IN 2000, sophomore Onaje X.O. Woodbine was Yale basketball’s leading scorer and one of the top 10 players in the Ivy League. From the outside it must have seemed like a dream come true for a young man who grew up playing street ball in the Roxbury neighborhood of Boston.
But Woodbine felt isolated and excluded by the white players on the team, troubled by what he’s described as “a locker-room culture that encouraged misogyny,” and hungry to focus on his studies and wrestle with deeper philosophical and theological questions. So he quit basketball.
Woodbine eventually returned to the courts of his youth as a researcher, studying the practice and culture of street basketball for his doctoral studies in religion at Boston University. Woodbine is the author of Black Gods of the Asphalt: Religion, Hip-Hop, and Street Basketball (Columbia University Press) and a teacher of philosophy and religious studies at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass. He spoke with Sojourners senior associate editor Julie Polter in May.
Julie Polter: What led you to study street basketball from a religion scholarship angle?
Onaje X.O. Woodbine: When I was 12 years old, I lost my coach. He was my father figure; I didn’t have my father for most of my early childhood. It was just devastating.
I went to the court the next day to look for him. I felt his presence in that space. It was really the only place, looking back, where I felt safe, I felt whole, where I felt like my inner life was valuable, where there was a whole community whose interest was in my growth as a human being.
When President Obama meets with Pope Francis tomorrow, the world will catch a glimpse of what history looks like. The first pope from the global South in 1200 years will be welcomed in the White House by the first African-American president of the United States. This picture will be worth far, far more than a thousand words.
Pundits will analyze each public word spoken, and search for hints about the private words exchanged between these two. The politics of Pope Francis’ interaction with the President, and later with Congress, will fuel incessant speculation from Washington’s insiders. But around the world, and particularly in the global South, it’s the symbol of this meeting which will matter.
Pope Francis represents the changing face of world Christianity. Today, one billion Christians are found in Latin America and Africa. In 1980, more Christians were found in the global South than in the North for the first time in a thousand years. Every day, that movement accelerates. Francis’ words about the world’s injustices, and his actions of humble human solidarity, project the voice and longings of world Christianity’s new majority and resonant far beyond the boundaries of this faith.
President Obama symbolizes the changing demographics of America. Hope and demographics elected him in 2008, and by 2012 the changing face of the electorate in the U.S. proved determinative of America’s political future. Today, a majority of babies born in the U.S. are non-white, and some major urban areas already reflect the coming reality of a society without a racial majority.
There is a moment in John Steinbeck’s classic, East of Eden, when readers witness the transformation of a stereotype into a human being.
Set in Salinas Valley, Calif., around the turn of the 20th century, Samuel Hamilton picks up Lee, his friend's Chinese servant. Lee wears a queue and speaks Pidgin English. Moments after meeting him, Hamilton learns that Lee was born in the U.S. and asks why he still can’t speak English.
Lee’s face and eyes soften and he speaks perfect English, explaining that he speaks Pidgin for the whites in town to understand him. Lee says, “You see what is, where most people see what they expect.”
Did you catch that? Lee plays the role of the foreigner in order to be seen and understood.
I first learned about President Obama’s comments about racism and the Trayvon Martin case last week when a Facebook friend posted a link with this comment:
“Full text of the American President’s divisive and racist remarks today. He moves smoothly into his new role as race-baiter in chief.”
Let me try an analogy.
Imagine that Joe Lieberman had been elected our first Jewish president. And that in a moment of crisis, he felt compelled to explain that some reaction to even the hint of anti-Semitism is partly explained by the Jewish cultural memory of the Holocaust. And he included personal anecdotes about growing up Jewish in America.
Would he be accused of being divisive and guilty of whatever the Jewish equivalent of “race-baiting” might be?
Fred Luter had a lot of firsts in the last year: first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention; first time chairing the denomination’s annual meeting, this week, in Houston; and recently, first-time missionary.
“It was inspirational, but also very humbling in a lot of instances, just to see how some people are living,” Luter said, days after returning from Ethiopia and Uganda.
Struck by the poor living without running water and by missionaries willing to “leave the comforts that we have here in America,” Luter wants more members ofhis New Orleans congregation — as well as more of the nation’s 16 million Southern Baptists — to take overseas missions seriously.
In particular, he wants more of his denomination’s relatively small black population to serve as missionaries.
Across the political and religious spectrum, Americans are rethinking the death penalty. Here are some reasons why:
Mistakes. In January 2012, Joe D'Ambrosio became the 140th person on death row in the U.S. to be exonerated since 1973. Addressing the issue of biased application, Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan said in 1994 that "the death penalty is imposed not only in a freakish and discriminatory manner, but also in some cases upon defendants who are actually innocent."
Among democratic nations, the United States has the highest death penalty rate in the world. As the only G8 country to regularly use capital punishment, the United States joins China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, North Korea, and Yemen as the world's leaders in executions.
Retired United Methodist Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, the first African-American woman elected to the episcopacy by a major religious denomination, died Thursday (June 28). The teacher, pastoral leader and activist was considered a pioneer for her ministry of more than two decades. She was 92.
Her death was reported by United Methodist News Service.
Bishop Judith Craig, who was elected a Methodist bishop just hours after Kelly in 1984, recalled the pioneer’s “audacious” life.
“She never ran from challenge or controversy, and she also stood fast in her convictions,” Craig told the denominational news service.
Now, a growing number of African-American nonbelievers are reaching out to others in their communities to help them confront these challenges. They are calling on atheists of all colors to make the fourth Sunday in February -- Black History Month -- a "Day of Solidarity with Black Nonbelievers."
About 15 groups in as many cities -- Dallas, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles -- have scheduled events for Feb. 26. Some will share a meal, others will make formal presentations and discuss the role of African-American freethinkers in history. But the real goal is to let closeted black atheists know they are not alone.
During a roundtable chat with a group of emerging young evangelical leaders recently, someone posed the question: “Has America become a post racial society?”
Well, we haven’t had a race riot in a while — does that mean race isn’t relevant anymore?
A black president just gave the State of the Union Address. How about that? Does that mean America’s OK with the race thing?
Our nation is a more ethnically diverse nation than it’s ever been. Does that count for anything?
Scholars across disciplines agree that what we think of as “race” literally was invented here in the 17th century to delineate castes within a system of extreme privilege and subjugation.
So, rather than thinking about the dreaded word, “racism,” to answer the question, perhaps it would be more helpful to think about how our society has been “racialized” and then ask if such a racialization still exists or reverberates in today's American culture.
I was a Star Wars kid. I was almost six years old when the first movie hit theaters and it blew my mind, as it did the minds of all my friends. We all wanted to grow up either to be Darth Vader or Obiwan Kenobi, depending on your particular bent.
Not for nothing, but I did tear up when Vader finally died. Kenobi just wasn’t as cool.
The Star Wars saga helped define pop culture in many ways throughout my childhood. And so George Lucas, creator of the epic films, was the cinematic god of our youth. And if anyone has juice in Hollywood to get things done, it’s Lucas, who owns Lucasfilms (his own production company). So if there’s a film he wants to get made, it’s going to happen.
Unless the stars of the movie are black, that is.