I’ve been watching the saga following Tony Jones’ post about being “tired of being called a racist” with a mix of confusion, amusement, and utter lack of surprise. Another white dude complaining that he’s being attacked when people point out racism and sexism in his work? Super not new. His friends and audience circling the wagons and supporting his defensive reaction to anti-racist work? Also expected.
What has been at turns hilarious and alarming, though, is the degree to which these folks – even those with considerably more influence and power than any anti-racist and/or feminist critic – are bothered by the criticism. Their responses have been wildly out of proportion to the actual criticisms. Some have included outright intimidation.
There have been some great responses to Tony Jones’ post from Crystal Lewis, Rod/Political Jesus, and Sarah Jones, among others. I just have a few questions and observations as someone who’s outside the progressive/emergent/whatever evangelical circle where all this has taken place. All of my comments more or less boil down to this: the whole thing is a prime example of why I don’t trust liberal white evangelicals any more than I do conservative ones.
Jones’s whinging post was a response to a piece by Christena Cleveland pointing out Eurocentrism and white privilege in a recent talk given by Jones. Relevant things to note: 1) Cleveland was speaking both as a writer/scholar – she’s a social psychologist – and as a Black Christian woman observing and experiencing racism in the church. 2) She never mentions Tony Jones by name in the post. 3) Nor does she ever call him a racist, in fact, the word “racism” doesn’t appear in the post at all. 4) That she made Jones’ comments anonymous reflects the purpose of the post, which wasn’t about Jones and certainly not a personal attack on him, but rather about broader issues around how unthinking white supremacy in the Western theological traditions dominated by normatively privileged white men perpetuate racial exclusion and alienation in the church.
Funny enough, this is something that happens an awful lot: a person of color points to a white person’s behavior as an example of larger power dynamics and oppressions. Rather than really listen to and internalize the point – much less empathize with the person of color sharing their experience of racism – said white person finds some way to make the point all about themselves and how they’re the victims of mean ol’ POC with a racial bone to pick.
Like so: Jones’s response to a post that fairly obviously wasn’t a hit on him, but an invitation to learning and do better? Was to complain that black women are so unfair to him – he didn’t miss the opportunity to air a grudge over another incident two years ago where another black woman confronted him about racism – to bring this complaint to his audience, which is far more sizable than Christena Cleveland’s, and to direct said audience to Cleveland’s post, which he described as “subtly [accusing] me of racism.” And in case we didn’t get the message that it’s, like, super hard to be called a racist, Tony Jones is here to remind us that “calling someone a racist is the most discrediting of all epithets these days.”
Doesn’t that all seem a bit much in response to a post critiquing what he said anonymously, for the sake of a larger point? A post that would have gotten little reading had Jones not drawn attention to it himself?
There would have been no drama had Jones responded in any number of less melodramatic and self-involved ways. He could have contacted Cleveland privately to discuss his concerns (like he and his supporters seem to think anyone who has a problem with him should do). He could have done some self-reflection and considered the possibility that if he’s had two unrelated Black women, separated by two years, raise the issue of racism in his work, maybe it’s not that they’re out to be mean to Tony Jones, but because there’s racism in his work.
Shorter: if he’s tired of being called racist and sexist, maybe he needs to work a little harder to not get that response. He could have, as Cleveland did, responded to the issues she raised without making it about her. Or he could have ignored the criticism altogether.
And then there’s the matter of @EmergentDudeBro, which has some emergent folks in quite the tizzy. Again, I have a lot of questions about the response to EDB, which has basically been to claim that it’s a mean-spirited, bullying, unfunny attack on Tony Jones personally. (Spoiler: I think it’s a spot-on and hilarious parody of the worst of this emergent culture broadly, not just Jones.) Some have demanded that the person(s) behind the account reveal themselves, badgered people suspected of being behind the account to reveal themselves or meet personally with Jones to “reconcile” with him. In one especially appalling case, someone impersonated one of these “suspects” – Sarah Jones, who is not in fact involved in the EDB account – and made actually mean-spirited, bullying and bigoted jokes about her employment and financial circumstances.
It’s odd, given that many of these same people are fans of parody accounts like FakeDriscoll or FakeJohnPiper that satirize conservative evangelical pastors, that they find a parody account so very threatening, unacceptable and un-Christian when it targets them or people they like. Or given that Tony Jones is not exactly the model of “graciousness” when it comes to writing about people he disagrees with or merely finds tiresome (cf his infamous “I’m tired of hearing about spiritual abuse in conservative churches” post). Satire and biting commentary for me, not for thee, I guess.
It’s also odd that Jones claims that he doesn’t want to silence EDB and doesn’t care what EDB and other critics say, in the middle of a post titled “Who is Emergent DudeBro” (again, taking his personal complaints to his considerable audience, many times that of EDB). It’s odd that he does it in the middle of a post which shares that someone who was once involved with the EDB account thought the better of it and apologized to him for it in private. I mean, if he doesn’t care so much…he can always ignore it, right?
Most odd of all is that many in this circle seem more bothered by the existence of a scathing parody account than by the behavior of a leader who uses his platform to air his personal grievances and make a public example of much less influential people who dared to criticize him. They’re more bothered by the idea that anyone would suggest that emergents’ work might be racist and sexist than they are by the fact that one of their own has repeatedly made the case that he knows what racism and sexism are and how to work against them better than people who actually experience it.
These folks are more troubled by the idea that they might have something to learn from people of color and white women than they are by racism and sexism. As Ana Mardoll says, this is faux-allyship that is more interested in not being perceived as racist or sexist than actually doing the work to not be.
It would be nice if any of the Christian feminism posts on Jones’ blog this week addressed this strange set of priorities, but for some reason I’m not holding my breath that this will happen.