Biblical Scholar, Seminary Professor, Episcopal Priest

Biblical Studies in an Age of Unhooded White Supremacy

Andrew Shurtleff, The Daily Progress

Invited lecture in response to white nationalist marches in Charlottesville.

I, or rather my title, have misled you—if you were led at all: “Biblical Studies in an Age of Unhooded Racism.” White supremacy in biblical studies, like its get, racism, has never been hooded. Racism in the US has never been hooded. Racism in the West has never been hooded. Racism has been thinly obscured by the tawdry yet seductive negligee of privilege-purchased naïveté. Or, racism has been obscured by willful ignorance, but again, not completely—the will not to see. (I am a very different Wil.) All the while racism has taken its place on the pages and at the podiums of biblical studies, and in the seats of power in the institutions that promulgate it.  

            Those hoods have always been visible. Like their literal forbears, the hoods are least visible to their wearers, even though the hoods distort their vision, their wearers normalize their impaired vision. Ironically, the hoods should be more visible to wearers looking at other wearers. But to comment upon someone else’s hood is to comment upon your own, and the negligee of privilege purchased naïveté is so seductive. The metaphorical of hoods white supremacy are, of course, most visible to those whom they were originally intended to subjugate and terrorize. Titus Kaphar’s series, Behind the Myth of Benevolence, illustrates this poignantly for me. (The images are copyrighted, you may view them here. Scroll down for the third.)

            Unhooding, or rather drawing attention to the unhooded and naked white supremacist history of biblical studies and biblical interpretation, is a necessary part of a of an education in the text and its interpretation whether for classroom or congregation. Dismantling racism in the biblical guild, broader academy, and wider world is a reluctant vocation; that work most properly falls to its maintenance engineers—its original architects no longer accessible—and this work most properly belongs to those who have inherited the legacy of white supremacy. All too often that work is left to people of color. All too often I find myself addressing it. By all too often, I mean at all.

            I do this work and accept these engagements all too often I don’t hear my white colleagues address the white supremacy that is baked into foundations of the Western critical biblical enterprise, even when decrying the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism that are also its spawn. To be fair, some dominant culture colleagues have turned critical eyes to white supremacy and to other dominating structures and had done so in advance of this age of apocalyptic dissonance, which I read as having been inaugurated with the murder of Trayvon Martin. (That is a subject of contemplation for me in an on-going project.)

Recently, the tolerance for white supremacist rhetoric, slogans, and salutes in the public square and at the highest levels of government has made white supremacy more visible. The negligee has slipped off; its wearer fully exposed, under the glare of spotlights–not all of which are the harsh lights of hostile interrogations, some are the soft lights of romantic adoration…

The full talk (audio) is available here.

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