While scrolling through Twitter yesterday, I got wind of the kerfuffle in Los Angeles where City Council president, Nury Martinez, was caught on tape in a private meeting where she and her colleagues used racial slurs towards the black son of a fellow council member. She apparently felt comfortable in the presence of her colleagues to say what she really thought. You can read more about that here (pardon some language). Update: the context was a meeting about redistricting that would diminish the voting power of black residents, according to this article. I understand she has now resigned as president of City Council but still remains on.
To be honest, it really didn’t surprise me. My family moved to Los Angeles from Chicago in 1969 when I was 5. Growing up in that area (predominantly Inglewood), I observed a lot of tensions between Blacks and Latinos. Stereotypes, segregation of the two groups, and even hostility was not that uncommon. I moved to Boston 1n 1994, just a few years into the start of my professional career. So I really wasn’t that aware of the inner workings of city infrastructure, particularly among social or political coalitions. But from what I witnessed as a teenager and young adult, I can imagine how these kind of attitudes would spill over into the social and political infrastructure of the city. I would have thought that dynamic would have changed by now but maybe not.
In fact, observing some threads on Twitter from those with more first hand knowledge of the dynamics there, I saw allegations of power structures among Latinos who were in positions to orchestrate elevating their group and creating barriers for others, namely Blacks. How much this is true, I cannot say. But the charges obviously resonated with several people who believed that Latinos who held the purse strings, so to speak, made it difficult for other groups. Again, I’m just observing the charges made, not affirming them.
This post is not about this incident per se but a reflection on what I consider a deeper issue we need to contend with in the body of Christ. What struck me about these allegations is that there was no mention of white supremacy. You would think given where the discourse is on race, surely there would be some punting to whiteness as the real culprit because it seems that is the blame for everything under the sun.
It was a poignant reminder to me that the real issue was never about white supremacy to begin with, but people supremacy. By that I mean the propensity for suspicion and hostilities among people groups, to elevate themselves and subjugate others, to hold intolerances for some groups, and even perpetrate wrongs against them for the sake of our own.
I’ve been reading this fascinating book Cultural Identity and the Purposes of God by Steven M. Bryan. Dr. Bryan lays out a biblical theology of ethnicity, nationality, and race outlined through the biblical narrative*. He argues that God’s intentions were always to fill the earth with diverse people to have a unitarian purpose for his glory even among their diversity. But the Fall perverted so much with its insertion of the sin condition the world since has had to contend with. In chapter 3, “Children of Cain, Heirs of Babel” I think he gets to the heart of disruption among God’s good intention in his explanation of Gen. 9:18-27;
“We must note here that the interpretation of this text has a history even more repulsive than the event describes. Over the course of many centuries, it was used as a warrant for the enslavement of Africans, as though the bitter fruit of Ham’s sin was somehow an expression of the divine will. Among the many problems with this, within Genesis, Canaan and his descendants are not associated with Africa but with the land occupied by Israel after the exodus (Gen. 10:15-19). But if the author’s intent is not to justify slavery, the story does clearly show that the preflood problem of conflict between the families of the earth has taken root in postflood soil. The alienation that marred relationships between diverse peoples before the flood has taken a new form–the subjugation of one people to another. If the nature of Ham’s sin represents resistance to the divine will for a world filled with diverse peoples, the fruit of his sin is true to its root. The perversion of the unity of all peoples into unitarian sameness results in a social order in which one people is subordinate to another. Resistance to difference in one generation begets subordination of difference in the next. The narrative makes the claim that relationships of hierarchical power between peoples are not a divinely intended social order but an intrinsic (and divinely pronounced) consequence of human repudiation of cultural difference as a divinely intended good.” (pg. 76)
Have we not seen this through the annuls of human history, even among people who bear the same skin color? But I also think it’s instructive for how we resolve ethnic tensions from a biblical foundation. Whatever ills history has wrought, we’ll never get to faithful and fruitful resolution as long as we pit ethnic groups against each other and perpetuate hostilities. This incident in L.A. and reflection further convinces me why Christians need to abandon paradigms built on social critical theories that do exactly that.
- Note: I initially indicated the first 11 chapters of Genesis but he actually goes through the entire Bible.