A Duke University professor explained the concept of “post racial blues” as a dichotomy between American racism and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle with it during the keynote address for MLK Week. Dr. J. Kameron Carter addressed campus on “Postracial Blues: Notes on Religion and the Twenty-First Century Color Line,” also the University’s theme for MLK Week, in Neely Dining Hall on Wednesday.
“Race is changing. Our engagement with it is changing. One of the new key cultural terms of this transformation is this notion of post racialism, and I am very interested in how this post racialism actually becomes a new form of racism and how theological and religious thought forms are a part of the processes of race.”
Carter examined King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail, written while the Civil Rights leader was incarcerated in April 1963.
“In many ways the Letter from Birmingham Jail is important because it stages the conflict,” Carter said. “The letter is a predicated upon celebrating the founders and founding documents but at the same time trying to purge these programs out of these documents and out of America.”
He categorized Thomas Jefferson as the first postracial figure because he owned hundreds of slaves and believed them to be an inferior race while having a secret relationship with Sally Hemings, his biracial slave with whom he fathered children. The problem with race, Carter explained, is that “it is woven into the fabric of America through a repression and denial of it.” Similarly, the image of King has transformed “from a social piranha to a national icon” and “from public enemy to citizen state” with his memorial statue among the Washington D.C. monuments of the nation’s founding fathers.
“The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and the episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness,” he said, while defining it as “the sounds of musical blackness” including slave hymns, Billie Holiday’s singing of strange fruit and poets who transformed African Americans’ moans into optimism, as with King’s letter.
Carter teaches black church studies and theology at Duke University and is author of Race: A Theological Account.
For more information on Belmont’s remaining MLK Week events, visit at www.belmont.edu/mlk.