Theses Master's

The Meaning of White Flesh: Personhood, Solidarity and Evil as White-Embodied-Being

Van Dyne, Benjamin

This paper wrestles with the theological implications of the way that violence makes itself present in white bodies. It is an effort to confront with the meaning of a present reality – the way in which bodies are racially marked – that has roots in particular lived experiences of the past, which live on in the form of triggering, hauntings and trauma. This paper argues that the rejection of body–spirit/soul/psyche/mind dualism and person–world dualism, grounded in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and expressed in the Shawn Copeland’s non-dualistic category of “black-embodied-being-in-the-world,” makes it necessary to understand white embodiment through a parallel category of “white-embodied-being-in-the-world,” instead of other terms (such as “whiteness”) often used to characterize the “problem of white people.” This paper suggests an ethical response by white-embodied-being-in-the-world rooted in the particularity of white persons’ implication in incidents of subjugation. Noting that some of those subjugations involve harm from white bodies simply by virtue of their presence, and following Ivone Gebara’s understanding of evil as being present “in the daily run of what is harmful to actual persons,” this essay concludes that the white body presents a problem of evil, a problem of theodicy, and that any possible white solidarity must proceed from a candid assessment of that fact. Considering several responses to this circumstance, I examine three responses: Jennifer Harvey’s response rooted in the commands of Jesus, a dialectical response modeled on Irving Greenberg’s response to the Holocaust, and an erotic response derived from Copeland and Audre Lorde. Weighing the strengths and weaknesses of each, I tentatively propose an erotic, dialectical solidarity as ethical response from white-embodied-being-in-the-world.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Union Theological Seminary
M.Div., Union Theological Seminary
Published Here
April 19, 2017