Posted by: rogermitchell | May 19, 2020

Why we must not let last December’s election result or the Pandemic obscure the roots of Brexit

We are in need of deep structural investigations which can shed light on why the BAME community are so harshly impacted by Covid 19. Back in September I posted the review I wrote for The William Temple Foundation on Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie’s important book Theologising Brexit (Routledge, 2019). Now that the UK general election’s sweeping endorsement of Brexit, together with the Coronavirus, has clouded our memories somewhat I am strongly moved to repost my review here. Sadly the pandemic brought about the cancellation of the Society for the Study of Theology’s Annual Conference at which Reddie’s vital thesis would have had greater exposure. Reading my friend Professor Imogen Tyler’s wonderful and excoriating critique of Western governments in her recently published work Stigma: The Machinery of Inequality (London: Zed Books, 2020) I was reminded of just how important Reddie’s book is for political theology. (I look forward to reviewing Imogen’s book here in due course).

Whatever the epidemiology of the Coronvirus among Black and Asian peoples, the indemic racism of the Western system clearly plays a very significant part. While I acknowledge that many among Brexit’s supporters repudiate its racist aspects and have commented strongly against any such suggestion, I believe that we need to let Reddie’s critique reach more deeply into our hearts and mindsets. I also respect the the qualifications placed on his thesis by friends of mine within the Black community. Nevertheless as a white British theologian I strongly suggest that we should expose ourselves to the sharp end of Reddie’s scholarship. Putting it bluntly, Reddie describes Brexit as underpinned by a rising tide of White, English nationalism, and we need to beware it. When I posted this review before, I broke it up into two posts. This time I’m putting them both together. This makes for a longer post than usual, but I encourage readers to give time to it, nonetheless.

The aim of Reddie’s book is to provide a prophetic, postcolonial model of Black liberationist theology. With it he challenges the Church and wider society to live out the gospel of Jesus and reminds us that a so-called Christian nation has to be one in which there is justice and equity for all and not just a priveleged sense of entitlement for only some. Reddie’s ten chapters are wonderfully discomforting and for me fulfil Walter Brueggermann’s description of genuinely prophetic work, namely to provide a critique of the contemporary society and release the passion to act for the common good. Chapter One exposes the link between Christianity and empire, and the White English exceptionalism that remains an unresolved set of religious and theological ideas that have helped to shape the national identity, and continue to resource the White, English nationalism that underpins the Leave vote. Chapter Two outlines ways in which notions of British cultural superiority and the lament for a time when we were a great empire still persist. It exposes the way that the church has often conditioned Black people into internalising the tropes of empire within their psyche alongside their White counterparts so they end up defending these ideas and behaviours, and some of them end up supporting the Leave campaign.

Chapter Three explores the role of what he describes as imperial mission Christianity in the propagation of empire and colonial thinking via Christian education and discipleship that has generally although not always served to undergird White British exceptionalism. He suggests that this has had a corrosive effect both on those who would identify themselves as White and those who are constructed and identify as the other. Chapter Four asks what it means to be a ‘proper’ human being in Britain and explores the invisibility of Whiteness and how its hidden nature causes the sense of entitlement and normality that underpinned the Brexit vote. He offers this as a starting point and gift to us White British to help us deconstruct our destructive inherited notions of entitlement, whether middle or working class people. Chapter Five addresses the struggle that Black and other minority groups have experienced in the attempt to find genuine belonging in British society. It challenges the xenophobic backdrop of Brexit, and offers Black and minority identities as the means to challenge the suffocating boundaries of a reactive White British culture.

As you can see, this is a polemical and unapologetic critique of some of the underlying causes of the Brexit phenomenon. I am suggesting that the impact of the Coronavirus on the BAME community is at least in part evidence of the same endemic racism. As I have already emphasised in my various posts on Brexit over the last several years, I am not accusing my Leave voting friends of consciously holding these views. However, with Reddie, I do believe that these are the substantive motives behind the desire for Brexit in the corporate life of the nation and we all, however we voted, do well to reflect on the perspective of a brother Englishman with a life time’s oppressive experience of the powerful ongoing residue of White British imperialism and cultural supremacy.

In Chapter Six he tackles head on the hermeneutical problems associated with systemic frameworks that assert particular practices and ideas as normative. This involves a very interesting and clear overview of Black Christianity and the Bible in Britain. He notes the way that many Black majority churches remain wedded to a form of nineteenth century White evangelical biblicism. This is of course, as he recognises, equally true of swathes of contemporary evangelical, charismatic and pentecostal churches generally. Those familiar with my own work will know how unhelpful I also find the biblicist approach, bringing as it does unconscious perspectives on God, the church and the world which are rooted in the Christendom partnership of Church and empire. Reddie’s alternative to this is a two-fold hermeneutic in which the sacredness of Black bodies and the realities of Black suffering and struggle provide the lens through which to exegete the scriptures. I would wish to root this in a specifically Jesus hermeneutic, of course, but it provides a crucial supplement. Chapter Seven demonstrates the attempt by Black theology to offer transformative methods of education such as Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientization through which poor and oppressed people become politically aware of the dehumanising circumstance in which they live. As Reddie puts it, “it is essential to critique the overarching power of White top-down knowledge that underpinned the Brexit process.”

Chapter Eight presents us with the positive challenge provided by interfacing with those who seem to be ‘Other’. He offers three critiques of normative White British culture; Rastafari theology, Black theology and Womanist theology. Whatever we ultimately make of these, can I emphasise right away that alternative lenses of an honourable ‘Other’ can only help us forward toward overall wellbeing. We need help to undo what for many of us is a still persisting subconscious or unconscious patriarchal, White majority expectation of our national future. Just as Luke Bretherton’s draw on Black Power as a source for democratic common life that we looked at in previous posts on Christ and the Common Life gave us important insights, the same is the case with Reddie’s recourse to Rastafari. While clearly distinct from mainstream Christianity because of its central revelation based on the association of the coronation of the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie with the second coming of Christ, it represents a significant form of Black religio-cultural resistance to British Nationalism and White supremacy in the United Kingdom. Reddie sees this form of resistance as complementary to Black theology which while more focused on Jesus specifically interprets the meaning of the incarnation through the experiences and activity of Black people in contemporary Britain. This is substantially complemented by Black Womanist theology which uses the experience of Black women as a further lens to challenge the contemporary tripartite ills of racism, sexism and classism.

Chapter Nine is one of the most innovative chapters of the book, bringing together as it does Caribbean theology with cricket and the socialism of Fidel Castro. This is of course extremely topical in the light of the oppression and deportation of some of the original British Caribbean elders since the EU referendum. Entitled “Doing It Our Way” the chapter is a wonderful demonstration of the gift of the Windrush generation to British life and culture. It combines the post-colonial focus of Caribbean theology with the ability of Caribbean cricketing legends to act creatively outside the box and the inspiration of Castro’s socialism. The impact is to provide a transnational, Black Atlantic, anti-Brexit focused theological rationale for empowering those who are othered in the body politic of postcolonial Britain. Finally, Chapter Ten, entitled “Telling the Truth and Shaming the Devil” outlines the way in which the complex identities of diasporan African peoples in Britain, informed by postcolonial theologies, can give rise to hermeneutical tools for prophetic truth telling. Drawing on the anecdotal wisdom and story telling of an earlier generation of Caribbean grandmothers and its interface with the existential threat of the oppressive and retributive power of English colonialism and empire, it provides a splendid context to the recent prophetic sense that the redemptive gift of Britain to the rest of Europe and the world is as an edgy grandmother!


Responses

  1. dear Rog Thanks for this new post and your point on chapters 9 and 10 further confirm or makes it clearer for us why we spend 1/3 of our life in the Carrabeans and because of Covid this year will be close to 1/2 of the year. Here we feel far away from Europ and Africa and in both at the same time. French islands and British islands mixed in the same spot speaking powerfully and exposing past history, present and future, Shaking the bad and proposing the good being grounded in love, and shaping another world in our world With our love

    Le mar. 19 mai 2020 à 07:08, Roger Haydon Mitchell’s Blog a écrit :

    > rogermitchell posted: ” We are in need of deep structural investigations > which can shed light on why the BAME community are so harshly impacted by > Covid 19. Back in September I posted the review I wrote for The William > Temple Foundation on Black Theologian Anthony G. Reddie’s i” >

    • Thanks Sam. I’m glad that you are there!

  2. Many thanks Roger, I do think it was tragic that the referendum which ended our 40 year relationship with the EEC and EU and indeed our 74 year experience of the end of World War 2 was given no more than 4 months for explanations, that during that time very few people from within the Churches discussed it with the notable exception of a small group that claimed that God wanted us to leave because of what they stated was an anti-Christ element of the EU and that then when the vote was so marginally in favour of our departure that the Government has handled it the way they have. Assuming we do leave let us hope that post our departure, we can begin to explore some of these issues and try to bring our nation back to a position that we need to be where people of all ages, all races, all views and conditions can be treated equally.

  3. Reblogged this on Andrew James.


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