A Q&A With Daniel White Hodges: The Neo-Civil Rights Movement
Interviewed by Max Hunter, The Perkins Center Teaching Fellow
I believe that if you have confessed the name of the Lord as your savior, then you are an agent of the Gospel. Don’t wait for the title of pastor or reverend. For most people their Bible and Bible studies will be their life. We have to move beyond church-based Christianity. –Daniel White Hodge, Ph.D.
Daniel White Hodge is among a number of people that I have been in conversation with about the Oscar Grant incident. Over the summer, I began a personal discernment process on the state of reconciliation in our nation. This process led me to solicit the thoughts of local and national activists, community leaders, and intellectuals about the continued need for activism around issues affecting the indigenous black population, among other things.
After the jury on the trial returnedwith a verdict of involuntary manslaughter for San Francisco-area transit cop Johannes Mehserle, I asked Professor Hodge to elaborate on his thoughts about a neo-civil rights movement.
Hodge is a scholar, hip-hop theologian, and racial bridge builder who connects urban popular culture with daily life events. He is a lecturing professor of sociology and Pan-African studies at California State University-Los Angeles and Azusa Pacific University. His books include Heaven Has A Ghetto: The Missiological Gospel and Theology of Tupac Amaru Shakur and The Soul of Hip Hop: Rims Timbs and A Cultural Theology. Here is some of our conversation:
Max Hunter: Do you think that we’ve made much racial progress since the civil rights era? I mean does the election of President Barack Obama signal that we’ve truly entered a post-racial society?
Daniel Hodges: To be honest in my response to this question, my short answer would be no. However, that said, I do feel we’ve made progress in some areas. Society no longer tolerates vile and direct racism in the public arena (e.g., lynching’s, the N-word as a label). So, in that sense, we have made progress. But the reality is that we never really all came to the table to place our pain and suffering to be healed. It all just got shoved underneath the societal carpet and what you have now is boiling over.
I think the presidency of Obama has shown, yes, we are ready to move forward with a “black president” but, as we’ve seen in the last year, much of white America still holds deep feelings of concern, mistrust, and uneasiness toward not just Obama, but also toward African-Americans. A type of post-civil rights movement is needed where we begin to actually have the hard conversations regarding race and racism and in which we tear down the old and replace it with new understandings of race and ethnicity. We have a lot of work to do. Education, understanding, and engagement is key in this age.
I have noticed that racism is a term that you use to describe what many refer to as "racialized thinking." Can you explain your use of the term racism? By the way, what are your thoughts on about internalized racism?
Race is a social construct rooted in color and those who are superior and inferior. The term dates back to about the 1600s in this country. It was created to separate and delineate people into categories of “superior” and “inferior.” Thus, racism is a system of belief, or doctrine, that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
These systems are deeply entrenched in the matrix of government, laws, and policies within this country. Therefore, it becomes quite difficult to discuss issues such as systemic racism. Internalized racism is the belief in all that is listed above within one’s own self. In other words, it is when a person actually lives their life in those shackles of despair and oppression. Once again, we have quite the work ahead of us as workers of peace and justice.
You seem to have suggested that law enforcement is among a number of institutions that rely on racialized thinking in a way that adversely affects black males. Do you see similar attitudes shaping systems in other institutions?
Racialized thinking is a way of using the systems of racism combined with stereotypes in the interaction with those who are considered to be “different.” That said, when I teach my classes in predominantly Euro-American settings, I show images of different African-American males to see how students will respond. The answers vary a bit, but almost always there are the same answers which arise from the class: scary, angry, mean, athletic.
Now, the images do vary, but I do show the males in suits, ties, and professional attire. When I ask students where these thoughts originated from, their answers invariably come back as “I don’t know.” Pressed a bit further, we have our answers: the media, family, church, and peers. Thus, racialized thinking becomes a part of “what we think” — our worldview.
Does it negatively affect people? Of course. Does it affect African-American males? Absolutely. If I walk into an interview and someone across the table from me has those deep feelings, I’m already affected before I even set foot in the room. Unfortunately, I do see it happening in a lot of places.
Can you unpack your thoughts on the need for a neo-civil rights movement?
By a neo- civil rights movement (neo-CRM), I mean taking the foundations of what the original civil rights movement stood for — justice, equality, peaceful demonstrations, spirituality in God — and using them in a post-9/11 American ethos. Marches are good, but they are not the end. Calling your senators is good, but it rarely affects true change; in fact one senator told me that she received around 400-550 calls a day.
What the neo-CRM would be about is micro-education on the issues of race and ethnicity while pushing for equality and justice in the macro world. A great example of this is the cigarette campaign, which took off in the late ‘70s when tobacco companies were at their best. Through grassroots movements, media, and getting the corporations' attention where it really matters — their wallet — change was able to happen.
This is a great example of what needs to be done now. We no longer have singularized voices like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., but we have thousands of voices in smaller venues that could affect change and make it stick. I believe in small to large; change typically happens on the margins and works its way in.
Michelle Alexander has written about a broad-based movement. Do you think that we can mobilize masses of citizens against injustice in a post-Jim Crow America? If so, how?
Yes, yes I do. The arc of change bends toward justice in this country. I do believe that. If we hadn’t had mobilized people during the 1920s and ‘30s, corporations would still be hiring 8-year-olds to work for them. If it had not been for concerned citizens during the 1970s, we’d still have the global monopoly of AT&T as our only phone company, charging whatever they wanted for rates.
And this generation of young people, those born between 1980 and present, want change. They are tired of the mess of a world they were born in and are ready to move out. I know it will be different when my little girl, who is almost 4, gets ready to hit the world. She, and her peers, will not tolerate this madness. But it begins with us in order to help this new generation stay focused. Mentoring and discipleship is key along with the older generation’s wisdom complimenting the younger generation’s enthusiasm and vigor.
What is the role of Christians?
Now that’s a big and very good question. I believe that if you have confessed the name of the Lord as your savior, then you are an agent of the Gospel. Don’t wait for the title of pastor or reverend. For most people, their Bible and Bible studies will be their life. We have to move beyond church-based Christianity.
Significant needs are being addressed, from educational inequalities in India and White Center, to the concerns of orphans and disadvantaged children in Vietnam, to local shelters for women and children fleeing domestic violence. In all of these situations, though, students are directed to look for God at work in the lives of the people students have gone to serve. Amidst the challenging situations and obvious needs are important examples of faith, hope, and transformation. To miss these models would be to settle for a short-sighted view of God’s shaping work in and through all of his people.
My question not only to my students but also to myself is, “What is my life going to say?” We as Christians need to be educated and informed on what is going on in the world today. Moreover, it is important for us to stomp out injustice when we see it in its minute form: that joke about Muslims, that co-worker who always makes fun of Pan-Asian-Americans, that family member who just doesn’t get it. God has called us to be salt and light;, its time we take that up and use it for justice and equality. The time is ripe, and, as I said before, we have a lot of work to do … the harvest is plenty.
Max Hunter joined the staff of the John Perkins Center at Seattle Pacific University in 2008. While at Harvard University, he studied in the Graduate School of Arts and Science, the Graduate School of Education, and Harvard Medical School. He has an A.M., Ed.M., and the certificate in bioethics from Harvard Medical School.
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