Well, "tomorrow" has arrived, though much later than expected.
After I returned from seeing The Color of the Cross a couple of weeks back, I reread Baldwin’s 1968 address to the World Council of Churches titled “White Racism or World Community?” The essay is poignantly sharp and prophetically accusatory, which is to say Baldwin’s critical comments contain a seed of hope, the possibility of redemption. Baldwin describes his life as a minister in The Fire Next Time and makes connection to this story in this essay. In my opinion, Baldwin’s prophetic voice resonates precisely because he left the church of his youth. Sometimes distance provides clarity, and deconversion sometimes results in faith. Such is the irony of life.
The operative dynamic in the essay is that of confrontation. Baldwin boldly confronts white supremacy in the church just as The Color of the Cross confronts the image, the aesthetics, in short the panopticon of a Euro-American Jesus.
Listen to Baldwin:
“Now it would seem to me that the nature of the confrontation, the actual historical confrontation between the non-white peoples of the world and the white peoples of the world, between the Christian Church and those people outside the Christian Church who are unable to conceive themselves as being equally the sons of God, the nature of that confrontation is involved with the nature of the experience which a black person represents vis-à-vis the Cross of Christ, and vis-à-vis that enormous structure which is called the Church….This has to do, of course, with the fact that though he was born in Nazareth under a very hot sun, and though we know that he spent his life between that sun, the Christ I was presented with was presented to me with blue eyes and blond hair, and all the virtues to which I, as a black man, was expected to aspired had, by definition, to be white. This may seems a very simple thing and from some points of view it might even seem to be a desirable thing. But in fact what it did was make me very early, make us, the blacks, very early distrust our own experience and refuse, in effect, to articulate that experience to the Christians who were our oppressors. That was a great loss for me, as a black man. I want to suggest that is was also a great loss for you, as white people” (pp. 753-54).
He goes on to interpret Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God as a “claim that was a revelation and a revolution because it means that we are all the sons of God” (p. 755).
Baldwin suggests first that a way forward is possible, though it will take a keen eye to see the panopticon and a bold resovle to risk confronting the ubiquity of a Euro-American Jesus. This, I think, is the kind of revelation Baldwin suggests could spark a revolution.