Contradiction is a film by Jeremiah Camara about:
“examining the paradox of Black neighborhoods saturated with churches in the midst of poverty, deprivation and despondency. Camara seeks to find if there is a correlation between high-praise and low-productivity.”
There has been a fair amount of anticipation and praise for this film in the atheist community. Contradiction hasn’t made it to a theatre near me yet but given a number of the views he has expressed via his “Slave Sermons”, various appearances, and a few of the guests that appear in the film, I am less than enthusiastic.
I first became aware of Jeremiah Camara around the same time that I was introduced, so to speak, to Blackson Bau in the forums of the then fledgling black atheist community of Facebook. Some of you may know Blackson as the founder of the Black Atheists of Atlanta, a tofu-dashikiist group and the main subject of my blog entitled “Silly Arguments: The Law of Reproduction”. Despite the popularity of Camara’s “Slave Sermons” both then and now I always had serious reservations about his work and his connection/ friendship with Blackson. There were at one time several videos where Blackson and Camara either appeared together or that their friendship was mentioned. As of 12/31/2013, only one of those videos seems to be available to the public, it is titled “Breaking the Peace” in which the hosts of the Black Atheists of Atlanta program express frustration that some groups are willing to work with Camara and not them despite their friendship with him and the similarity of their ideas.
The genius of Jeremiah Camara, as a propagandist, if it could be called that, is the relative ease with which he is able to beguile the white atheist “we are all Africans” crowd and tofu-dashikiists audiences at the same time. He simultaneously uses aspects of black nationalist language to absolve privileged white atheists of their responsibility to fight various forms of social oppression and convince his black non-believing audiences that merely increasing critical thinking and eschewing religious thought will upend the correlation between “high praise and low productivity”. He is also able to appeal to the to the intellectual snobbery of these two otherwise disparate groups. The Five Percenter’s (also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths), for example, like many other tofu-dashikiists or members of the so-called conscious community, claim that 85% of people are asleep , 10% control the world, and that they, the remaining 5% are the only ones that know what is going on. Similarly there are atheists apt to write off any and all religious believers even those that accept scientific evidence and aren’t prone to narrow, literal, or hateful interpretations of their faith. Two notable tofu-dashikiists appear in the film, Contradiction, Dr. Ray Hagins and Keidi Awadu right alongside popular personalities in the secular community. Dr. Hagins is a known homophobe and promotes various types of conspiracy theories. Hagins also wrote the forward to Camara’s book “Holy Lockdown: Does The Church Limit Black Progress?”. Keidi Awadu, on the other hand, though not as widely known, is a “Holistic Nutritionist” (nutritionists are not required to be licensed dietician is the legally protected term) and HIV/AIDS denialist, who regularly promotes various types of anti-scientific misinformation.
sermon speech to the audience of the Blackout Secular Rally, he actually assures the white people in the audience that “…we’re [the black atheists present, I presume] not asking for equality… we know that is is on us [black people]” (@10:00) and referred to the word racism as ” a cute word for staying on top of the food chain” (@23:32). He also says that you cannot “legislate how someone feels about you” and tells those present to “go invent something”. But those who know anything about black history can tell you that despite black ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and enterprise blacks we were the victims of ongoing violence and were continually discriminated against. And what we fought (and continuing fighting) for was legislation protecting the civil and human rights to which we were already entitled. So perhaps that is why his analysis is void of discussions of structural inequality, as Camara compares churches to black holes sucking up black wealth. Neither Camara nor his work delve into the economic policies and housing crisis as the primary cause of the ongoing decimation of black wealth. Prince George’s County Maryland is an example of the effect these policies have had on a community once known as a “center of black affluence”. But there is no room in Camara’s work for that. Instead, Camara offers the black community exhortations to essentially pull ourselves up by our bootstraps by eschewing religious dogma for a secular dogma that proposes that logic and freethinking are all that is needed to improve society. Unfortunately, much of the secular community is loathe to deal with its own blind spots with respect to race, sex, gender, class, and other socioeconomic divides. Camara has similar blind spots.
In “Slave Sermons”, Camara elucidates what he sees as the problems with the black church. And problems are all he sees. But this viewer sees Camara’s treatment as much more problematic than his subject. His clips look like minstrel shows focused on the most bizarre, the most embarrassing, full of one dimensional caricatures of the black religious experience. His analysis is almost always lacking in terms of of sociological, anthropological, historical, and political context. Blaming what he sees as lack of logical thought in the black community on the bible and religious influence and not on failing schools and lack of opportunity. He often connects religiosity to servile attitudes and complacency without acknowledging the influence of radical humanist religious thought and theology such as black liberation theology.
In one of his videos entitled “Obama with Easter Bunny! : Still in Chains” (don’t ask me why, many of his titles in his series are incomprehensible to me) he prefaces a video of Russell Simmons making a statement about anti-Semitism (@ 1:56) being a form of racism with:
“House negroes defend their masters over themselves.” (@ 1:52)
Though, I cannot stand that when most people use the term anti-Semitism that they almost always are referring exclusively to anti-Jewish hatred and ignore anti-Semitism aimed at people of Arab descent, I don’t understand how speaking against it makes one a house negro. Unfortunately, antisemitism particularly in tofu-dashikiist circles is very common and though, there are some legitimate issues that the black community has with certain people or groups of Jewish people, antisemitism is not justified. I’m not sure how participating in a PSA for the Foundation For Ethnic Understanding makes Jay-z or Russell Simmons “house negroes” but perhaps that is something for Camara (or maybe Dusty) to clarify.
In another video Camara conflates homosexuality, transgenderism/transsexuality, cross-dressing, and sagging in a video that addresses a popular conspiracy theory in the black community that Hollywood (The Illuminati, “The Man”, etc) is trying to make black men more effeminate through portrayals of black men in dresses. The video is entitled “Black Men Actors In Dresses! “We Men… Aint We?” the description reads “Jeremiah Camara examines the effeminization of the Black man in Hollywood.”The video features clips from “Glory”, “Six Degrees of Separation”, “Big Momma’s House”, “Pulp Fiction”, “The Fifth Element”, “Holiday Heart”, “Juwanna Mann”, “To Wong Foo…”, “The Jamie Foxx Show”, etc.
The choice of clips makes it clear that the author of the video is not just concerned with whether black men appear in dresses but whether they engage in a specific type of cisgendered heterosexual masculine performance. This is clear from his blogs and from his choice of the acronym, S.H.A.F.T. (secular, humanist, agnostic/atheist, freethinker) and fictional character John Shaft to represent his views on faith.
Homophobia is very common in tofu-dashikiist circles and is not uncommon in the secular community (or society at large for that matter). But in tofu-dashikiist circles it is often rooted in conspiratorial fears of eugenics and population control and in patriarchal beliefs that equate black male (cis-het) leadership and empowerment with overall black liberation. One of the things that, Dave Chappelle (a clip of his interview with Oprah is featured in the video), and those who believe in this conspiracy theory miss is that cross dressing isn’t just written into parts played by black actors and unfortunately it is a cheap and easy gag. Numerous white actors have played roles where they have worn dresses including Will Farrell, Robin Williams, Tony Curtis, Jack Lemon, Adam Sandler, the Monty Python acting troupe, Jim Carey, etc. But there are many other actors black and non-black who have had successful careers without dressing as women. The most important thing that the proponents of this monumentally stupid conspiracy theory miss however, is that more often than not it is actually black women who are actually being made fun of. Such is the case with the popular character Madea, who in representing the undesirability of “mammy” also embodies the “angry” or “sassy” black woman stereotype. Madea is not a fully realized character but embodies some of the most harmful stereotypes surrounding black women along with Martin Lawrence’s character Shanaynay and several of the other characters depicted in the video.
Camara also shared his homophobic views during an appearance on the internet podcast WAR ON THE HORIZON, hosted by the Ayo Kimathi, A.K.A. “Irritated Genie“, who you may have heard was fired from his job at the Department of Homeland Security when he was found to be promoting “race war” and genocide. On the program, Camara was asked about the relationship between the mega church and church attendance and the “explosion of homosexuality” in the black community*. Before I get into Camara’s response, Irritated Genie is known particularly for his homophobic views and the way he terms “sexual deviancy” (including homosexuality), sexual violence, pedophilia, etc as “white sex” . Homosexuality in the mind of Genie and other tofu-dashikiists violates nature and therefore must have been learned from white people, beginning with the Greeks. So given his obsession, it is no surprise why Genie opens the show with the question about homosexuality. Camara responds:
“Well I do see that there is a correlation there…there is a deeper issue at hand…why so many men of god are accused of sexual crimes. In the black church, homosexuality is not a new phenomena it is just more out in the open nowadays. Gay black men are amongst the most demonstrative in their display of love for Jesus and among the most dedicated members of the church…”
Genie then asks him for more details on how the black church pushes for the effeminization of black men. Camara points to soft music played in a minor key and the safe non-threatening environment. He also calls “seeking comfort from the storm”, “anti-heterosexual”.
Camara also refers to his blog where further expresses his homophobia as he discusses the church as an anti-male space filled with flowers and long flowing choir robes among other things. Jeremiah Camara makes clear in his blog that he feels that churches are effeminizing black men and by implication what his beliefs are about via his use of the language of gender essentialism . Here is an excerpt:
“Upon a closer examination of the Black church, it is easy to see why it is appealing to women and gay men. There are usually displays of beautiful floral arrangements near the pulpit, soft music is mainly played in minor keys, the choir is draped in long, flowing gowns, the pastor is typically a well-dressed man which attracts women and homosexuals, and the overall atmosphere exudes a safe, non-threatening, secure environment.
The church’s appeal to women and homosexuals is understood best, however, when considering the trauma that Black people experienced during their American enslavement period. Faith and hope in the prospect of one day obtaining peace were necessary defense mechanisms and Blacks were conditioned to be afraid. There was the constant fear of being beaten, getting caught trying to escape or family members being sold. These experiences, over time, have caused Blacks to develop a spirit of apprehensiveness. We witness this spirit playing out in our inclinations to seek comfort, security, protection and “shelter from the storms of life.” We have been trained to be afraid. These experiences have also created the perfect storm for religiousness which requires submissiveness, subservience and calls for someone else (Jesus) to get behind the wheel of our lives and do the driving.
Black men, heavily involved in the church and possessing a great love for Jesus are subjecting themselves to an effeminizing element of society. Jesus is often presented as a tender, sweet man in a long robe who’s forgiving and all inclusive. Ultimately, the underlying message in the Black church is to “lean on the everlasting arms of Jesus.” As a heterosexual man, it is challenging to commit to the idea of placing oneself in the arms of another man; even if that man is a perceived savior. Sometimes a man must go into the eye of the storm to solve his problems. Encouraging Black men to lay their burdens in the lap of Jesus has offered Black men an escape from the reality of their situations. Seeking comfort, shelter and protection from a mythological figure should be seen as a “turnoff” for strong men with lofty aspirations…”
“Bishop Eddie L. Long is wrong; not just because he may be found guilty of sexual abuse but because he—like so many other mega church preachers—is helping to create a feminine environment for Black men. Not all Jesus-loving men who attend church regularly and love Jesus are homosexuals, but an atmosphere where men continuously seek Jesus’ love and shelter, certainly has the potential to effeminize the strongest of brothers.”
No. You did not read that wrong. Camara believes that a conversation about the effeminizing influence of the church is more important than a discussion of sexual violence in the black community and the shaming, denial, and complicity that goes on within many of our institutions. It is interesting to me that he considers that Church to be an anti-male environment despite the fact that the black church is and always has been extremely patriarchal in it’s structure, with males occupying the majority of church leadership positions including the most visible one of church pastor. The church also reinforces patriarchy and sexism in the demands it makes of women’s dress, behavior, and the roles they are allowed to play in the church (primarily service or child care).
To this humanist, there seems to be a number of huge contradictions in Camara’s work, but maybe that is because I don’t identify with Camara’s S.H.A.F.T. brand of secular, humanist, atheist/agnostic, freethinking that promotes homophobia and wholesale attacks on the church. The church which is the only institution in many black communities that addresses any of the needs caused by or exacerbated by structural inequality and discrimination. So given the problematic nature of Jeremiah Camara’s work I hope that some of my friends in the secular community will forgive me for not sharing in their enthusiasm and anticipation of Camara’s film. To be critical of the church is one thing, to lay the problems of the black community on it’s doorstep is another. But the way in which Camara’s rhetoric negates the impact of structural inequality is reminiscent of Booker T. Washington who emphasized gradualism and economic independence over political action. Washington once said, “In all things purely social we can be as separate as the fingers, yet one hand in all things essential to human progress.” Washington and Camara have similar gifts in assuaging the fear and or apprehension that some white people feel towards social justice advocacy and in engaging in the language of racial uplift. Though, personally, I have always been more partial to Dubois myself.
*I don’t know about you but I kind of wonder what an “explosion of homosexuality” might look like. LOL
FYI: As of 12/31/2013 all of the links I have provided in the article above are available. If you are unable to find the websites or videos that I have linked in this article, please try searching The Way Back Machine.