Friday, August 09, 2013

Indoctrination at Marquette: Bridging the Racial Divide, Theology in Black and White

In the wake of the racial polarization caused by the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman affair, it seems like a good time to examine a course at Marquette called “Bridging the Racial Divide,” taught by Robert Masson of the Theology Department. The notion of bringing blacks and whites together to address the issue of race seems, in principle, a good one.  But how does it play out here?  From the course description:
Examination of racism, ethnic tension, and theology from the perspective of “white privilege” and African-American experience in American Christianity. Reflects on the intersection of these areas to discover, on the one hand, what race, ethnic tension, and struggles for social justice can tell us about theological notions, and on the other hand, to discern how specific theological notions contribute positively or negatively to our understanding of race, ethnic tension and social justice.
The whole notion of “white privilege” raises red flags. It suggests that white students in the class will be hectored and badgered about their supposed “white privilege,” and told that they can only expiate the taint of their whiteness by adopting all the standard leftist policy positions. An examination of the syllabus and course schedule reinforces this idea.

The books listed have a uniform leftist bias, pounding on the notion of “white privilege,” and clearly implying (and often stating) that the problems of the black community are the fault of whites.

The books are:
  • Bryan N. Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church.
  • James H. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
  • Tim J. Wise, White Like Me.
  • Jon Nilson, Hearing Past the Pain: Why White Catholic Theologians Need Black Theology
We have already blogged about some of these authors. Massingale, for example, opposes Church teaching on gay marriage, but favors every liberal program under the sun.

As Daniel Suhr summarized his policy prescriptions, as outlined in a paper called “Poverty and Racism: Overlapping Threats to the Common Good:”
[Massingale’s] paper’s public policy prescriptions are all big-government liberalism: More regulation of the mortgage and housing industries. More federal spending on housing programs. Increased regulation of pay-day lenders. More affirmative action. The section on education calls for more funding of public schools, but makes no mention of charter schools or school choice, even though the Catholic Church otherwise has been a primary proponent and beneficiary of choice. Tax-dollar funding for free or low-cost Internet access to poor communities. Comprehensive immigration reform and comprehensive criminal justice reform. More money spent on Medicaid, Medicare, food stamps, and other welfare programs.
Massingale attacked Republican candidates Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum for lamenting the high level of welfare dependency in the black community.

Tim Wise is even worse.

As we have previously noted, he’s anti-capitalist, anti-Catholic, calls the criminal justice system “racist,” has called Israel an “apartheid” state and favors reparations to blacks. Wise has claimed to see:
... the seeds of pure evil planted deep in every one of us [white people] by our culture. . . Better to blame the dark-skinned for our [whites’] hardship since we can take it for granted that they’re powerless to do anything about it. Whites, as it turns out, take most everything for granted in this country; which makes perfect sense, because dominant groups usually have that privilege.
So one “bridges the racial divide” by using racist language about white people? In the world of the politically correct, yes.

Then there is James Cone, a rather prominent force in “black theology.” To call him a racist would be close to an understatement. In 1970, he published a book titled A Black Theology of Liberation, in which he opined:
Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the Black community. If God is not for us and against White people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of Black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the Black community ... Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of Black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.
In another book published a year earlier, he claimed:
The time has come for white America to be silent and listen to black people.... All white men are responsible for white oppression.... Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man “the devil.”
In the rarified world of politically correct academia, this is exactly the way to “bridge the racial divide.”

We’ll pass up the Jon Nilson volume, which mostly whines, moans and bitches about how white theologians don’t take black theologians seriously enough. If there are any worth taking seriously (and there probably are) they aren’t on Masson’s reading list.

One might wonder whether the professor, Robert Masson, is using these authors as a foil. Perhaps he wants to simply get the students thinking. Perhaps he welcomes students critically analyzing the readings and disagreeing with the authors.

But an examination of the Course Calendar provides no evidence that this is so.

Questions include items such as these (all quoted verbatim):
  • Why does McIntosh call meritocracy a myth?
  • The question “is God a nigger?” is a dramatic moment in the story. What difference or distinction does this question suggest
  • How does Massingale understand racism as a culture? How distinguish between this notion of racism and the common sense notion? [Under the “common sense” notion of racism, very few Americans are racist. So we need a broader notion that will allow us to call people racist.]
  • Which of Wise’s stories illustrate the common sense notion of racism and which the notion of racism as culture?
  • Why does Massingale fault the Church’s teaching on racism?
  • Why does Nilson accuse himself and Catholic theology of racism?
  • Why connect the cross and the lynching tree?
  • What would Feuerbach conclude about claims that God is black? [Since Feuerbach didn’t believe in God, he would think God could be any color you want.]
  • Does Wise see any hope for redemption?
Of course, if students were being taught to engage in any sort of critical thinking, they might be asked questions like:
  • In this era of affirmative action, does the concept “white privilege” have much meaning?
  • Is it an  example of white privilege that over 70 percent of black babies are born out of wedlock?
  • Is it the fault of white people so many black babies are born out of wedlock?
  • If it is at least partly the fault of white people that so many black babies are born out of wedlock, which white people? Slave owners? People running media empires? Klansmen? Politicians who passed welfare programs?
  • Is it an example of white privilege that blacks are much more likely to be victims of crime than white people?
  • If so, who is at fault?
  • Is it an example of white privilege that so many black teens drop out of school?
  • If so, who is responsible for the high dropout rate?
  • Is there a fixed quantity of good things (two parent families, good schools, well-paying jobs, safe neighborhoods) in the world, such that if whites have more than blacks, they took them from blacks?

How Do Students React?

Some students, of course, eat this stuff up. It’s a dandy way to feel self-righteous. If most everybody else is racist, or at least ignorant of the “culture of racism,” you can be among the enlightened elite. No reason to worry too much about the tough questions on the second list above.

A lot of other students just go along, repeating what they are supposed to repeat to get a decent grade, and move on.

But some students actively resent this sort of thing. One student brought this course to our attention, and rather resented the heavy-handed indoctrination is involved. The student offered the following comments:
  • When speaking, Dr. Masson would further question me and other white students substantially more than he would students of a “minority” race
  • He considered every “minority” opinion part of a greater revelation to white students i.e. minority students are the only students with something real to bring to the table
  • I wrote on the same points as some of my minority peers (some of whom are my very good friends). Dr. Masson would always give those students “extra” credit (or pluses) for the same thoughts I’d come up with
  • He always acted very smug around white students if they agreed with him
  • If whites countered Massingale’s arguments, he would always shut it down. If example, if I as a white student claimed that one of my minority friends was happy at Marquette, he would attribute that to a corrupted culture: blacks are forced to act white. They can’t be themselves. If blacks don’t associate with whites, that’s bad too
  • Middle class behavior is branded with whiteness
  • Whites sometimes act like they are leading blacks out of oppression.
  • He pointed out many interesting facts that Fr. Bryan Massingale touches on as well; I simply feel like anything whites do to touch on the issue, Massingale and Masson have a way of shutting it down (although I can guarantee that no students will support me on this because they fear being deemed racists).
  • He is a very good man; the problem is that he clearly favors some students in pursuit of what he believes is an attempt to close racial disparities.
  • When I pointed out, in response to the idea of the “black Christ,” what it was historically inaccurate, he got very arrogant with me.
Of course, not every student is happy with every professor, and we certainly have an occasional student who doesn’t like our classes. Further, as a professor, dealing with students with whom one disagrees can be a tough task. One has a right and an obligation to challenge students, but one has to be careful not to demean them.

It is the case, however, that Masson’s syllabus and Course Schedule suggest a one-sided smugness about certain issues.  He simply doesn’t view “white privilege” as a controversial concept to be critically analyzed and debated.  He views it as Truth, which students need to accept.

“White privilege” starts out as an attempt to guilt students into accepting a standard liberal and leftist policy agenda.  But it quickly becomes intimidation.  Accept the concept, or you are guilty of (at least) racial insensitivity, and probably out-and-out racism.

We know Masson a bit, and he is indeed a nice guy. But one does not bridge the racial divide by bashing white people. Accusing them of being bearers of “white privilege” is in fact just another way of bashing them. Saying they (while not consciously racist) are part of “a culture of racism” is also just another way of bashing them.

Professors, in the hothouse culture that is academia, can propound these ideas with little pushback. But in the real world, such notions only create resentment.

And they also provide an excuse to evade the real problems that afflict the black community. But addressing those real problems doesn’t leave liberals and leftists feeling so self-righteous.

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