By Christopher Pramuk, Xavier University.
Ten years ago, I published a major article in Theological Studies entitled “`Strange Fruit’: Black Suffering / White Revelation.” It was for me an important attempt to wrestle with the long history and present reality of racial injustice in society and church, and to do so explicitly from my vantage point as a White Christian and Catholic theologian.
To the best of my knowledge, the article was also one of the first sustained theological studies to link the history of lynching — exemplified in Billie Holiday’s searing protest song “Strange Fruit” — directly with the crucifixion of Christ and its revelatory theological dimensions. (A linkage that James Cone explores in his 2011 book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree.)
Just five days ago, yet another unarmed Black man, Mr. Terence Crutcher, age 40, was shot dead by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It seems to me a fitting moment to revisit the essay and share it with others as widely as possible who might find it helpful — the link is below.
The essay is by no means perfect — for example, it does not address the crucial and controversial question of reparations. (On that subject, see my blog post, “The Case for Reparations.”) Nor is it my last word on the topic, as readers of this blog and my book, Hope Sings, So Beautiful, know. Nevertheless, the fundamental questions I raised in the article ten years ago seem to me more cogent than ever.
Can White American Christians reconcile their own histories and, indeed, their faith in the Gospel, with their eyes fully open on this “strange and bitter crop”? What is revelatory, in the fullest mystical and prophetic sense of that term, about the history of Black suffering under the boot of White supremacy? In Catholic terms, what would it mean for White Christians to live in communion with this particular “cloud of witnesses,” the unreconciled dead, human beings like Terence Crutcher, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner? Will a day ever come, as the article concludes, “when people see you from the inside”?
A last point. While (too) much of my work is done in solitude, this essay is typical in the sense that it represents the convergence of many streams of thought not my own: the insights of artists, writers, church teachings, poets, and theologians from whom I have learned a great deal, and upon whom my own creative thinking, praying, and writing depends.
Thus I “re-publish” the essay here as a gesture of thanks and of support especially to all those younger colleagues, artists, activists, and theologians who have dedicated a significant portion of their work, time, and talent to confronting what W. E. B. Du Bois, well over a hundred years ago, famously called “the problem of the color line.”
May your work and mine be fruitful and guided by the Spirit of love and generosity, justice and peace. And may the dead rest in some kind of peace, until the living get their shit together.
As ever, I welcome your comments below.
Christopher Pramuk, “Strange Fruit: Black Suffering / White Revelation,” Theological Studies 67 (2006): 345-77.
Christopher Pramuk is the editor of our blog partner, HopeSingsSoBeautiful.org, where this blog originally appeared.