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Black Lives Matter and Catholic Whiteness: A Tale of Two Performances

  • Michael P. Jaycox (a1)

The Black Lives Matter movement has received little scholarly attention from Catholic theologians and ethicists, despite the fact that it is the most conspicuous and publicly influential racial justice movement to be found in the US context in decades. The author argues on the basis of recent field research that this movement is most adequately understood from a theological ethics standpoint through a performativity lens, as a form of quasi-liturgical participation that constructs collective identity and sustains collective agency. The author draws upon ethnographic methods in order to demonstrate that the public moral critique of the movement is embedded in four interlocking narratives, and to interrogate the Catholic theological discipline itself as an object of this moral critique in light of its own performative habituation to whiteness.

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1 See Massingale, Bryan N., “Has the Silence Been Broken? Catholic Theological Ethics and Racial Justice,” Theological Studies 75, no. 1 (2014): 133–55, at 135.

2 See Massingale, “Has the Silence Been Broken?,” 154–55.

3 Massingale, “Has the Silence Been Broken?,” 154.

4 See Copeland, M. Shawn, “Memory, #BlackLivesMatter, and Theologians,” Political Theology 17, no. 1 (2016): 13 ; and Lloyd, Vincent, “For What Are Whites to Hope?,” Political Theology 17, no. 2 (2016): 168–81. Although she is a historian rather than a theologian, still see Williams, Shannen Dee, “The Global Catholic Church and the Radical Possibilities of #BlackLivesMatter,” Journal of Africana Religions 3, no. 4 (2015): 503–15.

5 See Whitmore, Todd David, “Crossing the Road: The Case for Ethnographic Fieldwork in Christian Ethics,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 27, no. 2 (2007): 273–94; the contributors to the volume Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics, ed. Scharen, Christian and Vigen, Aana Marie (New York: Continuum, 2011); Bretherton, Luke, Resurrecting Democracy: Faith, Citizenship, and the Politics of a Common Life (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015); the essays collected under the symposium titled Ethnography, Anthropology, and Comparative Religious Ethics,” Journal of Religious Ethics 38, no. 3 (2010): 395493 ; and Prasad, Leela, Poetics of Conduct: Oral Narrative and Moral Being in a South Indian Town (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007). Moreover, the increased use of narrative ethnographic methods in theology and religious studies runs parallel to a “cultural turn” in social movement theory, which raises a fascinating set of interdisciplinary questions that unfortunately exceed the scope of this project. For a representative sample of the literature regarding the cultural turn in social movement theory, see Ferree, Myra Marx and Merrill, David A., “Hot Movements, Cold Cognition: Thinking about Social Movements in Gendered Frames,” Contemporary Sociology 29, no. 3 (2000): 454–62; Polletta, Francesca, Freedom Is an Endless Meeting: Democracy in American Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002); Polletta, , “Culture Is Not Just in Your Head,” in Rethinking Social Movements: Structure, Meaning, and Emotion, ed. Goodwin, Jeff and Jasper, James (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2003), 97110 ; Gould, Deborah, Moving Politics: Emotion and ACT UP's Fight against AIDS (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Taylor, Verta, “Social Movement Participation in the Global Society: Identity, Networks, and Emotions,” in The Future of Social Movement Research: Dynamics, Mechanisms, and Processes, ed. van Stekelenburg, Jacqueline et al. (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013), 3757 ; Ruiz-Junco, Natalia, “Feeling Social Movements: Theoretical Contributions to Social Movement Research on Emotions,” Sociology Compass 7, no. 1 (2013): 4554 ; and Jasper, James, The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

6 See Graeber, David, Possibilities: Essays on Hierarchy, Rebellion, and Desire (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2007); and Graeber, , Direct Action: An Ethnography (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2009).

7 Christian Scharen and Aana Marie Vigen, “Preface: Blurring Boundaries,” in Scharen and Vigen, Ethnography as Christian Theology and Ethics, xvii–xxviii, at xx.

8 bell hooks, Marginality as Site of Resistance,” in Out There: Marginalization and Contemporary Cultures, ed. Ferguson, Russell et al. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), 341–43, at 343.

9 The category of “performativity” has a broad valence. The varied meanings and usages of the term among academic disciplines are generally understood to have developed from the originating concept of “speech acts” in philosophy of language; see Austin, J. L., How to Do Things with Words, 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1962); and Searle, John, Speech Acts: An Essay in the Philosophy of Language (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969). Judith Butler famously deployed the category as a means of arguing that sex, gender, and even the body itself are socially constructed; see Butler, , Gender Trouble, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1999). Most recently Butler has used the category as a lens through which to understand the political force of multiple bodies occupying public space; see Butler, , Notes toward a Performative Theory of Assembly (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015). The specific use of performativity in this investigation refers to the gradual creation of collective identity by way of narrative construction and ritualistic participation. For previous uses of performativity in Christian liturgical theology, see Chauvet, Louis-Marie, Symbol and Sacrament: A Sacramental Reinterpretation of Christian Existence (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1995), esp. 130–35; Kavanagh, Aidan, On Liturgical Theology (New York: Pueblo Publishing, 1984), esp. 77–88; and McCall, Richard, Do This: Liturgy as Performance (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

10 See Scott, James C., Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1985).

11 See Martin, Daniel D., “The Drama of Dissent: Police, Protesters, and Political Impression Management,” in The Drama of Social Life: A Dramaturgical Handbook, ed. Edgley, Charles (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 157–79; Langman, Lauren, “From Virtual Public Spheres to Global Justice: A Critical Theory of Internetworked Social Movements,” Sociological Theory 23, no. 1 (2005): 4274 ; and Castells, Manuel, Networks of Outrage and Hope: Social Movements in the Internet Age (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012).

12 West, Cornel, Race Matters, 2nd ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 2001), 23. West has been criticized on this point by the sociologist Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo, in Racism without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the United States, 3rd ed. (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2010), 103–4. Bonilla-Silva holds that West's diagnosis of nihilism necessarily implies a conservative, cultural explanation for black poverty, thereby lumping him together with classic articulations of this cultural theory, such as Massey, Douglas and Denton, Nancy, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993). Bonilla-Silva probably misreads West's intended purpose, since the point for him is not to diagnose the causes of oppression per se as much as it is to identify resources and practical strategies for resisting that oppression.

13 See Chauvet, Symbol and Sacrament, 84–109.

14 See Gordon, Colin, Mapping Decline: St. Louis and the Fate of the American City (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008); Lang, Clarence, Grassroots at the Gateway: Class Politics and Black Freedom Struggle in St. Louis, 1936–75 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2009); and Rothstein, Richard, “The Making of Ferguson: Public Policies at the Root of Its Troubles” (Washington, DC: Economic Policy Institute, 2014),

15 See Copeland, M. Shawn, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009), 1315 , where she uses the Lonerganian epistemological categories of “scotosis” and “bias” to interpret the pattern by which whiteness attempts to maintain the intellectual plausibility of racial hierarchy by habitually distorting, overlooking, avoiding, and denying evidence to the contrary.

16 Parenthetically it is worth noting that my own race, gender, sexuality, economic class, and education level as the researcher did affect which persons were and were not within my “network” of prospective participants, both for the better and for the worse. The current wisdom in ethnographic methods holds that when researchers and participants do not belong to the same race, the actual data collected ends up being different from, but not necessarily worse or better than, when researchers and participants do belong to the same race; see Twine, France Winddance, “Racial Ideologies and Racial Methodologies,” in Racing Research, Researching Race: Methodological Dilemmas in Critical Race Studies, ed. Twine, France Winddance and Warren, Jonathan W. (New York: New York University Press, 2000), 134 , at 13; and Rhodes, Penny, “Race-of-Interviewer Effects: A Brief Comment,” Sociology: The Journal of the British Sociological Association 28, no. 2 (1994): 547–58, at 552.

17 This work of articulating the narrative convergences does of course require interpretation on my part, though I have tried to preserve the intentionality of the interviewees as best as possible. For more information on narrative convergence as an ethnographic method for interpreting qualitative data, see Gubrium, Jaber and Holstein, James, Analyzing Narrative Reality (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2009).

18 See MacIntyre, Alasdair, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd ed. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2007); and Hauerwas, Stanley, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).

19 Susan Moller Okin's scathing critique of MacIntyre is apt here, in that the ultimate justification for his narrative-based ethics is an appeal to “classical” traditions and virtues instantiated in local cultural contexts, a system that she argues is incapable of addressing the problem of social domination as injustice; see Okin, , Justice, Gender, and the Family (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 4262 .

20 See Goizueta, Roberto, Caminemos con Jesús: Toward a Hispanic/Latino Theology of Accompaniment (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1995), 177–82.

21 This narrative closely resembles the work of Khalil Gibran Muhammad; see Muhammad, , The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern Urban America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2010).

22 See United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department,” March 4, 2015,

23 Please note that the term “myth” is not meant in the literary sense of a symbolically dense narrative that helps the members of a culture remember who they are (a sense such as you might expect), but instead in the more pejorative, colloquial sense of a false belief that is widely held to be true.

24 The scholarship on this topic is large and interdisciplinary. For a representative sample, see Du Bois, W. E. B., Dusk of Dawn: An Essay toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1940), 182–83; Du Bois, , The Souls of Black Folk, ed. Gates, Henry Louis (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 84; Myrdal, Gunnar, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, 2nd ed. (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), 525–26, 530–34, 538–43; Walker, Samuel, Popular Justice: A History of American Criminal Justice (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 5565 , 117–23; Reichel, Philip, “Southern Slave Patrols as a Transitional Police Type,” American Journal of Police 7, no. 2 (1988): 5177 ; Williams, Hubert and Murphy, Patrick, “The Evolving Strategy of Police: A Minority View,” Perspectives on Policing 13 (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Justice, 1990), 115 ,; Mawby, R. I., “Variations on a Theme: The Development of Professional Police in the British Isles and North America,” in Policing across the World: Issues for the Twenty-first Century, ed. Mawby, R. I. (London: UCL Press, 1999), 2858 , at 31–32; and Bass, Sandra, “Policing Space, Policing Race: Social Control Imperatives and Police Discretionary Decisions,” Social Justice 28, no. 1 (2001): 156–76.

25 My use of the language of “complicity” to understand moral implication in a white supremacist system is borrowed from the work of Mikulich, Alex, Cassidy, Laurie, and Pfeil, Margaret, The Scandal of White Complicity in US Hyper-Incarceration: A Nonviolent Spirituality of White Resistance (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

26 Massingale, Bryan, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010), 80.

27 Pfeil, Margaret, “The Transformative Power of the Periphery: Can a White US Catholic Opt for the Poor?,” in Interrupting White Privilege: Catholic Theologians Break the Silence, ed. Cassidy, Laurie and Mikulich, Alex (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2007), 127–46, at 130.

28 Du Bois, Souls of Black Folk, 2; and Grimes, Katie, “Breaking the Body of Christ: The Sacraments of Initiation in a Habitat of White Supremacy,” Political Theology 18, no. 1 (2017): 2243 , at 23.

29 Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, 104–5.

30 Bonilla-Silva, Racism without Racists, 105, emphasis in the original. Alex Mikulich draws upon this concept of “white habitus” extensively in his constructive theological-ethical response to mass incarceration; see Mikulich, “White Complicity in US Hyper-Incarceration,” in Mikulich, Cassidy, and Pfeil, The Scandal of White Complicity, 59–86, at 76–81.

31 Ahmed, Sara, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” Feminist Theory 8, no. 2 (2007): 149–68, at 150, 156. Both Bonilla-Silva and Ahmed are drawing upon and extending Pierre Bourdieu's notion of “habitus” as a way of describing what white privilege does and how it operates in a racially hierarchical society; see Bourdieu, , The Logic of Practice, trans. Nice, Richard (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990).

32 Lloyd, “For What Are Whites to Hope?,” 178.

33 Mikulich, Alex, “Mapping ‘Whiteness’: The Complexity of Racial Formation and the Subversive Moral Imagination of the ‘Motley Crowd,’Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 25, no. 1 (2005): 99122 , at 116.

34 See Crenshaw, Kimberlé, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Class: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum 140 (1989): 139–67; and Collins, Patricia Hill, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2000), 812 .

35 Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom, 66, 73.

36 See Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom, 58–62.

37 See Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom, 20–21, 99–101, 124–28.

38 Townes, Emilie, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006), 22.

39 For extended discussions of the critiques of natural law theory, as well as critical reconstructions in response to these critiques, see Porter, Jean, “Does the Natural Law Provide a Universally Valid Morality?,” in Intractable Disputes about the Natural Law: Alasdair MacIntyre and Critics, ed. Cunningham, Lawrence (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), 5395 ; Porter, , Nature as Reason: A Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 152 ; Nussbaum, Martha, Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 2832 , 129–32; Nussbaum, , Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 252–54; Cahill, Lisa Sowle, “Toward Global Ethics,” Theological Studies 63, no. 2 (2002): 324–44; Cahill, Lisa Sowle, Global Justice, Christology, and Christian Ethics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 248–84; and Noonan, John T. Jr., A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005).

40 See Traina, Cristina, Feminist Ethics and Natural Law: The End of the Anathemas (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1999).

41 Here I follow Vincent Lloyd's recent work, in which he provides a contemporary retrieval of the use of natural law rhetoric and argumentation in historical struggles for black liberation; see Lloyd, , Black Natural Law (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016).

42 See Lloyd, Black Natural Law, ix.

43 See Clark, Meghan, The Vision of Catholic Social Thought: The Virtue of Solidarity and the Praxis of Human Rights (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014).

44 See Daly, Daniel, “Structures of Virtue and Vice,” New Blackfriars 92 (2011): 341–57.

45 See Grimes, “Breaking the Body of Christ”; and Mikulich, Cassidy, and Pfeil, The Scandal of White Complicity.

46 Ahmed, “A Phenomenology of Whiteness,” 150.

47 See Massingale, Racial Justice and the Catholic Church, 125; and Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom, 108.

48 Grimes, “Breaking the Body of Christ,” 38.

49 Ibid., 39; Grimes provides an overview of the historical uses of baptism and Eucharist in support of white supremacy at 24–34.

50 For mercy as a decentering, see Sobrino, Jon, The Principle of Mercy: Taking the Crucified People from the Cross (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1994), 1526 . For conflictual solidarity, see Massingale, Bryan, “ Vox Victimarum Vox Dei: Malcolm X as Neglected ‘Classic’ for Catholic Theological Reflection,” CTSA Proceedings 65 (2010): 6388 , at 81–84. Maureen O'Connell proposes vigilance, counter-framing, and sitting-with-it as three “cardinal virtues of antiracist racists” in After White Supremacy? The Viability of Virtue Ethics for Racial Justice,” Journal of Moral Theology 3, no. 1 (2014): 83104 , at 100–104.

51 See Morrill, Bruce, Anamnesis as Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000).

52 This article was developed from a paper presented at the College Theology Society in June 2016. For their critical comments and general support throughout the completion of this project, I would like to thank Jessica Wrobleski, Nancy Rourke, Craig Ford, Gerald Beyer, Kevin Ahern, Tobias Winright, Julie Rubio, Katie Grimes, Meghan Clark, Jodi O'Brien, Rachel Luft, Stefan Bradley, and James Keenan. For the grant that funded my research, without which this project would have been impossible, I would like to thank Catherine Punsalan-Manlimos and the Institute for Catholic Thought and Culture at Seattle University. For their fine work in transcribing the interviews, I would like to thank Letta Page and Hope Uggen. As a final note, it is difficult for me to express my immense gratitude to the 23 members of the movement who consented to participate in the research, without whose trust, candor, voices, and social witness I would not have been able to write this article.

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