Monday, February 23, 2009

White Supremacy and the Chimp: A Renewed Anthropology

By Marguerite Spencer, Senior Researcher at the Kirwan Institute

By the time this blog is posted, much will have already been written about the N.Y. Post editorial cartoon, which many thought depicted President Obama as a chimpanzee, slain by two white officers. I would like to approach this cartoon from a useful theological posture, interrogating not white racism but white supremacy. Central to the anthropology of the Judeo-Christian tradition is the belief that God created humankind in God’s image. This God, at least in Western culture, is consistently portrayed as white. Two implications flow from this – that God is not a God of color and that the creatures that are created in God’s image are white. In the context of the editorial cartoon, the two white cops are made in the image of God; like God they are powerful and effect “justice.” Obama, however, is not made in the image God; he is a lesser creature like the lower animals in the Judeo-Christian creation story – dark, dirty, dust stuff, without God’s spirit or life force blown into him. It is easy to shoot a chimp (yes, it is black blood that flows from him), but not if the chimp is made in the image of God. Protestant black theologian James Cone argues that white Christians can never overcome their sense of superiority unless they see God as black, as the wholly Other, embracing all who are oppressed. Some see Cone’s black God as a true metaphor; it juxtaposes two realties that are thought to be unrelated: divinity and black experience, or if read in a more expansive way, Americanism and the experience of all who are marginalized. Is America white? Are all non-whites less than American? At this moment in our nation’s history, this savage editorial cartoon urgently offers us the opportunity to challenge the social location of whites and to reshape our understanding of what it means to be both an American and a human being.

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