I find myself doing double takes with NBC’s new show Constantine, as in, “Did they really just say that on network TV in the 21st century?” In the November 2 episode, which featured a Romani woman, who basically cast spells because her marriage hopes were disappointed, the protagonist, Constantine actually says, “There’s nothing blacker than gypsy magic.” Pick the racism you want to deconstruct there.
And then on November 21, we had the Haitian Vodou priest.
Now, I have never seen a U.S. popular culture depiction of Vodou that was not racist—and completely divorced from the reality of what Vodou is. I worked with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Haiti 1993-94 and I knew rightwing practitioners working for the coup regime and practitioners that were all about social justice—basically the same spectrum that practitioners of Christianity fall into. Vodou/Vodoun and its historic connection to African religions is way too rich and complex for me to get into here, but I can tell you what it does NOT involve. It does NOT involve Haitian Vodou priests killing their sisters so they can communicate easily with the spirits of the underworld. Look it up on Wikipedia.
Yet, this is what the Papa Midnite character, with whom Constantine works in the November 21 episode, has done. Actually, in the episode Constantine accused Papa Midnite of having done something nefarious to his sister, and a little bit later, Papa Midnite was addressing a skull with braids as his sister, and it took me a minute to put the two together.
With Police Officer Darren Wilson’s testimony that unarmed black teenager Michael Brown looked like a “demon” when he shot him in Ferguson last July, this sort of supernatural stereotyping has real dangers for our society. Thank goodness last Friday’s episode featured possessed axe murderers that were all white children.
Note: I originally wrote this reflection for my blog, then adapted it for my organization’s CPTnet. I’m adapting it back again a little.
Since a St. Louis, Missouri prosecutor and Grand Jury have determined that Police Officer Darren Wilson killing unarmed teenager Michael Brown did not merit a trial, I have been busy tweeting #Ferguson on the Christian Peacemaker Team Twitter account. Those tweets have been getting a lot of retweets. We have no people working in Ferguson and I have asked myself why I am inundating the account.
I think it has to do with the disposability of human life, with the contempt shown to Michael Brown when the authorities left his body in the street for four and a half hours and did not bother interviewing key witnesses to the shooting for weeks (until there was a public outcry.) That contempt connected directly with our work in Colombia, Iraqi Kurdistan, Palestine, with indigenous communities in North America, and with migrants in Europe. In all these cases, people in power have deemed the people we work with disposable.
If you want to drive Colombian farmers off their land so that you can make big profits with palm oil plantations, it’s okay to assault them, to threaten to rape their nine-year old daughters, to kill their animals, to burn their homes, to use the instruments of the Colombian state illegally to evict their communities’ teachers. And of course, you can do much worse. The types of violent harassment cited above are just some issues the communities we work with have been dealing with recently.
In Iraqi-Kurdistan, our civil society partners have had to drop most of their work to focus on the some most disposable people in the world: refugees. And these refugees have included those from the Ezidi/Yazidi community, whose wives, sisters, and daughters are now in ISIS/DAESH brothels, women considered worthless except for sexual gratification.
And then there is the project CPT Europe participated in this summer, welcoming the refugees that Europe wishes would just disappear, and who, because of European policies, have drowned by the thousands in the Mediterranean, fleeing the violence in countries such as Iran, Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria.
In Palestine, for nineteen long years, we have watched the forces of military occupation say it is acceptable to arrest, jail and torture Palestinian men, women and children without due process, and destroy their homes if Israel wants their land for settlement expansion. It is acceptable for soldiers to shoot teargas at Palestinian children on their way to school and look on as settlers attack them.
In our work with Indigenous partners, we have watched again and again naked racism strip them of their sovereignty, strip their lands of their resources, and leave behind the toxic poisons of their industries. We have watched the Canadian government shrug as 1800 Indigenous women are reported murdered and missing.
So I think it’s all related—Mike Brown, VonDerrit Myers, Tamir Rice, Tina Fontaine, Loretta Saunders, Bella Laboucan-McLean, Marissa Alexander, Jalil Muntaqim, Leonard Peltier…People of color who lost their lives, livelihoods, and freedom because here in North America they were considered just as disposable as the people we work with in Colombia, Palestine, Lesvos, Turtle Island and Kurdistan.
The good news, of course, is that our Colombian, Indigenous, Palestinian, Kurdish, and refugee partners are revealing to the world that they are a treasure—as are the people of Ferguson. The season of Advent is upon us. Let us listen.
Good hashtags to follow #BlackLivesMatter #TheologyofFerguson #StayWokeAdvent. Good accounts: @FaithinFerguson, @BroderickGreer @MikeBrownCover. The #Ferguson hashtag has a lot of good information, but you will also find really racist tweets there.