Prof. Roger Sneed – has a serious word of law for us today, the kind of law that can only be given by someone who – in the words of Howard Thurman – “lives with their backs against the wall.” Though it is important to have hope in the midst of adversity so, too, is it important to look that adversity square in the eye and admit to yourself the enormity of the problem – sometimes, even, to admit to its hopelessness. He does so here, and it’s worth a good read and reflection. So read, comment, and share.
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of the LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
It was a year ago last week that Dylan Roof entered Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina and sat with the parishioners for an hour before murdering nine people, including the pastor, state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney. Roof said that he committed the massacre in the hope of igniting a race war. On the morning of Sunday, June 12th, Omar Mateen entered Pulse Nightclub in Orlando and massacred fifty clubgoers. At least fifty-three other people were injured. From various reports, Mateen called 911 to declare his allegiance to ISIS. However, Mateen’s father said that he was very upset when he saw two men kissing. And we just learned that Mateen was a frequent patron at Pulse and was quite likely gay himself.
In the aftermath, I see the same kinds of posts, comments, and so forth. Everyone wants to “pray” for the affected city, the victims, and the nation. Ribbons and changed Facebook pictures all show our “solidarity” with the massacred. I see President Obama saying that this nation isn’t built on hate. That we’re a diverse nation and we should be able to appreciate all kinds of diversity.
I see all these posts and meditations about how America isn’t built on hate…but it absolutely IS.
It was built upon hatred of the indigenous peoples already here. You don’t have a Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee and Manifest Destiny and smallpox-infected blankets directed towards people you claim to love.
It was built upon the backs of Africans who had been condemned to perpetual servitude. You can try and say otherwise, but you don’t enslave anyone you claim to love. If you are loving, then you don’t enact the most brutal of tortures and deaths upon those who do not wish to be enslaved.
It was built upon enslaving Chinese immigrants. That transatlantic railroad wasn’t built on lovingkindness. That railroad was built on the backs of Chinese people and for the greed of white men.
It was built on terrorizing African Americans. The Tulsa Massacre, Rosewood, Omaha and so forth didn’t happen because white Americans loved their black brothers and sisters.
It was built upon ostracizing and terrorizing women. What is rape culture OTHER than terrorism against women? What is the ongoing attack upon women’s access to health care OTHER than terrorism against women?
It was built upon legislating discrimination against ANYONE who wasn’t a white, landowning, heterosexual, allegedly Christian male.
It was built upon turning the “law” against the oppressed.
It was built upon maintaining structures that decimate black, brown, female, trans, lesbian, poor bodies and souls.
And if that ain’t hate, I don’t know what is.
A few days ago, a friend asked me if I had any hope, presumably for the future of this society. Normally, I would have responded to that kind of question with a “yes.” I am a lifelong Trekkie; I subscribe to the optimistic vision of humanity that Gene Roddenberry put forward.
I teach religion out of a hope that the knowledge I have received and hope to pass on can be part of creating a more just society.
However, after Emanuel, after Orlando, and after each and every instance of human bigotry, violence, and inhumanity, I am not so certain that I have hope anymore. I think that what we call “hope,” what we mean when we’re asking other people to have it, is a desire to maintain the current structures and systems with only minor to moderate modifications. When I say that I no longer have hope, I mean that I no longer have any faith in the perfectability of societal structures in the United States—how can I, when I see just how steeped they are in white supremacy? How can I have faith in electoral and educational processes that are subordinated to neoliberalism and corporate interests? How can I have hope in these systems that perpetuate massive inequality. I cannot disconnect the atrocities in Charleston and Orlando from the rhetorical and systemic violence employed against vulnerable people in almost every institution in American life.
I have no hope that our societal structures can be redeemed or even should be redeemed. They must be destroyed. The homophobia and toxic masculinity at the heart of Mateen’s attack can be found in every aspect of American life. Our society is built upon creating and feeding fear. Toxic masculinity and homophobia is steeped in fear. As a byproduct of white supremacy, toxic masculinity and homophobia must maintain an illusion of masculinity as dominant. This must be maintained at all costs—we really shouldn’t be surprised that Mateen decided to massacre gay people; we may tell ourselves that Mateen acted out of some “radical Islamic fundamentalism,” but his rage at gays and lesbians is the same kind of entitled, toxic rage that led Seung-Hui Cho to massacre 32 people at Virginia Tech and led Dylan Roof to murder nine people at Emanuel AME Church. That toxic rage is part and parcel of the heterosexism and fragile masculinity at the heart of American life. While only one of these perpetrators was white, I submit that they bought into a masculinist logic that is part and parcel of white supremacy in this nation.
I have no hope in prayer. After atrocities like Charleston and Orlando, I see people saying “pray for the victims. Pray for our nation.” Pray, pray, pray. Pray to whom? And for what? We’ve been on our knees for hundreds of years, praying to a god that isn’t ours, asking it for a freedom that it seems disinclined to grant. To me, prayer in the American context is little more than a useless tool given to us by the oppressors. There’s a quote that says “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.” Today, when a misogynistic racist murders people, we’re yet again implored to pray. Meanwhile, the NRA continues to donate millions to politicians, and candidates for high office continue to dissemble or scapegoat. White supremacists continue to block meaningful change at almost every turn, and in the meantime, we are now in a holding pattern, waiting for the next massacre to happen.
Prayer never seems to save the innocent.
Prof. Roger Sneed is on the Religious faculty of Furman University in South Carolina. His expertise in the areas in Christian Ethics, Gay and Queer theologies, Religion and Sexuality, and African American History and Theology – he is also greatly interested in Afro-futurism, comic books, science fiction, and atheism/humanism as religious discourse.