Part 1—Big northern brains push back: We’re not sure we’ve ever seen a more remarkable welter of pushbacks than we’ve seen in the past week.
The pushback came from Professor West, simultaneously speaking all sides of the topic on yesterday’s Reliable Sources.
(West on our cable news channels: “You’ve got MSNBC, you know, is basically Obama propaganda. You’ve got Fox News, right-wing propaganda. CNN, much more ambiguous, able to generate some insights, wrestle with some issues, like your show. But still, CNN fearful because you’ve got to deal with the profit margin. You’ve got to deal with making money.”
(Two months back, we captured Professor West kissing the ascot of his “brother” Sean Hannity as he attempted to sell his new book. Whatever! We’re just saying!)
Back to the recent pushback:
The pushback came from Professor Butler (of Georgetown), first in an angry hour with Diane Rehm, then in a somewhat puzzling segment with Chris Hayes, who praised him twice for being “frankly honest.”
Inevitably, the most pitiful form of the pushback came at the new Salon, in this jumbled essay. The pushback also came from Karen Attiah, on-line at the Washington Post.
In some ways, it seems to us that Attiah expressed the pushback most directly. It also seems to us that some of what follows doesn’t exactly make sense.
We tend to be like that up north:
ATTIAH (6/28/15): In society’s rush to fawn over how quickly and easily blacks turn to the Bible, and forgive and reconcile with those who seek to dehumanize black people, to harm black people, to destroy our sense of security at our places of worship, there is the tendency to ignore the psychological and spiritual price racial terror and white supremacy extracts from black people by striking fear into our hearts.Without any question, many black people are feeling hurt, angry, afraid. There’s no reason why people shouldn’t be feeling those ways.
For black people in America, there has been a lot to feel afraid of lately. Are my family and friends at black churches safe? Can a black girl who looks like me go to a swimming party in a McKinney, Tex.? Will my brother and black male friends be safe at a “routine” traffic stop? Will my college-age friends be safe from chants of segregation and lynching from fraternity boys?
The media was filled with headlines riffing on the themes of “Grace in Charleston,” “Forgiveness in Charleston,” aiming to celebrate the capacity of black folks to forgive yet another unspeakable act of violence. We were enthralled by President Obama, the first black U.S. president, singing “Amazing Grace” during his eulogy for S.C. State Senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, allegedly gunned down by white supremacist Dylann Roof this month at the Mother Emanuel AME church.
I admit Obama’s eulogy in South Carolina was a welcome tonic, easing, if only a little bit, the pain and weight of what happened in Charleston. But, as barely two weeks have gone by since the massacre in that church, many black folk are still hurt, angry and afraid.
Has there been a “tendency to ignore the psychological and spiritual price racial terror and white supremacy extracts from black people?” That could be true as well.
Beyond that, though, Attiah said that “society” “rushed to fawn” in the aftermath of the recent murders in Charleston. More specifically, she said society “rushed to fawn over how quickly and easily blacks turn to the Bible, and forgive and reconcile.”
Attiah also criticized “the media,” saying it was “filled with headlines...aiming to celebrate the capacity of black folks to forgive yet another unspeakable act of violence.” She linked to one alleged example, this analysis piece in the Atlantic. She didn’t cite the media entity for which she herself works.
(For the record, the piece to which Attiah links also cites the way Amish families forgave the killer in a 2006 mass schoolhouse shooting. The piece specifically states this point: “An individual or community’s gift of forgiveness, however, does not obviate a society’s demand for justice.”)
Attiah seemed to praise President Obama’s eulogy, failing to note that he too hailed the way those “black folks” in Charleston did what they did with respect to love and forgiveness and the affirmative refusal to hate. But so it has tended to go as this pushback has unfolded.
In our view, this pushback against the Charleston families has often been unattractive and condescending and not hugely helpful or wise. It has also been quite widespread in the past week.
We thought of this pushback when we read Andrew Sullivan’s post about Friday’s same-sex marriage decision. Sullivan has been advocating for this issue since 1989. He described the early pushback, including that which came from “much of the gay left:”
SULLIVAN (6/26/15): Those were isolating days. A young fellow named Evan Wolfson who had written a dissertation on the subject in 1983 got in touch, and the world immediately felt less lonely. Then a breakthrough in Hawaii, where the state supreme court ruled for marriage equality on gender equality grounds. No gay group had agreed to support the case, which was regarded at best as hopeless and at worst, a recipe for a massive backlash. A local straight attorney from the ACLU, Dan Foley, took it up instead, one of many straight men and women who helped make this happen. And when we won, and got our first fact on the ground, we indeed faced exactly that backlash and all the major gay rights groups refused to spend a dime on protecting the breakthrough … and we lost.Just to be clear, there is no reason why “the gay left” or any of the “the major gay rights groups” were required to support this movement, whether then or now. Marriage equality has come to be seen as a basic right by most on the left. There’s no reason why everyone had to see things that way in 1989.
In fact, we lost and lost and lost again. Much of the gay left was deeply suspicious of this conservative-sounding reform; two thirds of the country were opposed; the religious right saw in the issue a unique opportunity for political leverage—and over time, they put state constitutional amendments against marriage equality on the ballot in countless states, and won every time. Our allies deserted us...Those were dark, dark days.
I recall all this now simply to rebut the entire line of being “on the right side of history.” History does not have such straight lines...
Still, we thought of the pushback against the Charleston families when we read that passage. That pushback is being disguised in various ways, as is our wont up north in our journalistic and academic circles.
For the most part, we’re framing our pushback as a pushback against “society,” or more often as a pushback against “the media.” We’re hiding behind these safe targets as we secretly ridicule southern blacks for their quick, easy turn to the Bible.
In some of her phrasing, we thought Attiah made this, our actual target, more clear than others have done. Again, we’ll suggest what we suggested last week:
In the past week, Northern liberal alleged intellectuals have been pushing back against southern blacks for all their stupid Bible crap and all their love and forgiveness. It seems to us that this isn’t the greatest idea.
Full disclosure—we aren’t religious ourselves. We hold no religious or cosmological views, aside from the cosmological view that we humans have no idea who, what or where we are or what we’re doing there.
South Carolina’s church traditions don’t belong to us—but they do constitute an important part of American and world history. On balance, we think they’re being denigrated in ways which aren’t especially helpful or smart, as is our wont up here.
We northern alleged intellectuals! Last Friday, Lizette Alvarez profiled two of Charleston’s murder victims. Early on, she let a bit of the glory out.
Good for her, we said:
ALVAREZ (6/26/15): Yet in the face of profound loss, the funerals Thursday were jubilant, the overflow crowds swaying, singing and cheering, doing the syncopated “Lowcountry clap.” Speakers recalled both women as pillars of their families and their church.Alvarez cited the families’ “grace” even before Obama did! She also referred to “the syncopated ‘Lowcountry clap’ ” which animated those funerals.
The victims’ family members have drawn national attention for the grace they have shown, offering blessings, love, and even forgiveness to the man accused in the killings—an example they say was set by the people who were suddenly ripped from their lives.
One by one, Ms. Lance’s five grandchildren stood in front of the congregation at Royal Missionary Baptist Church, where her body lay before the altar in a shimmering silver gown, and praised her spirit of generosity, which they hoped would be embraced by all. One of her granddaughters said the family wished her legacy to stretch beyond the bullets and bloodshed at Emanuel.
South Carolina is culturally unique in various ways; this is especially true of coastal South Carolina. In principle, large continental nations can gain from the cultures which may emerge in their various corners and crannies.
As far as we know, southern black church traditions didn’t come, in the main, from coastal Carolina. That said, we were happy to see Alvarez make that lovely reference to that “Lowcountry clap.”
Is it possible that we all-knowing northerners have more to gain from southern black culture than this one rhythmic infusion? Is it possible that our professors and journalists might gain from an examination of their own basic instincts this time?
Tomorrow: The aggressive refusal to hate