Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Sherman, Smart, and Sam: America's Caging and Censoring of the Black American Athlete


     When Seattle Seahawks’ cornerback Richard Sherman startled a white female sideline reporter, and the television viewing audience, with his verbal chastising of San Francisco Forty Niners’ wide receiver Michael Crabtree, I elected not to write nor publicly say anything.  The night amateur athlete and Oklahoma State guard Marcus Smart shoved a loyal Texas Tech fan after being verbally assaulted (be it a racial slur or not), I was so quiet you could hear a rat piss on cotton. Then, University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam “came out” and proclaimed his homosexuality to the world in an interview, and I decided it was time that I say something.  Something needed to be written. I needed to write something.  I needed to compose something that illustrates what I believe is going on in this post-racial America courtesy of the almighty Obama’s election and reelection. There seems to be a deconstruction and reconstruction of the Black American male athlete, and this reconstruction may very well void the only positive stereotype that exists and persists in the American and international psyche as it pertains to the self-worth of the Black male.   

      Via extensive media coverage there is no need for me to intricately detail or do a play-by-play analysis of what occurred with Sherman or Smart, but I must state that, in my thirty-five years as a United States resident, the only African American stereotype that doesn’t wreak of inferiority, criminality, and minstrelsy is that of the Black male’s athletic/physical prowess, prominence, proficiency, and superiority.  Asians are smart.  White people are rich, powerful, and intelligent.  Latinos have a rich heritage and culture and are hard working.  Italians are Catholic and have a love of family and familial traditions (ok, yes, they have mafia connections). But, outside of the Black American being fast, coordinated, and can jump high, we have been inundated with the notion of Blacks being dumb, thuggish, absentee or neglectful parents, and are the face of poverty and welfare in the U.S.A.  Yet, Sherman, Smart, and Sam, or at least the media’s portrayal of them and the audience’s response to them, may be the undoing of the image of the Black athlete as a heroic figure in American folklore.

        I intend to do something within the next four-hundred to six hundred words or so that is something that is studied, analyzed, dissected, celebrated and commodified in the halls of America’s upper tier academic institutions, mainly private, white, and economically exclusive, is a claim for scholastic fame and intellectual adoration for Black scholars who have terminal degrees in African American Studies and anything “AfAm” and have extensive research experience and publications because of this—the “freestyle”.  Rappers have bars that are pertinent, poignant, and profound, and my bars are sentences.  I just want to construct a brief, cold-blooded rhetorical foray, without the fire (phi) beat, into the negative depiction of African Americans, specifically and explicitly athletes, by mass media once they roam outside the zoo of American sports entertainment. 

        Because Richard Sherman was animated and aggressive and braggadocios and insulting to his individual opponent, a wide-receiver, being that he is the defensive antithesis to the position of wide receiver in football, and startled the white female reporter in front of thousands in attendance and millions in the viewing audience, Sherman was labeled a thug, out of control, and “out of line” by many in the media after his alleged tirade. I always felt like the media was upset with his aggression even in the mere presence of the white female reporter whether or not his tirade and aggression was aimed at her or anyone else.  Sherman had the nerve to be hostile in the mere presence of a white woman.  He was no longer tamed.  The game was over.  The money was made.  The fans got their monies worth.  And this Black robo-animal should be able to hit the “stop” button and get a hold of himself and act with some sense.  Be seen and not heard.  And Sherman, Smart, and Sam are doing neither of the aforementioned.  These three talented Black athletes, who happen to be top tier in their respective fields or level of athletics, will be seen and heard as long as they maintain the skill level required to have an extensive career in the American sports workforce.  
       Marcus Smart violated the code of relieving himself of his duties as zoo animal and spectacle by putting his hands on a white customer, a white ticket buyer, when he responded to the verbal insult that was hurled at him.  Note to America—you are paying to be entertained not paying to verbally abuse the athletes who you vicariously and voyeuristically want to be like and salivate at their physical abilities and coordination.  Whatever sadistic thought is in the live and viewing crowd’s psyche should not be acted out upon these gladiators that perform for the viewer’s pleasure.  A “boo” here or there is fine, but, please, no name-calling.  Particularly in college.  They are amateur athletes.  They aren’t getting paid to endure your internal and malicious ire.  Oh, and Michael Sam should not have to be worried about whether or not his potential employment by an NFL franchise is predicated upon his sexual preference or orientation.  He has informed us that he is a homosexual male athlete months before the NFL draft, so that the league and its family of teams cannot blackball him because of a "secret" that has been known for months in collegiate football circles.

     Yet the media and residents in the universe of social networking outlets are condemning the actions, some warranted, of the aforementioned athletes.  Sherman should have more class and shut up.  Smart shouldn't have put his hands on that fan regardless of what kind of insult was hurled at him.  Sam shouldn't tell because we didn't ask.  The American media wants to tame if not destroy individualism and free speech and free think and harness the physical capabilities of the Black male athlete once he is done playing the game.  Be humble in an interview.  Be quiet about your sexuality. Don't put your hands on a white fan no matter what he or she says, or, I assume, does to you.  The mystique of the machismo connoted with the image of the Black male athlete is being deconstructed for the 21st century.  No longer is the superior athlete someone to admire.  He is now someone to revile and detest because he seems not to know his place like Cassius Clay changing his name, becoming a member of the Nation of Islam and refusing to be inducted into the U.S. military because of his anti-Vietnam War sentiments.  Lik John Carlos and Tommie Smith and their hoisting of the Black Power salute. Jim Brown's constant stance against discrimination in America and American sports, and Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf's refusal to hold his hand over his heart and sing the national anthem during pre-game NBA rituals.  In essence, just run, nigger, run.

                                                                                                                   -Gee Joyner



Monday, December 23, 2013

Redneck Religion: Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty Dilemma


     A few weeks ago I was in need of a cheap black T-shirt to wear with my bop around black sweat pants on a non-teaching day.  Considering I was only fielding office hours and would be on campus no more than three or four hours, I, as I often do, wear lounging gear, but I had been slothful and had not done laundry the night before and decided to drop in to Walmart to cop a shirt.  Briefly glancing at the megastore’s selection, I decided to purchase a black t-shirt with the words Duck Commander in yellow letters.  I put the shirt on in my car and thought nothing of it.  Now, after a week filled with controversy regarding A&E's Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s statements on homosexuality and Religion and Race in the American South, I may have to rethink my purchase of this now peculiar piece of paraphernalia.  And since this is an op-ed piece, and due to my love for rhetorical composition and the adherence to the rules, both grammatical and social, Reverend Earle J. Fisher and I have decided to have no thesis whatsoever.  Pure, unadulterated stream of consciousness is what you should expect.  Now, with the aforementioned mentioned, I have decided to post a couple of excerpts from Phil Robertson’s interview in the January 2014 issue of GQ magazine.


On Race:  "I never, with my eyes, saw the mistreatment of any black person. Not once," the reality star said of growing up in pre-Civil-Rights-era Louisiana. "Where we lived was all farmers. The blacks worked for the farmers. I hoed cotton with them. I'm with the blacks, because we're white trash. We're going across the field ... They're singing and happy. I never heard one of them, one black person, say, 'I tell you what: These doggone white people' — not a word!"Robertson continued, "Pre-entitlement, pre-welfare, you say: Were they happy? They were godly; they were happy; no one was singing the blues."

On Homosexuality:  Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men," he tells the magazine. Paraphrasing Corinthians, he says, "Don't be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won't inherit the kingdom of God. Don't deceive yourself. It's not right."Phil continues, "It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man's anus. That's just me. I'm just thinking: There's more there! She's got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I'm saying? But hey, sin: It's not logical, my man. It's just not logical."

     Any scholar or layman can unpack this rhetoric and see that stereotypes and the aesthetics, descriptions, and ideological beliefs associated with stereotypes is at the core of the Duck Dynasty Dilemma (or so the media would have you to believe).  Born and raised in the South, I know the warning signs of certain kinds of white folks.  ‘Redneck’ is to Blacks as ‘Nigger’ is to Whites.  Just as non-Blacks can assume someone’s moral compass and character merely on the color of one’s skin, so too can non-Whites do the same based on one’s skin color and aesthetic composition.  As a Southerner, most Black people assume that a long-haired, long-bearded, Christian, rural, White male with U.S. or Confederate flag paraphernalia or clothing, is no friend of Blacks and probably labors in some agrarian occupation and isn’t too fond of gays or miscegenation or anything anti-Southern (i.e. condemning the documented atrocities of the American South---you know, Black American slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings). In essence, are we really taken aback by Phil’s comments?  It should be no shock that, even though Robertson referred to himself as “white trash” and being “the same as Blacks”, that he is ignorant of his white (male) privilege.
      Stereotypes infect and affect us all, even white people—even if they are not bigots, sexists, racists, misogynists who revel in classism.  The Duck Dynasty audience, or the audience A&E targeted for the highly successful cable show, knows, or at least think they know, Robertson’s ideological beliefs and, for the most part, follows the show because they identify with him and his familial brood. 

      What we find extremely peculiar is the failure (or benign neglect) of many people to connect the commentary Robertson offers synthetically.  He put together racism and homophobia while being asked about sin.  What he communicates is, he sees God as a white heterosexual male.  In the framework of his sector of the Christian faith tradition this is by no means uncommon.  It is the same sentiment shared by Megyn Kelly as she remixes notions of Jesus’ personhood in connection with Santa Claus.  It is white racial and religious privilege turned (also referred to as #turnt) all the way up!  It is consistent with white, systematic or dare we say redneck religion and theology. 
      Tim Wise tells the story of his daughters discussing the movie “Bruce Almighty” were one of his daughters informs the others of the movies ultimate fiction because Morgan Freeman, a black man, plays God and from the daughter’s perspective, “He can’t be God because God is white.”  This telling statement is the foundation or building block of the type of theology that has been inserted in the inspirational veins of most conservative, evangelical Christians.  Robertson, like many others, draws these mythical parallels between social reality and spiritual reality.  Therefore, in Richardson’s mind, it is not only feasible but foundational to connect an indictment of homosexuality with a blinded eye towards the harsh realities of the Jim Crow south. 
     One blogger recently wrote a blog entitled, #DuckDynasty, Grace, and White Supremacist Gods #fleshYGod where it was stated,  I can understand why persons come to reject Christianity in this age, (let’s put aside sexual ethics for a second), when all of these outspoken representatives of KKKristianity continue to perpetuate the white supremacist mythology. KKKristianity in the eyes of outsiders seems less like a group of followers of Jesus who love our neighbors as ourselves as they are more in love with the idea of swimming in cultural ignorance.... White Supremacist Gods have cheap grace and oppression as their telos” (insert #BOOM #DropTheMicAndWalkOffTheSacredStage)
      It is understandable, albeit rather dangerous, to associate and develop a concept of God based on one’s experience with society, politics and sacred traditions.  But it is bigoted and biased to presume that one’s own religious convictions are universal convictions that are shared and supported by anyone who really matters.  Race matters.  Religion matters.  Time and space matter.  That is exactly why diversity matters.  None of us have God figured out, nor do we have an exhaustive or complete understanding of God. 

      Therefore, in many ways, Robertson’s comments are, indeed, a matter of the first amendment, but not so much as it relates to freedom of speech as it relates to freedom of religion.  Should he be allowed to spew his racists and homophobic theology out in public? Verbally, yes!  Should he be subject to the backlash and consequences of promoting a shallow and insensitive view of what many have come to encounter as a loving and liberating God?  You bet your bottom Bible! And since Walmart is seeing Duck Dynasty gear fly off the shelves at an alarming rate, and  Cracker Barrel  has rescinded their decision to remove Duck Dynasty paraphernalia from their restaurants, maybe I can get one of those corporate, white-owned chains to buy my T-shirt.  It's been worn a few times, but hey, nothing's wrong with a little wear and tear.  It gives the shirt character and history---like the good ole' South.  History and the ideologies associated with it has never physically hurt anyone, has it?  They're just words on a shirt, right?

                                                                          Earle J. Fisher and Gee Joyner
                                                                          (The Pastor & The Professor)






Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pushin' Past Petty: Why Niggas Shouldn't Be Consumed with the N-Word



     Words can hurt and destroy.  Yes, the aforementioned is true, and numerous people use this phrase as a catch-all as to why the term ‘nigger’ should be decimated and deleted from the American English Lexicon.  But just as words can hurt and destroy, they can also be deconstructed and reconstructed and utilized in a fluid manner where a particular word can lose and regain its connotation all within a single breath---that is the beauty of ‘language.’  Language is never static.  For the most part, it is and has always been fluid, and at some points, certain vocabulary in the lexicon becomes extinct with time and the social progression of humanity.  For instance, a trollop was once the pejorative term for a sexually promiscuous woman, yet whore has eclipsed trollop and you would be hard pressed to find a person in the 21st Century who regularly uses ‘trollop’ rather than ‘whore’ when referring to a woman with low sexual morals let alone even know what a ‘trollop’ is unless they are a fan of period piece Literature and movies from the 19th Century.  So, why is it that Black Americans seem to be distinctly divided in the usage of the term ‘nigga’ or even ‘nigger’ for that matter?  Should we not understand context when analyzing and critiquing vocabulary and diction?  That’s the conundrum, people. And considering I happen to be an English professor, writer, and resident American nigga, I think we should. 

  In no way do I want to exhaust you with detailing the expansive history of the word ‘nigger’, but I will try to create a brief summation of the initial usage of the word and the verbiage in context.  As far as American History, or current History goes, and by current, I mean the last two or three centuries, the term ‘nigger’ derived from the Spanish/Portuguese use of the word in describing people of a darker hue as being ‘Negro’ or ‘Neger’ or the French usage of ‘Noir’ (i.e. French Negre).  Mind you, I only use the Spanish/Portuguese as my starting point because, just like the tribes that sold or traded African hostages/prisoners of war to the English and the Spanish and the Portuguese into bondage, are responsible for the construction of the most grotesque and ethnospecific Holocaust in the history of the World--the North Atlantic Slave Trade.  And because of this Holocaust, the castigation of an entire race or group of people that maintained similar aesthetics has been dehumanized, and even celebrated, in many ways because of a term that subjugated, alienated, and otherized the aforementioned merely because of physical attributes, specifically the color of one’s skin. 

        I am well aware of the Negro/Afro-American/Black/African American’s relationship, both contentious and endearing, with the word ‘nigger’ and the variations thereof (i.e. ‘nigga’ ‘niggah’).  But, I don’t understand the preoccupation with how others use it. Being that it, the word, no matter the negative, and, even alleged positive connotations of the word, using both its initial defining and the progression and fluidity of the term depending upon context and who is using it in a specific context and that user’s American experience and identification with the words and the humans that reside under that labeling, is just a construct of language and lexicon to create, maintain, and perpetuate a societal hierarchy. I don’t understand Black Americans being more concerned with the use of the word ‘nigger’ and ‘nigga’ than they are about the treatment of those that are perceived, only through the visual aesthetic lens, as being an N-Word.


     Yes, I know that being a ‘nigger’ in American is connoted with being connected with the original African prisoners to America who were considered chattel and subhuman and, eventually, three-fifths human in a fledgling nation’s legal, if not, ‘biblical’, text, and permanent second-class citizen in the Jim Crow era, and the financial foothold in the 21st Century American Prison Industrial Complex System.  Plus, I comprehend the linguistic genius in deconstructing and redefining and respelling and even repronouncing the word to make it mean a term of endearment synonymous with friendship, familial connection, and comradery.  So, shouldn’t the masses?  Have we not all been taught reading comprehension and the most important nuance of reading comprehension which is ‘context’?  And to understand context, one must understand and tolerate the progression of time and subsequent generation’s reaction to history and its contents.

     But, since when did Black Americans become so mentally and socially and emotionally weak of a group of people that allowed words to rule us?  We changed ‘cool’ from a measurement of temperature to an assessment of one’s demeanor and personality.  ‘Hot’ as well.  We must realize that words can be pejorative in one instance and endearing in another.  In Rehabilitation circles, I’m almost positive only they can exclusively call one another ‘junkies’ because they have a common bond and experience that only those who have experienced being a ‘junkie’ can even remotely make light of or use the term all willy-nilly.  ‘Nigger’ or ‘Nigga’ is a similar term.  Same circumstances and exclusivity applies.  Unless of course, you’re Richie Incognito of the Miami Dolphins, but I’ll address that in another article.

       The brilliant comedian-turned- activist Dick Gregory once said, “The N-Word instead of ‘nigger’ robs younger generations of Americans of the full history of black people in America,” and I agree with him.  I like context because context allows for history and the language of history to be fluid, which in turn makes us reanalyze and revisit history by the minute, if not second.  I feel it is folly of people to take a social stance in that they do not utter ‘nigger’ or ‘nigga’ or consider it a vulgarity or a societal offense.  And I feel this way because, in my opinion, it may be a societal offense in not using the word.  I mean, all a man has is his integrity and authenticity and without those one is not honest or ‘real’.  And to be dishonest is to compromise and revise history, and I believe that to be uncivilized and uncouth, even criminal. You know, just like they say ‘niggers’ are.

                                                                                                         -Gee Joyner








Wednesday, October 30, 2013

The Untouchables: Black America's Obsession and Idolization of the Black Exception


     First and foremost, I am a Hip Hop/Rap fan--have been since I memorized L.L. Cool J's "I'm Bad" from the "Bigger and Deffer" album.  Or maybe even before then when my cousin and I exhausted our Krush Groove VHS tape--literally memorizing every single line from every single character and every single song performed in the movie or used in the movie's soundtrack.  So, there is no way, particularly as an English Literature major, writer, and self-proclaimed rhetorician, can I deny the verbal flow and narrative skills of Jay Z/Jay Hova, the God M.C.  But, I often wonder why he, like so many other Black American exceptions, steer clear of certain sociopolitical or racial conflict and discourse that often arises in 21st Century popular culture.  Case in point--the Barney's of New York racial profiling incident that occurred a little more than a week ago. 

     Before I delve into why I believe that Shawn Carter, aka Jay Z, should take a stance in this particular incident, I must first disseminate my definition of a "Black American Exception".  As far as my thirty-something eyes can see, I believe a “Black” exception to be one who has been granted the privilege, via above-average intellect, talent, and skill, be it through the luck of the draw or particular circumstance, whether it being educated in the right schools, granted a specific scholarship, growing up in a certain neighborhood, or networking with the right Black or white people has achieved above average social, financial, educational, or occupational standing in American society, and therefore, maintains a broader scope of influence than the average ‘Black ‘bear, or Negro. 

     It has been reported by numerous national media outlets that there have been complaints of racial profiling by Barneys, and Macy’s, in New York City.  Now, hip hop lyricist, legend, royalty, and mogul Jay Z apparently has a deal with Barney’s to sell his fashion line in their stores and is even donating 25% of the proceeds to a scholarship fund to help under-privileged youth go to college---you know, have a chance at the ‘American Dream.’  Yet, after the allegations of profiling were revealed to the public, Jay Z was reticent in speaking on the incident and took several days to speak on the matter, and when he did, he only said, “I move and speak based on facts and not emotion...I haven't made any comments because I am waiting on facts and the outcome of a meeting between community leaders and Barneys. Why am I being demonised, denounced, and thrown on the cover of a newspaper for not speaking immediately?”  Well, sir, because you are in a fiscal partnership with this particular brand and that brand, maybe not directly, but indirectly, maintains employees that seem to deem Black, African-Americans unqualified to purchase items from the store in which they labor.  And you, being the mogul and voice of a Hip Hop generation and blackened Horatio Alger figure that you, are have a dog in this fight---and a very big dog at that.

     From his rhetorical abilities, lyrical prowess, and extreme proficiency in the construction of narrative tales of the social, economic, racial, and classist ills that have inundated the United States since its inception, and his knowledge of the aforementioned, lead me to believe that he, and other Black exceptions like himself seem to be removed from their civil responsibility to uplift and properly represent the other 90% that DuBois once said the talented tenth were, in essence, responsible for.  He and his wife, R&B megastar Beyonce, have a net worth of well over $650 Million and literally have nothing to lose in being an active voice in reconstructing the hierarchical structure of 21st century American racial and socioeconomic politics. 

                                                                                                                    -Gee Joyner



Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Murky Matrix of Contemporary Ministry: Piety, Privilege, and the Preachers of L.A.



        Earlier this week a pastor was being interviewed by a student who was intrigued by the pastor’s ministerial authenticity and perspective.  Throughout the interview the student expressed a disdain and disgust towards the traditional, dominant (mainstream) ministerial expressions/productions and was somewhat taken aback by the pastor’s affirmation of her disgust and disdain.  To add to the enchanting exchange, the student expressed a desire to visit the pastor’s house of worship, at least in part, because (although she didn’t currently attend worship regularly anywhere as a byproduct of her disgust and disdain) she wanted her “at risk” son to have an encounter and relationship with God.  “Ironic” would be a blasphemous understatement.  Strangely, this is the same relationship that she presumed was accessible through traditional methods (i.e. Sunday worship in a Christian context) but yet had not been persuaded to seek this same God out for herself through the same means (at least not in the last decade or so, to her recollection). 

The tenor of her inquiry was more so one of parental control and even pious conceit on behalf of one who took the liberty and privilege to abort the traditional access route to divine encounter but still affirmed it enough to use it as a means of advancing her own desires.  This theological transaction is consistent with what my mother would call, “trying to have your [Christological] cake and eat it too!”  And I want to suggest that this awkward and ironic moment is descriptive of the murky matrix of contemporary ministry.

In this age of post-modernity and religious reformation, we are now thrust into a system of both spiritual skepticism and religious refuge.  This inspirational irony is where a new “Theology of Convenience” has been injected in the veins of most people who would dare to still claim that there is a God somewhere that is in relationship with human beings.  Gone are the days of religious absolutism or doctrinal dogma as the dominant platforms of faith.  There has been far too many developments in theological study as well as political reality for the church to continue to do “business as usual.”  It’s sacred suicide to think that the people the Church is called to serve will forever be blind sheep and indefinitely ignore the critical questions people have about church ministry and church methodology.  The “emergent church”, as some have labeled it, or the new contemporary ministerial reality, is one of anything but..... (wait for it)..... CERTAINTY! 

I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with a faith that exists in the midst of oscillation.  In fact, I would suggest, certainty is the enemy of faith and a hermeneutic of suspicion is a theologian’s (or person of faith’s) best friend.  Nevertheless, some of our skepticism, in-deed, is a byproduct of the bed we have been making ourselves to sleep in for the past few decades. 

We have longed for a religious reality TV faith that superstar like spiritual leaders have provided through books, radio and television programs.  We like microwave solutions to humanity’s crockpot problems.  These technological expressions of eternal enlightenment intrigue us to the point of consumption; even as we recognize what we are watching is a train wreck that has the black church and its constituents residing in the conductor’s caboose of the train as it is headed towards the collision. (PREACHERS OF L.A. ANYBODY?). 

I have heretofore refrained from commentating on this show because a) there are enough perspectives being offered in response to it and b) most of the responses are opportunistic and/or hypo-anti-critical so I said I would wait until the entire “buzz” died down (which sadly still has not).  Nevertheless, my fortuitous take on the show is the same as my take on the current condition of people who seek to honor and claim relationship with a loving and liberating God but yet feel that this relationship comes through a cross-less Christ and a death-less resurrection.  We have become both vicarious and voyeuristic!  Most of us have seen the presumed “progress and advancement” of the people that have acquired material prosperity through their “faith.”  It looks appealing. We want to be like and live vicariously through “them.” Even if this means to worship in a way that is inconsistent with our socio-political and religious reality (pun intended) we are willing to ignore our experience for social and spiritual affirmation.  On the other hand we are voyeuristically “getting off” on the craziness and calamity of it all.  We want to use other people’s seemingly unethical methods of personal “improvement” as justification for our disdain and distrust of the ministerial system that we support directly or indirectly. 

Therefore, 21st Century ministry is currently compiled of ecclesiastical entertainment, divine drama and dogma, traditional strongholds, the reality of human hope and despair, as well as a thirst for theological truth grounded in social justice...but very little personal responsibility!!!  In response, we are currently entertaining ourselves into irrelevance and death all the while creating and supporting conditions that make this entertainment detrimental and desirous at the same damn time! 

Part of what goes unchecked is that perspective and platform that the student interviewer lifted up while standing on in the interview.  The student presumed that she could critique the church for its lack of relevance and authoritative power to speak to her experience but also use it to forward her parental desire of childrearing, all the while not feeling compelled to change the culture and system of ministerial methodology.  This is classic apathy!  It takes a peculiar type of ministerial leader to provide a platform of oppression in the name of a liberating Lord and Savior. Yet, it also takes a particularly passive type of “person of faith” to support the religious and oppressive buffoonery in the name of “godliness.” 

We have legitimately critiqued our religious institutions.  But yet, at our core it seems we have not abandoned the faith.  As a public theologian I think that this is not only a good thing, but I also think it’s nearly impossible to abandon faith once one has had a divine encounter.   We have just created a condition that requires more ministerial and clergymatic creativity for a liberating and divine encounter to be more probable.  I have often said that creativity is the church’s defibrillator that is needed to bring ministry out of the coma of complacency, conformity and cowardice that has sacrificed our people on the offer of irrelevance for far too long. My prayer is that we can foster a climate that grounds our ministerial and theological expressions in ways that are consistent with our experience and communal needs for love and justice.  I believe a partnership between critical and analytical thinkers, artists, academics, activists and “everyday people” can redefine what it means to be “Church” today.  In doing so, we can corner the ministerial market and stop producing and promoting the things that are often times the most regressive and damning in our communities. 

But in the meantime, as we are watching what we watch, wearing what we wear and worshiping who and how we worship..... Be careful what you pray for...and who you prey on.  
                                                                                     Rev. Earle J. Fisher

Thursday, October 24, 2013

12 Years a Slave: Monkey Rope


After beating a white slave driver with his own whip in 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Upnorth, a kidnapped freeman from Saratoga, New York, is hung from a tree—not successfully though. As the slave driver and two other men attempt to get Solomon entirely off of his feet, the overseer comes and warns these men have no property right to kill this man. If the slave driver insisted on lynching Solomon, the overseer insisted on shooting the slave driver, and his friends. The slave driver and his friends retreat, leaving Solomon hanging. With his feet close enough to the ground, Solomon teeters between life and death on his tip toes. It wasn’t until later that evening, when the plantation owner had returned, that Solomon had been cut down from that tree.
            Darker than the possibility that other slaves would watch a man hang from a tree was the reality that these slaves had gone about their day as if there had not been a man hanging from a tree. The movie theater grumbled as the scene progressed with everyone asking the same question, “Oh my god, why isn’t anyone helping him?” As the grumbles stopped, people began to realize that nooses were monkey-ropes. Not only were they fastened around the necks of the men and women who hung from trees, they were anchored to the spirits of the people who had to endure what they saw. When necks broke, spirits did too. This is what asphyxiation looks like.
            We all see the asphyxia. Every time a fight breaks out we’re all gasping for “WorldStar!” That monkey-rope which connected people through suffering and beauty is severed. Now we see what monkeys do—and it’s funny, isn’t it?

                                                                                        -Yahdon Israel

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Mammy and the Mulatto: The Oddity of Oprah and Obama


     Aside from the dust up between the Dixie Chicks and George W. Bush and the former's disapproval of the U.S. war in Iraq, we have never seen a celebrity beef with the President of the United States that has been so personal as the rumored rift between media mogul, philanthropist, and part-time actress Oprah Winfrey and current Commander-in-Chief Barack Obama.  Because nearly every American resident, including beasts, has some form of access to information and the media (television, internet, newspapers, and word of mouth), I refuse to presume your ignorance by intricately detailing the alleged rift between the two public figures, but I will write an extremely brief synopsis. 

     It is reported that Winfrey declined an invitation to the White House that was to be a gathering of celebrities to promote and support the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare as it has been labeled by the media pundits (mainly Fox News).  Considering her global influence and likeability played a major role in helping Obama win the 2008 election, I can see how people may believe there to be dissension amongst the ranks of America's Black exceptions.

    What is odd about this alleged rift between the two internationally recognized figures of color is that both of them maintain positions of ethnic/racial exceptionalism in the United States, and for the most part, both of them have a soothing appeal towards white audiences while maintaining a revered, and often times tepid, relationship with the Black American populace.  One would assume that the two of them would be lifelong friends and allies. The irony is that both Obama and Oprah have been whitewashed to an extent by the media so that they are more palpable to a non-Black audience and are upheld as the embodiment of the American Dream; You too can be loved and admired by white America if you do like them--don't be too Black and don't be too Black.
     Both of them are bipartisan in their approach to bridging the racial gap in American society, yet it seems that maybe Ms. Winfrey felt her contributions to his campaign, via her constant television and media presence, were to be the precursor of her being privy to White House access, and the receipient of nepotism at its best. Maybe Oprah, for all her success, wealth, and notoriety, forgot that a celebrity endorsement is much different than corporate lobbying for a political campaign.  Donations and support are given in exchange for pushing a lobbyist's agenda.

      What was Winfrey's agenda?  Just to be seen in the White House and on the arm of Barack and Michelle Obama?  Was she trying to grow or seemingly exhausted and ungrowable leviathon of celebrity?  Until now, and I was a child when Oprah hit the national scene in the mid 1980s, I, and probably every other American, has never known Ms. Winfrey's sociopolitical views barring her position on child abuse.  She was building a brand and that brand may have been damaged when after becoming a billionaire and thriving for more than two decades in the entertainment business, she decided to throw herself into America's political arena. Some say backing Obama had affected the success, or lack thereof, of her OWN television network.   Maybe she thought her position in America's hierarchical structure was higher than it really is. She is a celebrity and philanthropist.  Plain and simple.  She is not a politician or one of the invisible hands that clandestinely governs the nation's government, people, and economy.  She is a Black, female billionaire who lent her voice in support of Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.  He won in 2008, was reelected in 2012, and no longer needs her stamp of approval.  And just maybe, America's favorite talk-show host is upset and thus, declined his latest invite. 

     The conundrum of being a Black "exception" is that one often believes their exceptionalism should be celebrated, if not deified, by all--even other Black exceptions.  American media posited Oprah as a rotund, congenial comforter of sorts for her viewing audience ala Mammy while the same media, and political, machine posited Obama as the congenial mullato that can literally appeal to the dichotomy of America's racial makeup--Black and white.  Each of them has achieved enormous success in their respective fields and serve as measuring sticks for their contemporaries and standards of success for their less fortunate, less wealthy, and less famous Negroidian brethren, but do not seem to realize that they have no need to be beefing if that's what it really is.  I mean, who really turns down an invite from the POTUS?  Oprah.  That's who? Oh, and former Chicago Bears defensive tackle and Hall of Famer Dan Hampton.

                                                                                                                   -Gee Joyner