by Andre Key
Contributor to R3
Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here.
Throughout the black religious cosmos, various traditions have removed whiteness from its hallowed perch. The most obvious is the Nation of Islam’s myth of Yacub, however, Black Hebrews have long identified whites in general (or Ashkenazi Jews in particular) as Edomites (the descendants of Esau, enemy of the Israelites), and Rastafarianism has long critiqued whiteness and western society as Babylon, the adversary of the saints of Jah. The sum total of these traditions is not there castigation of whiteness and western society, it larger role is to serve as compass to lead African Americans to what noted humanist theologian Anthony Pinn calls complex subjectivity. Complex subjectivity is an attempt to assert agency is a world filled with racial terror that began with the Middle Passage and carried through to the 20th century in the religious diversity of the urban Black America created by the Great Migration where religious traditions like the Five Percenters were born.
Also, the elevation of blackness from demonic in the western imagination to divine in the black religious cosmos has led to charges of reverse racism and black supremacy from media outlets and organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center. Although, there has not been a history of racial violence committed against whites by these religious groups they continued get catalogued as the black “versions” of white supremacist groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and Christian Identity movements respectively. The rhetorical violence to whiteness as a symbol that Five Percenters, Black Hebrews, Rastafarians, and the Nation of Islam engage in is constantly offset by demands to be law-abiding citizens in its doctrinal teachings. To believe that black flesh can inhabit the divine, or can be the chosen of the divine is indeed a radical departure from the traditional western framework. At a time when an Oscar winner celebrating her dark skin is seen as a monumental feat, perhaps claiming to be a god in Black flesh is too much for the average American to handle.
Certainly, it would be more comforting for whites and many blacks to only hear messages of racial brotherhood and reconciliation and to overlook the demands and calls for cosmic justice that has been equally a part of the African American religious tradition. But as a human expression, religion is a chronicle of the interaction between human populations and societies at critical junctures in their historical and spiritual journeys and to censor black religious traditions for exposing some of the unpleasant episodes during this modern epoch would be violation of the very creed of the Five Percent nation: Freedom, Justice, and Equality.
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