Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil

L-R Dr. Emily Townes and Dr. Qiyamah A. Rahman in Chicago, Illinois at the Disciples Divinity House, the Disciples of Christ facility that houses its seminarians. A lecture and reception were held for Emiliy Townes summer, 2007

During a one and a half hour presentation Dr. Townes reminded the audience not to be afraid to address evil because evil and goodness sit side by side. She talked about the process of writing and publishing her most recent book, Womanist Ethics and the Cultural Production of Evil. In other words, she investigates how evil is produced. She contends that this book is her "singularly important work." So I encourage everyone to get a copy and start reading.

"No one wanted to publish the book. . . it doesn't quite fit in the typical genre's," she said.
The book she maintained took her ten years to write and she admitted that it is easier to read aloud because it "speaks more easily" when it is read aloud than when read silently. The book she contends, "wrote itself" I was trying to think about evil in a linear way but it isn't linear. .

Townes encouraged the audience of seminarians, ministers, teachers and lovers of her books to, "be not daunted - keep a dictionary nearby. . .The entire book is counter memory. . We are inheritors of People of the Book . . .these stories remind us of who we are," she exclaimed.

Townes appears to use "counter memory" as an antidote to evil, that is, putting these images of good and bad to better understand them.

Townes asserted that it is important to look at the issues around us and refuse to accept the standard explanations. She cited the Don Imus controversy as a concrete example. The aftermath tried to make it about racism rather than the sexism it was she contended. . . One has to pay attention always. . . I have to pay attention," she stated . . "because memory is both fact and fiction."

Another example of memory being both fiction and truth is the cultural icon, Aunt Jemima that conjures up disdain for many blacks and for others fond memories. Many whites love her fatness, blackness, happy go lucky persona. But as Townes reminded us, Aunt Jemima is a lie! She appears in white women's magazines and emerges as memory. Somewhere in the midst of all of this is where we live our lives Townes reminded us.

"Every morning that I get up is an act of defiance. . . I don't want to participate in this (evil)," she asserted.

Thus, a counter memory to some of the socialization is the belief that you, I, we are children of God. This is what oppressed peoples have to know for themselves. These are our conversations for healing and wholeness. It is through constructing such narratives that we can explain HIV/AIDS using the lens of evil. But historically oppressed peoples everywhere were raised to be children of hope, otherwise, many of us could not get up in the morning. We have to counter the evil fiction with the power of myth and counter the mythology with fiction and vice a versa. The genius of listening to how we do things and how we process information clues us in on what myths we have internalized. Thus, as Townes stated, "knowing the history is as important as knowing the past because the future is dictated by both."

"It is the power of our minds to trump imagination . . . sometimes I sin and sometimes I don't," she offered, pushing us beyond our intellectual and emotional comfort zones with her "conversation starters."

She raised the question, "Why do we keep doing this?"

I pose a counter question - which it?

"I am layering things. I am using fiction writers because they put the world at a tilt. They give me just that angle (to examine things). . .

"If I knew then what I know now I would have picked my own cotton say, Sonia Sanchez.

Townes mentioned structured patterns of oppression which I didn't really understand, among many things. For example, treating our identities as uninterrogated coloredness reflects misbegotten attempts at solidarity. However, the rise of empire in the context of welfare policy reveals patterns, structures and institutions that allow us a look at phenomenon.

Perhaps once we read Townes book we will have some additional insights into her thoughts. Meanwhile, this is Qiyamah A. Rahman, reporting on life as I see, hear and filter it in this one moment of time from this one spot on the planet.

Peace out and Blessed Be!

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