Can the subaltern speak?

(“Can the Subaltern speak?” is the title of article by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak)

The following is said at the risk of being considered a sell-out.

It is events (as in the historical happening as well as in phenomenological terms) like Arizona’s new racist law #SB1070, one of the reasons why I haven’t responded to the article Is the Emerging Church for Whites Only? Otherwise known, as “some color is not enough color in the Emerging/Emergent Church”. It seems very capricious and disingenuous that in certain issues People of Color (this apply to other people at the margins, disabled, Queer, Women et cetera) speak and work to eradicate prejudices, discrimination and profiling based on appearances and social perception/constructs while on the other hand we used those standards against others. I’m guilty as charged. I am a broken man. I am paternalistic, patriarchal, sexist and racist. I’m stubborn, hipocrite and prideful. I’m not without fault. Unfortunately I am very unaware of my own baggage. Once in a while by the grace of God I’m confronted with my own sin – Lord, have mercy on a me a sinner.

It is obvious that we do not live in a post-racial society and that our institutions, movements, groups carry within themselves the disease of racism (as well as sexism, homophobia, patriarchy, ageism, discrimination against disable people among many other sins). We all partake of the paradox of power and oppression. I’m not surprised this new round of conversation about the supposedly lack of melanin in the emerging/emergent church has spurred some animosity, reaction and resistance. I am married to a White/Anglo/Euro-American woman and still after 10 years of a happy marriage our strong disagreements and arguments have to do with racial/ethnic/cultural differences. The work toward justice and reconciliation is not one without discomfort and pain, especially when our baggage and experiences are so unique and embedded in our souls.

Today I stand behind what I wrote two years ago, in a similar series of posts related to Whiteness and New Monasticism. Nevertheless, since then I’ve meet and come to love many people, broken bread, prayed, drank beer, and build relationships that make me confess that at times I’ve been unfair and violent in my involvements about this subject. I believe that in order to really move forward in this conversation we need to engage in a dialogue that go beyond the abstract, the reactionary and the caricatures. Emerging/Emergent Church people need to hold things loosely. As I see it, this thing of Kingdom/Gospel/Soul living is about death and resurrection. If the Emerging/Emergent Church needs to die, well then let it go in order to experience resurrection. People who are critical of the Emerging/Emergent Church (both from inside and outside), what if I we now move on toward a different level of engagement which re-frame the way we compare, judge and work toward, healing, wholeness and harmony? A different level that go beyond the appearances of who sells books and who speak at conferences. There is much more to the Emerging/Emergent church that what meet the eye. Just like Brown people in Arizona are more than just a target for deportation.

What if we people whom have been marginalized (by whatever reason) start functioning from different sources, instead of anger, repression and internalized oppressive false sense of equality that amount to little more than uncritical assimilation? I a Brown Puerto Rican brother I want to function from a sense of dignity, rootedness, community, hard work, conviviality, relationships, stories, family, organic wisdom, interpersonal economics, celebrations, incarnational spirituality, among many other things that make us who we are.

Can the subaltern speak? Can there be an insurrection of the subjugated knowledges? Yes, and oh Yes!

However, the speech and insurrection better be different, if not, it will is the same old regime with a different costume, same dog with a different collar. Liberation is not a change of guard. Liberation is more than changing administration. Liberated people need to learn and function by vibes, values, principles different from the Empire. We should live and work toward a liberation that is humanizing and life-giving to everyone.

11 thoughts on “Can the subaltern speak?

  1. I love ya brother! Great thoughts filled with much emotion… just like the way I like to live.
    There isn’t really anything that I disagree with here; I’ll stand behind it if I may. (?)
    ~ Great touch with the colored pencil picture too!
    Blessings to you and your family!

  2. Thanks Randy. No man, I do not think you can stand behind, but how’bout you stand with.

  3. I am very glad that this conversation is happening. Very, very glad indeed. Thank you so much for writing this.

    And yes–a great picture!

  4. Thanks so much for this.

    Just this weekend I was reading Mark Lewis Taylor’s response to Spivak’s article in which he explored how the subaltern can have a voice in the deconstructed power structures of the postmodern world. That article and your piece here have made me really start to wonder how best to move forward and construct a response given that the language we are all speaking are so different. On one hand I am hearing people asking that the powers that be use their power to give their voice to the so-called subaltern, but those of us immersed most in the postmodern conversation are responding that we have no power to give up since we have chosen to rethink what it even means to hold power or be in leadership. This is something that will take as you said a whole new administration – but how best to convey to others that that change (has/is) occurring? When we are criticised for failing old structures, what is the best way to be humble and open to critique while at the same time suggesting that what is really the issues is the structure itself?

  5. Julie- thanks for responding. Your questions go straight to “el corazón del asunto” the “heart of the matter. I think this is yet another series of blog posts, skype conversations, living rooms, parks, pubs, coffee houses round of explorations. I said park because as you might experience as well – Ricci and I have lot’s of serious conversations when we take the kids to the park.

    In my opinion I think we need to confront the myth of lack/giving away power. What I mean by that is, our power does not disappear just by thinking we do not have or we are giving away. Kenosis is performative. I think we as Christians need to dig deep in theology of Kenosis in a confessional but hopeful way.

    I think people whom hold power (intentionally or not) which is all of us in different circumstances, need to work toward wholeness, redistribution, healing and dignity. However I am becoming more aware that at many times, it’s still the dominant system of power that define what wholeness, redistribution, healing and dignity are. I want to do baby or toddler steps toward a authentic conversation in which we can redefine the terms for inequality and equality. This will take a lot of work, patience, resilience, hopefulness and deep spirituality. Unfortunately we do not have come up with forums (perhaps ETC?) for this to talk in a way that is “generative” – for the most part this conversation have sprouted out of commotion and critics.

    It would be fantastic if we could move this conversation from the cloud, while not completely, but also grounding it in an incarnated way. Our attention and intention span is limited when we do not engage in conversation with “flesh and bone” people with whom to struggle, question, confess and grow.

    So… there you have it my friend, all that to say this kind of conversation would be much better with a beer in hand, even Soong Chan-Rah will think so (I hope).

  6. ADORE Spivak. Once I was behind her in line at the Rite Aid near Columbia while we were both picking up prescriptions and I about fainted. Total pomo nerd celebrity sighting. But that’s irrelevant.

    What bothers me most is that at the precise moment when increasing numbers of women and people of color and queers and people who are trans are starting to gain a foothold in some traditional bastions of power all of a sudden there’s this “grassroots” movement whose public faces are overwhelmingly young white men that wants to talk about how those structures of power no longer matter and something new needs to happen and (ahem) of course they are in charge of it. It also happens to be a “grassroots” movement led by people who can afford the full spectrum of Mac products.

    Spivak is fascinating, and she’s right that oppressed populations are hetergeneous, and to pretend like they’re not denies the voices of those who are actually oppressed. One clear example of this is the ways that the mainstream gay and lesbian movements are arguing for the rights of gays and lesbians to get married and be in the military. What the fuck? I thought we were having a queer revolution, not trying to be the Cleavers. However, GLAAD and HRC claim to speak for all GLBTQ folks, even though they prioritize the voices of rich white gay and lesbian people while they sell out trans folks, queer folks of color, queers in general and those of us simply trying to do something new in our relationship structures. (Side note: why are there no emergent liturgies that celebrate the working, salaried wives of emergent leaders?)

    Criticism of the emerg(___) movement cannot be compared to these mainstream GL organizations. Why? Because critics of the emerg(____) movement HAVE NO POWER and get dismissed, rudely, by the major players. YOU CANNOT WORSHIP SPIVAK AND THROW OUT FOUCAULT. There seems to be massive bowing at the altar of postmodernism, except when it comes to a power analysis that might critique straight white cis married dudes in leadership.

    Those of us who are oppressed realize that our voices are not homogeneous. I am privileged in some major ways and oppressed in some major ways, like many people. Getting a book deal would matter to me, but I would refuse to take it unless I got to co-write it with one of the wonderful women of color with whom I blog, or if it was accompanied by an equivalent offer to one of them. This is one of my policies for interviews, too. I didn’t start blogging until I had a collective, a collective that was diverse.

    We are not homogenous. YET identity politics still matters because we are oppressed in similar ways. Identity politics still matters because while we know our identities are irrevocably complicated, we’re still sexually harassed or thrown in jail for being too brown in Arizona or raped or queer bashed or told to shut up at church meetings BECAUSE OF OUR PERCEIVED IDENTITIES. At a certain point it doesn’t matter, if you’re that Chican@ being harassed in Arizona, that you’re a biracial mixed-class poet and vegan – your ass is going to get handed to you by the cops, period. Sure, the subaltern can speak…the question is whether or not anyone with power cares to listen.

  7. Great, timely, well written post brother. I would also refer all the way back to Kings I had a Dream speech. King was first and foremost a Man Of God. We as followers of Christ should take that message of unity and seek to apply it daily.

  8. At clergy conference, Phyllis Tickle kept pointing to Karen Ward and saying, “I keep hearing that the emergent church is white men, but look at her.” Except that Phyllis Tickle handed out a syllabus wherein 41 (or 42?) out of the 47 books she recommended were written by white men, just like Barry Taylor did at the conference at COTA in November. This is 87.23% (white men make up 37.52% of the total U.S. population). This kind of skewing cannot happen by chance. (If you haven’t seen this yet, please please watch it: – “Recognize the new racism…The absence of people of color in any space cannot be accounted for by chance or accident.”) It’s not about melanin or the lack thereof. It is not about a quota of color: it is about the distribution of power and privilege in the movement that is inextricably linked to racial politics and the history of colonization and slavery in this empire. It is about *not* pathologizing anger.

    (P.S. Yes, many of these conversations are better with beer in hand…except for for those brothers and sisters in Christ who are in recovery.)

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