Anvil journal of theology and mission
Kelly Brown Douglas, Resurrection Hope: A Future Where Black Lives Matter, (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2021)
reviewed by Cathy Ross, Church Mission Society
This book is divided into two parts and, as Brown Douglas says, traces her own journey of faith. The first part traces and explores what she calls America’s corrupted moral imaginary with respect to African Americans and race. The second part is a kind of theological testimony where she considers what it would mean to free the moral imaginary from a white knowing. She explores the ideas of reparations, “defunding the police” and the implications for the white community. She concludes by meeting the resurrected Jesus in Galilee as she did at a #BLM protest.
In the first part of the book, she argues that our moral imaginary has been corrupted by whiteness. She argues this compellingly with detailed examples of an anti-Black narrative from Aristotle through to Origen and Jerome, the slave trade, Jefferson and Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson to the MAGA narrative, where she sees “great” as a euphemism for “white”. She claims that Aristotle associated cowardice with the colour black, that in early Greek thought blackness was associated with hypersexuality, and that Origen associated a sinful soul with blackness – so, we begin to see where some of these tropes about blackness originated. Fast forward to the fifteenth century and the insulting and graphic description of the first captive Africans on European soil in 1444, then to the anti-black notions in Shakespeare and Kant’s racial theory, where he considered “the Negro race” the lowest in the human hierarchy. Jefferson, the father of America’s democracy, was a slave holder and held white supremacist convictions – extraordinary when he penned the self-evident truth “that all men are created equal”. Then we have the Jim Crow laws and President Woodrow Wilson who showed an anti-black film in the White House that presented the Ku Klux Klan as heroes. And then Trump. And this is just the first chapter. In the light of current discussions in the UK, I found the second chapter fascinating, where she argues that monuments and statues are not innocent. She is writing about Confederate statues and monuments and claims that they are powerful symbols of social memory that reify white privilege. This caused me to think about all the statues that celebrate Empire in Britain, not to mention the tiny percentage of statues that are women. The next chapter looks at the concept and legacy of white silence and the harm that has done to both Black and white people.
Part One sets the scene and paints a stark picture of what it means to live as a Black person in USA today. Part Two is more hopeful despite this bleak portrait. Brown Douglas claims that social memory can be reconfigured by remembering correctly, and here discusses in some detail the concept of anamnesis, which can change the gaze through which history is viewed. She also calls for proximity, essentially friendship. 75 per cent of white Americans have entirely white networks, and faith communities are equally segregated. Genuine friendship is needed that can begin to understand, see and feel the blatant racism and fear that Black people experience. She calls for a “defunding” of the police whose violence towards Black men is so hugely disproportionate.
Each chapter begins with a text from her son recounting some horrific incident or explaining his despair and lack of hope. Her final chapter deals with this: Where is the hope? Ultimately, she finds it in the Jesus of Galilee. She claims that Jesus’ invitation to his disciples is to go back to Galilee to return to a life-giving ministry. She discovers this, as well as the gift of laughter, which is subversive, at a #BLM protest. You will have to read the book to see how this happens.
I recommend this book, not only to gain a deeper insight into the American context of racism, but also because it throws light on our own prejudices, sacred cows and our own racism. You will be uncomfortable, challenged, informed and hopefully enabled to make a difference.