Here is the second part of Marc LiVecche’s talk with Derryck Green. To watch the first part, click here.
Christian realism argues that the right to political sovereignty rests not on simply wielding power in a geographically defined area, but on meeting the moral responsibilities of caring for the justice, order, and peace of the political community given to the sovereign’s care. The failure to provide for these political goods is an abdication of political responsibility that puts one’s claims to sovereignty on shaky ground. Has America abandoned its moral responsibilities? If we claim to care for justice abroad, we must first care for justice at home. Do we? Answering in the affirmative, Providence executive editor Marc LiVecche and writer, blogger, speaker, and public intellectual Derryck Green talk about current events involving racism and America, white groveling, Black Lives Matter and the black power movement, Christian anthropology versus racial anthropology, and the journey of black America from a land of slavery to a land of milk and honey.
Program Notes: Some important resources mentioned in the discussion include:
- Derryck Green, “Black Lives Matter: The Ideological Heir to Black Power” and “America Isn’t Evil: God Defeats Racism“
- Shelby Steele: The Content of Our Character: A New Vision of Race In America; A Dream Deferred: The Second Betrayal of Black Freedom In America; White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era.
- John McWhorter: Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America; Winning the Race: Beyond the Crisis in Black America;
- Thomas Sowell: Intellectuals and Race; Intellectuals and Society; Discrimination and Disparities
- Walter E. Williams: Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?; The State Against Blacks; Up From the Projects: An Autobiography;
- Glenn Loury: “The Glenn Show” (Blogging Heads TV)
- Ibram X. Kendi: How to Be an Antiracist. Derryck Green suggests this so people get an idea of what the new religion of anti-racism and Critical Race Theory is and how it works itself out in academia and culture.
- Coleman Hughes is an author at Quillette and City Journal. He has some fascinating pieces there. He has a podcast, “Conversations with Coleman” as well; check out the one with John McWhorter.
Rough Transcript of the Conversation:
LIVECCHE: Hi everybody, I’m Marc LiVecche. This is part two of my conversation with Derryck Green. We were talking about racism in America. Derryck, thanks for holding on and for staying on so long, I appreciate it.
LIVECCHE: Anybody who has listened to part one should be recognizing a pattern by now. You speak with a tremendous amount of nuance. You might speak with emotion, but your emotion is being seasoned with facts. You’ve referenced FBI files; you’re making careful arguments. As you address current problems with racism with what’s going on in America today, I’d like to start moving toward a vision you have for what reconciliation could look like, what moving forward could look like. Trying to pick up some of the different pieces that you talked about in part one, you’ve made reference to a racial anthropology and you talked a little bit about what that would look like versus a Christian anthropology. And this was I think a part of your doctoral work. Can you say more about that, and one, why did that interest you, and why is that a useful binary through which to talk about some of the issues we’re talking about?
GREEN: You know it’s something that I ran from early on, I just didn’t want to discuss it because I think that the racial narrative has been so reinforced that I didn’t think I would have a receptive audience. So, I tried to run from it, but when the Lord puts something on your heart and keeps it there, you have to go, if for no other reason, just to get him to leave you alone, you go for it. And so the thing that really interested me was the fact that year after year, different polling and studies show that blacks are just the most religious demographic in the country. And it’s been that way for a considerable amount of time. And I looked historically to say, “Well, considering that I’m part of a cultural group that was brought here, enslaved, and then in segregation, how did religion affect our development?” And one of the things that I looked at, particularly post-civil rights, was that since the civil rights movement, blacks have sought to redefine ourselves based off a racial anthropology. We tried to remake ourselves in our own image for several generations. We were called Negro. Negro wasn’t any good because Negro was associated with the passivity of the civil rights movement and it was a term that whites called blacks. So then you get to the black power movement, they wanted to get rid of the passivity of the Negro and call themselves black. And then they embrace black culture, black pride, so on and so forth. But then they renamed themselves Afro-Americans. And then we went to African-American with the hyphen and now we’re African American with no hyphen and now we’re back to a broad umbrella of people of color which is a throwback to colored people, when we were in segregation. So it seems like every generation, we’re trying to redefine ourselves based off of race, in some respects to raise our self-esteem to cover for the fact that we are still part of a group that was enslaved, segregated, and now that people still may not see us as equals. And so my position was, the reason we are in search of this self-esteem, is because we’re trying to remake ourselves in our own image.
But true dignity is found understanding that we’re created in the image of God, renewed, or redeemed, or reformed in the image of Christ. That is what our dignity should be built upon. You can use God’s gift of diversity to augment that dignity, but not to build the foundation of that dignity. And I think that’s what we’re missing. And so until Christian blacks, black Christians—however you want to phrase it—realize that there is no dignity, there is no value or virtue, in a racial anthropology, but there is real value in a Christian anthropology, we’re going to continue to see this kind of discord amongst ourselves. And so I think that true reconciliation and reparation of relationships begins when our white brothers and sisters see us as just as worthy as being created in the image of God and renewed in the image of Christ as we see ourselves. And until American blacks love ourselves first, it is going to be very difficult to try to convince other people to love us. So, it’s a both-and kind of thing. And s,o I think that reconciliation will begin at that point.
But another thing needs to happen, and I think it’s really important that I mention it. We cannot continue to have our white brothers and sisters in Christ pay for sins that they did not commit. The Bible says that each man pays for his own sin. Each man will be put to death for his own sin. We cannot continue to hold our white brothers and sisters in Christ accountable for sins that they did not commit. We cannot project upon them sins that they did not commit. We have to, if we’re going to move forward—and this is what I’ve argued in my dissertation—true black empowerment would be to say, “I forgive you.” It’s an it’s an element of forgiveness that we saw with the black families affected by Dylann Roof when he shot the nine brothers and sisters in Christ in South Carolina. True forgiveness is the brother of—I forget his name—Botham Jean—the police officer who barged in, shot the black guy in Dallas. He said, “I don’t even want you to go to jail; I forgive you. Can I give you a hug?” It was one of the most powerful demonstrations of Christian forgiveness that I’ve seen in quite some time. And you could see that he humanized her in that moment forgiveness. She wept. It’s like Jesus wept. She wept. She didn’t cry, she wept. Because throughout that whole case, she was painted as a racist, a non-person. So he met dehumanization with humanization. If blacks are able to demonstrate that kind of forgiveness and say, “We forgive you; we’re not holding you accountable. Let us demonstrate to the world what true reconciliation looks like,” I think we would have a very significant impact on American culture. But we can’t do that. And we can’t have forgiveness if one group of people don’t take us seriously as collaborators in Christ, collaborators in reconciliation, and the other group says, “No you’re guilty by default of your birth.” There’s no reconciliation there. So, I think in Christian anthropology makes much more sense, much more sense.
LIVECCHE: That’s fantastic. There’s so much there to unpack. One question right at the end of what you said that I don’t want to lose before I go back through a couple of the other points, is this idea of forgiveness. I often break forgiveness into two stages. I’ll suggest that there’s first forgiveness as compassion. And forgiveness as compassion is different than the second stage, which is forgiveness is reconciliation. Forgiveness as compassion is unilateral, because victims also have responsibilities. And so a victim has to be able to say, as you’ve said, “I forgive you in the sense that I don’t know how your history has merged with your character, your experiences, how they have shaped you, how they’ve given you maybe the hatreds or the prejudices you have. I don’t know, if I were you, if I would behave any differently.” And so, as an act of compassion all I can do is say, “I wish you didn’t do these things. I wish we could have a relationship that is healthy.” And almost as empathy, “I forgive you.” There’s a compassion. That doesn’t necessarily mean we can now be friends and everything’s beer and skittles, and we can just get along it’s going to be great. Because the second step, forgiveness as reconciliation, is going to depend on the victimizer, or the perceived victimizer, repenting, and asking forgiveness, and demonstrating that, “I am no longer the threat that I was.” Has white America, speaking in gross generalizations here, have we earned the right for you to suggest we can be forgiven? Has there been a repentance? Have the sins of the past been paid for, so that you can say, “Now we can move on”?
GREEN: That’s tough. I think that there’s certain pockets in which that is true. I think that there’s been a lot—you know whether they’re elected leaders that have acknowledged the wrong of close to a hundred years of segregation. So I think that there have been people who have said that. As a whole it’s difficult to say, because of this racial narrative that’s been reinforced over 50 years. I think that there would have been much more of a broad repentance from white Americans had not the conversation been always, “You’re guilty, you’re guilty, you’re guilty.” Even in guilt, you still can acknowledge the human person behind the guilt. And I think that’s something that hasn’t been done. When you constantly call people guilty, you constantly blame them for every sin under the sun, it’s understandable that they get naturally defensive and they don’t want to have that conversation because it’s no longer a conversation. It’s degenerated into a lecture. A lot of people don’t want to be lectured. So I think that part of that broad-scale conversation is humanizing the person, trying to have that conversation in a different way, so they aren’t automatically defensive, but are receptive to the message, at which point it goes from, like you said, a “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”—that kind of compassion and forgiveness—to, “You know what, I acknowledge that I may have been participating in something that has reinforced a system of discrimination against you.” I go to think of maybe some brothers and sisters in the SBC that may not be deliberately reinforcing some forms of discrimination but have been part of it because they haven’t spoken up. Well they can say, “You know, I wasn’t active, but my silence, for example, I may have been reinforcing that, and I want to repent of that.” I think that goes a long way. But I don’t think that’s going to be possible until we change the terms of the conversation in which we are speaking with people and not necessarily talking to people. And I don’t necessarily know if we’re ready for that yet. At least as a culture broadly.
Now, let me just say this really quick. I’ve been seeing that same thing—talking to people and not with people—in the American church. And so now what we’re doing is taking the secularized version, trying to Christianize it, and we’re wondering why we’re not seeing the success that we’re seeing. Well, it’s because we’re not humanizing and realizing that we’re speaking to a brother in the multi-ethnic family of Christ who is going to be in the coming kingdom. So, we have to humanize these people in a way that the world simply doesn’t. So we have to change that paradigm, we have to change that context if we’re serious about having meaningful change and reconciliation.
LIVECCHE: I think that’s great. I think I think your comment about the humanization, especially in that exchange between the victim’s brother and the policewoman, is pivotal. Because again, one of the deadly faults that I see within the political correctness movement is that we ask each other, we demand—we don’t ask we demand—that you accept me at my point of difference. That place where you and I don’t go cohere, that’s where you have to accept me. If I’m gay, if I’m black, if I’m whatever I happen to be, that’s the point where we come together. And that’s difficult. And sometimes that’s impossible when we have radically different understandings of what it means to be a flourishing human being.
But if you take a step back and you say, “I am a human being. Will you accept me as a human being?” That I can do. Because that’s the thing that we share in common, right? And the differences hopefully can be celebrated. But a lot of differences, people strongly disagree with. And maybe that’s too much. And sometimes deep beliefs about what’s right and what’s wrong are at stake, and I might not be able to affirm every aspect of who you say you are. But I can and must affirm you at your point of human being. That seems possible.
We see an inversion, it seems now, on the streets sometimes, where if it’s the blacks who have been victims of white privilege, or even white supremacy, on the streets we’re seeing this this bizarre inversion now where we have whites kneeling before blacks and begging forgiveness. Forgiveness should be asked when somebody has sinned; I don’t have a problem with that. But in the Juicy article you used certain phrases that I thought were strong, and dead on. But you say we’re seeing “groveling sanctimony, condescending racial deference” being shown to blacks. What’s going on with this dynamic that we’re seeing on the streets now? Can you can you explain and critique some of that?
GREEN: Sure. One quick thing that you said earlier that I want to touch on. It’s really difficult to say, “Accept people for who they are,” because so many people have appropriated this radical identity and radical identity politics. So they are demanding people to accept them for who they are as the identity that they have appropriated, and it comes with an inherent set of political beliefs. One thing that I would encourage Christians to do is, we always have to meet people where they are. When Jesus was working in his ministry, he met people where they were, but he called them to a higher standard of living. I remember the call to the woman who was caught in adultery, “Neither do I condemn you, now go leave your life of sin.” So, you meet people where they are, but you elevate them to a higher moral plane in which they can start to live into who they should be based off of being created in the image of God. So, I just wanted to touch upon that really quickly.
As for what we’re seeing in public, I can’t stand it. I cannot stand it because it repeats this—what it does is—white guilt has—I thought it was starting to diminish a bit, but we see this white guilt where it just causes people to do things that they shouldn’t do in the course of wanting to look right, and seem right, and be right, on all the right positions. Whether it’s a black square on social media to show that you stand with blacks, or having placards saying that “black lives matter,” the kneeling, the foot washing, these are things that are—they’re groveling at the feet of blacks. And what that is actually doing, it’s a physical demonstration of what I would argue white America has been doing to blacks since the late 1960s. And that’s condescending to us and not dealing with us as adults, but as children who never mature.
And it also reinforces what Shelby Steele talked about 30 years ago, about the white guilt-black power dynamic, that the more white guilt that is demonstrated, or extracted, the more powerful this radical set of racial militants become. This is not true reconciliation. I don’t like the idea of white people saying, “We’re allies.” I think it’s a—I don’t care about that. You’re making fools of yourselves people. If you truly want to demonstrate that black lives matter, and they matter not because they’re black but because they’re people, there are a number of issues that people can go and contribute to, to fight for, that will demonstrate more comprehensively that black lives matter. Again, I mentioned reforming education earlier. Why not go out and start ministries or public platforms to encourage blacks to get married? Black marriage rate is 20 percentage points below the national rate. 65 percent of kids, 70 percent of kids are born out of wedlock. Black women are the least married demographic out there. Black women represent a third of all abortions. We can go down the line of issues that we can actually improve upon to demonstrate, regardless of color, that black lives matter. But kneeling, and foot washing, and getting on your stomach and praying at the altar of racial – it’s just—it doesn’t do anything but reaffirm the fact that whites are still guilty and blacks are using that guilt as a tool of power because we are not yet comfortable in who we are as American blacks in this country that hasn’t always been that great to us. I don’t like it, and I’m starting to see that again as I said earlier in Christian churches, and that’s just—you’re not going to find that—you’re going to reinforce or invert that power play, which blacks and whites are still going to be on an unequal moral plane. We have to be equal and be collaborators, which means we’re working together. And I just don’t see that.
And the more that I see whites go through self-flagellation in pursuit of absolution, they have to know—and I’m willing to be the one that’s going to say it—you’re never going to get absolution from these sins because then what is this demographic going to do? How have you improved yourself or what are these racial militants going to do if they grant you forgiveness? They have nothing to do. They have a vested interest in having you continue to go through these various forms of humiliating penance to get this absolution that they know that they’re never going to get. And it’s interesting, I think, that white people who are going through it instinctively know that they’re not going to get it, but they have to do it, otherwise they too will be characterized as racists and agents of white supremacy. And we know what happens to people who even come close to that. Drew Brees is an immediate example. Look at some of these other people who have said things that probably weren’t racist, but dumb. They’ve lost their—they’ve had to step down from organizations—the owner or leader of CrossFit had to just recently do it, a number of people who have been fired from TV shows. There’s a vested interest in going and embracing that humiliation. Again, it’s a form of self-preservation. I understand it, I just vehemently disagree with it.
LIVECCHE: So self-preservation—great, we can understand self-preservation. But you are swimming against your own current, right? Folks like you, Shelby Steele, Thomas Sowell, Candice Owens—I don’t know if you would group all of them in with your line of thinking on all points—but what is that aspect of your life like for you, where you are saying some hard truths, that need to be said, but where does that position you within your own community?
GREEN: Well as you can imagine, it’s not always good. I can say that. It is not always good. One of the reasons it’s not always good is because again, people have—there’s currency in being a racial victim and there has been for 50 years, 50, 56 years. So, people don’t want to give up that currency because they think they don’t have another currency with which to use for people to take them seriously. So, it’s not always easy, but I have found some element of success in speaking to black audiences, whether it’s on black radio, or black churches. A lot of times people will introduce me as a conservative. And that automatically puts people in the defensive. They say, “Okay here we go again,” and they project onto me these outlandish conservative personalities, some of the things that these personalities have said. But I found success talking to these people when I don’t use the label of conservative, I just meet them as humans and saying as a human, “What do you think about this, this, this, and this?” And generally, if you humanize these different issues, people are more agreeable with you. They are more likely to listen to what you have to say rather than be defensive and go on the attack. They’re more likely to think about it, and internalize it, and say, “Well, I think you’re right here, but how does that make since here?” You can tell that the wheels are turning. So again, we talked about it earlier, if you humanize these issues and simply don’t label them, people are more receptive.
But I would like to see more people embrace the line of thinking that I’m talking about, particularly in the American church. I would like for more people broadly to embrace the ideas of Shelby Steele, a Tom Sowell, a Walter Williams, a Coleman Hughes, for example—another young, very articulate, very, very intelligent guy who just graduated from Columbia or Princeton—I can’t remember. Some of these guys who are thinking these things through—John McWhorter—they’re thinking these things through, they’re going against the tide, and what they’re actually arguing, in my opinion, is a throwback to what Martin Luther King in the civil rights movement was articulating. A form of race neutrality, individualism, and integration into American society. They want to be taken as individuals, not as a group. They don’t want to sacrifice their individuality for the sake of the collective. We want to be accepted based on who we are as people, not from this identity that we formed as a collective group. And so, I think more people should—I hope are receptive to that. Now I understand it from a historical perspective, but now post-civil rights, it should be about individuality going forward.
LIVECCHE: No, that’s fantastic. And maybe at the end of this, you can send us, for our program notes, maybe some of the names that you just mentioned, if that would be okay. That would be great.
GREEN: Absolutely, absolutely, yes, of course.
LIVECCHE: I think, again, there is so much to talk about there, because as you talk about white condescension toward blacks, as we’re kneeling before you, it strikes me that one of the—and if this is not useful then knock it down—but one of the most unjust things, it seems, that whites as a whole have done to blacks as a whole, in light of all the unjust things that had been done, was to collude with some within the black community to allow you to continue to perceive yourselves as victims, as you’ve said. This idea that—because I think there’s something in it for us too. Because you touched earlier on this idea of catharsis. Whites, you know, look, we have our own problems too. We know we’re sinners, even if we don’t say that out loud. We know we don’t do everything right, even though we don’t maybe have a religious commitment. We’re spiritual beings; we can’t help it. But if I can point the finger at myself and say “Ah, I’m condemned,” because I’ve got privilege, and I’ve done this, and my people have done that, and then I can grovel before you and ask for absolution, I can feel expunged, and I can feel purged of the things that I’ve done, or not done, as the case may be. And so that’s making you into a totem. It’s attributing to you some kind of spiritual magic that you just don’t have. That’s not good for you, it’s not good for us. So that’s hardcore.
GREEN: And that goes to the point of cheap grace that I was talking about. Going through and getting this kind of cheap grace without having to do the hard work that it takes for development. And this is one of the things that I really would encourage people to think about, is that this cheap grace is at the expense of black development. Because you’re not asking anything from us. We’re not saying that we’re perfect, or anything of that nature, but when you sacrifice black development and then don’t allow us to be your equals, then we’re just ossifying this relationship that’s been petrified for 56 years. We’re never going to move on to the next step.
LIVECCHE: And how racist is that!?
GREEN: Exactly! That’s right, that’s the point! That’s exactly right. No, 100%.
LIVECCHE: I would love to end on—I would love to continue talking, but—I would love to end on maybe something that might be a good note. When you’re talking about victimization, and the refusal to be a victim, one of the things I jumped in my head is my family recently watched the film Harriet. I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but Harriet Tubman?
GREEN: I haven’t seen yet; I haven’t seen it yet.
LIVECCHE: I thought it was a very good film, maybe not extraordinary, but she’s an incredible woman, and she has an incredible story. And there are several points in the story where she gives the mantra, “I will be free or die.” And inherent in that is this refusal—“I will not be a victim. I will not do the things that you are telling me to do. And if the price of that is the loss of my life, then you know what, I’m good with that.” There was an incredible strength portrayed there.
But one of the other things that jumped out in the movie was her deep Christian commitment, and her absolute confidence that God is a God of history, and that no matter what the conditions are now, she knows her Redeemer lives, and in the end she will walk with him. But it struck me for some reason—and I don’t know that it’s struck me before—that, might it not be odd, that, as you’ve said, blacks brought to this country in chains embrace what could be perceived as the religion of their captors? What is going on with that? How is it that the black community as a demographic is the most faithful? Is there a story that’s behind there?
GREEN: Well that’s a loaded question. It’s interesting. I had to study radical black theology as part of my dissertation. One of the things—James Cone was the early originator of this liberation theology, and there’s been second and third generations of radical black theologians that have built upon what he started. But one of the things that always upset me when studying this aspect was—and I would tell my mother this, who grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi. She is a religious woman; my dad grew up in Jim Crow Texas, he was religious. One of the things that I used to always complain about was that people act like black theology just came on the scene in 1968, but they don’t understand that there’s been an understanding of black theology that has had freedom, and justice, and righteousness since we were slaves. And I think to partially answer your question, even though our souls could be saved, but we couldn’t be physically liberated, we had to hold on to that faith, that biblical faith, that got us through the trying times of slavery, that got us through that time. We had to look into the hereafter, because a lot of the slaves knew that they weren’t going to be freed here. So that was a source of spiritual nourishment. And this is where you get a lot of what we call the old Negro spirituals that are very powerful in the context of their words. And so, you get that. And then you get through, go to segregation, and then you’re segregated for almost a hundred years, but you’re using that that religious faith, not just thinking about the hereafter, but how you get through today. And that’s when you start getting into the localized understanding of theodicy and why God allows people to suffer.
Throughout both of those traditions, the theology, a lot was an identification of the ancient Hebrews who were enslaved and who were going to be liberated. So, to tie that all together, people may say that we were proselytizing to the slave of our slave masters, and our captors, and people who kept us in segregation, but we also have to be honest with ourselves and say, “That same religion helped in slavery. That same religion was instrumental in the civil rights movement.” The great moral revolution of the 20th century was the civil rights movement to free a group of people. So, there’s a reason why that religiosity is still there. And so that that kind of black theology, and that faith, has nurtured us all the way up to this point.
And so, what I would say to black Christians and the American church is that we have to maintain that religiosity. We cannot identify ourselves with the ancient Hebrews that were freed, but not move into the Promised Land. We cannot have the mentality of the spies that went in and they spread the message and we were afraid to go and enter to the Promised Land despite what God had done for the ancient Hebrews. We cannot repeat that same mistake.
We have symbolically crossed over the Jordan River. We are now in the age of freedom in the land of milk and honey, so it is our obligation to take advantage of the opportunities, with God in sight, for our antecedents who were unable, but still dreamed of a day that we are currently living. So that religiosity is very, very important and it pains me that we are watering it down with this type of Marxism, this social Marxism, this intersectionality. It’s a false gospel. We need to recapture the religion of our forefathers. Because if it was good enough for them in an America that was much more racist, it should be good enough for us in the land of racial privilege and all this other kind of thing. So, that’s a long way of answering your question, but I just think that that religiosity is very, very central and important to our development.
LIVECCHE: That is crucial and that is a message that maybe you have uniquely to tell folks who look like me. Because we need that message just as badly. And that’s a beautiful thing.
GREEN: From your lips to God’s ears. I hope that is the case, because again, as history has shown it, we can’t do it ourselves. We needed our white brothers and sisters to help end slavery. We needed our white brothers and sisters to march to help end segregation. So, if we’re going to have any meaningful repentance and reconciliation, we need collaborators. It’s as simple as that.
LIVECCHE: Not allies, collaborators.
GREEN: That’s right. Absolutely, absolutely.
LIVECCHE: Let’s do it. Derryck Green, I could talk to you all day. I’m going to let you go. Thank you very much for being with us. We will put a bunch of information in the program notes and maybe we can do this conversation again. But thank you very much for being here, I appreciate it. God speed, God bless you and some of the hard roads you’re tilling. But thanks for doing it. All right.
GREEN: Absolutely, absolutely, thank you.