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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Carter's RACE 4: Foucault, Modern Political Thought, the Jews, and Race

As stated in earlier posts, I am taking a slow pace through the arguments by J. Kameron Carter concerning the emergence of the modern racialized world. Carter has done many of us a great favor by taking time to read some of the lesser known writings of key figures of modern thought.

Perhaps you were not the kind of student I was, but I found myself barely keeping my head above water in the vast sea of writing which had some relevance to my dissertation research. Now and then, I would see an insight in someone’s thought, and hope to find the one essay or book I could read that would allow me to mine what I needed either (a) to add strength to my argument or (b) to show that I was not so dense as to have completely ignored someone important. I didn’t drown, but there was so much more that was missing. In addition, I was thankful for certain books of grand scope which helped me to organize and schematize large portions of the field I was studying. Carter’s book is that kind of book, and I am glad that I now get to join him in this conversation.

One writer I tried to understand through a few brief writings and lots of conversations with colleagues is Michel Foucault. Although it seemed obvious to me that I was influenced by is ideas, I did not try to make him a primary conversation partner. Carter, on the other hand, has carefully examined not only well-known texts, but also some lesser known speeches and essays which shed important light on the growth of modern racialized rationality and social structures.

Carter draws on Foucault to build a case for the centrality of the Jews for the emergence of race. The Jews, as the archetypal writers of counterhistorical narrative, help to shape the modern vision of history as not merely the accomplishments of the victors, but also of the struggles of the oppressed for liberation. In recognizing this significant contribution, Foucault and Carter see the way that modern understandings of race emerge from this consciousness of a distinct people that the Jewish covenant and scriptures bring into existence.

Modern Europeans, influenced by the Reformation as a movement of protest echoing the prophetic voice of the Jews, come to see their relationship to other peoples of the world in a racial frame. Fascinated by their own ways in contrast to the ways of others, and inclined to see themselves and their ways as superior to others, Europeans transform their adopted religion of Christianity into a messianic soteriology and eschatology of whiteness in history. Western Civilization claims triumphantly the meek and lowly Crucified One and his followers as a community called to elevate the rest of the world to its potentiality, by persuasion, force, or extermination. The Jews, as the exemplars of a peculiar people who gave birth to the vision of a liberative counterhistory, must ironically be eliminated in one way or another in order for whiteness to complete its salvific mission in history.

As I struggled to understand the ways the modernity’s churches have departed from their calling in order to serve false saviors and idols, I remained painfully unaware of the implications of race for modern rationality. I lived in the midst of Christian failure to overcome the racialized ideologies of U. S. culture, but did not see the radical nature of the problem. I knew that “racisms is a faith,” but I thought it to be something that could be pointed out and overcome through a process of clarifying teaching from the New Testament. I saw it as an intellectual error made favorable by an oppressive economic structure, and therefore a residue of the past that was being left behind, albeit far too slowly.

What I did not see was the way that modern politics, economics, and everything else has been structured by the invention of whiteness and a racialized world surrounding it. There were many texts that should have pointed me in that direction, but for the most part I had not read them. I did not receive the message from the books I had read from Latin American theologians, even though they were often addressing these matters.

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