THE DEAD BLACK GODS: AN INTERESTING ARGUMENT WITH THE PARIS REVIEW (from July 2010)

UNPOPULIST OPINION and the RACIAL DIVIDE or THE DEAD BLACK GODS

babesnchains

(over at the Paris Review):

“It won’t be news to aficionados, but this spring the gospel historian and producer Anthony Heilbut released a new compilation, How Sweet It Was: The Sights and Sounds of Gospel’s Golden Age. A copy arrived last week at White Street. The CD contains some knockout live performances: Brother Joe May, Mahalia Jackson at her best, Dorothy Love Coates “groaning and even barking” onstage with the Swan Silvertones…”-Lorin Stein

Steven Augustine July 3, 2010 at 10:39 am

Christ I find Gospel depressing; its ironies too corrosive and its “uplift” truly redeemable only by its upper-class fans. Can you imagine the Ashkenazim singing paeans to Odin?

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Lorin Stein says:
July 3, 2010 at 2:02 pm

Hmmm, I think you lost me with those idolatrous Ashkenazim.
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 2:33 pm

Descendants of slaves singing passionately to the deity introduced to/ foisted upon them by their owners (as a control mechanism) vs descendants of victims of the Holocaust singing praises to the deity of a creation myth connected to Nazis…? There’s an equation to be found there.

Having worked in a funeral home (as a teen) which served a Black Community, I can’t tell you how many calendars, featuring the Aryan Surfer Jesus, I found nailed (this time casually) over the deathbeds of the loved-ones. And I could swear the Dude was sneering…
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pudel says:
July 3, 2010 at 2:43 pm

Um, well actually the much-loved Passover song, “Chad Gadya”

(Then came the Holy One
Blessed be G-d
And destroyed the Angel of Death
That killed the butcher
That slew the ox
That drank the water
That quenched the fire..)

is widely believed to have been borrowed from the medieval German folk song “Der Herr der schickt den Jokel aus”

(Da geht der Herr nun selbst hinaus
Und macht gar bald ein Ende draus.
Der Teufel holt den Henker nun,
der Henker hängt den Schlächter nun..)

so it’s not *too* hard to imagine, on either the Odin or the Nazis.
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 2:51 pm

Ehrlicht gesagt: not a perfect analogy. Jews singing to a God who descended directly from their tradition doesn’t generate a cog dis; neither do Jews borrowing German cultural bits (in that there were quite a few Germany-based Jews, even during the Middle Ages; in fact, you know, of course, that Jews predate Germans in Cologne!)
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 2:52 pm

(erratum: ehrlich; my wife will chuckle)
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 3:08 pm

Or, if you will: imagine a Navajo choir singing Gospel. No cringes to be had there?

I think we’re so deeply-branded with the comforting meme of the rapturously Christian Negro that it’s difficult to deconstruct. But just a little unwrapping reveals some serious food for thought. Whites, having created God in their own image, have the luxury of not thinking too much about the effects on the psyche of internalizing the notion that your oppressor is related to the Owner and Creator of the Universe! Laugh. (However, if you think this is *only* funny, try floating the concept of an Afro-imaged Jesus or Holy Father on a Yahoo News Comment Thread).

I ask only that we ponder the contradictions, my friends.
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ursula birdwood says:
July 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Having seen How Sweet It Was, I agree with Lorin entirely. But I’d add: watch the choir and the backup singers. Their faces, their expressions (not to mention their harmony), are extraordinary…
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 3:20 pm

Extraordinarily duped/brainwashed.

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Lorin Stein says:
July 3, 2010 at 3:49 pm

The history of Christianity and slavery is super-complicated. To those who are interested I recommend Albert J. Raboteau’s 1978 classic Slave Religion: The Invisible Institution. As Raboteau shows, slave religion cut many ways. It was just as often a force for dissent as it was for white control. This is reflected in slave spirituals. Many of the oldest draw their tropes entirely from Old Testament promises of justice and vengeance. (One school of thought regrets the “Christianization” of the black church, which it treats as a relatively recent development.)

Leaving aside the origins of African-American religious music, I think it would be hard to argue that the black church in the years 1945-65 was an instrument of white mind control. These “dupes” were, many of them, leaders in the Civil Rights movement, and if you listen to the music, I think you find it hard to disentangle the politics from the faith.
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm

“I think it would be hard to argue that the black church in the years 1945-65 was an instrument of white mind control.”

You perhaps aren’t aware of the internalized self-hatred that many Blacks (yes, even participants in the Civil Rights Movement) suffer from as a result of the Cosmic Brainwashing we’re discussing. Being unaware of it is one thing; are you also uninterested as a matter of *policy*? You can’t be; I won’t let myself believe that.

“These ‘dupes’ were, many of them, leaders in the Civil Rights movement, and if you listen to the music, I think you find it hard to disentangle the politics from the faith.”

And it all turned out so well, in the end, too. Snark aside: what’s your reading on the current state of Blacks in North America? I think things are in a state of emergency. Things are not changing for the better on *any* front. I wouldn’t place the weight of the blame on Chronic Liberal Resistance to being questioned/challenged on these things, but…

*Your* investment in the argument is grounded in a pleasure that isn’t even a big part of your daily life; my side of the argument is driven by a lifetime of thought and experience. Not curious enough about these thoughts and experiences to even *consider* unpacking the cited contradictions?

As for this: “One school of thought regrets the “Christianization” of the black church, which it treats as a relatively recent development,”… I find it striking what “Christianization” is being used as a euphemism for.

Where are the Public Black Intellectuals on this matter? The professionals are worried about tenure and parrot the comfiest normative tropes.

Anyway: I express this with zero piss-offedness!

Cheers,

SA

Does no one find it worthwhile to do a little critical thinking when it comes to Blacks in North America? Are we really embedded so deeply (near sensitive areas adjacent to the Id and the Libido) in the waking dreamlife of Liberal Whites that unpacking this shit is out of the question? In thirty years of discussing this general topic I’ve never had one Liberal White concede a single point in debates about Ebonics/ Blaxploitation/ Aunt Jemima/ The Black Church / The Wire / Gangsta Rap / Concepts of Ethnic Purity and Authenticity/ Low-Intellectual-Expectations-for-Black-Culture/ Hair-Straightening/ The Basketball Meme/ What The Election of the First Black President Really Means (erm, nothing?)/ … pfew! In German they call it being a “Besserwisser”. In English I believe the term is “know-it-all”. What an amazing patrimony! And to be so pampered!

Consider, Comrades: if I identified myself as a Palestinian and started a debate about Gaza, would the same Liberal Whites remain as immune to being challenged or corrected on any and every point…?

pudel says:
July 3, 2010 at 4:40 pm

An interesting/opposite take from James C. Scott’s *Domination and the Arts of Resistance: hidden transcripts*:

“Slaves in Georgetown, South Carolina, apparently crossed that linguistic boundary [of permissible euphemism]when they were arrested for singing the following hymn at the beginning of the Civil War:

[I’m excerpting..]

…We’ll soon be free
When Jesus sets me free
We’ll fight for liberty
When the Lord will call us home.

Slave owners took the references to ‘the Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ and ‘home’ to be too thinly veiled references to the Yankees and the North. Had their gospel hymn not been found seditious the slave worshippers would have had the satisfaction of having gotten away with an oblique cry of freedom in the public transcript.”
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Rather a minor mitigation, though, wouldn’t you say?

I’m hoping someone will address the core of my argument:

“Whites, having created God in their own image, have the luxury of not thinking too much about the effects on the psyche of internalizing the notion that your oppressor is related to the Owner and Creator of the Universe! Laugh. (However, if you think this is *only* funny, try floating the concept of an Afro-imaged Jesus or Holy Father on a Yahoo News Comment Thread).”

I know why *Whites* aren’t much bothered by the tacit culture-wide acceptance of a Euranthropomorphic God (wink), but, erm, nothing there worthy of scrutiny…?
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pudel says:
July 3, 2010 at 4:56 pm

And aren’t we basically rehashing the old internalizing vs. appropriating debate? All instinct leads me to agree with you, SA, but all experience leads me to the constructivist line, that things are real insofar as they’re real in their consequences, that regardless of *how* you come to believe it, *what* you believe will set you free probably will. Which seems evident watching the rapturous expressions on gospel singers’ faces.
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Steven Augustine says:
July 3, 2010 at 5:03 pm

Pudel! First: thanks very much for engaging!

Second:

“Which seems evident watching the rapturous expressions on gospel singers’ faces.”

Goodness, what’s a rapturous facial expression (during a *performance*… rock singers do it all the time; are we arguing that Blacks are too simple/pure to behave like *performers*… to use Artifice?) compared to a lifetime of being wretched by most (if not all) Real Metrics?

At least Pudel was good enough to engage! Always appreciated. But when he/she writes “regardless of *how* you come to believe it, *what* you believe will set you free probably will,” we have to admit that’s kind of breath-taking. It’s All in Our Heads, apparently, Brothers and Sisters! We are just one lateral move from the dear old concept of Pie in the Sky (pron: “Pah in de Skah”)!

Ah, the Crypto-Contempt. It’s obvious here that even Whites who are sympathetic towards Blacks (or who “love” “them”) have not yet learned to respect Blacks. Not in the full sense of the word. It’s easy to respect a Black in the way one respects a big dog or a piece of industrial machinery for Whites enjoy physically fearing Blacks, a social terror that combines the gruesome fun of a slasher flick with the constant affirmation of being superior to the savages (a White’s chances of actually being raped, robbed or murdered by a Black Terror are still as slim as a patron’s in the audience of said slasher flick). Whites can only respect Blacks in the human dimension of the word if they are allowed the experience of fearing them intellectually… a fear they’ve worked hard at making impossible for three centuries. It’s not likely to happen, then. Such Public Black Intellectuals as are allowed through the gate are toothless/harmless/ second-rate and, as stated, too worried about tenure to say anything radical: Institutions are, after all, primarily, filters. This is the root of the problem. A “black” is a product precisely engineered by “white men” to serve and give pleasure. A “black” is a product designed to be disrespected.The only possible Revolution will involve destroying the product.

UNPOPULIST OPINION and the RACIAL DIVIDE or THE DEAD BLACK GODS-PART 2

(read at: Paris Review):

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Lorin Stein says:
July 4, 2010 at 2:58 pm

Sorry to have let the thread drop. I didn’t mean to seem uninterested–on the contrary! It’s just that I generally spend the weekends off-line.

This weekend in particular, Steven, I’ve been thinking about your Aryan Surfer Jesus. I realize that you’re quite right–when I listen to the sermons of C.L. Franklin, for example, or to Sam Cooke singing his tweaked version of “Were You There,” or to Ruth Davis singing “When He Spoke” (etc., etc.) I’ve taken it for granted that the Christ under discussion was not, in any sense, a “white” man. (Ditto the Moses and Job of the spirituals.) You’ve made me very curious to read a history of pictorial representations of Jesus in the black church.

Thanks to all for these comments.
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Steven Augustine says:
July 4, 2010 at 5:11 pm

Lorin: I appreciate your comment and the genuine curiosity motivating it!

My only interest in pursuing these kinds of arguments to some Nth-point, beyond the standard, is to shake things up a little. Not, certainly, for shaking-up’s own sake. And I’m not here to rehash a familiar case from the annals of American Victimology… my points/theories/arguments rile as many Blacks as non-Blacks… but it’s clear to me that the standard approaches to “racial healing” (PC euphemisms/ Oprah-catharsis/ summer jobs at the inner-city McDonalds) haven’t even come *close* to working. You may not remember that hallucinogenic interval, before Obama’s inauguration, when Liberals were arguing that his election meant the end of racism, but I do! Laugh. On no other topic do I find people (of all colors, as the cliche goes) *so* impregnably resistant to critical-analysis of their presets.

It’s my theory that, for structural reasons, a “Black” is more of a cultural artifact (or product) than an ethnic or cultural category of human. Ie: the concept hasn’t moved that far on from the antebellum, which presented Black (Wo)Man to her/himself as a commodity or tool. The product is a little more abstract now (in the Information Age we’re holograms; cf: THX 1138) but Black is still a product… and humans don’t do very well as products. Humans who aren’t treated as humans go nuts; ditto humans who don’t treat other humans as humans. (Apply this to “Woman”, as a product, as well, of course)

To address your question: there have been definite local movements (esp. during the 60s and 70s, but some probably pre-dated Marcus Garvey) to standardize an Afro-imaged Christ for Black contemplation/consumption, but these were almost always not organic but self-consciously “militant” projects and ended up being cosmetic overlays (like the Black Santa movement; if the culture-at-large doesn’t buy it, it’s very hard to make it stick).

One point I’ll leave you with: I’m sure we all know quite a few Atheists (I’m an Agnostic, myself: zero proof that the Universe *isn’t* mounted on an Ur-turtle’s back). But even Atheism is not pure; it’s ethnocentric, as I’ve discovered, because as Atheists reject the concept of the Christian God, they consider the Pantheon of Greek Gods (for example) to be so quaint that it isn’t even worth a serious debate. The Hindu Pantheon even worse (though pleasantly colorful); Voodoo the most “primitive”. I’ve never heard an intellectual Atheist bother to seriously refute (as they do with the pseudo-monotheistic Holy Trinity) the probability of the existence of Baron Samedi. But shouldn’t all three superstitions be assigned an absolutely equal value of un-dis-provability? This discrepancy is brainwashing at its subtlest.

I was always taught that Monotheism represented an evolutionary advance in Religious Belief. Just a few moments of critical analysis reveals that hegemonic propaganda nugget for the bullshit it is.

I think we’re *full* of these hegemonic propaganda nuggets. My interest is in cracking these nuggets open! Any nugget that it *hurts* to crack open should be a target. Isn’t that what intellectuals should do with their leisure time?

Again: I salute the spirit behind your respectful attention.

SA

Note: to extend the argument a bit (I felt constrained by comment-length etiquette at PR): a Black who isn’t a champion at basketball or a rapping savant or exemplary as one of only a few product-types is not only a product but a defective one.

Also Note: Sam Cooke may have lived and died as a Conceptual Product, but when he moved on to singing about Pussy from singing about Jeezis he acquired some dignity, imo.

UPDATE: 2015: ADDENDUM*

*(the linking of the following video should not be construed as an endorsement of all of the material found on the video-producer’s channel, some of which is idiotic)

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