What are we deconstructing?

This question was asked of Kevin Miller during this evening’s session of the online Collaborators Conference, a mimetic theory/theology conference that is a successor of sorts to the Theology and Peace Conference I attended once or twice while in grad school. (Are any of my readers also attending? Let me know in the comments!) Here are a few of my scattered thoughts around and in response to that question.

What are we deconstructing, and what are we reconstructing, in this social and historical context? My first thought was “white supremacy”, from my perspective as a white American in 2020.

The trick to deconstructing and reconstructing, of course, as with revolution, is to avoid a superficial reordering of the same social structures that simply put someone else in charge. The opposite of dysfunction is still dysfunction.

White supremacy in the US defines and privileges white people over against non-white people. US society is white-normative: white people are considered “normal” people while non-white people are seen as Others, defective and even dangerous by virtue of their non-whiteness. This reminds me of dual-nature anthropology, that defines and privileges men over against non-men. In both cases, the Other is the pharmakos, the vulnerable semi-insider, the ideal scapegoat candidate.

I believe that in this moment, what we are deconstructing is white supremacy, particularly against Black and Native Americans whose specific egregious sufferings at the hands of white colonists were constitutive to the formation of this nation. I believe this because of the widespread, persistent #BlackLivesMatter protests that sprang up in multiple cities after the police killing of George Floyd and are still going on; and particularly because there are large numbers of white people at these protests, standing up for black lives, for black people, quite literally standing with the victims of racist police brutality and putting their bodies in the place of the victim, being beaten and tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets and arrested.

Perhaps the opposite of over against is in solidarity with. Can we reconstruct our society on the basis of the solidarity between white people and non-white people that we see in these protests?

Perhaps we can deconstruct and reconstruct St Paul here:

If we are for God, who can we be against? For the Spirit of God has set us free.

riffing on John Foley, “If God is For Us”, Romans 8
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