I’ve noticed a trend among white, straight, academic cis men in so-called progressive or emergent Christianity where calling someone racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. is a bigger problem than the existence of racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Emergent Christianity is a broad term, and progressive an even broader one, so I don’t speak about all people from all movements that use these words to define themselves. I want to make that clear before I move on, because I appreciate and benefit from much progressive Christian thought, and emergent Christianity helped me escape fundamentalism. But in many progressive Christian circles, I feel silenced, as a woman. Several people of color and queer people have told me that they feel the same way. This is why I talk about it.
It starts out with this idea that because a privileged man is educated, and because he is okay with women speaking in the church, isn’t part of the KKK, and doesn’t believe in ex-gay therapy he must an ally to all oppressed groups. The church/conference he attends or the blog that he writes on that has similar values must be a safe haven for all of these oppressed groups, too. When oppressed groups groups bring up the fact that they do not feel comfortable in Privileged Dude’s favorite spaces, or when they bring up the fact that they are underrepresented in these spaces, Privileged Dude refuses to see oppression as part of the problem.
This is the part where Privileged Dude brings up his academic training and feigns blindness to race/sex/orientation/etc. He’s just concerned about “rigorous thinking!” You just don’t understand the Marxist sociopolitical ideology that informs his critique of theories that hegemonic paradigms invisiblize certain subjectivities! Oh, but you’re not educated enough to understand. Don’t worry. . . Privileged Dude will put it in simpler terms for you.
Basically, “Don’t call me a racist/sexist/homophobe!”
We see this in a recent article by Tony Jones, entitled “I’m Tired of Being Called a Racist.” The title and the article itself says a lot, but his comments on the piece say even more. When one commenter talks about the problem of systemic racism, Jones responds by saying,
Let’s work on dismantling those systems. We can do so by 1)stop calling each other racists and 2) stop lecturing people who are just like us.
Good news, people of color. Tony Jones has single-handedly solved racism. You all can go home now–Tony’s got this.
And it turns out, people of color, that YOU were the cause of systemic racism the entire time! Who’d have thought? If only you’d quit naming your oppression and speaking your mind, systems of oppression would just crumble to the ground!
Jones is also tired of being called a misogynist, as he states at the end of his piece. He’s not the only one. I once critiqued author Peter Rollins for his stance on what he calls “identity politics,” saying that his idea that “rigorous thinking” (as defined by white men, of course) is more important than inclusion (because, let’s face it, women can think as rigorously as humanly possible and still be dismissed by men as “too emotional” and “shallow”) made me feel like I was still a second-class citizen in the church.
After he blocked me (calling me “cute,” because he totally respects me as a fellow academic Update, Peter Rollins claims in the comments that this was a misunderstanding. I’m not totally convinced that his words weren’t extremely disrespectful, but I thought it’d be fair to direct you to his side of the story), he told a friend of mine that he could not converse with me because I’d talked about sexism my critique, saying,
“Sorry. But when ppl use words like ‘sexist’, ‘racist’, ‘homophobic’ etc. they preclude reasonable debate.”
What’s with this idea that it is calling someone a sexist or a racist or a homophobe that is the problem? These are people who claim, vehemently, that they are not sexist, racist, or homophobic. People who consider themselves progressive, contrast themselves with fundamentalist tendencies toward blatant misogyny, racism, and homophobia.
You’d think hearing someone direct the word “racism” toward them would be a wake-up call. A reminder to practice the humility that they preach, do some introspection, and repent so that they could continue building the radically inclusive kingdom of God.
But so often, it’s not.
So many (and again, not all) privileged people (and, honestly, though I focused on two dudes in this piece this often includes privileged white women as well) who claim to be progressive Christians act like they want a world where everyone has a “seat at the table.”
But they want it on their terms.
They tell oppressed groups what they can and cannot say. They tell oppressed groups what words they can use to define their oppressions. They even dictate whether or not the experiences and thoughts of oppressed groups are valid.
They try to control oppressed groups, colonize their minds.
Yet they can’t understand what someone would accuse them of racism, sexism, or homophobia. It’d be funny if it were so sad.
Update: In case any of you are questioning my integrity, here’s a screenshot of my exchange with Peter Rollins. There may, as Rollins said, be a misunderstanding. But I think you can at least see why I was upset.