the swearing in of a new president or of a re-elected president is one of the most important ceremonies in American Civil religion and highlights the president as the priest, if you will, of this civil religion. And so I wanted to explore that more deeply. And so I do that in the chapter.
And in doing so I think that when we look at these protests within the context of American Civil religion and linking it with the fear of Black progress and this disorientation that white people tend to feel when they think that Black people are getting ahead to their disadvantage, we can see how and why what Dr. Finley described happens where you have this consolidation of whiteness, where it takes away differences based upon income, and education, religious affiliation, even political affiliation.
And so you'll find that with these protests if someone takes a knee you'll have individuals who will break out in a chant of USA. You'll find that after these protests that some who are characterized as white workers were burning jerseys for Colin Kaepernick and others.
And then we heard across the board calls for athletes even today to just shut up and play. And so that's not a coincidence. And it goes to the point that Dr. Gray mentioned before and I think Dr. Finley also touched upon, and that is this issue of legitimate rage.
Like, who has the right to be not only just be angry but to be enraged, which is something different? And I was telling Dr. Finley before as I recently led a discussion for the athletic department of Eddie Glaude's book, Democracy in Black, and I started reading Being Again, Glaude's book about James Baldwin.
And he talks a lot about rage. And for those of you that know James Baldwin, if you look at him in terms of his stature and how he carried himself you would not necessarily see someone who's in rage. But when you read his work you feel every bit of it.
And just as Biko was describing the people who went to vote it may have looked very calm, but I'm sure they're very upset about how COVID has ravaged their communities and how it's impacting them financially. And so for white people who are under this myth that's perpetuated by American Civil religion they don't see that as legitimate rage, but they do see it as legitimate-- for example, we tell them that they have to stay at home, and they can't go to in places of business.
And so we saw that which we didn't get a chance to right about here, of course, because it happened as we were later in the production of the book. But we can also see the evidence of that white rage in places like Michigan where you have largely white men that are in the face of law enforcement officials on state property to shouting them down, and nothing happens as opposed to peaceful Black protesters who might be fighting against social injustices, who as we've mentioned before are pepper sprayed if not worse.
And so I just note that while Bellah talks about a variety of different trials or times when he felt as though America felt that there self-- white America in particular felt that their self-image and self-determination was being threatened that they tried to change course.
And so he talks about important points like the American Revolution. He talks about the Civil War, and he also talks about the turbulent 1960s. And to that I would add the 9/11 and the period that followed that. And then I also talk about the Great Recession and the election of President Obama and then, as I mentioned just a few moments ago, about the stay at home orders.
And so I thought it was curious that while I talk a lot about race and center race in those moments that Bellah and others have not. But that hasn't been a major criticism of his work, and I think it is important. And one of the things that I think is also very central to this book project is how we see the connection between race and religion and not seeing them necessarily as distinct concepts but as interdependent. And so that's really key.
And then lastly, I'll just say that I like to create typologies. And I think that there is a relationship between one's adherence to American Civil religion and their racial consciousness. And so I try to think about, and I do in this chapter, what that might look like.
And so I developed four different categories. And I'll just throw out the names now, and then if there is interest in learning more about them I'll be happy to share that during the Q&A. But one I call white priestly preservationist. The other is called well-meaning whites.
And then there are race contrarians and then Black activists. And this I draw from all the functions of American Civil religion of which there are four. But the two that I think are really critical for understanding reactions to NFL protest by largely white fans from the White House to Main Street. Let's be clear about that.
Speaking of consolidation I focus on the priestly which looks at America and America can do no harm. It's the greatest place, and there's no need for change as opposed to the prophetic where you have people who are constantly challenging where we are and where we ought to be. Dr. Gray?
Thank you, both, for sharing your ideas and your chapters. And I'm going to wrap up just briefly on two points. One is from my chapter, A Set of Points-- or from my chapter. And then we're just going to wrap this thing in a bow very briefly.
I don't want to say too much about mine for the sake of time. I do want us to get to the Q&A, so we'll get there relatively quickly. But just want to say that I wrote a chapter. If we're talking about rage in terms of civil religion or talking about-- and Finley and I have had these conversations about the kind of performance of white consolidation as the attachment to a bad blanket like Linus' blanket.
So if you have a psychoanalytic approach that Dr. Finley's giving us in the Civil religion approach, that Dr. Martin's given us I have a philosophy of religion approach. And I just want to say a few things before we wrap up. One, we have to keep in mind that somewhere between 52% to 54% of white women voted for Trump in 2016.
That is not confusing. I mean, that should not be surprising. That should not be surprising for at least two reasons.
One, white women have always been articulated as the normatively gendered woman in the United States. The way that they do this-- and this is just me talking about my chapter, and then we can get on out of here. The way that they do this is by displacing the fear, and concern, and the violence that they have onto Black people.
We call them Karens now. When this book was being written we didn't call them Karens. They had specific nicknames.
So we had Barbecue Becky, and Permit Patty, and Corner Store Caroline. And all three of these white women articulated a structure of subject formation. Of subject legitimation that would occur through their whiteness and their gender.
I'll say this just very briefly. The very act of calling the cops on Black people whether the Black person be a man, a woman, a non-binary, or transgender person. When a white woman does that she invokes the history of Victorian femininity and therefore forms herself as a normatively gendered subject in the United States. Why does this matter?
Because often what happens in the wake of these performances of gender, what happens is many of these white women say I'm sorry, and they apologize. And what they do when they say I'm sorry and they apologize, they actually end up legitimating their own rage and again their own normative gender through the apology itself, such that there is no way to critique or push past them as a woman in those particular moments.
To make this very personal and very brief, if I were to say this-- if I were to critique a white woman, maybe a white woman colleague of mine, it is difficult for me to do that in large part because it could be argued that I'm being sexist. And this is a very difficult conversation to have in large part because the question that shows up in that moment is whether or not I'm actually engaging in a particular sexist action or if I'm being articulated as a threat to this particular normatively gendered white woman in front of me.
I'll leave it right there. I know that was probably a lot. And I know people are going to have questions about that. I'll leave it right there.
I've mentioned my chapter just to say that this book is interdisciplinary that it is trying to understand not simply white rage but white rage as a religious disposition and trying to do this in a way that places this issue of the centrality, the uniqueness as Afro-pessimists might say, of the Black is socially dead at the center of American religious discourses.
And with that, we will say thank you. We appreciate all of you all for staying with us and kicking it with us. And we look forward to the Q&A. I'm passing it back to you, Dr. Stang.
Thank you. OK. Thank you all three of you so much. And I think what we want to do is actually I'll allow you three an opportunity to be in conversation. And then we'll come with some questions from the audience or perhaps one of my own. But is there anything-- before we do that, is there anything you want to ask each other?
Yeah. Plus, I want to make Biko do most of the talking. So I have a question for Biko. Biko, when I conceptualized my chapter it was largely an intuitive interpretation of the scholarship I have read. And it wasn't a quantitative piece or anything like that.
Since then you've engaged in a really deep and rich history of Western thought. And particularly you've tracked the object through Descartes and Hegel. And you said that my intuition about the Black object connected to that that there was something to that. You thought that your study of Western philosophy made it a stronger argument. I'd like to hear actually a little bit more about that connection.
You're going to put me on the spot, huh?
This is how we're doing it today. I would say a couple of things just to get us started. The first thing I'll say is at least for me if you're going to be trained in philosophy you got to read the big folks. So you've got to read Descartes. You've got to read Kant. You've got to read Hegel. You've got to read all these folks.
And one of the things that Black Studies shows us, but also just a sort of straightforward reading of these philosophers is all of them have a preoccupation with the object as the genesis of thought. So none of them-- so if you think about Descartes, Descartes cannot think without matter.
He can't do it. There's no such thing as the formation of an object outside of its distinction from and therefore relation to matter. Kant starts his first critique by saying that actually thought begins in its sensation or its relation to the object. And Hegel does the same thing.
And so my hunch here is, and this is just how I think about it, all of these thinkers have not simply contributed to Western philosophy. They have also contributed to the politics of whiteness, particularly whiteness as a normative category in the West as the sort of intellectual and racial norm of the West.
And so what you notice very clearly is that these thinkers who have made whiteness normative are preoccupied with something other than themselves. They cannot live, they cannot think, they cannot move, they cannot function as philosophers without engaging with this thing that they call the object, whether that's res extensa, or [GERMAN] for Heidegger the being, or whatever the thing however you want to frame it.
I bring that up to say that in the West specifically who has been the primary site of the object, unfortunately this does not agree with the Afro-pessimists on this. There's only one figure, and that figure is the slave. The person who was transmuted not from person into just object but the person transmuted-- the one that is transmitted from person into commodity.
So you literally live as a thing as the object that in engenders thinking. And if you think about it look at what the figure of the slave is generated in the West. Life insurance. Just basic things that we use on a regular everyday perspective. The figure of the slave is generated life insurance.
Slave owners did not buy life insurance for themselves. They bought it for their enslaved property. Guess what they also engendered in this particular case? They also engender things like upgrades. And I've said this in another talk.
The cotton gin is not a new thing in 1794. It's actually an upgrade to an iPhone. It makes the thing that's working, a.k.a. the slave, much more effective. Number three, human resources placing a price on a life, we call those salaries now. Back in the day they were literally just prices.
I don't know if we understood. I don't know if you can understand contemporary human resources without understanding the objectification of particular Black folks. Not particularly Black folks. The justification that happened to the figure of the slave that generates the multiple forms of thinking that happen in the West.
And this is all on the basis in my mind, and I'm drawing from at Frank Wilderson here. I'm drawing from a whole bunch of other thinkers in terms of-- this is all in my mind. Saidiya Hartman here. All in my mind an articulation of Blackness as the object.
So that's where we already see that attachment, and it is an attachment. It's an epistemological one. Philosophers can't leave it alone.
And I think that attachment shows up primarily in Black people, specifically Black bodies. You muted, boss. Go ahead. Go ahead. Yeah.
No, I was just saying thank you.
Yeah. That may be-- so all of this to say, I'm still working through this, but yeah, that's my thought for right now. And the only thing that I can say in terms of religion is-- and I'm going to put this back to you. And then I want to get to Lori's discussion of civil religion because a couple of things.
I will say this-- I-- and I've said this offline. Every time I read your chapter I think of, like-- I don't know if you all have watched, Peanuts, like the Charlie Brown cartoon. If you haven't, watch Peanuts. I mean it's like. And there's this grimy little kid named Linus, and he has this nasty ass blanket.
I mean, it is a disgusting thing. But Linus is not Linus without the blanket. But I hear you saying Finley that, like, it is not simply that Black people are the blanket to white people that they're attached to it that way but that this blanket also causes them tremendous amount of anxiety and fear at the same time. So I'd love to hear more about that.
So you're moving into the realm of what I signaled before as object relations theory. And so again I'm talking about the object, and object relations theory is sort of the study of relationships and their representations, which is rooted in sort of a pre-Oedipus psychoanalysis. The attachments s mother and so on.
And that's precisely what I'm arguing. And what I signaled in my chapter was that there's something about being tethered to Blackness that inhibits white development because you're tethered to this Blackness. And so there's more work to be done there in terms of object relations, but that's precisely what I'm saying.
I love that. I love that psychoanalytic. We could talk about this all day. I'm thinking about Hortense Spillers and the Freudian oceanic feeling. But we've got to get to some other stuff. Lori, if you can just do me one favor. And I'd love to hear how you would interpret this.
Do you see the National anthem-- and it's hopefully this opens out to another question. So let me reframe it. We all can see the National anthem during NFL Gomes as a kind of ritual. My question to you is, how should we understand the responses to kneeling or protest of that anthem from fans, whoever else? Like, how should we understand that in terms of civil religion? That's the question that I've got for.
Well, one thing I'll say is that it's clear that it's not about the anthem. It's the support of Black people. And it's about calling anti-Black sentiment out.
And so we think about other people, other athletes, for example, amateur as well as professionals who have protested in the past during the anthem. We can go back to one of my favorite periods in 1968 with the Mexico City Olympics and think about Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They raised their fists in the air and wore certain things to signal different justice issues.
And then we can fast forward a bit and look at former Chris Jackson and when he protested during the anthem after they made him come out of the locker room. All he did was pray silently, and that was a problem for people. And so when we see Colin Kaepernick, for example, take a knee, then some people find that to be a problem.
And so again we can clearly see that it's not so much about the anthem. What's the question we really should be asking is why it's even part of these ceremonies. And we should think back to when they actually became wedded. The sports along with the National anthem.
And I've been giving presentations to many of the teams at LSU on this very subject. And so I'm just trying to remind them that it's not a coincidence that you start to see the National anthem being played around World War 1 and people are associating it with a sense of patriotism and wanting to uplift the spirits of Americans, who were a lot of people who are losing their lives.
But they were thinking about white people in the military because Black people in the military were still getting it. They were attacked and were led to race riots against Black people. They faced a lot of discrimination at home and abroad.
And we don't even have to get into the lyrics of the National anthem, and how anti-Black it is, and its references to slavery, or the fact that the author of it was not very favorable towards Black people or indigenous people either. So there are lots of important questions that don't get answered when people want to just have the attention on why people are doing it, or should it happen or not.
But we should be asking broader questions. Why is it that it's OK for everybody to put on pink during breast cancer awareness? But when we say let's wear a Black Lives Matter patch, then it's like, whoa, I don't know if we want to-- if we can all do that. Maybe everyone doesn't agree.
And so that would be my response to it. It's never been about the anthem. It's not about the anthem. It's about the fact that we're talking about making a more equitable and just society that values Black people in the same way that it values white people, and some people are not comfortable with that.
I'm going to pass is over to you, Dr. Stang because we could talk all day.
Yeah. That's great. And judging from the comments some people think would prefer that you three talk all day. There's a lot a lot of positive feedback going on here, but I'm going to I'm going to-- an observation and a question embedded here. Here's the observation.
Regarding the blanket metaphor, this comes from Sianda. Sianda writes, the blanket seems to function like an addiction. You need the object to feel peace even though it is the very object that robs you of your peace. And the question that Sianda puts is for you, Biko. Dr. Gray, I'd like you to linger on white female fragility and specifically the weaponization of white female tears in the midst of confrontation.
You go first, Finley.
Well, she asked you.
Yes, she asked you, Biko.
I'll just say that she's pushing the direction I was going in my chapter, which I have to take up later, that object relations theory is really important in the interpretation of whiteness. And I don't know that any such work exists particularly at the intersection of religion. I'll just say that and thank her for that question.
Sianda, you're trying to get me in trouble. I'm just going to put it out there right now. You're trying to get me in trouble, but I will be as frank as I can be.
The development of Karens is precisely the development of a certain normatively gendered subject. I'm bringing this up because what we saw in the 2016 election and what we're seeing even now is a certain kind of protection for white women as normatively gendered subjects as what Judith Butler might call the subject of feminism.
Why is this important? Because when white women show up as the normatively gendered subject or as the subject of feminism whatever they do gets legitimate. So if we think about this at a basic level, think Amy Cooper versus Christian Cooper. Think about it in the first place.
And had this not been in the midst of a racial unrest in the country this would have been something an everyday situation. And so what I would say is that it is a weaponization that is normal, Sianda. That's what I really want to point out. White women are weaponizing their tears because they can and because it's expected that they do that.
And this isn't simply on the right either. This isn't simply conservative folks. Amy Cooper is a card carrying Democrat would probably say Black Lives Matter if you ask her. But what we see is that when a Black life enters the space of white, particularly white women of whiteness more generally, you get those sexual undertones that Finley talked about in terms of his chapter.
That all of a sudden questions of sexual violence, questions-- and I didn't want to go. I'm going to say it like this, and I'll be done because we can go down this road all day. I'll take Corner Store Caroline as a very brief example. Corner Store Caroline was a woman who was in a bodega in New York.
There was a little boy. He had his backpack on. Thomas Tank Engine. Whatever. He had been no older than eight.
He walks out. He brushes past this white woman as she's paying for something. His backpack touches her behind. His backpack touches her buttocks.
She says he grabbed her butt and proceeds to call the cops. She's able to do that because that's what normatively gendered women subjects are able to do. That's part of the logic of being a woman in the United States, which is to say that is part of the logic of being threatened by Blackness on the basis of basically your sex. Not so your gender. On the basis of your sex that's how you end up with that kind of weaponization.
So it's just it's this hypersensitivity that happens, that happened, that allows for these folks to weaponize it. That was a lot. Hopefully, that got closer to what you were you were asking, Sianda, because you're going to get me in trouble. People are going to be like, oh, I don't like white women. That's not the case. All I'm trying to say is that white women do some dirty things when it comes to as a category. Not individual white women but the notion of woman as a gendered category does some damage.
You're getting a very positive reaction from Sianda. Loved it. So well done. OK, here's another-- here's another question from the Q&A. And then I actually have a question. I want to take that prerogative to ask one of you all. This one's for Dr. Finley.
If whiteness is inherently melancholic and pathological can it ever evolve or actualize beyond its own pathology? Regarding Dr. Finley's comment in response to the blanket analogy. So I take the question. Can it evolve, or is it in its essence an inalienably melancholic and pathological?
So I'm going to say that it cannot but that thinking beyond whiteness is also an experience of existential terror. What lies beyond whiteness, and the benefits, and the mythologies, and so on. And that's part of what's going to make it so difficult to get beyond it.
Now I'm saying that whiteness is formed and maintained by all kinds of violence, which means that for me by its very nature it is a form of violence which is irredeemable. But there are some philosophers of race. Well, I won't say some. There's one who thinks that there is some other enactment of whiteness. And his name is escaping me. Vanderbilt. The guy who reviewed our article, Biko.
He wrote on race and philosophy. Lucius Outlaw. So Lucius Outlaw has a chapter in George Yancey's edited book called What White Looks Like, African-America Philosophers on the Whiteness Question. Well, he's arguing that it can be redeemed.
And so in some ways he's very Duboisian in that sense even more than Dubois that these categories should be conserved at all costs because there's ultimately something going on here. There's some denouement. There's something about the social groups that ultimately have something to lend to society that there's some end here.
But I just don't see it that way. I see it as just too mired. I'm going to be very Afro-pessimistic in that sense. I don't think it's a redeemable category. And I'll say this last thing. And to be white and to act in an anti-racist way or beyond that to me is to do something other than acting white.
OK, thank you. My question is for all three of you. And it's information, so forgive me if it's stumbling. I'm so struck by the opening analogy between what happened when these pro Trump folks stopped traffic on a bridge as opposed to the largely Black folks who were marching to vote and were pepper sprayed when they stepped off the sidewalk.
And this sense that-- well, Biko you said that there's a kind of consistent logic there, and I absolutely agree with you. But instances like that and many others that have been cited this evening are about inconsistencies. The inconsistent application of the law.
The contradictory positions people take. They're outraged when Colin Kaepernick takes a knee, but they don't mind when white men with assault rifles march through a town. These examples proliferate. And often I feel like people cite these inconsistencies as if at some point white supremacy is going to say something like, oh damn, you're right. That's inconsistent.
Whereas of course, that's not going to be the case. That's not how white supremacy is going to be persuaded of anything. And moreover I guess what I'm trying to say here is I'm wondering whether-- there's really two parts. It boils down to this.
These inconsistencies seem to me not a bug but a feature. And secondly that maybe that may be one of the ways we can think about white supremacy or whiteness more generally as a religion that it's not something that is looking to be accountable to consistency or reason.
Again, it's a bit of a stumbling question. But I guess I'm wondering about whether we're asked-- not we, meaning you three. I mean more generally whether we ask of whiteness and white supremacy that it will submit to logic that it absolutely has disowned from the beginning, namely consistency or maybe others? So I'm just curious if that resonates.
I'd like to defer to Biko and Lori. And then if I think there's something I can add I'll circle back.
Well, I just wanted to say a couple of things. One, that I think the choice of the term inconsistency is an interesting one because all the things that you mentioned, while they might appear inconsistent, they're actually very American. So we think about the history of America that it's based on a lot of contradictions and hypocrisies from wanting to get independence from a colonial ruler while you still are enslaving entire groups of people is the height of hypocrisy.
But again it is very American. And so if we look throughout American history, all these things that some people may point out as inconsistent or there being a gap between what America says it values and how it treats people, again it's actually quite American. And so that's an important thing to remember.
And Biko talked about the people on the Cuomo bridge. I was reminded of something when I saw that caravan in Texas that surrounded the Biden and Harris bus. I don't know-- you know, there is a lot of conversation about what that was about. It wasn't about voter suppression and so forth.
And for me I immediately thought about the Freedom Riders and the terror that they had to endure, and so we see all these examples of history repeating itself and being very violent and very anti-Black. And then the last thing I'll say and give Biko an opportunity to chime in is to the point about the pathology of whiteness and of white prejudice.
I invite people to go back and revisit E Franklin Frazier. He has a very powerful piece that he published in 1927 on this very subject. And so on to your point Dr. Stang when you referenced that Onion piece from 2012 I was immediately thinking, well, people go back and read Frazier from the early 1920s or they go and read Dubois from the early 1900s, they would think that they were talking about what's happening today.
So it's really important to read those thinkers who have given so much of themselves and helped in the development of this study of religion and a whole host of other areas. But Biko--
I'll try to keep this brief. I actually echo Lori's comments here. I don't know if they're inconsistencies so much as they may appear inconsistent to a certain lens. And so what I mean by that is is that the logic is the same. And so there's a book by Saidya Hartman called, Scenes of Subjection where she says that slavery actually doesn't end in 1863 or the subjection that is slavery doesn't end in 1863.
Actually, the law becomes the next tool of subjection for Black folks such that it's not being discriminantly applied. It's the function of the law to actually dispossess Black people of the possibility of life. That is the function.
And you can see this-- I teach my students is all time. Like, if you look at-- you can take state sanctioned violence, police shootings. If you look at the way that the ridiculous rate of police officers that get off after killing Black people, it is astounding. But if you think about it during the long duration of history, enslaved Black folks went to jail. But they're objects.
So how could they go to jail? How can they break the law if they're legally commodities? You're already looking at what we might understand as a contradiction in terms except that the whole logic of anti-Blackness and in this case white supremacist anti-Blackness is to maintain the social death of Black folks.
And so what that means specifically in our contemporary moment is you're looking at consistencies across political orientations, across sociocultural formations. If we could compare the NFL and say they're doing horrible things-- and someone put this in the Q&A. But if we look at the way that-- this is a Black person.
If we look at the way that Barack Obama told the NBA players to get back on the plantation and work you're seeing the same dispossession happen again, and again, and again. One looks nicer. One looks a bit more angry. And it's the same thing you see with MAGA supporters on the bridge in relation to folks who were in North Carolina.
The violence looks different, but the logic in promoting both of those things are the same, namely that whiteness is normative and that Blackness has to be at the very least contained if not outright eliminated if it gets to be unwieldy. Does that help to clarify, Stang?
Yeah, absolutely. And I think in some case what you've really underscored is that the surface level critique of racism in this country would suggest that there is grossly unfair application of the wrong system. And a lot of white folks are very happy with saying, yeah, well, let's try to fix that.
But, of course, what you all three pointed out in different ways is that it's not actually inconsistent. A deep consistency in the application of the law as the very instruments were in many cases designed to do precisely what they are still doing.
And Charlie, this is what I was trying to get at in my chapter when I said there's a structure to whiteness. That there is this myth, and ritual, and narrative retrieval and return, and all of these things. And what I meant by white consolidation which others understand as the white backlash to Black racial progress.
But I want to understand in much broader terms. There's clearly a logic to this which is really what I'm trying to uncover. And the last thing I'll say is these responses are almost always violent.
And elsewhere in our work we talk about the response to Black faculty and others who do work on race. We talk about the formation and technology of a white virtual mob. Biko and Lori get hate mail. Have gotten hate mail recently. It's escaped me.
But this is because of their work in activism, so it's probably only a matter of time that I start getting it. But there's clearly a structure to this, Charlie, which again I'm trying to uncover in my piece which I name as religious.
And if I could just add I think it's hard for some people to understand that in many ways the system is not broken. It's functioning the way that it was designed to function in that there is no crisis. The outcomes that we are observing should be expected.
And so again that's hard for people who are so solution focused and want to say, well, what can I do? What can I do? And I always point them to Derrick Bell's racial realism where he talks about there being these peaks of progress where every now and then you might think that you've made some gains racially whether it's at the end of the Civil War or whether it's the passing of historic legislation during the 1960s.
But then you return to these George Floyd moments. And so why is that the case? I mean, the Afro-pessimists will give you one perspective. Derrick Bell would say, well, that's because we try to work through the current system that wasn't designed to benefit Black people.
And so we shouldn't expect to receive any redress there. And we should recognize and realize that being Black is a permanent subordinate position in the US and that the best you can do is to try to get some hope and victory in this struggle.
If I can hop in here really briefly and just sort of echo Lori's comments, this is one thing that a lot of people just don't realize. The election is tomorrow. And it's the national election's tomorrow. And we have been presented-- we who are Black, who will fall under the sign of Black, have been presented with two impossibly difficult candidates.
One of whom embodies everything explicitly nasty about this country's history. And then the other one who is a bit nicer to us but who has a whole bunch of coincidentally significant amount of gaffes when it comes to talking about Black folks. One of which is that if we don't vote for him we're not Black. The other is that Black people are a consistent voting block for the Democratic Party, but Latinos are a bit more complex.
And this is after he nominates a cop given the history of state sanctioned violence against Black people in this country. This is after he nominates a cop to be his running mate. And we're tasked with the impossible decision of either not voting, which would bring castigation within our communities for many folks, or voting for one of two candidates who clearly do not have our best interest in mind.
And so when we think about solutions, when we think about the kind of solutions that people offer, this is where Afro-pessimism and a certain kind of reading of, in my mind, Toni Morrison shows up. You need a kind of imagination that exceeds the structures of this world.
If there is a religion of white rage operative in our text there is also other religious possibilities that come from Black studies in Black communities. So Toni Morrison is my person for that. And so I wanted to say that upfront that in the grand scheme of things Black people don't really have choices or options in this country. Not viable ones. We have options that allow for a bit of space to be gained, and that space is collapsible.
Second thing I'll say-- one of your Q&A folks because I checked this out. I would say that the distinction between-- I believe it was Jonathan. The distinction between Irish folks and those people who are called Black. The distinction between the capacity for an individual identity, or individual personhood, or however we want to frame that.
The distinction here is that even though a lot of folks suffered the kind of suffering that Black people have underwent which is the ultimate and metaphysical transformation from humanity into a thing no one else on this planet has ever experienced.
That is not to say that it is worse. That is not to say that it is better. That is to say there is no other community that has had to suffer under the legacy of having been things. Having been equal to an iPhone. We are upgraded. We are the thing that classes argue about.
We are not a class. We are not people. And that becomes the most difficult. So when we think about generalizing things, Black people were the first community to be generalized in that way. And so I just wanted to share that upfront.
And I will very briefly-- I'll ask the question more generally. For white people, you probably know your ethnicity. You probably know if you're Irish, or German, or Italian, or whatever the case may be. Ask a Black person what their ethnicity is in the United States, and many of us will not be able to tell you.
And names the total-- Dion Brand calls it the map to the door of no return. That names the total transformation. The complete brutality that allows for us not even to have strong tethers to our past.
Thank you, all of you. All three of you. And thank you for joining us for those questions. Some of them very, very sharp and heartfelt.
It's 6:30. In respect to people's time we need to wrap up. But I want to say once again how privileged I feel to host you three and how grateful I am to you for taking out this evening. What an evening on the eve of what's coming to talk about this important book and to share your work.
So for those of you who are joining us there are going to be many more events in this series on race, religion, and nationalism. In fact, these three have already suggested some further events. So if you like what you heard tonight you'll hear more in that same idiom in the spring.
So stay tuned. The best way to find out about events in the center, of course, is to just sign up for our weekly newsletter, which you can do on our website or any time you register for an event. So doctors, Finley, Gray, Martin, thank you again so much.
Thank you, Charlie.
Thank you. Be well, and tomorrow, and in the coming days.
Thank you, friend. Bye, Biko and Lori.
I'll take it easy. Always good. Thank you, all.