This semester, I am taking a class at the Graduate Theological Union called “Christian Ethics: Radical Love Embodied” from Dr. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Professor of Theological and Social Ethics. One of the texts for this class is Dr. Moe-Lobeda’s own 2013 book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation. Chapter 4, “Unmasking Evil that Parades as Good,” has caused me to think deeply on how background social and cultural understandings perpetuate and affirm the way things are, even if those understandings are destructive or evil. The author characterizes this as “‘hegemonic vision’… the constellation of socially constructed perceptions and assumptions about ‘what is,’ ‘what could be,’ and ‘what ought to be’ that maintain the power or privilege of some people over others, and ‘blind’ the former to that privilege” (Moe-Lobeda, 88).
Dr. Matthew Clair, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Stanford University, uses the word hegemony with regard to U.S. law, but does not use the phrase hegemonic vision in his 2020 book Privilege and Punishment: How Race and Class Matter in Criminal Court. He presents similar concepts, writing of how racism and classism intersect, “I found that the working class and poor, especially racial minorities, often sought to learn their legal rights, contest their defense lawyer’s expertise, and advocate for themselves in court. Meanwhile, the middle-class people I got to know found themselves in trusting relationships with lawyers and thus were more likely to defer to their lawyers and the court. Privileged people were rewarded for their deference, whereas the disadvantaged were punished for their resistance and demands for justice” (Clair, xv). That is, Dr. Clair reports that the U.S. justice system has a vision of how people should behave that is based in middle-class assumptions and communication patterns. He finds that those who are poor or working class who do not communicate as expected are disproportionately penalized.
The Prison Policy Initiative affirmed what Dr. Clair has written in their “Mass Incarceration: the Whole Pie 2020” in which Wendy Sawyer and Peter Wagner write, “People in prison and jail are disproportionately poor compared to the overall U.S. population. The criminal justice system punishes poverty… Poverty is not only a predictor of incarceration; it is also frequently the outcome.”
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“In How to Fight Racism, Jemar Tisby writes, “White supremacy is the belief or assumption that white people and their culture are inherently superior to other people and cultures.” I said in our class discussion of Tisby that understanding white supremacy and its associated racism in the United States is incomplete without also considering class and classism. In this paper, I expand my argument that class is a key factor in racism to include why people of color are imprisoned disproportionally. In support of this, I consider historical, literary, and academic sources as well as my personal experience as a jail chaplain in Santa Clara County.
In researching this topic, I found that race and class were conflated in most analyses, and that usually only race was addressed. Sometimes it seemed as though class and classism were invisible. For example, historian Tyler Stovall, whom I quote on race and class below, has racism in his Index but not class or classism, even though both are extensively discussed. Publications where race and class were considered individually came from many academic disciplines, including anthropology, economics, education, history, sociology and literary analysis. I begin with definitions of class and race.”
“In this paper, I begin the discussion of my Doctor of Ministry project and dissertation for the Berkeley School of Theology. In the first section, I present the problem of creating a theological study program for use in jail and my vision for its solution. The second section considers my theological basis, including three inspiring scriptures that have influenced my thinking. These are followed by a summary and conclusion. My theological basis and the proposed project and dissertation are informed by my experience as a Santa Clara County, California, jail chaplain since 2015.” The three Bible scriptures are Matthew 25:31-46, Genesis 39-41, and Acts 16:22-40. Read the whole paper here.
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“Are ethnocentrism and racism different or the same, and what difference does this make? I engage these terms regarding American social structures, biology, and power / domination, as well as considering to what extent ethnocentrism and racism are mutually exclusive or overlapping. I will focus on two of our class books that examine these and related concepts, the Rev. Canon Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas’s Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God, and Dr. David M. Goldenberg’s The Curse of Ham: Race and Slavery in Early Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This paper starts by reviewing definitions of ethnocentrism and racism from a variety of sources, followed by a section on what Douglas and Goldenberg write and seem to mean by those concepts, concluding with a section that considers how these meanings make a difference.”
You can read the whole paper here. Below is the “Social /Cultural Group Evaluation – Ethnocentrism <-> Racism Scale” graphic, discussed on pages 19-20 of the paper.
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