Who can save us from redemption? Some of the earliest accounts of the African slave trade claimed that slavery saved those marked by the “perdition” of soul, mind, and body (G. E. de Zurara). Postcolonial critics argue that colonization (F. Fanon), orientalism (E. Said), and even liberal democracy (T. Asad) have operated as violent projects of redemption. At the center of these modern politics of redemption, or of modernity as a project of redemption, is a racial figure of the human, what Sylvia Wynter calls Man. This dissertation, Opaque Redemption: Whiteness, Theology, and the Politics of the Human, clarifies how the modern racial ordo salutis originated and functioned, focusing especially on the destructive violence through which it operates. It then offers a constructive theological reframing of redemption and the politics of human life, giving special attention to the politics of solidarity.
The dissertation is comprised of seven chapters, broken into three parts. Part I uses the writings of G. W. F. Hegel and Sylvia Wynter to narrate the historical breadth and underlying structure of the modern racial ordo salutis, noting especially the way it must but also cannot incorporate—include and literally endow with a (human) body— those it deems to reside at the limit or furthest remove of this politics of human salvation. This politics of “the human” or Man integrates the various modes of oppression and exploitation arranged around race, class, and gender/sexuality.
Part II provides an interdisciplinary elaboration of a central concept taken from the black liberation theologian James Cone: the freedom of the resurrection. By making the relationship to the resurrected Christ central to what it means to be human, Cone offers a decolonial account of human freedom that traverses without being held or determined by any human project, including those organized through the production of (social) death and promises of developed, properly human life. Whiteness, for Cone, functions precisely as this attempt to hold and secure, and thereby re/produce, the proper form of human life. Cone’s theological accounts of black liberation, black suffering, and black poetics alert his readers to material points of human life that exceed and are thereby “opaque” to whiteness, arguing that black life enfleshes an “eschatological freedom” in a way that “parabolizes”—points to and effects—the continuing presence of Christ in the world. The conversation partners in this section range from various theologians gathered around the work Karl Barth, especially Eberhard Jüngel, to the Black Arts poet LeRoi Jones, the continental philosopher Giorgio Agamben, and the black feminist writer Hortense Spillers, among others.
Part III turns to the problems of whiteness and solidarity, arguing that white efforts at solidarity often function as projects of “white redemption.” Instead of rendering whiteness something to be morally bettered or totally overcome, which are two iterations of redemption, these chapters offer a negative praxis of solidarity. Eschewing attempts to redeem whiteness, white people should work to concretely disrupt (negativity) the world that gives it meaning. The conclusion suggests that an anti-work politics (Kathi Weeks) oriented around the “demands” for a living wage and/or for a shorter work week with no decrease in pay can effectively disrupt the white world in which humanity is “equated” with work (Andrea Smith).
J. Kameron Carter
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McGee, Timothy, "Opaque Redemption: Whiteness, Theology, and the Politics of The Human" (2017). Religious Studies Theses and Dissertations. 9.