|Laura and Miriam Kiehl playing with a barrel, |
Fort Lawton, Washington, February 20, 1899
Much of my personal life intersects with race, religion, and gender issues. In some ways, the word intersects is too gentle. Perhaps collide better captures what occurs in my life as an Asian North American woman theologian, writer, minister, and mother. As I try to engage in theological dialogue, live in community with the dominant, unfamiliar culture, and raise my kids with concerns on how to be just in this world, I realize that the lives of all people, especially people of color, collide and clash with others on the critical issues of race, religion, and gender.Collide and clash--I love this. It's messy to claim multiple intersections of identity. It seems to me that this is what happened when Dr. Jones responded to Dr. Cleveland's blog post, which was itself a response to public remarks Dr. Jones made at a conference. A collision and a clash, and the mess that went with it.
When I first saw Dr. Jones' post and the outraged tweets that inevitably went with it, I rolled my eyes. His blustery style takes more energy than I have to read most days. But I clicked over and read it, so it's my own fault I read the last line that said "and quit calling me a misogynist too." A few days later, I saw Dr. Jones' invitation to feminist Christians to guest post. And then I saw two men argue over the course of 30 or so comments about the definition of "ad hominem". This is why I spend no time on that
blog or most men's blogs, frankly. I'm a single parent of two teenage boys, and I work for 4 churches and 2 colleges to keep food on my table and a roof over our heads. I don't like spending my free time arguing and competing on the internet (yet I easily get sucked into it). And I have my own blog, where I can freely dispense the trolls.
I don't claim Emergent/ce/ing as my own identity. This is important, because the discussions about race, sexuality, and gender in Emergent communities are very much in-house conversations. I have commented several times on blogposts, conferences, and other conversations among Emergent-type folks and have politely, and not-so-politely, been asked to stay in my own lane. Most recently I commented on a post by Eric English at EmergentVillage on the subject of homosexuality. I was pretty disgusted with the post, seeing as how I claim a queer identity. My own presby circles are pretty mixed about sexuality, so I ought not be throwing stones, but nevertheless, I reacted badly to the post.
A few days later Kimberly Roth wrote a post "I Am Emergent Village", in which she took responsibility for her affiliation with Emergent Village, for the diversity of the community's opinions on sexuality, and for the pain caused by such words:
Therefore, I am saying: I Am Emergent Village. And I will hold myself accountable for critique of EV, and for moving the conversation forward. I will promote what I see as positive conversations outside of EV (from Parish Collective to discussions of multi-ethnic diversity to Queer Theology). I will continue to participate in discussions of privilege and diversity and power and humility. I will own that being in a conversation means offending both those who feel oppressed by their personhood being up for discussion, and those who feel unfairly criticized because their theology does not allow them to affirm women as autonomous beings, privilege as a systemic reality or LGBTQ persons as whole, rather than something sinful to be cured or tolerated or allowed.This is so not my conversation. I've got about zero interest in convincing anyone of the legitimacy of my sexuality and how it works with my faith. Many of the people involved in Emergent communities (including Dr. Jones) are well-educated about matters of race and gender and sexuality--I have even less interest in trying to teach people who already know what they need to know on these subjects. So although I think Dr. Cleveland had an important point to make about whether a search for a better gospel is something we should strive for, and while I think she is right about the exclusionary narrative that produces and how it deters people of color, I also figured she'd made her point and that Dr. Jones probably already knew it.
And listen. I roll my eyes at Dr. Jones' bluster. But he has been shameless, driven, and LOUD about his support for queer folk in the church.
Still I was troubled at the public naming and shaming of a black woman academic by a white man. In the last several years, the people who have been most supportive in my hardest moments have been women of color. This blog conflict sticks in my craw.
A few days ago after Dr. Jones' "I'm Tired of Being Called a Racist" post, I stumbled on some tweets about this mess. One woman mentioned that she had been at the event where Dr. Jones spoke. She said that Dr. Cleveland had commented to her and some friends about the talk, and they encouraged her to blog her critique. A month had gone by and the tweeter and friends reminded her to please blog. The tweeter expressed surprise and dismay that it had all blown up like this and that she had asked Dr. Jones to cool it (I'm paraphrasing).
It occurred to me in that moment that this was a setup from the beginning. Dr. Jones made controversial remarks that I think he knew might be controversial. A black woman had critiques. White women encouraged her to air the critiques (instead of taking responsibility for posting their own thoughts). And I think the resulting kerfluffle could have been predicted. Dr. Jones is known to be blustery. Somewhat predictably, he responded to Dr. Cleveland's post, throwing in the misogyny piece for good measure, and all the wimmenz tweeted a storm (including me, by the way. I didn't bother going back, but I know I snark tweeted at least once or twice about this).
EmergentDudeBro was born, and predictably Dr. Jones and others took public offense (I would have too). Personally, I hate satire and parody. They are almost always used to damage others. I hate the Onion, Borowitz, and Stephen Colbert. Humorless I might be, fine, whatever. (Confessional note: I am the person behind @N_MoleRat, the disapproved mascot of UNCO.)
It's just that it's all been such a well-worn drama.
When I was in kindergarten we used to play a game of tag called "Kissing Girls." The girls would chase the boys and try to kiss them. The boys would run like hell to get away from the girl cooties. One day the boys decided to recruit some girls and make them the "good kissing girls" who would chase away the "bad kissing girls." We played like this for a year until everyone got bored and started playing star wars.
This whole thing reminds me of that. It's just a well-worn game and we're not getting anywhere. Women coming on Dr. Jones' blog and using their trauma to explain how he triggers them. Dr. Jones saying he feels like he got called Hitler. People patronizing Dr. Jones for internet points "teaching" him about racism and sexism. White women setting up the whole scenario by using a black woman to make their points against a white man. And then those same white women playing "good kissing girl" by getting in the middle and playing both sides.
I've seen this same conflict play out over and over. At seminary (ask me sometime about The Foreskin--I have not forgotten). On the inter webs (Tim Wise stepped in it a few weeks back). In my own life (Dear God, it sucks to realize one has been a racist asshat). People say the internet makes these conflicts worse--that people say things they would never say in person. And that may be so--but we are also talking to people we would never talk to in person! We are colliding and clashing with people outside of our usual circles. The possibility exists here for reconciliation and healing across sharp divides. But we're going to need a new game.
I'll blog tomorrow about resilience and triggers. It's not clear yet in my mind what I want to say about that, but this post is pointing my thoughts that way, and this post is already long enough.
For now I just want to say this: We are colliding and crashing, as Dr. Kim wrote. The good news about that is we are still moving. And as long as we are moving, the potential for change is present. Which reminds me of the concept of "assemblage". Which is going to have to wait for another blog post, but which you can read about in Jasbir Puar's essay: "I'd rather be a cyborg than a goddess: Intersectionality, Assemblage, and Affective Politics".