His Name Is NOT “Killmonger” (Thoughts on Names and Naming)

With the Oscars happening two days ago, there has been an increase in thought pieces about the movies that nominated for Best Picture*.

Because I’m always looking at what people are saying about Black Panther, it seems to be a good time to point out something that continues to occur.

Many pieces, when they talk about the anti-hero of the film, call him “Erik Killmonger” or just “Killmonger”. I HATE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The anti-hero of Black Panther has a name. His name, the one his mother gave him, is Erik Stevens. The name his father gave him is N’Jadaka. In talking about him, it is important to note that.

Killmonger is Erik Stevens’ colonizer nickname. It’s important to point that out too. Because that nickname means something, and it is nothing good.

But this points to a larger issue. In these last days of Black History Month, it is a good time to think about the history of misnaming people of African descent. Or not giving Black people the honorifics that they have earned.

If I weren’t writing a different essay for the book on theology and Black Panther, I would write about the theology of naming. Partly because talking about naming would allow me to use part of my favorite story in Hebrew Scripture; Hagar naming G-d in Genesis 16. But also because I think it is important to look at how some names catch on and others don’t. And finally because I think this would allow for a broader discussion on the power of names and who gets to name.

Talking about names and naming also allows for a broader discussion of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary people and the issues they face in living into their true selves.

I might preach on this soon. And I will write about it; after I finish the essay for the book.

 

*—in case you didn’t know it, “Green Book” is a lie.

 

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Beyond Anti-Racism 101?…or, Black Theology for Religious Liberals

Between being utterly stupefied with the enduring white fascination with blackface and adjusting to having a 2-month-old around*, I’ve been thinking about the end of the Whose Faith Is It Anyway conversation where we were asked about books/authors or artists we would recommend to people.

So often in doing this work liberal religious groups get stuck. Stuck in Anti-Racism 101; introducing basic concepts of critical race theory and U.S. racial history to those who don’t have a clue. Don’t get me wrong, that is noble work. But it is exhausting and soul depleting. And I think that part of the reason it is soul depleting is because the things we read are about things outside the congregation; the powers and principalities (including denominations). What liberal religious folk don’t do enough is talk about spiritual liberation; the theologies and practices from marginalized communities that helped sustained them. Liberal religious congregations might talk about the Black church vaguely when they mangle King, and they might pull out Howard Thurman’s “The Work of Christmas”, but a sustained engagement with Black theology (much less any other liberation theology)….yeah no.

What would it take for liberal religious communities to take liberation theology seriously? Engage with it? Is that even possible?

Can liberal religious communities move beyond Anti-Racism 101?

 

(*–I have not had a baby. It’s my newest cousin.)

Strange Fruit…or, Why We Are Still Having To Deal With Blackface

Anthony Pinn wrote, “Black bodies are complex signs that represent something both appealing and repulsive for the society in which we dwell.”

The beginning of Black History Month has been a doozy, I tell ya.

If you have followed this blog for any time at all you will know that I stand firm in my belief that the South won the Civil War, even though the North won the military engagement. This past week shows why.

The week starts out with Jussie Smollett, one of the stars of Empire, surviving a racist and homophobic attack that involved a hood, a noose, and bleach.

The week ended with pictures of Virginia governor Ralph Northam in his medical school yearbook either in blackface or in a Klan robe and hood. (if you don’t think he is one of those men in that picture, I have swamp land in Arizona to sell you)  And yesterday, Gov. Northam said that he wasn’t in the picture BUT he did go blackface a little later in the year in a Michael Jackson imitation contest. He also said that he knew the problems with using shoe polish to do the blackface. (did you catch that?)

I’ve been meditating on Dr. Pinn’s quote a lot this week. Because the U.S. still doesn’t know how to deal with Black/black bodies. The need to control/mimic Black/black bodies is a constant.

This is the strange fruit of the United States.

Every few hours/days/weeks/months some outrageously racist action takes over the news cycle. And those of us who know the history of racism in this country have to point out that there is nothing new in any of these actions. Those who have been in denial act as if it is surprising that none of this is new. The cycle repeats.

And all of this keeps us from having the real discussion about racist policy and practice. Don’t misunderstand me, the racist actions need to be talked about. However, until we get to the harder conversation about policy and practice, little will change.