A few years ago, during a search for a New Testament professor, I asked two questions during the interview – two questions I ask of every candidate for a position with our institution regardless of rank or discipline. The first is innocent enough: “How important is racial/ethnic diversity to you when teaching?” All candidates, to a fault, enthusiastically answer in the affirmative. Then I ask my second question: “Which scholars and/or books from racial and ethnic minorities do you include in your syllabus and why?” Here is when the squirming usually begins, revealing the lack of academic rigor of the candidate under consideration.
White privilege is maintained when white ignorance is sustained. The demise of our democracy will not be at the hands of foreign entities. Democracy will fail at the hands of an ignorant and uninformed electorate seeking demagogues as saviors.
Some whites choose to dance with disaster. For promised privileges, they make an alliance with their richer compatriots, the 1 percent of whites who control 38.6 percent of the nation’s wealth. They are played by their wealthier colorblind counterparts, who could actually care less about the skin pigmentation of those whom they devour like hungry wolves. Other whites naively seek to reclaim and repeat a Confederate heritage of the dirt-poor who fought and died to protect the privilege of plantation proprietors to own human chattel. White ignorance has always been crucial in preserving the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few.
Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.
Me too, for knowing all too well of my complicity with this sin flashing across my social media.
Me too, for wanting to be among those men who rush to proclaim a state of innocence with their silent response.
Me too, for noticing the silence of men during this campaign and refusing to hold them, and me, accountable for embracing muteness.
A full page advertisement ran in the Sept. 20 edition of the New York Times sponsored by the World Jewish Congress. The advertisement made four points, two with which I agree wholeheartedly, one with which I lack sufficient knowledge to make a decision, and one with which I totally disagree because of the danger it poses to justice.
The two with which I concur are: 1) “We should never have to be afraid to practice our faith,” and 2) “We must never be silent (while people of any faith are attacked).” Amen and amen! The one for which I am not knowledgeable enough to respond is, “We are one people.” I’m not sure if my Jewish colleagues would agree. I’ll simply punt to them to discuss, although I would be greatly interested in the discourse.
Using my own body as a canvas, I began in 2011 to exclusively wear bow ties. I work in an institute of higher learning, the kind of place where you might think the Roger Kimball quip, “There is something about the combination of denim and tenure that is inherently preposterous” might hold true. But mine’s not this kind of place.
Within my institution, male professors make an attempt to look as young as the students. T-shirts and jeans are preferred over jackets and ties because neckties are seen as a barrier—distancing the professor from the student. Conformity to the culture of the other male professors means creating a state of “eternal adolescence,” a wistful attempt to remain the same age as their students. Hence, me choosing to wear bow ties becomes a nonconformist act even though bow ties enjoyed a long-term tie to the academy, a tie severed by the casual look.
It begins with a lie. A lie so outrageous, so preposterous it titillates simple minds and seduces those who should know better because they want to believe the lie. The lie is crucial because it serves an important purpose — to delegitimize. The lie can subvert and undermine legal authorities, as in, “The president was born in Kenya.” Regardless of birth certificates provided, the lie plays to racist fears of a black man being president. The lie keeps embers of hatred simmering while maintaining the father of the lie in the spotlight, gaslighting as the self-professed crusader for truth.
Remember the composition of religion departments back during the 1960s? They predominately and unapologetically consisted of white males – especially the so-called Ivies. Now imagine if one of these schools, realizing the need for different perspectives, decided that they wanted to have a feminist viewpoint taught in their department. A search committee would be formed, advertisements placed, interviews conducted, and after an academic year of deliberation, the most qualified candidate would be hired – probably a white man whose Ph.D. dissertation somewhat dealt with a few aspects concerning women’s issues. Even though several women steeped in feminist thought applied for the position, it would not be too surprising if a man would have been hired. So, allow me to rephrase my question: Can a man teach Women’s Studies?
Occupying a Latino male body in the academy is a continuous challenge where not a day goes by in which I am not reminded that I am an outsider, that this space I occupy within the ivory tower is a space never intended for me. To occupy this space, I am forced to be fluent in the way white folk think, philosophize and theorize. Any attempt to ground my theological view in my cultural context is dismissed as quaint, unscholarly or exotic. I would never have been granted a Ph.D. if I were not competent in Hegel, Barth or Moltmann. And yet, my white colleagues are deemed rigorous scholars without ever having to read Martí, Unamuno or Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz.