Friday, May 30, 2008

Father Pfleger and privilege (by Suzie)


        I was reading a thread over at Shakesville, and I realized: I don’t have to keep commenting. I’ve got my own blog! I’m privileged. (And I mean that. Well, I mean that about privilege, but not having my own blog. I’m an auxiliary Snake who posts at the pleasure of the Goddess.)
        I want to hone in on privilege and us-vs.-them politics. But first, let me bring up points made by Tamura Lomax, who described herself as a religious scholar, historian and feminist theorist. She wrote that others were taking the Rev. Pfleger’s comments out of context. She noted that black churches have always mixed politics and religion. This argument also has been brought up in reference to the Rev. Wright. But it ignores the fact that religion and politics have been mixed in many places and many times, not just in the African-American Christian tradition. Also, there are many whites who respond in exuberant ways, including speaking in tongues and handling snakes. (I'd be remiss not to mention that on a blog titled “Echidne of the Snakes.”)
         Lomax wrote that whites have ignored the black church tradition. Some others who defended Wright also suggested whites are ignorant about black churches. It’s true that many whites have never attended a black church service. On the other hand, the traditional preaching style and call-and-response have been represented so many times in the media, especially movies, that some whites may think all African Americans pray the same way. That would be a disservice to those who don’t, and here, I’m thinking especially of my former minister.
         Lomax wrote that she enjoyed seeing Clinton attacked for white privilege. She has written about this on her Web site, in which she goes after Clinton for floating the idea of herself as vice president. She attributes this "audacity" to the unrelenting privilege of white women.
… Clinton is a white woman and history shows that white women always have their “turn” after white men but before black men …
          I attribute Clinton’s attitude to the privilege of a candidate who has run a close race, in which Democrats have talked at length about having both candidates on the ticket. For a while, I think Clinton was sure that she was going to win, just as Obama now seems confident that he will win. To the opposite side, this can seem arrogant. But I don’t think Obama is gloating that he has beaten a woman any more than I think Clinton thought she was entitled to win because she’s white.
          As I’ve said before, there’s a danger in talking about white women as if we are all privileged in the same way and to the same degree. (The same goes for thinking that male privilege works the same for all black men.) This disappears other factors, such as age, class, ability, sexuality, etc.
         There also is the issue of leaders who set up an us-vs.-them dichotomy. The Rev. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, president of Chicago Theological Seminary and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, preached at Trinity United Church of Christ on the same day as Pfleger. (Thanks to "Aphra Behn" for posting the link.) Thistlethwaite later wrote this:
The idea that you should inflame people’s hatred of one another as a way to mobilize voters has been dominant since 1972 and very powerful. But it has produced near paralysis in Washington and disastrous foreign policy. But hate dies hard and while people want to find unity, they can easily fall back into divisive rhetoric, especially when it is disguised as humor. This is bad at a dinner party; in the pulpit it is shameful and wrong. … Apparently the way Pfleger understands race or gender is through conflict and opposition, not through unity, common ground and certainly not as “sacred”.
          Encouraging a sense of us vs. them does help to unite “us” for action, including voting. But it has the unfortunate consequence of uniting “them” as well.

          ETA: Tamura Lomax has accused me of being a liar. I did not intentionally misrepresent her. I encourage readers to see what she has written at her Web site, on Shakesville and in the comments section.
          Lomax accused Clinton of white privilege in suggesting Obama be her vice president earlier in the race. I apologize for getting that wrong. But my reasoning remains the same. I still think Clinton was speaking as a politician who thought she could win the popular vote, not as someone who thought that her whiteness entitled her to triumph over a black man.
         Lomax also says: “I wouldn't "enjoy" seeing anyone "attacked" for any reason.”