The full episode transcript is below.
You are listening to the Be the Bridge podcast with Latasha Morrison.
Latasha Morrison 0:05
[Intro] How you guys doing today? This is exciting!
Each week, Be the Bridge podcast tackles subjects related to race and culture, with the goal of bringing understanding.
Latasha Morrison 0:16
[Intro] …but I’m gonna do it in the spirit of love.
We believe understanding can move us toward racial healing, racial equity, and racial unity. Latasha Morrison is the founder of Be the Bridge, which is an organization responding to racial brokenness and systemic injustice in our world. This podcast is an extension of our vision to make sure people are no longer conditioned by a racialized society, but grounded in truth. If you have not hit the subscribe button, please do so now. Without further ado, let’s begin today’s podcast. Oh, and stick around for some important information at the end!
Jemar Tisby 0:53
There’s a song on my heart after you talking…
[singing “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand) by Diana Ross]
Reach out and touch somebody’s hand / Make this world a better place / If you can…
…That’s all you get. You gotta, you gotta pay for the premium if you want to hear the rest of the song!
Faitth Brooks 1:11
Yep, you heard that right. Sometimes we engage in a little bit of singing from time to time, just for fun. No, you didn’t tune into a different show! This is the Be the Bridge podcast. But our founder and host of this podcast, Latasha Morrison, is away doing one of her many trainings that she leads around the country to help organizations become more aware, sensitive, and harmonious in the context of racial relations. My name is Faitth Brooks and I am the Director of Programs and Innovation for Be the Bridge, and today I’m your host. You will still hear Latasha’s conversations with our guests, as I will be acting simply as a guide through today’s discourse. In this episode, the conversations will center around the topic of CRT, which is short for critical race theory. Recently, critical race theory has emerged as a tool for some to lodge criticism against the work of Be the Bridge as it relates to our work in racial equity. It is also being used in an attempt to put a stumbling block in our organization’s way as we work towards racial justice and healing. But I must say, we reject that CRT is our guiding framework. Instead, Be the Bridge was built around a Biblical worldview, as is clear in our mission, vision, and our values. In doing the work of racial justice, we put in the scholarship of a wide variety of scholars, theologians, anthropologists, and sociologists. Among all of these are some critical race theorists. When we see scholarship speaking truth in ways that we can use to lead us towards racial justice, we utilize them. And in that same tradition of seeking scholarship, Latasha had two separate conversations with two scholars, Dr. Christina Edmondson, and doctoral candidate Jemar Tisby. Both are thought leaders in the push for racial equity in ecclesiastical spaces. Let’s kick things off with Jemar Tisby, who is not only a New York Times bestselling author of the book “The Color of Compromise,” but he is the President of The Witness, which is a Black Christian collective. Amazingly, this Notre Dame alum finds time to also co-host the Pass The Mic podcast, and is a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Mississippi. Speaking of history, we have to start with the flawed hypothesis: that many leaders who believe as we believe, are Marxist and/or Communist. Some of you hearing this may think this sort of name calling is new. But listen as Latasha prompts Jemar to shed some light on the history of this problematic thinking.
LeTesha Wheeler 3:49
I love listening to you Jemar, and just how you can roll history off your tongue. I mean, you’re getting your doctorate in history, and I love history. And so that is one of the things that I love about you, is just how you communicate history so effectively and so well. And one of the things that, you know, we see as we dive into this conversation around critical race theory today and have this high level approach in how we’re addressing it, is that many leaders are being called Marxists and Communists and so why, you know…should this label bother us or shouldn’t? Is this new, or is this something that we’ve seen before?
Jemar Tisby 4:32
Absolutely, it’s something that has a long history and pattern. Folks always have tried to label people as a way to disempower them, and that’s especially true when it comes to Black people. But if we focus on racial dynamics in the way, white supremacists and racists have labeled black people, they use the N-word with the “-er” at the end as an epithet, but there are other ways they labeled people working for racial justice. So after the Civil War, people coming into the South to try to work for Black advancement and Black uplift, they would label carpetbaggers or scallywags. And what they did was they would put you in a box, mark it with whatever red “X” was forbidden in their social circles, and that was a way to ignore you or to minimize your voice. So there’s a long history of this. And now we have labels like communist, Marxist, liberal, leftist, social justice warrior, and the latest one being critical race theorists, as again attempts to put you in the box, close that up tight, and not have to listen to what you’re saying.
Faitth Brooks 5:43
I guess you can tell today that Latasha is challenging us to swim in the deep end of the pool as it relates to ideas and vantage points when it comes to race. Let’s meet Dr. Christina Edmondson who holds a PhD in counseling psychology from Tennessee State University, and an MS degree from the University of Rochester in family therapy, and a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Hampton University. She’s educated, y’all! For over a decade, Christina has served in a variety of roles, including recently, the Dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin University. Let’s hear Dr. Edmondson’s addition to this conversation.
Latasha Morrison 6:23
I would just love to hear your thoughts and maybe explain to people what it is, you know? What is critical race theory?
Dr. Christina Edmondson 6:31
You know, depending on your own theological tradition or kind of orientation, you might deal with these scholarly resources in different ways. And so I embrace what we call “the doctrine of common grace.” And one of the aspects of that doctrine is that, you know, God who is the creator has created people in his image. And that we have, because of that, whether we are believers or not, we have a creative capacity. And we still have the same assignment despite the fall, which is to create and shape culture. And that means that believers and unbelievers alike are bringing forward a whole host of contributions, because creativity is one of those shared and extended attributes of God the Creator that we receive in being made in God’s image. And so bearing that in mind, holding to that belief pretty fiercely I hold to it, because I love to learn. And I actually think that there are consequences when we look at certain ideas and say, you know, air quotes, it’s the “Christian” idea, and this is the “non-Christian” idea. Because then it takes off our filter in our discernment. We need to be critically discerning everything that comes before us and submitting it to the Word of God and asking for the Holy Spirit to guide us, teach us, and correct us in understanding it. We also need to be incredibly charitable towards our neighbors, and academics are our neighbors. But you know, the people who, when I think about Derrick Bell—kind of the founding voice of critical race theory—the late Derrick Bell (he’s passed away) and the many other scholar-lawyers who helped to shape a critical race theory, we want to be charitable and respectful to our academic neighbors. And so I stress that because I think often when I have seen criticism, it has been around making caricatures up out of people, and oftentimes not inviting them to the discussion to teach us and submitting to understanding people from their vantage point. And I think if you’re going to create a concept, you know, it’s best for us to learn from who created the concept. So that’s, that’s my whole opening statement about why that’s really important. We just have to have humility in order to learn, and to acknowledge that we have something to learn from everyone. With that being said, critical race theory is only a few decades old, the kind of crystallized form of it. And it comes to us through the discipline of law. Critical race theory is really a framework in which to understand really the permanence and the outworkings of race and racism (in America specifically, is kind of how it’s centered, although you can extrapolate these concepts for different national and cultural contexts.) And so, coming out of the Civil Rights movement, when we think about something like Brown vs. Board of Education, right? So people were thinking, you know, if we can just get schools integrated, this is going to result in kind of a more equitable learning experience for African American people. But that did not happen. That did not happen. And so the people who would become critical race theorists—one of the first questions, and around that particular issue they begin to raise, is the question of, why didn’t integration change this? Or why didn’t the political interventions, these laws, these policy changes—why didn’t the legal response to discrimination, why does that not change the disparity or the racism that we see manifested even today in systems and practices? And so the critical race theory response, ideology, practice, questions, tenets—are attempting to answer that question. And so if, for example, one of those components, which I think people probably get really uncomfortable with, particularly based on their worldview and cultural orientation, is kind of this idea of the permanence of racism; that racism is baked in, it’s seeded into the foundation of the United States. And it’s seeded in more specifically—remember, this comes from the legal world—it’s seated into our laws, our practices, our judicial system. Now, as I’m saying this, people might be listening who know nothing at all, at all about critical race theory or sociology, and they could be nodding their head and be like, “duh, of course.” You know, they, I mean, they might fully embrace it. They’re like, “of course it’s racist.” I mean, like, I mean, this was founded on like, the genocide of Indigenous people, and on the backs of Black people, the exclusion of Asian people for decades from the—come on, like, this is a real racist project over here, right? So for some people, that’s just a given. But the truth is the dominant narrative, which is another tenet of critical race theory, the dominant narrative is that America is a meritocracy, and that the law is colorblind, and that racism is the exception and not the rule. And critical race theorists would say, no, this thing has been set up to maintain the racist system and racial hierarchy. So those are just some of the elements that we find when we look at critical race theory.
Faitth Brooks 12:00
Labels. Where did they come from? Who are the labelers? Let’s keep going.
Latasha Morrison 12:05
You know, a lot of us have academic backgrounds, some of us have seminary backgrounds, and so I had even never heard of the word until I was labeled this, you know? And I’m like, okay, I don’t even know what it is, so I know I’m not coming from that direction when I don’t even know what it is!
Jemar Tisby 12:24
You bring up an important point, like…I want to emphasize that these are labels that other people are putting on us. And so I need people to understand if they haven’t already, that it wasn’t a bunch of us Black Christians who are advocating for racial justice, running around with banners that said, “critical race theory” or “I am a critical race theorist.” No, no, no. What happened was, they put that on us. They meaning—here’s how I would describe them. Either as fundamentalist Christians of the old-school like, 1920s kind of fundamentalist, here are all the boxes that you have to check to be “our kind of Christian” and anyone who deviates on any one of these points is not even Christian. That kind of fundamentalist. Or a Christian nationalist, which we’ll get into, I’m sure, later. So when I say “they,” that’s who I’m talking about. And by the way, this can span races and ethnicities, because I’ve seen them trot out people of color and Black people to parrot these talking points, to try to give them some legitimacy. So it spans racial and ethnic backgrounds. But when I say “they” I’m meaning fundamentalists or Christian nationalist folks, they’ve put those labels on us, these are not labels that we, as advocates for racial justice, have used. And that is telling! That is telling, right? Because it means a couple of things. Number one, it means that they are finding new ways to put us in boxes, and therefore demonize us or reject us. And number two, I think it’s a form of intellectual arrogance on their part, because I can imagine a retort of you know, both you and I are like, “we’d never use this label.” And I can imagine a retort being, “well, you know, you’re being used by the label, you didn’t even know it, but you know, you pick these ideas up here, there and everywhere. You didn’t know what it was called but here’s what it’s called.” Well, I think that’s a form of intellectual arrogance, because you’re basically saying I’m too stupid to know, or too ignorant to know, when I am deploying a theory. And so you have to come in and tell me “Oh, here’s what you’re actually doing.” Nah, nah. Especially not on racial justice. So just a couple of caveats there.
Faitth Brooks 14:49
I assume that you know, or at least sense, that we don’t operate in spaces that are content with being comfortable through sugarcoating. So listen as Latasha and Dr. Edmondson take us a step further.
Latasha Morrison 15:01
Um, you know, but we see it being played out. And so I would just wonder, you know, why do you think [CRT] is being rejected by the church as a whole? And we know that there’s more churches that understand it. I mean, we work with so many churches that are not being fooled by this. They see it, they see it playing out in their congregation, you know, they see it playing out in their communities. So we see a lot of churches that are on the front lines that are working, that are educating themselves, that are lamenting over this, and that are really digging deep into this. But you know, you have a lot of times—the people that are, what one of our friends said is like, kind of loud, late, and wrong—you know, that are the loudest voices in this. And sometimes the loudest voices may seem like the majority, but they’re not. So why do you think this is being rejected by the church?
Dr. Christina Edmondson 15:59
Yeah. Well, and I would say this, and I get your question. I would nuance the question a little bit more. Why is it being rejected by the white-dominant church? Because, I think that…
Latasha Morrison 16:14
That’s a good one. Correction, yes. [Laughs] I’m so collective. I’m so collective and inclusive, you know, I just talk like that. But yeah, let’s make it clear. Let’s make it plain. And let’s make it clear.
Dr. Christina Edmondson 16:28
I’m saying that sociologically, and not…so for the folks who get all like, “what do you mean Black church, white church?!” Okay, I’m speaking socialized, which I’m 100% certain that people who criticize that can understand and comprehend the nuance of the sociological distinction of an organization and the theological church that Christ is coming back for, right? That Christ is the head of, right? So speaking sociologically there is a white dominant church, right? And so, in that particular church tradition, the culture of that church, some of its presuppositions, some of the things that it has advocated for and been shaped around, some of its assumptions, actually are in contradiction to some of the tenets of CRT. So it makes sense to me that, whereas there are other church traditions that would say, like, “well, of course, this racism is baked in, in this country.” There are other white-dominant church traditions, who reject that tenet altogether. They believe that racism has stopped or that racism is personal, that it’s, um, you know, it’s kind of a poor way of thinking about someone, it’s not charitable, and that it’s equally held by people regardless of where they find themselves within that racial caste system or categorization system of racialization. And so, that idea of itself, we know, is held more strongly by white evangelicals (who identify that way) than any other group, any other collection, any other collective of people. And so that particular cultural orientation is very much so set up against that particular tenet. Also, I think that people who, you know, people who believe that sin gets better with time—and, you know, I would argue that that is a part of the features of white cultural identity as a kind of a way of thinking about time. So they’ll look at, like someone might acknowledge that, “Yeah, that was bad during slavery, or Jim Crow, like, that was racist. But what we see before us now, that’s just kind of, you know, that’s an outlier, right?” And that things are actually inevitably going to get better. Well CRT, you know, is like, “No, it’s not. This is what it is.” The nature of the institution, of the country, of a legal system, and then by extension, the other areas, the other disciplines that are impacted by CRT, or have a CRT lens, that by extension, those things have rooted within them this racial stratification, this racist system. And so people who have a different worldview, right, about inevitable progress, a belief that racism gets better with time, people who believe that racism is actually natural—meaning that they believe actually there’s a moral hierarchy of people. And you’d be surprised what the research shows us about the amount of people who actually look at their neighbors in that way. Right? Who explain—you hear this trope when someone talks about what the “real issue is…it’s not racial stratification, it’s fatherlessness—that’s what’s wrong with Black people.” Right? As if Black people wake up in the morning and they’re like, “Yeah, we want mass incarceration! We don’t want fathers in the home!” So you know, and all of that came to be apart from systemic racism, right?
Latasha Morrison 19:59
Dr. Christina Edmondson 20:03
At the top of the list of people who hold to the belief of kind of a racial hierarchy of morality, of culture, that explain systemic racism by saying that there’s something up with those people—white evangelical conservatives sit at the top of the list of people who hold that particular way of understanding injustice. And so CRT is like, in some ways, you know, will feel like the opposite of that. And so it certainly makes sense to me that the white-dominant church would reject those elements. And with that being said, there are people who reject elements of CRT because, you know, they would say that it sees everybody in categories, and I would make the case, and I’m not even like a diehard CRT, you know, apologist. I usually work from, I can make my case I feel like from the Old and New Testament, actually.
Latasha Morrison 21:02
Right. Exactly, yeah.
Dr. Christina Edmondson 21:03
You know, I just feel like it’s just kind of obviously in the text, you know?
Latasha Morrison 21:07
Dr. Christina Edmondson 21:07
But it’s there, it’s there. But there are a lot of people who push back on these CRT categorizations. And intersectionality is another one that will be a hot topic people will push back on. But CRT does not create the social construction of race, it is simply just saying that it’s there, right, which it is there. And we can look at just the last few hundred years of history, and look at the way that race was indeed constructed. And that race was not just designed to categorize, it was also designed to stratify. In order to allow for, yeah, the colonization, the oppression, the selling, the breeding, the trafficking of people, right? And so CRT doesn’t give us that concept, they’re just pointing it out. And they’re making the case—and mind you, they’re not like, you know, they’re not peddling hope, they’re not selling hope, they’re not preachers of the gospel. They are largely lawyers. And they’re making the case that this is baked into the foundation of the judicial system of this country. And they got a lot of receipts to be able to make that case.
Faitth Brooks 22:15
Wow, this is so good. I think we all need to take a little bit of a breather, and we will be back shortly.
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Faitth Brooks 23:39
Thanks for staying with us! Let’s pick up Latasha’s conversation with today’s guests. When dealing with CRT, we’re in essence dealing with the topic of racial justice at its core. I love what Jemar says here. Take a listen.
Jemar Tisby 23:55
So one of the things that I want to say, what my professors taught me, you know—there’s a popular phrase that says “history repeats itself.” But they’ll say you know, more accurately, history doesn’t repeat itself—but history rhymes. And what they’re getting at there is that every context is different, right? 1968 is not 2018 is not 1868. But of course we do see patterns. Okay? So we have seen patterns like this in the past. So if your listeners Google this phrase, “communism is race mixing,” there’ll be a picture that comes up of a protest full of white people, and they’re holding this sign up as a sort of picket sign. And of course, this is more than half a century ago, so we understand the historicity of it. The other part of it though, how did it get attached? How did racial justice efforts get attached to communism? I think it is an important historical aspect that we need to explore. And one of the ways that that happened was, we have to understand that the Black civil rights movement is part of a long struggle for equity among lots of different people, including the working class. And so I don’t want to set up a dichotomy between race and class at all. But understand that a lot of these sort of nonviolent direct action techniques came from the labor movement. And even the March on Washington, the idea itself was proposed either in the 1940s or 1950s, by Randolph…blanking on the name right now, but…A. Philip Randolph and his compatriots. So understand some of these tactics, we are borrowing from the labor movement that came in the first third or so of the 20th century. The reason I bring that up, is because what the labor movement was trying to push for was not only workers’ rights, but racial rights as well. And so these are, you know, they’re pushing for unions, they’re pushing to be able to organize, they’re pushing for fair wages, all of those things. What happens is, in World War II and post-World War II, the labor movement gets mixed up with ideas of communism, because the labor movement was talking about, you know, forms of equitable distribution of material wealth. And then people lump that in with communism, where everyone’s supposed to get exactly the same thing, right? Materially. Then what happened was, organizers soon found out that in order to make progress on racial justice, they had to drop this focus on labor and labor rights. But the cat was already out of the bag, so to speak, and people still equated the racial justice movement with communism, because they viewed the racial justice movement as trying to make all people equal, which in a civic sense, they were trying to. But they were trying to say, “Well, this is communism, because they want to erase any differences,” and what they were really afraid of, a lot of folks was “racial amalgamation” where Black men would sleep with white women. And that was one of their main reasons to maintain segregation. So I just wanted to give a little bit of background and context for how even this communism thing, how those two ideas even got linked.
Faitth Brooks 27:39
As we look at racial justice through the lens of CRT, we cannot escape biases. Dr. Edmondson really breaks this down.
Latasha Morrison 27:46
“Separate but equal,” we look back at the civil rights movement, all of those things. Now people think that they would have marched. You know? And I’m like, uh…no, you wouldn’t have. No, you would have been on the sidelines, you would have been a part of the problem! Because you’re part of the problem now.
Dr. Christina Edmondson 28:06
But you know, Tasha? I was gonna say, I was gonna add about, you know—with critical race theory that, you know, in terms of like the presuppositions, the biases that we have about people and their positions. And so, another one of those strong biases, which I think causes the hypercriticism—not to mention the fact that people just don’t want to deal with racism and repent—is that critical race theorists are scholar activists, and they don’t make any apologies about that. So you may not agree with what their activism is about, and that in itself is a particular cultural orientation that pushes back against the kind of the Western scholastic notion of academic neutrality. Like this sense of like, “I just don’t have any biases, I’m just teaching you content to teach you content!” which is ridiculous. Everyone has a bias and everyone is teaching out of their worldview, right? Thoughtful, insightful teachers are honest enough to show you their cards, right? They reveal what it is. But critical race theorists, they’re not making any apologies about the fact that they are teaching for—they’re advocating toward what they believe is justice. And they’re pretty outspoken about that. And so they’re scholar activists. That in and of itself gives them a different kind of a tone or a different emphasis, a different kind of priority on the actualization of these concepts and practices coming to life. And bearing, you know, measurable change is what they’re leaning for, and not the idea of just, “we’re going to communicate knowledge to communicate knowledge.” So they push back on kind of these notions of the neutrality of knowledge, the neutrality of information, and the accepted beliefs about what is true. And this is another really philosophical controversial element of CRT. People would say, “Well, there are CRT theorists who would push back on notions of truth.” Now, that doesn’t make me uncomfortable, because of my belief about depravity. I’m like, we have to push back on our notions of what we think is true, what has been given, what pops up in my own head and mind. That all needs to be laid before the Lord, it all needs to be examined by the work of the Holy Spirit. And I think that while we have different tools that we’re going to submit to as a believer, I’m submitting to the work of the Holy Spirit. This fundamental idea that we’ve been handed so-called “truths” in air quotes that need to be interrogated and examined? Amen! I 100% agree with that! There was a time when the “truth” that we were handed is that Black people were created to be enslaved, right? There were segments of the church teaching that, right?! People that are still quoted from pulpits today! And so that idea that we need to challenge that, really, really matters. And I think, as activist scholars, they fall in line with a very important tradition of, for that, to be frank, African American academicians who have embraced that identity for a very long time. Teaching toward justice predates critical race theory, and has always made the white establishment and white-dominant establishment incredibly nervous. Because it threatens power, right? It threatens position, it threatens resource.
Faitth Brooks 31:31
We can’t deal with racial justice and/or injustice, without dealing with racism. Dr. Edmondson talks about dealing with racism in the context of academia as it relates to CRT. Let’s continue!
Dr. Christina Edmondson 31:44
Well, so there are aspects of it, of critical race theory, that certainly resonate with me and kind of my particular worldview. Part of that—so I hold to the doctrine of total depravity, which doesn’t mean that we are the worst thing possible ever, right? We are fearfully and wonderfully made! You know, we are made in the image of God. But it does speak to the depths of sin, just how low and how deep sins go, not just on a personal level, but in an institutional, structural, and cosmic level. Right? So the whole world is indeed impacted by the fall. So when critical race theorists talk about the baked-in-ness of racism into our systems, and into our philosophies, and into our law—for me, that’s just not a huge stretch! Because I would go a step further, right? I go, I mean, I go further than CRT. And I’m talking about racism and white supremacy as a principality, that’s seeking to kill and destroy us. That it is bondage on our neighbors and its bondage of delusion and self-idolatry on white people! My language is probably significantly stronger than critical race theory.
Latasha Morrison 33:03
Dr. Christina Edmondson 33:05
And so, but that resonates with me, how permeated it is and how deep into the system. And that we have to go to the root, we have corrupted roots. And that—as someone who, again, believes and understands the depths of sin—that makes sense to me that it is at the very root, at the very core, and we have to examine those roots and presuppositions. The other piece that resonates with me in terms—so I mean, the significant pieces, right? So the critique of the concept of liberalism, this is the historic concept of liberalism (not what we’re talking now about liberal, progressive) but just the historical concept of liberalism in Western society, this idea of meritocracy and colorblindness and neutrality. And, yeah, so in many ways, because of my faith—not because of my sociology, because of my faith—I reject those pieces. And I know that that is not, I know that is not the case, right? I know that we do not live in a colorblind world, a colorblind reality. As you and I are descendants of the transatlantic slave trade, like, we know this. We know we are not in a colorblind reality. So I think they’re just saying, they’re echoing something that they can see within the law and practice and data. And I would say that it seems it’s anecdotally pretty obvious.
The other piece is this idea of counter-storytelling. And as someone who engages in intergroup dialogue work, this is actually really important that we examine the dominant narratives that we have been given. This should not be like, outright shocking or like, or just to say that it’s you know, radical because it makes us afraid, but it’s just true. We’ve been given dominant narratives about how the world works, right? What is beauty? You know, what is professionalism? You can take up any topic and think about the narratives that we have been given by it. And what critical race theorists emphasise whether it’s within the tradition of the discipline of law, or kind of extrapolated out to education and the social sciences, is that it is imperative that we hear the voices of marginalized storytellers about their experience. Now that—yes, amen! I am 110% signed on for that! To be able to humbly listen to those stories, and to recognize, as Kimberly Crenshaw talks about, the role of intersectionality—which, by the way, is one of the most controversial aspects of critical race theory for Christians. But this idea that we have compounding identities that further permanent our marginalization in society. This should not be shocking. I can look at Scripture, actually, and think about the many ways that Scripture is attentive and mindful, not necessarily to give us the name of a person, but to give us their identity markers. To tell us about the Canaanite woman, you know, why do we have…why is that put together, right? Because it’s showing us something about the grace that God is extending to those who are marginalized in that society. Doubly marginalized, triply marginalized in society! And so that matters. That matters. And so this does not negate the gospel, it is speaking to a social phenomenon about the ways in which people have layered identities in which they are afforded social privileges or denied social privileges, or seen in relation to that. And I’m giving you a, you know, a [bird’s eye view] analysis of this, but that in and of itself, you know, if you’ve done any type of justice work, anti-racism work, none of that should be outrageous or bizarre. Now, we might differ on the conclusion, or what to do with that, or what is next—based on discipline, based on our theological commitments, politic, worldview, whatever. But some of these pieces to me are just simply foundational building blocks in terms of thinking about injustice in society.
So I would say that, you know, some of the critiques…So you know, I’m a gospel person. And so, I think when people talk about the permanence of racism, it can feel hopeless to people, it can cause some people to feel stagnant. And it can also be translated to be akin to those who are like, “well, it’s not a skin problem, it’s a sin problem, it’s always gonna be, let’s keep it moving.” Right? And this is not the intention of it, critical race theorists are not like, “it’s just sad, it’s bad, let’s just sit down and do nothing.” But I can see it being interpreted that way. And then people can oversimplify it, and then say, “Well, you know, we can’t make progress.” And then you’ll hear, some of the critiques I’ve heard, people feeling like, “We’re always going to be repenting over this.” And of course, I would say, well, Amen! We’re always going to be repenting until we go to glory. This is the way that we live day to day, right? This is who we are as Christians, the blood has brought us the privilege and the duty and the burden to repent. That is who we are now, in every area of life. But I would say that is one of those critiques that people kind of grab hold of, and they can run with, I think, partially through misinterpretation and not listening charitably to some of the intentions around those topics. There are also some elements, obviously, the roots of critical race theory are going to be coming out of kind of Karl Marx and [Friedrich] Engels philosophies—where we get both Marxism and then by extrapolation, socialism and communism. And that makes people incredibly uncomfortable. Some of that, I think, is rooted in kind of an understanding of those ideas. And I think a lot of it actually is rooted in it just being a pretty easily accessible go-to trope to not have to listen, to not have to engage. As well as being 110% sold out to capitalism, without any discernment, without any wisdom. You know? So looking at capitalism as a morally neutral construction, when it kind of thrives on the idea of competition (as if that’s morally neutral) I would say, causes people to push back too quickly. My encouragement is that we actually take the time to read our academic neighbors, our scholarly neighbors, to respect their discipline. And then, obviously, continue to pray and ask the Lord to give us the critical discernment that we need in order to chew the meat and spit out the bones. And that’s the case with everything! Every system, every philosophy, that we’re able to explore.
Faitth Brooks 39:50
The question that so many ask: So what does one do when dealing with church leaders, especially those that come from academic backgrounds, steeped in flawed traditions?
Latasha Morrison 40:00
So the temptation is going to be to engage in a conversation on critical race theory. If at all possible—don’t do that. I’m not saying don’t learn, you know, different responses or whatever. But here’s my issue—and Tyler Burns, my co-host on Pass the Mic, he’s been really great at drawing attention to this—is we constantly, “we” meaning racial justice advocates, constantly let our opponents set the terms of debate. So they are the ones proposing the question, or the issue, or the topic to be debated. And 9 times out of 10, it circles around the real issue which is oppression based on race or ethnicity, right? And critical race theory is just the latest iteration of opponents of racial justice setting the terms of debate. And then the more we sort of engage in it, and make it an issue, the more they sort of win at distracting us, right? There’s always this constant attempt to distract our attention away from the real issue at hand, which is Black and brown bodies being hurt, being oppressed, even killed, right? So that’s one thing. But just remember, you know, when they bring this up, they are setting the terms of debate. And you can say, “I’ll answer that question, but understand the real issue here is how are we preventing harm to people based on their race or ethnicity?” And then the next part is this. The reason why I think it’s really dangerous to let other people set the terms of the debate is because not only do they ignore the real issues of racial justice at hand, they also ignore the real threat to Christianity in the United States. Which I would label, and I think history gives us copious evidence of this, I think the real threat to Christianity in the United States is not critical race theory or anything like it. It’s Christian nationalism.
Yes. And we don’t want to say a word about that.
Jemar Tisby 42:12
My, my, my. Listen.
Latasha Morrison 42:13
That’s a whole podcast in and of itself!
Jemar Tisby 42:15
[Laughing] Let me just unpack a little bit of what I mean.
Latasha Morrison 42:20
Break it down. Give us a little bit. Just give us a little taste, brother.
Jemar Tisby 42:25
So Christian nationalism, I am drawing here mainly from Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead’s recent book called “Taking America Back for God.” Go ahead and put that on your reading list, “Taking America Back for God.” It is a sociological examination of Christian nationalism, and here’s how they define it, “Christian nationalism is an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of Christianity* (which I’ll explain later) with American civic belonging and participation.” Okay? “Fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation.” Here’s how they define Christianity according to the Christian nationalist version: “Christian in this sense represents more of an ethnocultural and political identity that denotes a specific constellation of religious affiliation, cultural values, race and nationality.” I’ll break it down one more level. By religious affiliation, they mean evangelical Protestant. By cultural values, they mean conservative. By race, they mean white. And by nationality, they mean American-born citizen. So what is it to be truly American? It’s to be an evangelical Protestant, theological and politically conservative, who is raced as white and is an American-born citizen as opposed to an immigrant. That’s what they’re getting at with Christian nationalism.
Now, let me give you a historical example of this fusion of Christianity with American civic belonging and participation. I frequently mention this, but the Ku Klux Klan had three major iterations. One was right after the Civil War in the 1860s, for obvious reasons, trying to reiterate white supremacy post-emancipation. The third wave was in the 1950s and 60s, again, for obvious reasons, it was a pushback against the civil rights movement and Black advancement for civil rights. And then the second iteration was in many ways the most widespread and violent of the iterations. And this occurred in 1915 on Thanksgiving Day, where a former white Methodist circuit writer (so a former preacher) led a group of white men to the top of Stone Mountain, Georgia. And you’re in Georgia, you know what’s on the front of Stone Mountain—all these Confederate “heroes”, right? And they go to the top Stone Mountain, Georgia, and what do they do? They do a couple of things. One, they they erect a cross and they burn it, which becomes a symbol of white racial terrorism in the civil rights movement, as we know. They also build an altar, and on that altar they place two items—they place the Bible and an American flag. And I think this event is so illustrative because it shows us Christian nationalism in action. What’s the subtext here? Number one, you’ve got this religious ceremony with the cross with the altar with the Bible, right? And they’re talking about evangelical Protestants, because they got issues with Catholics, right? They got issues with Jews and people of any other religion. So they’re talking about evangelical Protestants. You’ve got this sort of nationalistic thing going on with an American flag, which is so ironic, right? An American flag on top of Stone Mountain, Georgia, which celebrates the Confederacy, which broke from the union. It’s interesting, the kind of mental gymnastics you have to do to make those things fit together. But this form of nationalism, which is talking about American-born citizen against immigrants, and in 1924, they’re going to pass the Exclusion Acts which exclude immigrants from certain countries deemed “undesirable” right? And then lastly, there’s this fusion with race. They ain’t got no Black people up there. This ceremony is not for Native Americans whose land they’re desecrating with this, you know, bas-relief of Confederate people. So, this is like the perfect illustration of Christian nationalism at work. This American civic belonging and participation with the flag, the Bible, the cross, and white supremacy all wrapped up in one. You want to talk about threats to U.S. Christianity? That’s the threat to us Christianity.
Faitth Brooks 46:47
Isn’t this all just a distraction? Hmm.
Jemar Tisby 46:51
To your point about the distraction that this causes, once you start to go down this rabbit hole, it’s unending, right? Because they’re always going to come back with these arguments and these whatabouts and all of this. And this is really why, one of the big reasons why, The Witness changed our name. We started as the Reformed African American Network, and this is on me—but at that point, I was trying to sort of make space, carve out space within these predominantly white circles, for Black people and Black voices. Well, through a series of events, and over time, it became readily apparent that the most vocal white people in these circles did not want us there unless we conformed and assimilated to their version of Christianity. And so one of the reasons we changed our name—they’re both push and pull factors, but this is a push factor—is we were spending so much time and energy explaining our articles, explaining our tweets, explaining our stances. And what we came to realize is that all this time and energy that we are expending defending ourselves (or doing what I call racial apologetics) was time and energy that we were not spending actually on the marginalized and oppressed and uplifting them. In our case, Black Christians. Yeah. And so we’re like, okay, no more, you can have the label, you can have this space, we need to build our own table. And we need to make sure that we are giving our best time and our best energy to the people, like you said, who are ready to come along, in terms of allies and advocates, and particularly a focus for us at The Witness, Black Christians. We need to deal with each other on our own terms, not constantly be defending ourselves from external attacks.
Faitth Brooks 48:45
It is important not only to dig into CRT, but to hear and search for thought leaders in this space.
Dr. Christina Edmondson 48:52
I’m gonna read that document, but I would encourage anyone who’s listening to check out “Critical Race Theory,” they can find this, you know, anywhere. It’s a book called “Critical Race Theory: the key writings that form the movement.” And what it is, is a kind of a compilation—and they’re gonna be very legal sounding, which is outside of my discipline—but it is the historical foundational documents of critical race theory. And I would encourage people to check out the authors, the theorists, the activist scholars, in their own words, even before they read something written by anybody else on this topic. Here are these folks—in higher ed, we really hear about primary sources. So you need to listen, you need to read those primary source documents that are available to us in order to be loving to our academic neighbors. We need to be loving to our scholar neighbors.
Latasha Morrison 49:45
Right. And so I don’t know like, could you just tell me this? And I’ve heard this where most of the original scholars of this, were they people of color? African American?
Dr. Christina Edmondson 50:00
Derrick Bell is an African American man, he’s really considered the person who kind of coined it, Kimberly Crenshaw is still highly influential. And by the way, a lot of these academicians are, you know, they are well known in their own right. Being, you know, the first woman of color in a variety of spaces you’ve got really a whole host of people who really represent being kind of the first. Like, I’m thinking about Mari Matsuda, who is the first Asian American scholar in her particular academic institution. These folks, whether you agree with them or not, are top in their field. They’ve done the work, even if you don’t agree with the ideas. They are our academic neighbors and they deserve our respect and appreciation. And people of color, overwhelmingly, but not exclusively people of color. And even amongst critical race theorists you’re gonna have tension between the different—under that large umbrella, there are people who have tension about the different ways that they are working through these concepts.
Faitth Brooks 51:11
I think we should cap off these discussions with what Jemar said here. Really take this in! This is so good.
Jemar Tisby 51:19
Yeah, so um, I think the burden is a little bit different based on whether you’re white, Black, or another person of color. I think for white people, there is a little bit more of a responsibility to engage this particular debate over critical race theory. I will never forget, when this first started popping off (it really has been probably a couple of years now) on social media, and somebody accused me of this, and I was like, what, what is this? And I was fixing my fingers to type a response. And before I ever got to it, Bradly Mason, online—he chimed in with an even better response than I was prepared to give, right? And even ever since then he’s done incredible work really digging into the nitty gritty of this. And the reason why that’s so important, is because when allies and advocates are really allies and advocates when they do the labor that we would have had to do. But they jump in and take that up, especially with their people, right? White folks talking to other white folks. So I do think there is a bit of a responsibility. I don’t want people to go so far that that’s just all you’re doing, that you can’t ally in other ways. But, you know, before a Black person or a person of color has to respond, it would be nice if our allies and advocates hopped on it first. Secondly, for Black folks and other people of color, you know…it’s one of those things where, here’s the turning point for me. I was not giving this [issue] much oxygen at all, until we get this announcement from the White House that they want to ban critical race theory and white privilege.
Latasha Morrison 53:15
I was like, what?!
Jemar Tisby 53:18
Wow, wow, wow.
Latasha Morrison 53:21
Talk about the federal government like, you know, like putting itself like, you know, out there, you know! Even as it relates over states, which most people would have a fit about…
Jemar Tisby 53:33
Come on, listen. Let me just say this about that. We saw this popping off in the church long before it hit the federal government or politics, churches…
Latasha Morrison 53:43
The church is the barometer.
Jemar Tisby 53:44
Exactly. And so we saw this, even in the lead up to the Civil War, where the Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists split before the actual war popped off. And it was a harbinger of the division that was to come. And in a similar sense, I think, because we’ve seen critical race theory as this boogeyman pick up steam in the last several years in the church, and now it hits politics—which by the way, there’s a linkage there! Somehow it’s getting from these fundamentalist Christian nationalists to people in the White House and at the highest levels of federal government, which tells you this stuff is in the church, right? And by the way, you want to talk about being too political? Talk about that! How does it make this leap from the church to the White House and being political in that sense? So that’s a big deal, and it was a big deal for me, because it marked a turning point when now it’s part of the mainstream discourse, and not these sort of far right corners of Christianity. So then I started talking about it a little bit more. And so I do think it’s incumbent upon us to be at least cognizant of the contours of the debate. I don’t know that we need to go and do a deep dive into the study, but you just want to be conversant on it. But again, I think for all of us, no matter what your race or ethnicity, pulling the conversation back to what the real threat is—things like QAnon and conspiracy theories, things like Christian nationalism, which spans not just evangelicalism but all strands of Protestantism, mainline denominations, Catholics, and spans across races and ethnicities. So those are the things that we need to be conversant on this stuff that they’re labeling us with. But we also need to pull the conversation back toward the real issue, which is, in this case in 2020, working against anti-Black police brutality, and we need to say if you want to talk about threats to Christianity, let’s talk about Christian nationalism.
Faitth Brooks 55:40
The goal was not to be exhaustive, but rather to give a brief overview, where we could explain how and why we utilize some parts of CRT, which weren’t directly born out of the church. And to help others feel more prepared if criticism is leveraged towards them, or Be the Bridge as a whole for doing so. In the end, the important question we must answer is not whether we’re engaged in the work of reconciliation in the way others think we should, but rather, are we being faithful to the God we serve? At the end of the day, racial reconciliation is an area where we have been led and called. But with that said, we must take it upon ourselves to become versed in varied areas of thinking so that we can be more effective in our efforts as bridge builders. Today’s episode was so informative! Special thanks to Latasha for letting me step in as today’s host. Latasha will be back for the next episode.
Oh, yeah, since we’re all friends now, when you have a chance, check out the Be the Bridge Collective podcast “Melanated Faith” hosted by yours truly and Kathryn Freeman. On this podcast, you’re going to hear the truth spoken, the tea spilled, and pop culture explored. Melanated Faith is available on Apple podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify as well as other platforms. Thanks so much for listening! And remember, let’s build bridges and not walls. If you are a member of the Donor’s Table, you get access to today’s unedited episode. Go check it out!
Thanks for listening to the Be the Bridge podcast! To find out more about the Be the Bridge organization, and/or to become a bridge builder in your community, go to BeTheBridge.com. Again, that’s BeTheBridge.com. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, remember to rate and review it on this platform and share it with as many people as you possibly can. You can also connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Today’s show was edited, recorded, and produced by Trayvon Potts at Integrated Entertainment Studios in Metro Atlanta, GA. The host and executive producer is Latasha Morrison. Lauren C. Brown is the senior producer. Brittany Prescott was our transcriber. Please join us next time! This has been a Be the Bridge production.