A Reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Its Impact on My Scholarship

By Gafney, Wil | Journal of Biblical Literature, April 1, 2017 | Go to article overview

A Reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Its Impact on My Scholarship


Gafney, Wil, Journal of Biblical Literature


"... they do not love your flesh."

-Toni Morrison, Beloved

Black lives matter.

"Black lives matter" is a simple affirmative sentence. The need to affirm, explain, or qualify that affirmation stems from the fact that this statement is not universally accepted as a truthful or legitimate claim. Concomitantly, the inverse proposition is always present: Black lives do not matter. That proposition requires no amplification for explanation. It is the ground on which all other claims about black life seem to rest in this society (by which I mean in the Western world, including Europe, though I am confining my reflections to the United States).

I came into my teaching and scholarly career committed to unmasking the whiteness that is applied to the biblical text, through which it is often interpreted- including by many persons and communities of color-and decentering the white male scholarly voice that masquerades as normative and neutral.1 These commitments have only deepened with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement.

As a black woman living in the United States, I have long been aware of the disproportionately violent and lethal policing of black folk in comparison with other groups. The shooting of Amadou Diallo, forty-one times, by NYPD officers on 4 February 1999 was the shooting that raised the issue for me initially. As is the case with the majority of recent police and other shootings of black folk, the officers were acquitted of Diallo's murder, even though he was unarmed.

The killing of Trayvon Martin on 26 February 2012 marked a turning point for me in my understanding of the degree to which black folk are not regarded as fully-if even at all-human. The ready proffer (and acceptance) of a defense for shooting an unarmed child walking in his neighborhood based on the terror evoked by the mere presence of black bodies communicated to me that there is a broad acceptance of the anti-black dehumanizing bigotry of George Zimmerman. Trayvon's killing, which I regard as a murder in spite of the legal verdict, provided the impetus that crystallized the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement organized by three black queer women who know what it is to have one's humanity demeaned and despised: Patrisse Cullors, Alicia Garza, and Opal Tometi.2

My understanding of the utter disregard for black lives shared broadly in this country and the implication of policing in that disregard became fully heightened with the killing and demonization of Mike Brown on 4 August 2014. The repeated presentation of Mike Brown as a monster and demon, combined with the indignities visited upon his corpse, deeply underscored the degree to which the very humanity of black folk is doubted and denied as a matter of course by individuals and institutions in our social and civil frameworks. The killings of Aiyana StanleyJones (2012), Renisha McBride (2014), and the death of Sandra Bland while in police custody (2015) are part of an inescapable rising tide of black death. These deaths occurred and continue to occur in the same public square in which biblical interpretation takes place, and they and their implications must be accounted for in the work of interpreters of the biblical text who write, speak, teach, preach, and think to any degree in public. The public nature of much of this work has meant that a major venue for my work has been, like the groundswell of BLM, social media.

One of my projects has been to help preachers responsibly engage the biblical texts in light of the increasingly visible and ongoing killings of black folk, particularly by police officers, and the accompanying protests by BLM activists. That project made use of a hashtag,3 #what2preach,4 to organize hermeneutical and homiletical conversations around lectionary and other texts engaging BLM, addressing its aims, its claims, and the resulting anxiety experienced by many.

As a biblical scholar in a divinity school teaching texts that are received canonically (however that is understood and articulated) by my students, I am clear that I must address BLM in the classroom as the movement and the deaths it protests shape the context in which students interpret the biblical text. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

A Reflection on the Black Lives Matter Movement and Its Impact on My Scholarship
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.