Sunday, January 31, 2010

Haiti, Black Liberation, and the Book of Job

My friends and I are doing labor organizing with custodians at University of Washington as part of the overall struggle against budget cuts, structural adjustment, and privatization there. Many of the workers are East African, African American, and Afro-Caribbean. Together we have been following closely the tragedy of the earthquake in Haiti and are organizing and collecting aid donations in response.

For us, this is a matter of outrage, not pity. Outrage that the US military is stopping aid shipments from organizations it can't control. Outrage that the white supremacist leaders of the US are using this as an excuse to further neo-colonial control over Haiti. Outrage that Haiti just signed an IMF rescue package that will plunge them into further debt peonage to the global ruling elite. Outrage that Haiti's poorly constructed slum cities crashed and burned during the earthquake because for decades resources were diverted away from social reconstruction and toward paying back earlier loans to US-backed financial institutions. Outrage that the US had repeatedly plunged Haiti into deeper social instability through coups and civil wars, including the kidnapping of liberation theologian/priest-turned president John Bertrand Aristide.

Haiti was the site of the only successful slave revolution since the Exodus, a revolution which terrified the US slave-owning elites and inspired Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey's, and John Brown's revolts. In this sense the Haitian revolution has left a permanent mark on the development of insurgent Christianity on this continent. It is part of all of our collective tradition of liberation and the fact that the diabolical rulers of this continent have spent 200 years punishing the Haitian people for it should be something that propels us into the streets in aggressive solidarity.

How many Katrinas, how many Haitis, how many Detroits will it take before the Black liberation movement ignites again, pulling large segments of the New World working class into its vortex? I can't wait for that day...

Our group, International Workers and Students for Justice will be tabling on campus collecting donations for relief efforts in Haiti and we will be passing out literature talking about Haitian resistance to imperialism and the need for a direct worker-to-worker foreign policy from below, a new type of mutual aid. I encourage folks to donate online to some of the non-imperialist aid organizations listed here.

On a theological tip, I was horrified but somehow not surprised to hear Pat Robertson claim that the earthquake was God's vengeance for a supposed "pact with the Devil" that the Haitians made during their revolution against the French slave-masters. If anything, this theology is demonic, portraying God as a racist cracker who gets off on watching people suffer. On Facebook an image was circulating (I can't find it now) of a placard outside the "First Baptist Church of Haiti". It said simply "Fuck you Pat Robertson." Whether it was fabricated or real, this poster reminds me of Job's retorts to his patronizing and dogmatic friends. They try to console him in his suffering by suggesting he earned his pain by sinning. He basically tells them to fuck off. The middle of the Book of Job (minus the somewhat shady intro where God seems to act like a gangster proving to Satan he is harder than him) represents a profound rebellion against any form of theology that aims to justify the suffering of oppressed people.

I just got through Roland Boer's chapter on Ernst Bloch from Criticism of Heaven. In the spirit of Bloch, and in solidarity with Haiti, the only God I can worship right now is the one who will come to END suffering, to usher in the Kingdom of Freedom.

Review of Avatar

I wrote this review of the movie Avatar for It deals with the political implications of the movie in terms of anti-colonial struggle, racism, dissent in the military, and ecological politics.

Tucked away inside the review is a discussion of the religious themes in the movie. I argue that the film contrasts the dualism of colonial scientist Grace Augustine with the spirituality of the Navi'i, the indigenous people of the planet Pandora. Their spirituality integrates idealism and materialism in a dialectical process; Augustine's mental and social location as a colonial scientist prevents her from understanding this.

I am reposting that part here in the hope of further discussing these themes.

At the same time, [Grace] Augustine is right, the Navi’i do not practice a “primitive” mysticism. Eywa is not a disembodied Spirit. The Navi are not idealists, in fact they fully integrate spirit and matter, idealism and materialism, in a way that only the most utopian libertarian Marxists and anarchists have dreamed up. They do not worship a God who stands outside of and dominates the natural world, nor do they merge into a pantheistic Oneness, a “night in which all cows are Black” as Hegel put it. Their worship involves merging their consciousness with the world around them through creative praxis: though a mix of contemplation and action. It is almost like all of them become Jesus figures: fully God and fully human(oid), they are in touch with universal truth in and through the concrete, particular, embodied reality they live in. This allows them to co-develop/ co-evolve with the natural world and that’s why they are able to develop such a sophisticated system of biologically-based technology. To extend the theological echoes here, I wonder if the choice of Grace Augustine’s name was intentional. For her, like for St. Augustine, grace and spirit come down from above to control disobedient bodies; for the Navi’i who defy her liberal racist science, there is no separation between spirit and matter.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Great quote from Harry Chang

I was just reading the interesting discussion on socialism and Black nationalism over at Advance the Struggle and I came across a classic piece by Harry Chang critiquing Stalinist and Maoist approaches to Black liberation. The last paragraph is a pretty stunning and precise historical summary of how white supremacy has functioned as an integral part of capitalism the past 500 years. The second sentence of this paragraph suggests that the rise of "races" as modes of social organization was part of the ascendency of the bourgeoisie and it's attack on previous modes of social relations, including religious ones. I know this is something that Loren Goldner has explored, and I hope to post on his work here in the future. All I can say is that this is disastrous for Christians who are supposed to be baptized "neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free." I can't help but notice that at times it seems in church we are asked to worship "Western civilization" (code word for "the white race") instead of God. But at this point we can't go back to a parochial identification with past forms of Christianity instead of with Western Civilization. No, we have to take up what Chang suggests - class struggle organizing that can target and destroy the socio-economic base of white supremacy, replacing it with true global solidarity.

Racist thought is probably the most inhuman thought produced by the bourgeois era. In its origin, it carries the bourgeois birthmark, being premised on the dissolution of tribal, religious, and cultural "ethnics." In its career, its virulency closely parallels the progress of primitive accumulation from Portuguese and Spanish colonies, through Dutch and French colonies, to the English-speaking world. In its death-throes, it has become married to fascist thought. The proven ability of Marxism to smash all the illusions of the bourgeois era must now come to aid us in our effort to keep vigilant against all attempts to reproduce racist thought, in our movement to expose its inhuman irrationality, in our struggle to destroy its socio-economic base.