A Tale of Two "Offensive" Pics--and One Old & Stale Narrative
Recently Jemar Tisby of the Washington Post ran a column with the title, "Why a racially insensitive photo of Southern Baptist seminary professors matters." A photograph posted on Twitter by five professors working at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS), then deleted, prompted Mr. Tisby to write said article. Here is the photo:
Readers will have to show patience in parsing this incident, since it is extremely complicated. I will explain more about the photo later. First let us establish the genesis of Mr. Tisby's article. (His Twitter profile states that he is a PhD student, which I assume means he has not defended a dissertation yet. Out of respect, I like to call people the highest title I can infer, so that would be "Mr." here, though I would call him Dr. or Prof. if I could extrapolate that from what's published about him.)
The picture above only circulates on the web because some people took screen shots of it and continue to post it around, against the wishes of those who first published it. But Mr. Tisby seems in concord with those who republish the image. He fears that with the deletion of the photograph, which offended him, people might forget about it before he and others have a chance to explain why it hurt them.
Who deleted the photo from Twitter? The people who posted it. These are also, incidentally, the people in the photo. That the photo vanishes seems to worry Mr. Tisby, since he wants to focus his readers' attention on it for a lengthy, long-term, ranging meditation on race in Southern Baptist America. So Mr. Tisby not only wrote this piece for Washington Post but also retweeted fan mail to highlight that the article had impacts on others:
Here are my 3 favorite parts of this op-ed by @JemarTisby. https://t.co/wYIKeCl3YH pic.twitter.com/mkn81ZRUAu— Bethany Jenkins (@BethanyJenkins) April 28, 2017
Amid all this tweeting, some people who had nothing to do with the imbroglio jumped in, like Yolanda Pierce, an African American professor at Princeton Theological Seminary. Below are several retweets involving Professor Pierce, with comments, which I posted. I no longer have evidence of the tweets to which I was responding. Professor Pierce blocked me without responding to any of my points. Here's one such tweet:Maybe it's "just a picture," but it's also an opportunity for substantive change around race and evangelicalism. https://t.co/K41WZR7cpb pic.twitter.com/fIPqCirWnV— Jemar Tisby (@JemarTisby) April 27, 2017
I hope this Christian stood up publicly for Eric Walsh & Crystal Dixon. If not we know which talk is cheapest. https://t.co/sSOhQUfog9— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
As Professor Pierce, a Christian woman, surely knows, it is no small thing to accuse brothers in Christ of things and cite scripture to imply that their actions are ungodly. (Professor Pierce stated that this was clear racism and it harmed the body of Christ; she stated this in a tweet reproduced and requoted in Huffington Post and other places.) The issue of the photograph is not clear-cut, so as Christians reading her condemnation, we must analyze closely her words to see if hers is the trustworthy position. Even though she is black and works at a famous seminary, she could just as easily be a "whitewashed tomb" or a pharisaical abuser who likes long tassels and being hailed at the marketplace. We cannot jump to take her side and humiliate the people she embarrasses on Twitter.
So what do we do? Jesus tells us to know the good tree from the bad tree by its fruit. Anybody can run around claiming saintly status, impugning the motives of others and calling it racism. Do they make such harsh claims because they are a good tree overflowing with the love of Christ's Word? Or do they make such harsh claims because they are a bad tree profiting from the people's confusion? In John 16:2 Jesus warns us that such things would come to pass: "a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are rendering a service to God." Paul reinforces the same warning in 2 Corinthians 11:14, when he notes that Satan comes masquerading as an angel of light. In the Old Testament God also cautions His people that sometimes they can misread things that happen and end up lying about God's will rather than telling the Truth. For in Job 42:7 God even tells the well-meaning comforter, Eliphaz, "you have not told the truth about me, as my servant Job has."
What comes out of our mouths reveals what is in our hearts. So did Professor Pierce show the same fierce defiance when shown the persecution of two African American Christians who were doing the right thing--two educated and professional achievers who had earned high positions and stood by God's word when it counted--or has she been flattering and groveling before white LGBTs for fear of being considered unfashionable in the liberal world of Princeton, where she works? The answer, which I never received, would indicate to me whether her tweets are falling from a good or bad tree.
Now, I would be remiss if I interrogated Professor Pierce without offering up proof of my own record on standing up against racism. My series of tweets sought to be thorough in this regard. While not tagging her, I also tweeted a number of articles to demonstrate that I had been writing about the problem of sexual radicalism and its harms to racial civil rights for quite a while:
In a Federalist article, I had challenged white icons like Norman Mailer who had misrepresented the black civil rights movement in the late 1950s and spread the false idea that civil rights sprang from the same source as the sexual revolution:
Civil Rights And The Sexual Revolution Need A Divorce https://t.co/o2sX1zdglT— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
In a piece for Humanum Review, I had criticized Allan Bloom's legacy as a denouncer of academic liberalism. In that piece I also called to task a reputable Baltimore organization for devoting its legal assistance only to transgender black rioters, while doing nothing to address the dangers posed to heterosexual black men and women caught in the city's street violence just as Obergefell passed before the Supreme Court.
Bloom, In-Humanities and the Gay-Marriage Regime https://t.co/FZ7RkA4HzO— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
In 2013, I reported on information I received from colleagues in Africa and Asia about the effects of the United States' imperialistic approach to international LGBT advocacy.
More recently, I had brought attention to the problematic failure of the government's civil rights agencies to afford proper protection to black people. Lest someone object that my pitting LGBTs against racial minorities is a peculiar pet obsession, I point out here that actually the existing structure of anti-discrimination law has been undermined by LGBT ideology more than any other force. The ones with most to lose are the ones who need anti-discrimination law most to safeguard them--African Americans. LGBTs gained all their legal advances by equating their sexual choices to the African American civil rights movement. Such an equivalence required the erasure of Christianity among civil rights leaders, the redefinition of blackness as something comparable to a carnal sin (whereby LGBTs then declare that all sin is acceptable the way all races are lovable human beings), and gross exaggeration of the hardships and needs of powerful white people who happen to enjoy homosexual relations. Consider the offensiveness of Dustin Lance Black, a wealthy white man, producing an entire miniseries implying that black people and homosexuals face the same struggles. It is impossible to rearrange anti-discrimination law this much without essentially transferring the protections away from black people toward white LGBT people. The article referenced below explains:
I tweeted a few other links to show that I had spent a lot of time researching and contemplating these issues. I had also done all I could to publicize these questions. The main barrier to my ability to spread awareness was the refusal of outlets like Washington Post to publish any of my submissions.
CogWatch 34--Latino Men React to CSUN Fanged Border Patrol& Mural Controversy by CogWatch via #soundcloud https://t.co/36JymbmFfS— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
The article tweeted below is noteworthy. In it I laid out the effect of the LGBT movement's particular persistence in erasing black people's history to replace it with one favoring their sexualized vision of civil rights. As a result, several organizations -- including the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and the Southern Poverty Law Center -- cited the article as proof that I was a dangerous hater. As a result I was blacklisted and barred from many public platforms. Hence I could claim credit for having staked a great deal for the sake of defending black civil rights.
Articles: The International Gay War on Black People https://t.co/IdeeIreNwN— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
In bringing these points to light, I used no language that Professor Pierce had not used in attacking the white professors at the Seminary (who had not caused anybody to be fired). My question rested on a simple point of accountability: as a sister in Christ willing to hurl vile accusations at other Christians while quoting gospel, had she been the good shepherd to fellow Christians of color when the white LGBT wolf came? Or had she acted as the hireling and fled? "If not, we know which talk is cheapest," I mused.
I meant it. How can Professor Pierce say that Paige Patterson's talk is "cheap" if she exerts her energies on a photo that harmed nobody, yet lets black Christians lose their jobs because white gays are "appropriating" their racial history?
Some of the articles I tweeted delved deeply into the ways in which the LGBTs' appropriation of black history damaged and undermined people of color, robbing them of the protections against discrimination that the civil rights leaders had fought for. Among others, Austin Ruse has noted that the Southern Poverty Law Center's focus has fallen so heavily on protecting LGBTs from even mild criticisms, that they are hardly doing anything for blacks anymore. Similar points hit at the ACLU. Because so much of LGBT advancement depended on the distortion of black history, black Christians were, rather than given protections, singled out for particularly harsh treatment by pro-gay liberals. And black leftists have been very poor in coming to the defense of black conservatives targeted this way.
I had demonstrated, for example, that nations like Senegal and Kenya were being held hostage by foreign aid guidelines that required them to de-criminalize sodomy or be punished financially. I had also documented the ways in which Title IX under President Obama gave so much greater power to charges of sex or sexual orientation discrimination that the equality and diversity offices were, in cases like mine, literally being used by gay white people to silence and drive out people of color who question the gay-as-black false equivalency.
Along similar lines, I responded to a tweet from Professor Pierce, which had stated that she was "SICK" of people describing things like the photo as racial overtones, rather than denouncing such behavior as racist and responding with due force. Since Professor Pierce spiced her tweets with repeated citations of scripture, I spiced mine with some scriptural turns as well:
I'm sick of Christians maligning others like this with no grace,mercy, or fairness. If only they took such hardline stances against sodomy. https://t.co/hIqHZEFFUR— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 29, 2017
Do black women who feel SICK of racism have no need for grace, mercy, or fairness? Is Christianity for them based on a different Bible with all the calls for self-criticism and self-sacrifice cut out?
Mr. Tisby retweeted other statements like this one, to let people know that his friends and he had a quick comeback for anyone who might question the "this is incredibly racist and these guilty white Baptists must nod while I condemn them publicly with no grace at all!" response that was quickly winning over hearts and minds along the corridor between Washington and Princeton.
@DrCEdmondson @JemarTisby Folks in my inbox: Well, I wasn't offended by the pic.— Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott) April 28, 2017
Me: And.... pic.twitter.com/uARNhnkVvA
But let's get back to the image that sparked all this conflict. Remember-it was the photo full of stereotypical, offensive depictions of people of color which provoked a heartfelt apology and sympathetic coverage in the Washington Post immediately:
That isn't a photo of five white men in a Texas seminary. I must have uploaded the wrong pic. What is that picture, you ask? That's a gigantic wall mural full of highly stereotypical images of Latinos, whites, and strange racial "others" looking like ghouls, which has remained prominently in Jerome Richfield Hall of Cal State Northridge since 1999.
I know about that image because I taught at that institution for eight years (more on that in a moment), during which time I fought for diversity in hiring and curriculum, plus advocated for both veterans and Latino Christians who complained repeatedly about the mural to no avail. There was no apology--only perpetual backlash, radio silence from all the nationally recognized antiracists involved in the current debate, and my ultimate ouster.
The threats against me at Northridge were no child's play. I had evidence that a white professor had spread vicious rumors among Latinos, for seven years, that I worked for the CIA and had come to CSUN to spy on them and engage in government-backed sabotage. Needless to say, the rumor was utterly false. As I explained this to one of the diversity investigators on campus, a white Englishwoman named Alexandra with blonde locks and sky-blue eyes, I baffled her. Why, Alexandra asked, would it matter if Latinos on campus thought I was a CIA snitch?
"Do you know what they do to snitches in Latino neighborhoods?" I asked her. She did not know.
I fought real racial oppression. I know the power of an image and the danger caused by racially charged words--so as I return, now, to Mr. Tisby's article about a photograph from Southwestern Baptist Seminary, I do so with the confidence that I have some authority on this issue.
As I left CSUN like a refugee, rushing off campus fearful of being murdered by gang members who believed I was really a CIA plant there to deport their relatives, my only hope was the job offer that had saved me from the racial Hades of Los Angeles. And where was that job offer from?
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
None other than Paige Patterson had found me in LA and offered me a job. When I joined the College at Southwestern, I came as a full professor, receiving the promotion and raise that the racist white liberals in California had repeatedly denied me. At Northridge my dean, a white lesbian, and her minions blocked me from raises, promotions, grants, and resources, though I had higher qualifications than white co-workers who'd received those benefits and rewards more quickly and more generously. Those who feel skeptical and want hard evidence can find full documentation of these issues in Wackos Thugs & Perverts, which MassResistance published in February 2017.
I find myself, therefore, with quite a useful microscope in my possession, for I witnessed and documented responses from white secular liberals at one university and white conservative Christians at another, around a surface issue (public display of provocative and stereotypical images misrepresenting people of color) plus serious institutional issues (fair treatment, promotions, pay, anti-discrimination safeguards, etc.). I have a clear litmus test to find out if the tut-tutting accusers who claim outrage about the Baptist-professors-as-thugs are blowing gusts of hot air. People like Mr. Tisby, Professor Pierce, Dr. Edmondson, and Mr. Scott cannot claim they had no way to know about the injustices cited in the aforementioned articles about people of color who suffered discrimination because of white liberal policies. I am not the only one who raised such questions and, as the tweeted articles reflect, I have left a deep and long paper trail.
So, Mr. Tisby, if you are out there--are you listening?
A paradox vexes Mr. Tisby's disquisition, because on the one hand the photo infuriates him and on the other hand he wants the world to keep reviving it even after those he deems the culprits have acknowledged the offense they caused. They removed it so it would not cause any more harm. They hoped that their apology and remorse could soothe any injured feelings on the people whom they knew they offended. But Mr. Tisby sees so much important knowledge to gain from talking about the briefly-posted-then-quickly-deleted photo, he has taken a minor Twitter mistake people hardly knew about, and elevated it to national news at the Post. He and his associates granted no such escalating power to other cases of racial discrimination that were far more urgent and severe.
The differential use of his platform reflects Mr. Tisby's divergent estimations of what matters.
If the phrase "Why x matters" feels vaguely familiar to you, you have probably read a number of similar essays whereby a respected or at least snugly employed polemicist explains to you why you should stop paying attention to things that you care about and instead worry about the author's pet obsession. "Black Lives Matter" became the name of a movement. In 2014, like a copycat I named a conference about family ties Bonds that Matter to signify to those in attendance that our relationships to our mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters all mattered. My use of the phrase "Bonds that Matter" brought the wrath of white liberals on me. In their view, by arguing this point I was implying that gays and lesbians, who want children to love and obey them instead of their own mothers and fathers, didn't matter as much as they wanted to matter. So I was charged with being an anti-gay bigot and driven out of my job (by white women and white liberals who found my advocacy for racial diversity distressing, no less!)
Even among the less famous causes, the slogan "this matters" has become so common it elicits very weak reactions.
For example, you can hear from N.T. Wright on FoxNews why the cross matters more than we think. In less ethereal quarters, we hear from Jane Houlihan that cosmetics and your health matter. Rachel Gee reminds us that the 50th Consumer Electronics Show also mattered. But that's not to neglect the point by Tim Slade, Cath Chapman, and Maree Teeson that women's alcohol consumption matters, especially because it is increasing almost to the level of men. Amelia Hamilton insists that Missouri's new labor law really matters, which is not to discount, necessarily, Scott Cendrowski's insistence that Elon Musk's plans to expand TESLA into China matters. But for real, Sara Chodosh also has a point that Pluto's status as a planet matters.
By now you may be wondering why you should think about things based on the direction of Jane Houlihan, Cath Chapman, or Scott Cendrowski, most of whom you probably do not know and have no reason to invest tremendous confidence in. It is impossible to find a guideline indicating what should matter and what should not, why you should care about the price of pancakes along Interstate 35 versus the rampage of lime and mustard colors coloring the Paris runways until Fashion Week looks like a sorbet factory exploded.
We care about things that we care about and don't care about other stuff. People like Mr. Tisby and Professor Pierce care about beating up white Southern Baptists who sought only to be gracious toward them, while they do not care about me, black Christians losing their jobs, Senegalese people being colonized by UN's white feminists, the 50% of black MSMs who will contract HIV, Latinos who have seen an offensive mural mock them for two decades, or black and Latino men who get driven from their jobs by gay whites who use Title IX to lash out at Christian people of color.
Mr. Tisby cares about counting the number of black professors at a conservative seminary headed by a Southern Baptist white man. He seems to care less about the headcount of black professors at a College of Humanities in Northridge, headed by a white liberal lesbian tied to the Clinton Global Initiative. If the latter mattered to him as much as the former, then he would have written about the mural in Jerome Richfield Hall a year ago, when it was causing a stir in the press and I brought testimonials from offended Latino students to the public.
Paige Patterson cares about bringing a Latino Baptist suffering from racial discrimination and anti-Christian animus out of suffering, and giving that Baptist a chance to share his witness in a place where people can profit from it. He cares about a photograph that was on Twitter for a few hours, too. So of everyone, perhaps he stands on the most solid moral ground.
I care about Christian men who are being wrongly accused of racism by people who do not know them and do not know how dedicated they are to people of color and working-class Christians who could find no solace by studying in Princeton, Washington DC, and Los Angeles. As the links in this article also show, I care as well about people of color, racial fairness, and faith.
To be perfectly frank, I do not care about the feelings of professionals who accuse others of the sin of prejudice without any evidence, especially if they have no track record of assisting all the Christians of color who I know suffered in recent years at the hands of leftist persecutors ... even if they are people of color.
Mr. Tisby says this in his Washington Post piece:
But the biggest problem doesn’t show up in the picture. The presence of any person of color would have reduced the chances of this photo ever happening. But a photo like this evolves in an environment that lacks meaningful interaction with people from other cultures, especially on the leadership level. The seminary’s website appears to picture all white men in an administration and an entire preaching faculty. Even if a school has diversity in the student body, if the decision-makers all come from a similar racial and cultural background, then they will remain oblivious to their own racial blind spots. Unfortunately, racial homogeneity is a shortcoming within white evangelicalism as a whole. Looking across evangelical denominations and nondenominational networks, leaders tend to come from similar backgrounds. They are predominantly educated, middle-class white men. Racial uniformity in the leadership means blunders like this photo will probably keep taking place.
He links to the preaching faculty without noting that there are other divisions like Scarborough College, where I am one of the three full professors; the important School of Music, whose dean is African American; or Theology, which has Latino and Asian faculty.
The Seminary is in a heavily Latino and African American neighborhood and does significant work in prisons, ministering to people of all races who have largely been unserved by educational establishment types. They have a missions program that sends students all around the world. As the advisor to the Latino students on campus, I can point to significant interaction among students from different backgrounds. One could be crude and count heads of people of color as if indexing cattle, but if this litmus test works for Mr. Tisby, then he should count the number of blacks and Latinos at my old employer, CSU Northridge, especially since he curates the African American Museum in the same city.
And to think I was in LA all that time fighting for black culture, getting persecuted for it, and I was invisible. https://t.co/baaSXAQF1K https://t.co/Aj1q23iX8K— Robert Oscar Lopez (@Baptist4freedom) April 30, 2017
Spending so much time in Los Angeles, I wonder why he never took time to investigate whether the claims by a brother in Christ at Northridge were true. Indeed my claims are true! The number of blacks and Latino full-time faculty in the largest department, English, fell from five to one between 2008 and 2016. Over eight years I fought for more diverse hiring and curriculum, but white colleagues blocked me and kept my proposals for more ethnic literature from getting out of committee.
Then Mr. Tisby ends with accusatory questions he could have posed directly to people at the Seminary:
Southwestern could certainly use this opportunity to dialogue about race and diversity, but I hope the seminary goes further. I hope it will commit to hiring professors and staff members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds. The professors could conduct an audit of their curriculum to see if they are assigning works by scholars of color. The seminary could review the places it goes to recruit students. The leadership could visit other seminaries with more diversity to learn how they could change their own campuses. Sit down with minority students and ask them if they are willing to speak honestly about their experiences at the seminary.
Check done, the seminary is doing all this, which is why I had the glorious opportunity to come as a full professor. For my section of Literary Interpretation, I used a syllabus that I had tried for five years to implement at California State University-Northridge. In liberal California, I had been forbidden from ever using the syllabus to teach English, because powerful people on campus, especially the white professors, kept shooting down the proposals. At Northridge the English department even had a white homosexual, who grew up and was educated under South African apartheid, posting on the listserv that I was not to post any of my opinions there-to the applause of the white man who was teaching about bilingual Latinos!
At the seminary I taught a multicultural world literature syllabus without a problem. Each week my students studied a theorist and a creative writer. Among the theorists, they read Henry Louis Gates Jr., Edward Said, Gauri Viswanathan, Gayatri Spivak, Chinua Achebe, and Paulo Freire. Among the creative texts, they read African American, Latin American, and Asian writers, who comprised over half the syllabus. To match a writer with Achebe's theories about imagining Africa, I had to translate Leopold Senghor's poetry into English because I found no available translation for them.
So think about this. The students at Cal State Northridge who finish English majors will never get to read poetry by Leopold Senghor, a key figure in the Negritude movement and early leader of Senegal. Why? Because I am not there. Why am I not there? Because the white liberals at CSUN drove me out. The leftist race critics did nothing to help me, and the white seminarian Baptists, whom Mr. Tisby wants to excoriate, brought me to their campus to teach the students.
About that photograph...
These five white males in the photograph teach in the School of Preaching. It appears that they posed for this photograph as a farewell card to Vern Charette, a Native American professor who is leaving the School of Preaching to lead a church. Trying to be funny and not entirely succeeding, they not only gave the picture to Dr. Charette but also posted it on Twitter at around 12:11 PM on Tuesday, April 25, 2017. It did not go over well. Jonathan Merritt from Atlantic Monthly seems to have come across the photograph and forwarded it around. Shaun King, Lecrae, Don Cheadles, and a number of other people had seen the photo within hours.
By three and a half hours later, the photo was deleted from Twitter, the Seminary had tweeted a note stating that it was gone, Dr. David Allen (second from the left) had tweeted remorsefully that he'd taken it down, and there was no sign anywhere that the five white men in the picture or anyone on the Seminary's campus or anywhere in the world sought to anger black people.
Why talk about this any further? If the point would be to remind everyone that black people are still healing from racist oppression, the melodrama of the tweet's backlash and ensuing spectacle of remorse served quite well to remind everyone.
If the purpose would be to reiterate that black people do not all wear loose-fitting urban apparel and carry guns, then the photograph would seem to be a poorly chosen focal point. There are no black people in the photo, nothing in the photo implied they meant to be viewed as black, there is no blackface, and it is a rather obvious truth known to every American who spent eight years with President Obama that a black man dressed in formal business attire warrants no surprise. Our time could be better spent aiding people of color who have education and wear business suits--like Crystal Dixon and Eric Walsh--but who receive disrespect from white liberals.
And here is an important point--if the purpose would be to move people toward substantial actions to change the lives of people of color, shouldn't we start talking about the actions we plan to take to change the lives of people of color? I could use some help. When does my phone ring off the hook? When do I get to wail that I am offended, and win apologies and remorse from people for the price I paid (and many didn't) for standing up for racial justice?
A picture speaks a thousand words. But reality speaks a hundred thousand.
ROBERT OSCAR LOPEZ