2022-12-29

Nice Racism

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by Neil Godfrey

I do not fully understand “racism”.

I grew up in a time when aboriginal children were sometimes being taken from their families “for their own good”. Everything “we”, the white rulers of the land, were doing in relation to aborigines was “for their good”. Today, on the contrary, one is often confronted with an aboriginal’s story of the trauma that was one of the thousands of what is now termed “the stolen generation“. Many white Australians only became aware of the impact of that practice on the indigenous people in 2002 with the release of the film Rabbit-Proof Fence.

My first experience as a target of racism was when I was touring central China. It was innocuous enough and I laughed along with it. But at the same time I could not deny that there was a little gurgle deep down in my gut that felt a little unpleasant. I asked my Chinese companion why some people seemed to be so curious and smiling among themselves as they looked across at me in a community meal hall. I was wearing shorts, and it was explained to me that someone had said I looked like a monkey because of my hairy legs and arms.

My second experience was soon after I was employed at the Singapore National Library. I don’t believe any of the local citizens and employees there would think they had a racist bone in their bodies. But on an institutional level, when statements were made at a “high level” of conceptualization — NOT at a personal one-on-one level — I was made to feel that my place as a white westerner was somehow tolerated only on sufferance. I was needed for my specialist skills and experience and the sooner my tenure was over the happier they would all be. Australians, I very quickly earned, were reflexively viewed through negative stereotypes, and my own personality and habits that defied those stereotypes made no difference to those perceptions. (I had been asked what things I found problematic with my work environment and I said that Singaporeans “work too hard” — they would almost as a rule work way past the official “knock off” time and seem to give their lives for the corporation and only go home to their families when absolutely necessary, usually quite late at night. The response indicated that I was a “typical” lazy Australian who loved to go on strike at the drop of a hat, gamble, drink and be generally work-shy. My immediate impulse was to argue the point but the environment at the time made that inappropriate. Everyone laughed at “the Australian” and “the virtue” that he saw as “a problem”.)

So as a white Westerner — and as nothing more than a tourist or temporary worker — I have experienced very mild forms of what have felt to me to be some kind of racial prejudice.

My point is that in neither of the above experiences would I have suspected any of the commenters as having the slightest awareness of any racist undertone in their remarks. Had I challenged them on their views I am convinced that they would have denied outright having any racist attitude at all. They were only joking, after all. They liked me personally. So why did I have that little unpleasant gut feeling each time? I smiled and responded as a friend and suppressed my gut gurgling so they would have no reason to notice it.

Robin DiAngelo (Wikipedia)

Today I listened to an Australian national radio podcast talk by Robin DiAngelo. I do not know if I can agree with every statement she made about “nice racism” — The ‘nice racism’ of progressive white people — but I don’t know yet if that’s because I haven’t thought through my own ideas thoroughly enough or if some of her views really are missing the mark by just a fraction of an inch or millimetre. She has her critics and these are candidly addressed in the podcast. But I am still left thinking.

But there is one comment of hers that I certainly could relate to:

“You’re going to have to educate yourself. 

If the thought leaders in this field, for example, are using the term “white supremacy”, and you think that’s a really harsh term, and a terrible term, and you don’t understand why they’re using it, then rather than ask us not to use it, see it as, “Well, I need to get up to speed because I must be missing something. They’re using this with comfort, and they’re talking about something that’s different from what I think this is about”, and so, we’re back to the humility that I necessarily am missing something, because this is arguably the most complex, nuanced, sociopolitical dynamic of the last several hundred years. 

Around 23 mins of https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/bigideas/the-nice-racism-of-progressive-white-people/14087776

In her most recent book she writes:

Our racism avoids the blatant and obvious, such as saying the N-word or telling people to go back to where they came from. We employ more subtle methods: racial insensitivity, ignorance, and arrogance. These have a racist impact and contribute to an overall racist experience for BIPOC people, an experience that may be all the more maddening precisely because it is easy to deny and hard to prove. I am constantly asked for examples, so here are a few: . . . . 

• Not understanding why something on this list is problematic, and rather than seeking to educate yourself further, dismiss it as invalid.

Excerpt From: Dr. Robin DiAngelo. “Nice Racism.” Apple Books.

In case you are wondering what the other examples are, I copy and paste them here from DiAngelo’s book, Nice Racism:

• Confusing one person for another of the same racial group
• Not taking the effort to learn someone’s name; always mispronouncing it, calling them something that’s easier to pronounce; making a show of saying it, or avoiding the person altogether
• Repeating/rewording/explaining what a BIPOC person just said
• Touching, commenting on, marveling at, and asking questions about a Black person’s hair
• Expecting BIPOC people to be interested in and skilled at doing any work related to race
• Using one BIPOC person who didn’t mind what you did to invalidate another who did
• Calling a Black person articulate; expressing surprise at their intelligence, credentials, or class status
• Speaking over/interrupting a BIPOC person
• Lecturing BIPOC people on the answer to racism (“People just need to . . .”)
• Bringing up an unrelated racial topic while talking to a BIPOC person (and only when talking to a BIPOC person)”
• Blackface/cultural appropriation in costumes or roles
• Denying/being defensive/explaining away/seeking absolution when confronted with having enacted racism
• Only naming the race of people who are not white when telling a story
• Slipping into a southern accent or other caricature when talking to or about Black people
• Asking for more evidence or offering an alternate explanation when a BIPOC person shares their lived experience of racism
• Making a point of letting people know that you are married to a BIPOC person or have BIPOC people in your family
• Not being aware that the evidence you use to establish that you are “not racist” is not convincing
• Equating an oppression that you experience with racism
• Changing the channel to another form of oppression whenever race comes up
• Insisting that your equity team address every other possible form of oppression, resulting in racism not getting addressed in depth or at all (“It’s really about class”)
• Including “intellectual diversity,” “learning styles,” “neurodiversity,” and personality traits such as introversion/extroversion in your diversity work so that everyone in your majority-white organization feels included
• Gossiping about the racism of other white people to BIPOC people to distinguish yourself as the good white person
• Using an experience as the only white person in a group or community to say that you’ve experienced racism (which you call reverse racism)
• Telling a BIPOC person that you witnessed the racism perpetrated toward them but doing nothing further
• Equating your experience as a white immigrant or the child of white immigrants to the experiences of African Americans (“The Irish were discriminated against just as bad”)
• Using your experience with service learning or missionary work in BIPOC communities to present yourself as an expert on how to address the issues experienced by those communities
• Loving and recommending films about racism that feature white saviors
• Deciding for yourself how to support a BIPOC person without asking them what they want or need
• Claiming to have a friendship with a Black colleague who has never been to your home
• Being involved in your workplace equity team without continually working on your own racism
• Attending your first talk or workshop on racism and complaining that the speaker did not provide you with the “answer”
• Asking how to start a diversity consulting business because you attended a talk and found it interesting
• Focusing your diversity work on “increasing your numbers” with no structural changes and equating increased numbers with racial justice
• Blocking racial justice efforts by continually raising a concern that your organization is “not ready” and needs to “go slow” to protect white people’s delicate racial sensibilities
Not understanding why something on this list is problematic, and rather than seeking to educate yourself further, dismiss it as invalid

Excerpt From: Dr. Robin DiAngelo. “Nice Racism.” Apple Books.

It’s that last one that got to me and made me pause and wonder. We all know others who fall into that category and have probably been there ourselves at some time. So I am forced to rethink the other points I find myself disagreeing with. That doesn’t mean Robin DiAngelo is right all the time, but the questions she raises are of concern to some people so maybe I need to think them through more fully.

One comparison that came up in that radio interview was the response of a husband who says he cannot be racist because he married a black woman, and the converse for the wife. DiAngelo pointed out that a man marrying a woman does not prove that he is free from sexist or patriarchal (and anti-feminist) biases.

It’s a topic I keep returning to and wondering if I have really understood all its complexity. Individually we may not be racist but we are part of a community and perhaps that’s where we have to wonder about our unconscious biases and how they influence systemic words and actions.


Other reading that surfaced from listening to the above:

  • Anderson, Carol. White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide. Bloomsbury, 2016.
  • DiAngelo, Robin. White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. Penguin, 2019.
  • Eddo-Lodge, Reni. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race. Bloomsbury, 2017.
  • Hamad, Ruby. White Tears/Brown Scars. Melbourne University Press, 2019.


2022-12-21

Inside the Pentecostal Christian’s Mind #1

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by Neil Godfrey

. . .  Israel has become the [Pentecostal] movement’s totemic moral centre, epitomised by the IDF fantasy camp where foreign Pentecostals can come and act out their dreams of shooting Muslim ‘terrorists’ and living in a militarised, walled-up ethno-state. In other words, somehow, ‘Israel’ has become shorthand for a fiercely Christian worldview. And here, given the direction of travel in Israel’s own politics so far this century, we have to come back to the new wave of nationalist populist movements around the world. — Hardy, 252f

 

The Jewish State as a Beacon for Christian Freedom in a Troubled Neighbourhood

Package tours to Israel are big business for Prophets and Apostles, particularly in the West and Korea, where they offer all-inclusive trips to reconnect with the historic roots of Christianity. Some 300,000 American evangelicals undertook the pilgrimage to Israel in 2016 alone.15 Not long before the pandemic, I joined one such tour group at an IDF ‘fantasy camp’ in Gush Etzion, a Jewish settlement in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, not far from Bethlehem. Something of an amusement park for the faithful, Caliber 3, run by active members of the IDF, markets itself as “the leading Counter Terror & Security training academy in Israel”. It came to prominence in 2018 when Jerry Seinfeld took his family there on holiday, controversially posing for a publicity shot with the former commandos who run the camp.

Here are some of the visitor comments that proudly flash in the centre of the camp’s website:

 

I joined a tour group on their expedition led by Ross Nichols, a Louisianan who doesn’t identify as either Christian or Jewish, but believes that “Christianity was not the religion of Jesus, rather a religion about him.” . . . Nichols has assembled his own belief system from the religious currents of what he considers his two homelands. A self-described “ardent Zionist” who is active in the anti-Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement, his mission is to “present the Jewish State in a positive light.”

 

I turned back to Edward Said’s Orientalism . . . . I recall he spoke of the bifurcation of anti-semitism since the Second World War: the despised Arab had taken the place of the “ghetto-bred Jew” while the “Jewish people” had become “dehumanized” in reverse — they were now effectively angels who could do no wrong and any faults were merely the side-effects of over-zealous good intentions.

Trying to understand today’s antisemitism

See also   The Bifurcation of the Semitic Myth and Post-WW2 Antisemitism

Hearing Nichols in full flow, it wasn’t hard to understand why some Jewish people are uncomfortable with the ‘Israelite-mania’ emerging from some parts of the religious right. Instead of being dehumanised with the anti-semitic tropes of old, there is an element of superhumanising, imbuing Jewish Israelis with an almost magical quality that doesn’t have much to do with them or their interests as individuals. “Every Jew is a miracle,” Nichols told his flock as we milled about the gift shop, “so we are seeing not just one miracle, but miracles all over the nation of Israel.”

Out on the range, we undertook a gentle warmup with commanders in full IDF kit, who issued us with fake guns and real slogans to memorise. “What is the foundation of the Israeli Defense Force!” shouted Moshe, the chiselled special forces leader. “Love!” we yelled back, “The IDF is built on morals and values!” The word ‘Palestinian’ wasn’t used, but the identity of “the terrorists” we were’ pretending to hunt down went without saying. Likewise, the assertion that these “enemies” have “forfeited their right to life” went without challenge. But who has time for politics, when you’ve got a wooden gun and a pretend marketplace to defend?

Not exactly carrying ourselves like an elite fighting force, we milled around in the small training ground, one woman fretting about where we could eat during Shabbat, another man in a Krav Maga shirt quizzing the commandos on combat. A sudden BANG, and we were jolted from our formation by a man running at us with a knife. We scattered like bowling pins as trained soldiers crashed through our sagging lines. They took the bad guy down, and everybody cheered.

After a series of drills with air rifles, dogs and fake explosives, Moshe asked why the mostly American tour group would come here to shoot things, when they can go shooting in America any time they like.

Everybody laughed, because that was the joke. The ‘fantasy’ in ‘this camp wasn’t about firing a weapon or taking down a ‘terrorist’; it was the modern state of Israel itself, with its walls and checkpoints, its constant state of militarism. It was the overwhelming sense of a march towards victory that would, at some point, finish here.

From Hardy, Elle. Beyond Belief: How Pentecostal Christianity Is Taking Over the World. Hurst, 2022. (246-248)


2022-12-18

Walking Sharks

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by Neil Godfrey

I used to think the lungfish was the halfway species between sea and land animals but I was not aware of the epaulette shark until the possible discovery of a new species of them made the news: Here is a five year old video:

According to the ABC news report they can stay out of water for up to two hours.

I can believe the part where they are said to survive on land by shutting down several of their brain functions. Now that might explain a lot about another, more familiar, two-legged creature that has become a land-dweller!

 

 

 


2022-12-16

Sovereign Citizens, ISIS and Moonies — the common thread that binds them all

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by Neil Godfrey

This week, about two hours drive due west of where I live, two police officers and a helping neighbour were murdered by a trio of “sovereign citizens” — for the “crime” of entering their property. The father of two of the trio, two brothers, had not heard from either of his sons in twenty years. I read that he broke down on tv when asked about them.

. . . decades after the attacks of September 11, 2001, we stand in line for a dose of radiation while being barked at and occasionally fondled by federal employees.

It’s remarkable how much power the government grabbed, and how many freedoms they took away… instantly. Years later, it’s clear that those freedoms are never coming back.” . . . 

They have us all cowering in our homes, like house cats, stripped of our most basic freedoms. It’s a power grab we haven’t seen since 9/11 (and that may indeed dwarf it).


The circumstances are certainly similar: people are terrified, so the governments are doing whatever they please. . . . 


Contrary to popular belief, many people don’t prefer freedom… not if it means having little or no safety net. . . . They like rules and regulations and feel “safe” within those boundaries.


They see Big Government as a giant safety net. And so they trade liberty for it, believing that authority figures are truthful, benevolent, and trustworthy. They appreciate a government that seizes power.


Those who prefer freedom doubt such benevolence and trustworthiness. 

Excerpt From: “The Sovereign Manifesto: How To Be Free in an Unfree World.”

My youth and early adulthood were mis-spent with a religious cult. When I woke up to what I had been immersed in I visited libraries and bookstores to try to learn as much as I could about “how it had happened”. I was seen as an intelligent person. My upbringing had been in a lower middle-class “liberal Methodist” family. My parents sacrificed so much to see that I had a good education. How could I have ever let myself get mixed up in the Armstrong cult, the “Worldwide Church of God” earlier known as the “Radio Church of God”? I learned much and when I discovered how common my experience was and felt compelled to reach out to others who had had the same experiences. I started a local “support group” of sorts for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, ex-Mormons, and ex-etceteras. It was part of the healing process for all of us to share our experiences and come to understand how alike they all were — despite the fact that each of us had been indoctrinated with the idea that our respective churches were “utterly unique”. No, we learned that there were techniques and experiences common to all of us. That we each felt “unique” and a part of a group unlike any other on earth was one of the experiences we had in common.

Then came 9/11 and the waves of Islamist terrorist attacks. And the public mood of “Islamophobia” mushroomed. I knew that these kinds of terrorist attacks from Muslims were a historically new development so it could not be the Muslim religion itself that was responsible. What was the catalyst? Again, I did some research. I read the online magazines and other literature of various individuals and groups that had in some way been associated with terrorism. And I read the scholarly studies from anthropologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists, sociologists who had studied these individuals and groups. How could it be possible? Everything I was reading gelled so neatly with all I had ever learned about the process that led persons to religious cults. The process was called “radicalization”. But it was the same process that had led others in other environments to “cults” like the Moonies, the Armstrongites, Heaven’s Gate, Dave Koresh of Waco fame, Jonestown, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Mormons…. I began to write about the common thread on this blog. Hating Islam and Muslims was counter-productive and played right into the hands of the terrorists — that was a big part of my message.

Then this week six people lay dead two hours from where I am writing because of conspiracy theories. Yes, most surely, conspiracy theories were not of themselves to blame. Many people who will never even come close to thinking of killing anyone else believe in conspiracy theories. But conspiracy theories can open doors to all sorts of dark rationalizations when under the right sorts of pressures. I sometimes wonder if the most significant difference between the now defunct Armstrong cult and Dave Koresh cult was the age of the leaders: Armstrong was an old man who loved his comforts and would always find a way out of any threat to those comforts; Dave Koresh was young and idealism can be the ruin of the young. Conspiracy theories in the minds of people with other mental or social issues (such as someone on the Asperger’s syndrome spectrum as appears to have been the case with the dominant person in the local trio) can be fatal.

What is a solution? Is there one? I must be hopeful. Here is something positive, something we can all be mindful of from day to day, from a report by Lise Waldeck, Julian Droogan and Brian Ballsun-Stanton:

Public communications that conflate far right extremism with broader community dissent may reinforce far right extremist conspiratorial narratives and harden existing societal polarisation. This in turn would reduce opportunities for positive discussion that acknowledges the anxieties and fears of non-far right extremist communities.

The pandemic has created opportunities for far right extremists to broadcast their narratives to broader subculture identities built around anti-government and antiestablishment narratives as well as opposition to public health measures such as vaccination. People engage with these narratives because they provide simple answers and clearly identify an ’other’ who can become the focus of blame. Conspiratorial narratives are quick to position government and authority figures within this out-group. Communications that describe those who disobey public health orders in order to engage in civil protest as far right extremists may reinforce the very alignment sought by actual far right extremist groups.

Consistent public acknowledgement of different groups holding alternative perspectives can provide the necessary framework for proactive public engagement with marginalised subcultures. Politicising and demonising public non-compliance with health orders may lead to the further alienation of dissenting groups, pushing them towards the political fringes inhabited by actual anti-state extremists. One way to prevent this is to move away from polarising communications that subsume public discontent and fears around COVID-19 under a violent extremist lens.

Engagement strategies that provide opportunities for these communities to express their fears and anxieties may help in the increasing understanding. State government programs that proactively engage with active and outspoken dissenting/angry citizenship are well placed to provide preventative support for those impacted by conspiratorial and anti-establishment movements due to the current global health crisis, or who become engaged with far right extremist movements. (pp. 39f : Online Far Right Extremist and Conspiratorial Narratives During the COVID-19 Pandemic)

What is the common thread binding Sovereign Citizens, Moonies and ISIS? One strong tie is distrust of society. Society is under the powers of evil, they believe, whether those powers are earthly or heavenly. The controlling powers are believed to work in secret behind the scenes but are duping the majority of us. The majority, those who more or less cooperate with social governance of some kind, are seen as hapless dupes, either wilfully ignorant and blind or simply “dumb sheep”.

It is all too easy to laugh mockingly at “Trumpists” or despairingly at “anti-vaxxers” — but the report above suggests that such a response is inimical to what we all want.

I have images of local fairs where all kinds of groups, government, statutory, professional and private, place their “information session” stalls and tents for all to visit. The hard-core conspiracy theorists will mock such occasions as being part of the plan to indoctrinate us all, but the “in-between bystanders” will be the primary target. Maybe also a few hard-core persons who have tiny nigglings of some doubt. But an understanding of how “the system” really works is surely essential. How Parliament works, how medical research centres work, how teachers work, how journalists and news broadcasters work … how everything works. — Would it not be good to have programs of some kind that increased awareness of how everything really works?

The common thread is distrust of society. What can be done to corrode that thread and demonstrate how as social beings we can all work together in accordance with our basic nature and find niches that allow each of us to improve our collective lot?

One small step would be to listen with respect to issues raised by “the outsider” and think of the most informative way to respond. Mocking the conspiracy theorist is not the answer and only adds fuel to the fire. Maybe we all need to work at better informing ourselves to know how to respond in the most helpful way we can.


2022-12-05

Expanding on My Essay in Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Part 1

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by Tim Widowfield

Joseph Fitzmyer’s Stages of Tradition

Joseph A. Fitzmyer

In my essay, “‘Everything Is Wrong with This’: The Legacy of Maurice Casey” (Widowfield 2021), I mentioned a few core ideas that I’ve been meaning to expand upon here. My recent reading of Richard Carrier’s review, in which he said my brief article “should be required reading for anyone keen to evaluate these kinds of arguments” (Carrier 2022, p. 190) has spurred me to write again.

Back in 1979 when he was engaging with Géza Vermes over the Son of Man Problem, Joseph Fitzmyer remarked his interlocutor’s analysis completely ignored any notion of historical stages in the gospel tradition. Specifically, when did “the Son of Man” enter the early Christian lexicon? This question has special interest for those of us who think the evangelists considered it to be some sort of title. However, Fitzmyer noted that the “distinction in the levels of the gospel tradition . . . [was] strangely lacking in Vermes’ discussion of the whole matter.” (Fitzmyer 1979, p. 65) Continue reading “Expanding on My Essay in Varieties of Jesus Mythicism: Part 1″

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