Jesus, Toure, Theology, etc.

Christopher Cocca

I can’t speak to the meat of this piece, and the piece it opposes, as it relates to post-blackness.

On the other hand, ethnographically, I do know something about the immigrant experiences of my own kin, and people like them, in the history of 20th century Americanization.  Clearly, I cannot and have no reason to try to equate the struggles of my brownish Italian ancestors, who came here in the figurative chains of the most extreme forms of European poverty, with the experience of black slaves and their (and their descendants’) struggle for community and freedom.  At the same time, it seems to me that the expatriate experiences of slave and immigrant narratives have in common what the writer at Liberator identifies as the longing of the expatriate community to retain ancient values that stand in sharp contrast to the political and economic machinery of the America they were sold on or sold to.  In these ways, post-blackness might be something like what classically poor and marginally white ethnic communities have long mourned in their third, fourth, and fifth generations.  I know something about that.  These experiences are far from identical.  But for the vowels in my last name, which are changeable, and the radical values, which are not, I could blend into the WASP elite largely unnoticed.  Color, and, I take it, blackness, is something different and has been something different since the beginning.

As a white man with an ethnic memory and as a follower of the radical called Jesus, I’ve thought a lot about what’s being said in the Liberator piece about the possibility and necessity of maintaining cultures and communities that stand in opposition to the neo-liberal or libertarian modes of capitalism destroying our poor (increasingly more of us) and our planet.  The instinctive drive of expat communities to retain their cultures and values is not unlike a religious witness:  we can and do oppose you forces of injustice that seek to rend our families, exhaust our world, and feed us, all of us, like so much fodder to the socioeconomicpolitical array.

There’s a saying, which I think goes back to James Cone, that “all theology is black theology.”  These are reasons why.  In the American context, black people are and always have been the most marginalized of expatriated groups.  If Jesus is for the margin, and if, by God, Jesus is what the early first-century hymn says:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

and if those who follow are to use this model as a basis for treating each other with this same mindset (Philippians 2:5), then we must follow Jesus into quintessential Otherness vis a vie the power structures of our day.  In a figurative way, Jesus followers of every background must be made cruciform.  Is it too much to say we must all retain a kind of blackness?

In my own ethnic context, Robert Orsi notes that “Vecoli has portrayed Italians as fierce anti-clericals, angry at the church and looking for leadership to the radical political thinkers who emigrated with them and took up residence in the Italian colonies [in American cities].”

Among other things, I’m an urban minister.  Those who know me best probably wouldn’t call me clerical.  The important part of this quote, for me, is the alignment of Italian American immigrants with the radical political thinkers expatriating with them, and their penchant for living their spiritualities in the home and in street.  In The Madonna of 115th Street, Orsi shows the political/spiritual unit of the the domus (the family, the home life), standing in contrast to the demands of a newly industrialized West and in American urban settings.  Our cities were and are rife with abject urban poverty, an experience made even harder to bear by the grim contrast it bore against the comparatively wistful graces of abject rural poverty in Southern Italy: generational connections to domus, piazza, culture.   This is not to say that pre-Columbian or pre-industrial cultures were uniformly just and good (far from it) or that it was better to die of hunger in Campania than of a broken heart in Brooklyn.  It is to say, however, that in the rush to Americanize, my people have lost something vital, something ancient, and something that might serve as an alternative to the money-loving monoculture we’re relearning to resist.

All Christians must be expatriates.  All Christians must, like Christ, be immigrants.  This is what Paul means when he talks about being in but not of the worldy power structures.  This is no raptured absence from the realities of the the mess we’re in.  Instead, it’s a stubborn, radical insistence that there are other ways of doing things: black ways, Italian ways, Latino ways, Polish ways, Middle Eastern ways, Asian ways, and diverse seas within them.  There are Old World ways worth reexamining, the teachings of our ancestors — and the teachings of Our Lord — among them.

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