Would Jesus Set Mumia Free?

Since the missus and I have no children, no parents, relatives are 700 miles away, and friends are out of town with families, we have few Christmas traditions other than to watch a lot of movies. Last night gave us the chance to see Let the Fire Burn, a documentary about Move, the Afrocentric organization that used Africa as the surname for members and tried to go back to nature — get this — in West Philadelphia. They even dug up the sidewalk in front of their row house. You can imagine how the neighbors — mostly black — thought about that. John Africa was the founder of the group and he became the inspiration for Mumia abu Jamal, the most famous person ever convicted and imprisoned for killing a cop. The movie’s title refers to the decision of the Wilson Goode administration to drop an “incendiary device” on Move’s home during the final showdown with police, a decision that led to a fire that destroyed almost two entire city blocks of row homes. If Goode had been a white mayor, what might have happened?

On one level, this depiction of black separatism almost forty years before Ta-Nehisi Coates’ writings about institutional racism makes you appreciate how deep seated the despair is that haunts the African-American experience. Combine that with the way kids in Coates’ W. Baltimore neighborhood chose to make a living — by selling drugs — and you also begin to think that almost nothing can overcome the barriers that race relations have erected in U.S. history. Transformationalism? Great Society? War on Drugs? Morning in America? As if.

But in some ways the problems are even larger than the troubling history of white dominance in North America. Big institutions are failing and Hollywood is warming up to the theme. Spotlight exposed the failures of the episcopate in Boston. The Big Short — very, very good, by the way — shows the inadequacies of federal bank regulators. Let the Fire Burn and The Wire document the severe handicaps of urban governments.

Put no hope institutions. Good thing Jesus came, died, went away, and will come again.

(At the risk of sounding pietistic, tonight’s viewing will likely be either Family Man or About a Boy, two underrated Christmas movies.)

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33 thoughts on “Would Jesus Set Mumia Free?

  1. Gonna suggest About A Boy to the family tonight. We’ve already watched Family Man too many times and The Ref is hilarious, but a bit vulgar.

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  2. “you also begin to think that almost nothing can overcome the barriers that race relations have erected in U.S. history. Transformationalism? Great Society? War on Drugs? Morning in America? As if.”

    Well we haven’t reached utopia and various measures of well-being ebb and flow, but overall things do seem better than ever. Maybe the Great Society and War on drugs haven’t been so helpful, but perhaps the corrosive acid of secular market oriented neo-liberalism is better for human fluorishing than her critics are wont to admit? As an Irish colleague once quipped, MTV ended the Irish troubles… my Iranian students certainly care about netflix more than the Quran.

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  3. sdb
    Posted December 25, 2015 at 10:11 pm | Permalink
    “you also begin to think that almost nothing can overcome the barriers that race relations have erected in U.S. history.

    Have they been overcome better anywhere? An open question.

    It is fairly safe to say Jews are safer here than anywhere else, including Israel!

    An average of 55 percent of Western European Muslims harbored anti-Semitic attitudes. Acceptance of anti-Semitic stereotypes by Muslims in these countries was substantially higher than among the national population in each country (ranging from 12 to 29 percent), though lower than corresponding figures of 75 percent for Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) in ADL’s 2014 poll.

    [if only because we can protect them from Muslims???]

    [Indeed, Muslims are fleeing to the US. To escape other Muslims.]

    As for black Americans in 2015, despite our shameful history of only of slavery but Jim Crow, pace Ta-Nehesi Coates I would like to evaluate the evidence that they are less marginalized in any other country where the represent a significant minority, say >10%.

    I would rather be a black American than a black Anything-else. Let’s call this the Oprah Argument. 😉

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  4. The Big Short is not a “christian movie” but “About a Boy” is? if you want to go Nick Hornby, why not High Fiedelity?

    Well, at least I had Christian popcorn…

    I think the Big Short is one of the best films I have seen in a long long time. The parts where the narrative stops and some famous person explains what the economic terminology means are very funny, and the character (Baum, Steve Correll) who makes so much money and learns to stop saying “you are wrong and I was right” is a guy I would fear to meet and love to meet.

    Did the criminal bankers know that the magistrates would bail them out, or were those bankers making a wager that the magistrates would bail them out, or were those criminal bankers too stupid to know that they would need a bailout? And does it matter?

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/big-short-big-hooey-1450221609

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  5. vd, t, Brazil might be a better case since intermarriage among Europeans, Africans, natives, and Asians is more prevalent (I believe).

    I don’t pretend to speak for blacks in the U.S. or their experience. Listening to Glenn Loury and John McWhorter makes me think that blacks can truly appreciate life here despite a history of white dominance. But I can also imagine why in the 1970s when lots of Americans were thinking utopian thoughts and suspicious of police and the government (the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s) that some blacks might John Africa had a plan.

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  6. Of course you can’t speak for blacks in America. Each blacks are their own human being with their own thoughts. Some are this, some are that.

    Then again, I think collectivism is terrible. The idea that there a group of people hold to “thoughts” makes no sense to me.

    Unless you’re a church member. But sociologically, that’s a voluntary association.

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  7. D. G. Hart
    Posted December 26, 2015 at 9:13 am | Permalink
    vd, t, Brazil might be a better case since intermarriage among Europeans, Africans, natives, and Asians is more prevalent (I believe).

    I have heard that. I’d still rather be Oprah. See also

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/24/opinion/vanessa-barbara-in-denial-over-racism-in-brazil.html

    I don’t pretend to speak for blacks in the U.S. or their experience. Listening to Glenn Loury and John McWhorter makes me think that blacks can truly appreciate life here despite a history of white dominance. But I can also imagine why in the 1970s when lots of Americans were thinking utopian thoughts and suspicious of police and the government (the legacy of the 1960s and 1970s) that some blacks might John Africa had a plan.

    Black separatism has an appeal and perhaps validity: Google “integration hurt black people.” As of 1950 or so, intact black families/marriage rates were about the same as whites’, as were employment rates. The current state of black social despair is a new thing.

    As for John Africa, let’s not forget he was a psycho. The irony of the era is that the radicalization of the black liberation movement in the 1970s was pretty much the end of black liberation, from concrete self-empowerment of the black community to mere verbal confrontation with the amorphous white “power structure.”

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  8. I forgot to mention that I spent my holiday watching season 2 and season 3 of, “The Newsroom.” It kept my mind occupied with some good drama while trying hard not to get depressed. I spent Christmas by myself. However, the lady who oversees the garden I take care of at the college invited me Christmas night to their house for a very fine dinner. We even ate some broccoli, lettuce and spinach that was grown in the garden. Some very tender veal, pork and beef was consumed with great relish too. So it turned out to not be so bad.

    I wanted to go see, “The Big Short,” but they pulled it from the Johnson City, TN cinema for some reason. I was angry so I went to talk to the management at the Carmike Johnson City theater. The manager would not talk to me directly but sent a messenger with a reply to my questions about who determines what is shown at the local theaters. He told me it was a combination of corporate decisions (the Carmike theater chain) and local management decisions about what is available from corporate headquarters. In other words, it is the money stupid.

    My conclusion, capitalism has no way of determining good art from bad art. One of the many problems of Capitalism in certain industries. I also learned that Independent films have even less of a chance of being shown in small market areas like Northeast Tennessee. Very few of the good, controversial and thoughtful drama’s make it to this area. I’ll be happy when I can get out of this area. I will be done with school in May.

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  9. ‘Allo, all- checking in from a busy life. The epistemology seminar didn’t motivate me, but a chance to plug the Caribbean does.

    sdb- “… my Iranian students certainly care about netflix more than the Quran.”
    And Young Americans are more interested in pop music than pater noster qui es in caelis. “Capitalism” is polysemous- the Anglo-American one-dollar-one-vote variety is remarkably impartial in anesthetizing beliefs and actions both bad and good.

    tom- I’d say that blacks are much, much better off in the Anglophone Eastern Caribbean than here, particularly the smaller islands and particularly the young. Why formerly enslaved people there should be happier and healthier is a puzzle for students of American history.

    A Merry Christmas to all (we have until epiphany to celebrate, of course).

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  10. Kevin in Newark
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 8:25 pm | Permalink
    ‘Allo, all- checking in from a busy life. The epistemology seminar didn’t motivate me, but a chance to plug the Caribbean does.

    tom- I’d say that blacks are much, much better off in the Anglophone Eastern Caribbean than here, particularly the smaller islands and particularly the young. Why formerly enslaved people there should be happier and healthier is a puzzle for students of American history.

    I’ve known a number of West Indians from playing cricket and reggae with them over the years. Of course all the ones I know moved to America. 😉 I don’t know how much the exodus goes the other way.

    Not that I disagree completely with you, though.

    http://www.caribbeantoday.com/feature/item/16166-caribbean-roots-tangle-with-african-american-in-us.html

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  11. ““Capitalism” is polysemous- the Anglo-American one-dollar-one-vote variety is remarkably impartial in anesthetizing beliefs and actions both bad and good.”
    Agreed.

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  12. Well golly, DG –

    Does that mean you’ll come with me to 12:15 Latin Mass at St. Mary Star of the Sea in Jackson if I’m ever passing through Michigan?

    Everything about the place I can see from 1000 miles away makes it look like what a lot of those posting here don’t seem to believe exists – a normal Catholic parish in a big town with a school, Latin Mass, and modest social outreach.

    It seems at the moment to have 10 Christmas trees in the sanctuary, an endearing exuberance.

    The working families who built it in the 20s really gave their best – the icons and stained glass are impressive. All in Southern Michigan should be proud.

    I may not be able to make it for some time, so just snap a photo of the organ if you happen to make it by, will you?

    https://www.facebook.com/St-Mary-Star-of-the-Sea-122750921099539/

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  13. It seems like it’s a start if we can at least acknowledge the toughness of this issue.

    I do find it odd that “transformationalism” got mentioned as a potential means of healing racial divides. Kuyperian theology was central to the maintenance of Apartheid in South Africa. And it looks like Wheaton College’s Kuyperian President is pushing out a tenured African-American professor for stating something with which Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Billy Graham would have agreed. Kuyperiand don’t seem to have a great track record on handling racial issues.

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  14. Bobby
    Posted December 27, 2015 at 11:25 pm | Permalink
    It seems like it’s a start if we can at least acknowledge the toughness of this issue.

    I do find it odd that “transformationalism” got mentioned as a potential means of healing racial divides. Kuyperian theology was central to the maintenance of Apartheid in South Africa. And it looks like Wheaton College’s Kuyperian President is pushing out a tenured African-American professor for stating something with which Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, and Billy Graham would have agreed. Kuyperiand don’t seem to have a great track record on handling racial issues.

    Not racial. Anti-liberal. Anti-Barneyism.

    As for saddling Kuyper with apartheid, that is at least debateable.

    http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/download/401/302

    Indeed, “Two Kingdoms” theology as pontificated hereabouts could be said to be agnostic on slavery and apartheid [and thus in some way complicit]. None of the church’s business.

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