“We (African Americans) have been postmodern since 1619.” — Rod Garvin
Let me try to unpack this statement in this roughly written blog.
I’ve been reading some of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s work lately. When Bonhoeffer came to America from Germany, the only church he felt preached the Gospel in New York City was Abyssinian Baptist Church
in Harlem … a black church that preached the Social Gospel. He was so blown away by the church that it knocked his whiteness right off of him. It’s said that when he was in the Nazi prison camp he was constantly singing the great spirituals he had learned in Harlem.
North America: 1619.
In August of 1619, Captain Jope’s ships brings the first batch of African slaves to the shores of America. He trades them for food and supplies, and essentially starts the slave trade and the resultant history you probably know.
According to the quote above, this is when black’s became postmodern. White people look at “modernity” and they see the positives, such as “science”, “progress” and “autonomy from superstition” because we were the ones reaping the positive benefits from modernity. But there is a view “from below” of modernity and this view is mainly held by non-Westerners who associate “control”, “colonialism”, “imperialism” and “progress at the poor’s expense”, etc. with modernity. It is this “view from below”, specifically proported by the Global South, women and minorities that has helped create this postmodernity explosion, especially in the more social conscience segments of Christianity.
The postmodern movement isn’t just a reaction against the philosophical pursuits of modernity, it is a reaction … from a sociological perspective … against the modern cultural pride that arose out of assuming “we knew the right way!” There is/were consequences to assuming that human reason could figure out THE truth … and those consequences were felt by those we colonized.
John Franke tells the story of how he went to Africa to teach about postmodernity. As he started teaching on postmodernity, he was interupted by one of the African Profs, who reminded John that the very term “postmodern” is a white, Western term … the rest of the world is using “postcolonialism”. The association by the African prof is this: modernity = colonialism. I wrote a blog about how modernism set in play the devaluation of the Global South and of women in general. So, if you’re interested in some farther explanation, check it out
Let me get practical … There’s a reason Barack Obama has thrived in the present postmodern context in America. And the reason is this: black America has been postmodern – valuing local story, inclusivity, seeing things in non-absolutist terms – since they had a forced landing on the shores. See, blacks can move in this context better than us whites … especially us white males. You can understand, then, why Obama is so hated by white, liminal modern, Republicans – for one, he’s black, and two, he’s a Democrat and three, he’s the very first postmodern President.And this is also the reason why so many modern Christians find to so HARD to accept that Obama is actually a believer, despite beautifully eloquent testimonies like this from the article, “Praying with President Obama.
I know there’s a number of Republicans who read my blog (google analytics tells me the political party of those who read my blog … I know who you are … just kidding), so understand that I’m not saying that you should vote for Obama — we should vote our conscience — but I am saying that whites (especially of the Republican type) need to be more understanding of the context from which Obama comes.
In many white believers minds, Christianity can sort of associate with modernity, but Christianity can NOT associate with postmodernity, and so, they write Obama’s faith off, not realizing how offensive this is to their black brothers and sisters. We need to remember, or at least be understanding of how white “modernity” is interpreted by others. And one of the major “practical” indicators of how bigoted we can be is when we look at a man’s faith, like Obamas, and discredit it because it’s not like ours. I’m not assuming you do this … in fact, I’m sure you don’t judge people so narrowly! But, I’m sure that you, like me, have heard people look down on Obama’s faith because of some of his persuasions and don’t realize that in some aspects their practicing the very thing that has produced postmodernity.
As believers, we’re called to be incarnational. Incarnational doesn’t mean we accept everything in our context … in our culture. But it does mean, we – like Jesus did – enter the context with the intent to redeem both IT and those in it. Us white people can learn a lot from our black brothers and sisters as we learn to move in the postmodern context. We must learn. So, let me recommend a blog … http://postmodernegro.wordpress.com/