When highly visible religious leaders have a lapse in character and their moral failure is exposed to the general public, we are often quick to publicize and circulate the news to our personal gossip circles and local street-news committees. However, when the same leaders demonstrate levels of high moral character, contrition, and/or personal transformation, we are not as apt to spread the news. Generally, I think the discrepancy between how fast good and bad news about religious leaders is disseminated can be attributed to our culture’s fascination with the sensational and scandalous aspects of public life. Furthermore, when the scandalous news is surrounding a highly visible preacher the fascination is compounded with questions related to issues like pastoral redemption, congregational forgiveness, suitability for ministry, sin, adultery, preying preachers, and sanctified freakiness etc.
In so many ways the public scenario that I’ve just described is exactly what happened to Baltimore based mega church pastor and TV preacher Jamal Harrison-Bryant.
The Allegations of Infidelity
During the summer of 2007 accusations of an affair began to surface about Pastor Bryant and an alleged 17 year old church member. These accusations reached a culminating point in the winter of 2008, when the Baltimore Sun newspaper published an article about an ensuing divorce between Pastor Bryant and his wife Giselle as a result of Bryant’s alleged infidelities. The article incited an online media firestorm on various blogs and gossip sites, as countless individuals far and wide began to express their feelings of support and condemnation, for and against, the embattled Reverend Bryant. This exchange of rumors and accusations, defamation and affirmation concerning Pastor Bryant’s alleged moral failings continued for several months without any in-depth public address, statement, and/or interview from Bryant.
Jamal Bryant Responds To Rumors and Accusations
Fast forward 2 ½ years from 2008 to now, Pastor Bryant and Giselle are officially divorced, he is still pastor of Empowerment Temple, he continues to preach extensively across the country, he has written a book about avoiding personal sabotage and he’s ready to talk about the so-called scandal; and he has done so in an interview conducted by Jamie Foster Brown in the October 2010 edition of Sister 2 Sister magazine
According to Mrs. Foster-Brown it took a while for her and Pastor Bryant to get together to talk about his alleged sexual affair and “fall from grace,” but eventually they were able to arrange a sit down conversation at her home in Maryland.
Admittedly the interview displays all the charisma, complexity, brilliance, and wit that we’ve come to expect from Jamal Bryant. During their conversation he admits that he had an affair with a woman while being married but he adamantly denies claims that he impregnated the unnamed woman and that he was sexually involved with several women. According to Bryant there was “one woman. Not several. Not 10. And there is no baby anywhere…..there is no subpoena for me to go anywhere. I am not rolling up my sleeve for any blood test. My issue was infidelity against my wife.”
In addition, Bryant also admitted that in the beginning he was in absolute denial about the affair and when he finally decided to come clean to his wife it was already too late. He goes on in the interview to describe how distraught he was about the whole situation. He shares candidly about how his experience of depression and embarrassment left him wanting to leave ministry. Perhaps most telling is his admission that his father Bishop John Bryant called him during the heat of the controversy and told him that “he has never had this kind of pain and disappointment in his life.” Among other topics discussed in the interview were Bryant’s kids and their reaction, his affection and admiration for his ex-wife Giselle, the state of his congregation, his book World War Me
, his reality television appearances, and other interesting personal details of his life.
What We Should Learn From Bryant’s Admission
Though I am in no way celebrating or condoning Bryant’s actions I think he is to be commended for his admission of infidelity. Too many times our leaders feel the need to hide their indiscretions for fear that negative public perception will bring an end to their perceived success. Obviously, Bryant was not immune to this fear since it has taken him some time to come clean. Whatever the case, his courage to speak out about his situation has the potential to be a teaching moment for those willing to listen. In my assessment I think we can learn at least (2) important things from his admission.
To begin with I think we can learn that the celebrity preacher culture that we have created can be extremely problematic. To be sure, there have always been widely popular preachers like Justin Marytr and John CHRYSOSTOM in the early church, Martin Luther and John Calvin during the Reformation, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Finney during the revivalist era, Aimee Simple McPherson and Billy Sunday in the early 20th century, and Martin Luther King Jr., Billy Graham, and T.D. Jakes
etc., in recent times. Interestingly, the current culture of Christian superstardom is exacerbated with the formation of advanced forms of media that have the potential to make our preachers even more larger than life. This fact presents significant challenges for popular preachers because their personal lives have become even larger targets for both admiration and accusation. Also their high visibility creates a Christian celebrity culture that promotes a harmful perception of Christian ministry among clergy of all levels of influence.
According to Bryant, the celebrity preacher status caused him to think that he “was beyond a chink in the armour.” In other words, he felt like he was beyond getting caught. One wonders how individuals ever come to believe that they won’t get caught after having witnessed numerous individuals (like Jimmy Swaggert, Ted Haggard, and Bill Clinton etc.) have their indiscretions plastered all over the television and the internet.
The unfortunate reality is the more confident or successful we become, the more we believe we are in control of destiny, not realizing that no one is truly the captain of their ship. Moreover, what is most unfortunate is the potential danger of making someone a celebrity preacher who is not gone through a process of becoming a healthy leader. Bryant accentuates this point when he states “one of the most dangerous things is to become a celebrity when you’re sick because it will further antagonize what your issues are.” To be sure, no leader (celebrity or otherwise) is perfect, but there is such a thing as a healthy leader. I define a healthy leader as someone who is responsible enough to handle the pressures and temptations of being followed. The unfortunate reality is that often individuals are exalted to high visibility as a result of their gifts and not their health or spiritual maturity; too often this scenario becomes a recipe for disaster.
Bryant’s most powerful admission about the perils of celebrity preacher culture is related to perceptions of success in the so-called black church. According to Bryant, “success in black church circles is defined as having thousands of members, preaching at national conferences, and driving a Bentley and living on the water.” As someone who has been in ministry for 10 plus years I have to concur with Bryant’s assessment of success in mainstream ministry culture. Far too many individuals enter ministry with aspirations of being successful rather than with the conviction to be faithful. Furthermore, when the measure of success is money, cars, homes, and hoes--it turns preachers into celebrities and not servants. Commendably Bryant admits that in the process of becoming a Christian celebrity “preaching became his profession and not his lifestyle” and as a result he “lost his grounding.” Hopefully, this admission will teach good church folks not to celebrate ministers simply for their preaching persona and charisma but also to celebrate them for the quality of their service to others.
One way we can combat the perils of celebrity preacher culture is to stop perpetuating the male-masculinity cult among certain clergy. This is the group that views ministerial authority as a parade of people with penises sanctioned by God to bear witness to a Power that they deny the power of. This is the group that preaches divine liberation but practices religious bondage of women and other disenfranchised groups. This is the group that publically commends relational fidelity and chastity of singleness but privately condones irresponsible sexual habits among fellow male ministerial colleagues. I have personally witnessed this gender cult ruin many young men who enter ministry with good intentions and this is why I hope we learn this lesson about celebrity preacher culture from Bryant’s situation.
Finally, the last thing I think we can learn from Bryant’s admission of infidelity is that a culture of constructive critique is needful in Christian culture, especially since powerful Christian leaders rarely surround themselves with individuals whom they trust to tell them the truth about themselves. When bloggers (like myself) first posted the news of Bryant’s alleged fidelity three years ago after it was published in the Baltimore Sun supporters of Pastor Bryant inundated the comment sections of our blogs with “not so holy” indignation. I remember persons lecturing me about the virtue of praying for our leaders and not engaging in slander of “men of God.” Also, I remember having personal conversations with individuals who felt Bryant’s alleged moral failings were not important because “the deeds of a good man far outweigh any of his indiscretions.” And of course, there were those among the congregation of blind allegiance who categorized every critique of Bryant and his congregation as indications of jealousy and preacher player hating. Honestly, at the time I personally did not feel the need to respond to such short sided and provincial reactions.
However, now that Bryant has admitted his infidelity and critiqued the very system of preacher celebrity culture that he insists provided the context for his indiscretions, I cannot help but lift up the value of unpopular countercultural Christian critique. Sadly, had the court of popular opinion prevailed Bryant may have never come to realize the error of his ways. In the article Bryant tellingly admits that he “initially was in complete denial, but pressure from blogs and newspapers” caused him to have to be honest with his wife about his wrongdoings and as a result he learned a lesson from his situation.
Obviously, I’m not suggesting that any leader’s personal life should be made the topic of public gossip sessions at the public’s kitchen table so to speak. However, I am suggesting that certain individuals in the Christian community need to become more enlightened witnesses and realize the necessity of developing a critical discerning eye that can tell the difference between bold discipleship and blind devotion.
Thank goodness there were some enlightened witnesses out there raising their voices in the spirit of compassionate critique because as a result a gifted young pastor has grown and reconnected with a lost part of himself as a leader. And as Christian leader myself I can only hope that individuals will continue to remind us of our responsibility to be healthy leaders and when we sometimes fail at this task I hope we’ll have the courage to be as honest as Pastor Jamal Bryant. In the end analysis I commend Bryant for his soulful admission, I continue to hope the best for his ex-wife Giselle and the children and I pray we as leaders have been reminded of the burden of leadership.
Compassionately and Critically yours, Billy Michael Honor
When I think about the year 1983 I think of Vanessa Lynn Williams becoming the first African-American to be crowned Miss America, President Ronald Reagan signing a bill creating a federal holiday to honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Jesse Jackson announcing his candidacy for the 1984 Democratic Party presidential nomination and the late great Michael Jackson giving arguably the most memorable performance of his career during a taping of a Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever television special where he dazzled 46 million viewers with his legendary moon walk while performing his now classic Billie Jean.
In addition to these major cultural events, when I think of 1983 I also think of many lesser known events, such as June 1, 1983 because it was the day I was born (obviously important to me) and I think (because I'm a pround alumni) of the election of Rev. James H. Costen as the President of the Interdenominational Theological Center(also known as ITC) in Atlanta .
The Formation of ITC and the Legacy of James Costen
Possibly many readers of this article have never heard the names James Costen or ITC, especially if they have not been exposed nor have any connection to black theological education in the US for last 25 plus years. Nonetheless, both Costen and ITC are heralded as significant institutions to the recent academic development of Black religious/theological studies.
In 1958, the Interdenominational Theological Center was chartered forming one of the most momentous ventures in the history of theological education in America. In this venture the Morehouse School of Religion(Baptist), Gammon Theological Seminary(United Methodist), Turner Theological Seminary(African Methodist Episcopal), and Phillips School of Theology(Christian Methodist Episcopal) partnered their institutions together to form one graduate school theological consortium. Eventually, the Johnson C. Smith Seminary(Presbyterian Church U.S.A.) and Charles H. Mason Seminary(Church of God In Christ) would join the venture establishing ITC as one of the most diverse and ecumenical Christian theological centers in the nation.
Twenty-five years after its inception ITC’s board of trustees elected a Presbyterian minister and seminary dean to become the institution’s fifth president, that individual was the Rev. James L. Costen. Under Costen’s administration ITC bolstered its reputation and established itself as one of the world’s premiere theological institutions for black church studies and liberating spirituality. In addition, during Costen’s 14 year tenure ITC's enrollment grew from 175 students to about 400, and its annual budget shot up from about $1.7 million to almost $6 million.
Institutional Troubles and the President Battle era
Since Costen’s retirement in 1998, the school has gone through multiple leadership transitions. In 1999, the renowned social ethicist and current President of Morehouse College Robert Michael Franklin
became President of ITC and served until 2002 before leaving for Emory University. The next two years (2002-2004) will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the most difficult seasons in ITC’s history as the institution found itself in danger of losing its full academic standing and validation.
When Rev. Dr. Michael Battle
arrived on ITC’s campus as the newly elected leader in August 2003, he immediately began addressing the most pressing issues facing the institution; among them the seminary’s pending probationary accreditation status with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). According to Battle, “SACS offered a year to make things right and we fulfilled the task and were reinstated within six months.”
After stirring clear of academic catastrophe, Dr. Battle focused his attention on cultivating an administrative team that was well-versed in accreditation policies and procedures. According to ITC officials the institution continues to operate with a very secure adherence to the standards of both SACS and the Association of Theological Schools in preparation for its next review as a result of Battle’s leadership.
In 2009, the nation’s first African American President Barack Obama selected Dr. Michael Battle to be the Ambassador to the African Union. After being elected and confirmed Battle announced his intention to leave ITC after having served six years as its president.
Battle’s Legacy and ITC’s Theological Integrity in Question
Battle’s resignation was received with a diversity of emotions and opinions. Some ITC board members and employees expressed ambivalent congratulations to Battle stating that he would be missed greatly. They expressed that Battle had accomplished several significant feats including leaving a "green footprint" with the school's TheoEcology program, helping to initiate Distance Learning courses and leading business and community partnerships to help make continued leadership progress at the seminary.
Battle’s critics applauded his departure, categorizing President Obama's selection as a blessing in disguise for ITC. Interestingly, one ITC faculty member (who will remain unnamed) commented that “Obama’s appointment of Battle as Ambassador to the African Union showed that Obama doesn’t give a shit about Africans.” This faculty member’s comment demonstrates the degree of dissatisfaction that certain professors and critics felt about Battle’s tenure.
Critics of Battle’s leadership suggest that though he accomplished certain administrative goals, the scholarship and academic legacy of ITC suffered under his watch. They argue that Battle’s administration was often dismissive and unsupportive of attempts (by faculty and students) to uphold a certain standard of theological integrity and history.
Evidence of this division was clearly seen in 2006 when the graduating class invited Bishop Eddie Long (Pastor, New Birth Cathedral in Lithonia, GA)
to be its commencement speaker. The news of Long’s selection as speaker prompted 33 graduating seniors to send a letter to Battle questioning Long's theological and ethical integrity and a 29-year member of ITC's board of trustees Bishop John Hurst Adamsto boycott the ceremony. It also led the legendary theologian James Hal Cone
of Union Theological Seminary in New York to refuse to attend the ceremony (where he was scheduled to receive an honorary doctorate). Cone stated that he “didn’t want to receive a doctorate from a school that would have Long as its speaker because he didn’t want to appear to support or condone Long’s ministry.” In response to Cone’s decline and charges of institutional embarrassment Battle stated “Jim’s refusal to come does not detract from Bishop Long's ministry or message, and Jim's coming would not enhance his ministry or mission."
Many viewed Battle’s support of Long as further evidence of his disrespect for the tradition of liberation theology and progressive religion that characterizes much (but not all) of ITC’s institutional heritage. In fact, in a paper Battle presented titled “The Challenge of Historically Black Institutions in Light of the Task of Theological Education” he implied theological education that is only critical, intellectual, and deconstructing is antithetical to the cause of Christ. He went on to suggest that “the future of theological institutions depends on their ability to make themselves necessary to local churches by producing leaders who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” In response to Battle’s presentation certain ITC professors and students stated they saw Battle’s public comments as an affront to their work and scholarship.
The Election Dr. Ron Peters and the Challenge Ahead
This ideological war of method and mission will be the battle ground that ITC’s newly elected President Rev. Dr. Ron Peters
will enter this fall. Dr. Peters has served for nearly 20 years at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary in various capacities as a professor and administrator. Early predictions are that Peters will do well in his new post. Like James Costen he is a trained Presbyterian minister who understands the value of theological institutions to the practice of ministry and he brings decades of relationship building between church and academy. Also, he is a published scholar who is committed to the advancement of theological thinking and dialogue which will hopefully help renew the bond between faculty and administration. Other good signs are that Peters’ scholarly interests in ministerial leadership in urban contexts and africentric ministry practice should jive well with ITC’s curriculum and pedagogical focus. In fact, in 2005, Peters edited with Marsha Snulligan Haney (ITC Professor of Missiology), a book entitled Africentric Approaches to Christian Ministry.
To be sure, Peters’ job will not be easy. Leading any theological institution of significance in this current time is no walk in the park. In the 1980’s Professor Cornel West
categorized the crisis in theological education as a crisis of mission concerning “what it means to be a Christian minister in our time.” On a similar note Dr. Robert Franklin characterized the crisis in the African American institutional church as a “crisis of mission” in his 2007 book Crisis In The Village: Restoring Hope in African American Communities. Insomuch as these scholars are correct in their assessment of contemporary theological education and ministry Dr. Peters will have his hands full leading ITC. And whether he tackles this challenge by erring on the side of administrative expediency or whether he courageously chooses to pioneer new innovative ways forward that embrace administrative excellence and exemplar progressive scholarship will largely determine his success or failure.
Whatever the outcome, I’m sure the ITC board is hoping that the election of another Presbyterian will be bring the same favor it brought in the Costen era, but only time will tell.
Compassionately and Critically yours, Billy Michael Honor Jr.
In the words of that great American philosopher Forest Gump
“life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” Or as my late great grandmother used to say “life is unpredictable because the Lord works in mysterious ways.” However you state it, the point is we never know completely where life is going to take us. We may have some indication of how we would like our lives to unfold and we may in fact get a lot of what we want out of life, but the hard knock truth is there are few real certainties in life.
In my own life I can bear witness to this truism about life. Over the 27 years of my life on this earth I have been fortunate to experience countless things that I did not plan for or couldn’t have predicted. And not all of these experiences have been favorable. In the words of those lyrical geniuses (and my momma’s favorite musical artists) Frankie Beverley and Maze , my life has been full of “joy and pain, sunshine and rain.” Whatever the case, I’m glad to be alive despite the curveballs life has thrown; and the truth is I’m better because of it.
If you had asked me 5 years ago where I’d be today I would have told you that “I would be finished seminary, in a doctoral program, borderline broke, married with a child on the way, 5 pounds lighter, have written my first book, serving at a house church and teaching at a Christian College or living in a monastery, reading the scriptures, chanting hymns, eating only fish, and doing manual labor to the glory of God every day. And yes, the monastery
was seriously an option (5) years ago. Thank God time is filled with swift transition.
Well, five years later, my life is somewhat like I thought it would be and a lot NOT like I imagined. I am currently not in a doctoral program, not married and have fathered no children, haven’t published a book, not serving at a house church, not teaching at any college or living in a monastery and I’m not broke (praise sweet baby Jesus!). On the other hand, I have graduated from college and seminary which is the only things I correctly predicted would happen. (Go figure)
So what has happened? How is life?
Honestly, it’s pretty darn good! In addition to graduating from seminary with honors, I also completed an advanced studies Masters degree from Emory University in Atlanta this past month and I plan to enter a doctoral program fall (2011). Though I haven’t published a book I am currently writing one and hopefully will publish it by next spring. I’m not serving at a house church but I’m the pastor of a growing mainline denominational church in (South) metro Atlanta with a super-great staff and amazing members. I’m not teaching at any college but I teach two bible classes every week and lecture often on religion and culture in various places and I’m in constant conversation with brilliant young emerging religious leaders all the time. I’m not living in a monastery but occasionally my apartment feels like one. I make pretty good money so I’m not broke and I’m not married but I’m working on it!!!
And if all this were not enough, I’m currently writing this post on vacation in one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been in my life: The sweet sugar city of the Caribbean, the island of St. Kitts .
All and all, though life is not what I expected it would be. I’m blessed and truly thankful for all that has occurred in my life, good and bad. And if you’re reading this, I invite you to join me in gratitude to God for all life’s many blessings in your life and mine!
Compassionately and thankfully yours, Billy Michael Honor
Occasionally I read a news story and think, "REALLY, could somebody be that damn dense?" Well, this week I encountered one of those stories. It involved the US Secret Service, the Nation of Islam, the press, walkie talkies, sly insults and shameful politically charged overreaction. I know, its sounds like a Spike Lee joint, right? But this was no movie, it was real life. Reportedly, President Obama and his family were at a BBQ across the street from Minister Louis Farrakhan's home
in Chicago and the press apparently got to close to the Minister's abode and that signaled a minor standoff between the secret service and the Nation of Islam security forces (aka--the fruit of Islam).
Now, let me be clear, I have a great deal of respect for the Nation of Islam and I think the FOI are positively "gangster" in the best sense of the term. But I don't know what is more ridiculous about this story, the fact that the islamic brother thought the Secret service was the CIA or the FOI chanting "Islam" in Wide or Die shirts at the press. LOL. Come on folks, are we serious. To get the full story, click the link below and read the Chicago Sun Times article. If you don't, you'll probably see it as a scene in the next 40 acres and a mule production! (Love You Spike!!!)
Hello friends, I wanted to post "the Critical Cleric" book of the month for April. I ran across this text while researching for the graduate thesis I'm currently writing and will hopefully complete today (if you believe in prayer, please PRAY I FINISH!). I received the book by mail a couple days ago and I have been stealing minutes ever since trying to read it, because its the end of the semester and my time is not my own.
But from what I've read thus far, it is really well written and researched, and offers a much needed analysis of the racial and religious factors that influenced what is now infamously known as the "Jeremiah Wright, God Damn America" controversy. In case you've forgotten (or in the case of many Obama supporters and/or Jeremiah Wright supporters, like myself) tried to forget. During the 2008 Democratic Presidential Primary Race an except of a sermon preached by Senator Obama's pastor (now former pastor) Jeremiah Wright was released to the media where he is proclaiming "God Damn America" for her past sins of injustice committed against innocent and disinherited persons etc.
This sermonic except (along with a few others) created a whirlwind of controversy and prolonged political theater, leading up to Obama giving his famed Philadelphia "Race Speech" and eventually parting ways with Dr. Wright. Well, this book The Preacher and the Politician: Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama and Race In America examines these events by taking into account American's protracted contentious racial past and its romanticized racial present. I think all those interested in politics, race, or religion (or if you just wanna learn something) will find this book extremely insightful.
You should pick it up and tell me what you think.
Compassionately and Critically yours, Billy Michael Honor Jr.
I really love neo-soul music. I love the sound of it, the soul of it, and the culture around it. When I listen to the music I can't help but feel alive and in touch with what life is really about. This is how I feel when I listen to the music of D'Angelo, Erykah Badu, India Arie, Angie Stone, and Maxwell just to name a few. All of these artist in their own way have helped me (through their music) to wrestle with some of the deep complexities of life and love and I know many others who feel the same way. However, despite the influence of the Neo-Soul music genre and culture, few have taken time to analyze its origin and progression. In our current age of commercial "hip hop" proliferation and over analyzing, hip hop's cultural sibling "neo-soul" often gets overshadowed. But hopefully this will change with author Chris Campbell's new book The Essential Neo Soul. I have not read it, but I've ordered it and read raving reviews about it so I feel confident in endorsing it. But if you don't trust me, trust author and music critic Shamontiel whose review of the book is linked to this post. You should check it out, its hot and Shamontiel's writings are very insightful and fun.
Compassionately and Critically yours, Billy Michael Honor
Author Chris Campbell Breaks Down the Art of Neo Soul in The Essential Neo Soul
When you see the category neo soul in a music store or a radio station online, do you know what it means? Author Chris Campbell's book "The Essential Neo Soul" breaks it down in 101 artists plus honorable mentions.
(Before the Critical Cleric I facilitated a blog for 4 years I called Souljonz. Over those few years Souljonz received over 500,000 visits and thousands of posted comments. What’s interesting is most of the visits to that blog were from people searching for gossip about superstar pastor Jamal Bryant’s Marriage problems and others looking for information on NIGGERS. I kid you not, everyday at least 20 searches for nigger lover, ugly nigger, niggers dieing, nigger cities, and even nigger bitches etc. would reach my blog because I posted years ago a piece Joseff Sorett wrote on “The N-Word Dying a Double Death.” Oh, the irony. Anyhow, in response to the large amount of internet Nigger interest I decided to post a piece Dr. Cornel West wrote on the “Niggerization of American democracy “which I absolutely love. I am reposting this piece on this 9-11 memorial weekend because Dr. West composed this piece in response to the US’s posture post 9-11. Hopefully, this article from one of American’s most celebrated intellectuals will enlighten and inform all of who read it this 9-11 weekend. Enjoy.) Compassionately and Critically yours, B. Michael Honor
Cornel West–The fundamental irony of American history is that we follow the better angels of our nature when we honestly and compassionately confront the devilish realities we would like to ignore or deny. The founding of this most American of periodicals was motivated, in part, by a courageous resistance against the American institution of white- supremacist slavery. We must never forget that when this grand intellectual forum was established, the precious U.S. Constitution was, in practice, a pro-slavery document. To put it clearly yet crudely, the deep democratization of America was pitted against the ugly niggerization in America.
Democratization is the best of the American idea—in principle and practice. The sublime notion that each and every ordinary person has a dignity that warrants his or her voice being heard in shaping the destiny of society remains a revolutionary force in the 21st century—in the face of the power of autocratic empires, plutocratic states, and xenophobic communities. Niggerization is neither simply the dishonoring and devaluing of black people nor solely the economic exploitation and political disenfranchisement of them. It is also the wholesale attempt to impede democratization—to turn potential citizens into intimidated, fearful, and helpless subjects.
Since the ugly events of 9/11, we have witnessed the attempt of the Bush administration—with elites in support and populists complacent—to promote the niggerization of the American people. Like the myopic white greed, fear, and hatred that fueled the niggerization of black people, right-wing greed, fear, and hatred have made all of us feel intimidated, fearful, and helpless in the face of the terrorist attacks. And, as in the 19th century, we’ve almost lost our democracy.
The future of the American idea—both then and now, here and abroad—depends on the vision, courage, and determination of decent and compassionate people to engage in Socratic questioning of the powers that be, to take the risk of prophetic witness, and to preserve a hope for democratization. Our nation and world now have the blues, so we must learn from our blues people—from the grand examples of Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King Jr., Fannie Lou Hamer, Myles Horton, and Muriel Rukeyser. The American practice of niggerization must die for the American idea of democratization to live—yet again.
Dr. Cornel West