— Anthony Pinn, author, African American Humanist Principles and The End of God Talk: An African American Humanist Theology
From Godless Americana: Race and Religious Rebels (forthcoming May 2013):
Christianity was one of the primary means by which African Americans learned the lexicon of becoming subjects through otherness. This is a uniquely American dialectic, borne of the soul-killing terrorism of slave ships, and, later, the plantation, a gulag awash in the new republic’s corrupt gospel of individual liberty. When my students traveled to the California African American museum last year, they had a chance to see and imagine the terror of these spaces. They walked through galleries with floor-to-ceiling inscriptions chronicling the birth dates, family lineages, appearances, habits, and idiosyncracies of slaves. They marveled at the relevance and medievalism of the notorious Willie Lynch manifesto. Their blood ran cold at the military assemblage of black bodies in the slavers’ hull. They stood mesmerized, contemplating the sheer number, weight, and scope of intertwined bodies, twinned in the endless sea voyage, hour after murderous hour. Enraged, many of them wondered how these obliterated ancestors made it out alive. How they resisted the gnashing white turbine of the sea and the urge to rise up against their savage captors.
Often did I think many of the inhabitants of the deep much more happy than myself. I envied them the freedom they enjoyed, and as often wished I could change my condition for theirs.
Olaudah Equiano, 1789
Later, in the classroom, we read Alice Walker on the spirituality of art-making. She wonders about the enslaved “genius” great-grandmothers denied the right to their own bodies. The space of the transcendent artist is that of the white male, the universal subject, the hero, the kingmaker, the muse chasing romantic. Their art hangs timelessly on museum walls funded by billionaires and corporations. Their art demands time, self-presence, self-possession, insularity, a privileged distance from the relentlessness of everyday life and the oppressive inconvenience of the body. The caricature of the masturbatory white male artist is one of the crazy booze swilling, dick swinging, T&A besotted libertine whose creativity is powered by testosterone and angst. Within the Western artistic canon, the woman exists to provide sex, inspiration, and succor, to be a pious sacrifice at the altar of male genius.