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I don’t much like the term “white privilege.” Mainly the term strikes me as an interpersonal framework that gets substituted on when talking about structural oppression. It also carries an assumption of being necessarily a positive or beneficial thing to the one who has in, an assumption that I think hinders people from actually understanding what folks in anti-racism are trying to talk about when they talk about how white supremacy works on white individuals. I’ve written at length about this before (on a now defunct personal blog), but I wanted to sketch out some more thoughts on the subject.

Clearly one needs to be able to talk about how white supremacy affects individuals. At the same time, I think we can do this without sacrificing the ability of the language we use to also be scaled up into talking about how white supremacy functions on a structural level. I sometimes rely on inheritance to do this work for a number of reasons:

  1. You can inherit a multiplicity of things. One could inherit a broke-down jalopy or a Porsche. One might inherit the home of a hoarder and all the shit within or a 5 story mansion with an amazing art collection. Just because one is inheriting something doesn’t mean one’s relationship to the inherited thing is necessarily a positive one. One might be resentful, extremely grateful, burdened, or completely consumed by something one inherits. This multiplicity in the ways one relates to the things one inherits is useful for challenging the notion that when we talk about how white supremacy affects white individuals it is necessarily in a way that is beneficial to white people as “privilege” often seems to connote for most people. I frequently say that “white supremacy makes white people stupid,” and I mean this because it does. One need only look at the recent (and roundly lambasted) review in the Economist of Edward Baptist’s new book on slavery, the recurring books every decade that “prove” whites have higher IQ’s than black people (Also, the most recent version of this is quite fittingly named A Troublesome Inheritance, though perhaps the author and I would disagree why this is so troubling), and does anybody remember the “If I Was a Poor Black Kid” post that came out on Forbes’ website in 2011 where a white man revealed his complete ignorance about what life as a poor black child might actually be like while also revealing how white supremacist fantasies about black childhood are enduring? White people—and fairly educated white people at that—continue reproducing ideas that are simply stupid to maintain given the information we have from the intellectual work and testimonies of black people. White people stupidly continue projects to “prove” that the effects of white supremacy on black people are black people’s fault and that white people are, in fact, our saviors. Only people educated to trust in themselves as experts on black people’s lives while distrusting black people as intelligent enough to produce histories worth learning could continue on this course of stupidity even as their arguments are repeatedly revealed to be stupid.
  2. Inheritance suggests an accumulation or reception of some sort. It is an accumulation or reception of something one did not acquire but is gifted regardless which, in turn, adds to the collection of things one possesses. While inheritance has a certain economic lilt to it, I don’t think it’s too difficult to recognize how inheritance is utilized as a concept in fields like biology, for instance, and extend that into a social understanding of inheritance. Some people inherit social traits like bullying from an older sibling, for instance. And what is networking but the inheritance of certain possibly beneficial relationships due to one’s relation with another? Inheritance, to me, seems more primed for thinking about networks and relations that enable certain kinds of accumulation or gifts to be exchanged.
  3. This individual accumulation can be scaled up to think about how inheritance has functioned structurally within white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. For most middle class white people, one’s inheritance is probably not enough to catapult one into the 1%, though it may be enough for a down payment on a modest home, or to send you to college debt free. Even for those whose inheritance is not exorbitant, it is useful to think about how inheritance has functioned as one of the main ways of maintaining wealth and power in a white supremacist society. There is the ability to continue accumulation of wealth from a previous generation where even for middle class black folks, the accumulation of financial capital seems to be something each generation has to do on its own. Poor white people are, of course, not privy to the perpetual accumulation of wealth that middle class and wealthy white people are, yet we must ask, what is it about the promise of whiteness, the obligation that whiteness as capital produces, that continues to undercut attempts at coalition between those who are economically oppressed? That is, might we also think about whiteness as a social accumulation that pays off in a psychic way? I think this is something James Baldwin tries to get at. What are the psychic and spiritual conditions of a white supremacist society such that it is necessary to create the “nigger”? Inheritance, in my view, gets at the idea of their being some kind of a pay off without necessarily prescribing that pay off as something we should aspire to receive. It seems fairly neutral morally in a way that allows some flexibility for thinking creatively about what we might want to do with these inheritances and how we might want to refuse them, or pawn them off, or sell them, or give them away, etc.

I’m sure there are more reasons I could name for why I think this is a useful way of talking about how white individuals are affected by white supremacy but I’ll stop here. Also, I am not trying to stop people from using the word “privilege” as much as I am trying to stop people from using the word “privilege” all the time. There are contexts where it seems like the most apt description. My point here, though, is that we need to have several tools in our intellectual toolboxes. If we can only talk about something in one way, it really inhibits our ability to respond to situations that aren’t as clear about how white supremacy is working on individual white people.

So what do you all think? Is inheritance as useful a way of talking about white supremacy’s effects on white people as privilege? What are some problems you all see in talking about white supremacy’s effect on white individuals in this way?

I will begin by saying that it is fair for Sarah and Lindsey at A Queer Calling to point out the many places in which they address issues relevant to non-celibate members of the LGBTQ community. I made no reference to these, for which I apologize. I was and am aware of their support in the arenas they list.

The discussion so far:

I am also aware and deeply appreciative of Sarah and Lindsey’s hospitality through our personal communications, and am glad that A Queer Calling does all it can to be hospitable in an inhospitable environment. I am 100% sure I would be welcome at their table with them, in their home. I would be delighted to swap stories and enter with them into their daily prayer life. Until that prayer life broadened to include their parish. At that point, the hospitality of their home broadens to include the hospitality of their larger household, their ekklesia. Whether we like it or not, their priest may be required by the rule of his church to include or exclude me based on whether or not I am sexually active. Since I do not know their church or their priest, the invitation to pray with them corporately will inevitable be fraught with anxiety and grief: will I or will I not be allowed to eat with my friends at their ecclesial table?

Continue Reading »

I’ll be teaching a year-long introductory college class on Catholicism again for 2014-2015. As I prepare to teach this class again, I’ve been thinking not only about the requisite alterations I need to make to the syllabus, but also about what teaching even is and what it means to me.

Here’s why.

I am recalling a memory I filed away at some point, and it has to do with women, the practice of teaching in a university context, and how we place those two things together.

One early September a couple years ago, I was at a departmental party, and I ended up having a conversation with another female graduate student in theology who was preparing to teach for her first time. We had never met before, so our exchange gravitated toward our most obvious common tie: starting a new semester and being relatively new university instructors (though I had taught once before). Continue Reading »

Sarah and Lindsey at A Queer Calling finally laid out their celibate gay agenda:

A Queer Calling came to be at a time when we felt a need for more meaningful interaction with other people on topics such as celibacy, vocation, spirituality, and LGBT Christian issues. It began as a project to help us explore where God is calling us, and to give us something new to enjoy together during Lindsey’s period of unemployment. We write because we see celibacy as an important topic that far too many people dismiss as old-fashioned, oppressive, and indicative of a lack of self-acceptance. And that’s all.

Without qualification, I trust the “agenda” of A Queer Calling. I appreciate that they are clear that their story is not meant to be used against others who do not share their theological view or family practices. More importantly, I respect and admire the way they carefully discuss difficult topics and the respect they convey through their analysis. I respect the choice of Sarah and Lindsey to share a celibate life together, to tell their story, and to advocate for their place as supported celibates within their communities. Continue Reading »

*Spoilers all throughout this piece.

The train is a lie. It seems likely that it’s conditions for possibility are based on a lie (in my view it seems likely that Wilford manufactured the climate crisis himself or with others in order to solidify his place in the world as a genius and exceptional). It’s order and chaos are based on more lies and arbitrary distinctions (which Tilda Swinton elucidates so marvelously in her rant on why one wouldn’t wear a shoe on their head even as the violence of this analogy and the distinction it grounds is being performed before the inhabitants of the back of the train). Even the Snowpiercer’s technology, a purportedly perpetual motion engine that powers itself, is revealed to be a lie, for it depends on other parts of the train that began to fail and so must be replaced by children’s invisible labor in order for the train to keep going. So there is a lie of a self sustaining individual and independent power as the source of life on the train (the engine is narrated as agent in gathering snow and purifying it for the water supply, but if the engine depends on child labor, it is clear that it is the labor and lives of the most vulnerable that is the grounds of the social life and social order of the train) How does one disrupt the lie? Joon-Ho imagines this by refusing the lie that grounds the reason for the train itself: that the world is forever uninhabitable.

Joon-Ho reveals the possibility of lateral movement and lateral thought when Nam and Curtis converse outside of Wilford’s door; there is a shifting of the imagination Joon-Ho instantiates through his shifting of the camera at the moment when Nam reveals his observations about the outside to Curtis and his belief that it is now possible to survive outside the train.

The shift that occurs visually represents a shifting of the field in view, that there is other movement available than the vertical movement from the bottom of the class barrel to the top of the class barrel, that there is a more fundamental restructuring of thought which enables one to stop thinking of the walls of the train as walls and to consider them as doors instead, as things that can be opened up. In this shifting, it is a gesture to the kind of radical immanence which troubles transcendence of the trains hierarchy and distinction as the goal for revolutionary movement, suggesting that seeking transcendence, at the end, will still occlude the mechanization of human bodies and their valuation based on their place and how well they fit into the order of the train. Joon-Ho also includes brief flashes back to various behavior we saw Nam engage in that seemed odd and out of place precisely because he was operating from an imagination that was out of place–that was out of order with the lie of the train’s necessity–and was preparing to make that alternately imagined reality possible all throughout the fight to get to the front.

Given who survives at the beginning of the end, the film also eschews white liberal anxieties about white people’s place as overseers of what ought to happen. It illuminates that if there is a place for white people to animate revolutionary struggle and the reinvigoration of the imagination, it is in refusing to take control of the train and letting the self determination of the most vulnerable lead the way in derailing capital’s reproduction of distinction. That is, Snowpiercer imagines a world without whiteness as it’s beginning, which is not a beginning of a decline, but the beginning of the end of distinction, a beginning of an alternate way of inhabiting time and the space of the world; a refusal of the myth of distinction as necessitating separation from the world and reentering the precarity of the world and of humanity with eyes open to the risks that lay with being in the world but also the hope that there is life in the world that can be sustained within the world, not shielded from it in the false distinctions and social order of a white supremacist, capitalist, and patriarchal imagination.

*an addendum:
I wonder, too, if Snowpiercer, with it’s tightly crowded rear train cars policed by military and aristocrats following the order of an unjust law says anything to us about the conditions which ground the situation with Israel’s war on Gaza. That is, the mundaneness of the Israeli state’s violence and the manufactured crises in the Middle East that serve as justification for unwarranted brutality and further enclosure under extreme conditions. It seems the film does much to, in exploding the situation of the train as an allegory or parable about capitalism, law, order and power, reveals the absurdity of such positions that claim to be neutral. There is no space for neutrality in such a extreme power disparities. That the resistance of those in the back cars cannot be subject to a morality that finds an order which is grounded in the law that maintains the train in the first place. The choices of those in the back to resist (and Nam and Yona show that there are multiple ways of inhabiting the space of resistance) is conditioned by their enclosure, and thus is subject to an inquiry as to why the enclosure exists in the first place and who benefits from maintaining it as such?

For the past two summers (2012 and 2013), I’ve been fortunate enough to spend July in Paris, doing research for my dissertation.1 I had been to Paris before, visiting for a week when I studied abroad in France, but now that I’ve gotten deep into French religious history, visiting Paris took on a whole new meaning. For example, my sister and I went to mass at St. Médard, a church that was made famous by the Jansenist convulsionnaires. I also visited St. Jacques-du-Haut-Pas, a parish with a connection to Jansenism and the tomb of the Abbot of Saint-Cyran, and St. Étienne-du-Mont, which is the final resting place of Blaise Pascal and Jean Racine.

However, there are two little-known sites that I encourage anyone interested in French religious history to go see: the former convents of Port-Royal du Paris and Port-Royal des Champs. I’d like to use this blog post to explain why you might want to visit these sites.

Now I’ve already done a lot of name-dropping in this post and people may not recognize all these names if you’re not up on your early modern church history. You may be wondering why in the world you’d be interested in visiting these two former convents, so I’ll provide a brief historical overview.  Continue Reading »

A recent post from Zach Hoag on LGBT persons and the blessings they bring to the church troubled me and reminded me of why I think third way is the worst way. Namely, its appearance as well reasoned and the hidden violences that animate this position.

The “draw” of the third way comes primarily through its mode of narrating the world: It is a frail and broken world where people are unkind to one another, hurt one another, and increasingly polarized. It is a world where people’s ideologies position them into one of two camps. Either for “this thing” or against it. Each side wants to say there is no middle ground, no nuance–that it is black and white. But, the third wayer reveals to us, this is a false image! Yes, the world is frail and broken, yes we hurt each other and increasingly polarized, but it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another way. A way that is more peaceable, more just, more Christ-like. A … THIRD WAY. Continue Reading »

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