A sign of the times, outrage followed the February release of Beyoncé’s “Formation” music video and her performance at the Super Bowl 50 halftime show. Critics claimed both were “anti-police,” pro-Black Panther, and “inciting bad behavior,” presumably against law enforcement. The next week, NBC’s Saturday Night Live released its own critical response to the backlash Queen Bey faced (particularly from the white community) in the form of a farcical movie trailer: “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black.”1 Panic ensues in this mock disaster movie as white people fear that their other favorite stars will also reveal themselves to be black—black, meaning no longer agreeing to assimilate to the dominant white culture.

In the SNL sketch, a white woman in a cubicle drops her earbuds after listening to “Formation” for the first time: “Guys, I don’t understand this new song.” A coworker responds, “Maybe this song isn’t for us.” The woman then replies with the most groan-worthy line of the sketch: “But usually everything is!” SNL, in its signature humorous-yet-poignant fashion, reveals the absurdity (and sad reality) of appropriation in America: we’ll claim Beyoncé as our own only as long as she remains culturally palatable and, therefore, white.2 This sentiment of maybe this isn’t for us drives the central question of this paper: to what extent is black theology, like Beyoncé’s music, for us—us being the white church—and in what ways is taking on black theology yet another way to disingenuously consume or appropriate black culture?

Christianity Is Not Alien to Black Power; It Is Black Power.3

James Cone is considered the father of black liberation theology and one of the definitive voices on black theology and black Christology. His seminal work, Black Theology and Black Power, though nearly fifty years old, continues to speak to the contemporary reality of so-called post-racial America. The racial climate in which Cone was writing—1969, two years after the Detroit race riot and a year after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination—looks similar to the one we live in now. Historian Julian E. Zelizer argues in the Atlantic that the country may be “repeating the mistakes of 1968” in its response to racial tensions and that “the string of racial violence Americans have witnessed in the past three years has brought the nation to a comparable historical inflection point,” which could only be made worse now that we have elected Donald Trump and a Republican congress to lead our nation. Similarly, some are arguing that we’re in a new civil rights era, with the Black Lives Matter movement at its center.4

Writing at the height of the 1960s civil rights era, Cone argues that black power is the foundation for black liberation theology. Cone, borrowing language from Paul Tillich, defines black power as “an attitude, an inward affirmation of the essential worth of blackness. . . . This is Black Power, the power of the black man to say Yes to his own ‘black being.’” This “saying Yes” is an emphatic “No” to the centuries-long dehumanization of black persons under a system of white supremacy. In Buberian terms, Cone writes that black power is the demand to be seen as a “thou” rather than an “it.” Indeed, it’s not difficult to connect Cone’s 1960s definition of black power to our current manifestation of civil rights: that is to say, yes, black lives matter.5

Cone employs a robust Christology to dismantle the “whiteness” (or cultural dominance) of the gospel that has perpetuated systemic racism, particularly in the American church. He argues that “the message of Black Power is the message of Christ himself,” that black theology affirms the cause of black power through the liberating work of Christ, and that Christ takes on the very suffering of his people, thus becoming “symbolically black” as a way to identify with the people who are most oppressed in racist white America.6 Just as the historical Jesus bore the skin of an oppressed people—first-century Jews under Roman occupation—so the Christ of today takes on the skin of today’s oppressed groups: Jesus “is our contemporary, proclaiming release to the captives and rebelling against all who silently accept the structures of injustice.” And in our contemporary culture, the oppressed are the undereducated and malnourished black children, the innocent black men with their hands raised, the incarcerated, and the people of color missing from Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s now infamous selfie or the list of 2015 Oscar nominees.7 The role of the white church is not merely to cease perpetuating these realities but to stand up against them. Cone writes,

If the Church is a continuation of the Incarnation, and if the Church and Christ are where the oppressed are, then Christ and his Church must identify totally with the oppressed to the extent that they too suffer for the same reasons persons are enslaved. . . . It would seem, then, that emancipation could only be realized by Christ and his Church becoming black.8

To Cone that means that white Christians must choose a side. Instead of intellectualizing the problem of race or trying to act as peacekeepers, white Christians must choose the side of the oppressed and take on their suffering.9

Thus, in Cone’s imagination, black power and black theology are not for us to consume or appropriate because we, the white church, are not the oppressed.10 Only incidentally do black power and black theology pertain to white Christians as a way to save us from ourselves. For too long, the structures of white supremacy have made decisions for black bodies—and continue to do so. The only decision we are to make as the white church is whether we participate in the black power movement—will we affirm black persons as human and confess our role as oppressors?—or in our silence or disapproval, continue to oppress.11 Cone argues that it’s only through this liberation of black people that white people can be free from their role as oppressor. But this “good news” is not easy for the white church to take in—remember the hysteria from the SNL sketch. Cone writes, “Since he [the white person] mistakes his enslaving power for life and health he does not easily recognize his own mortal illness or hear the healing word.”12Something—or someone—needs to open the eyes of the white person to his or her complicity in systemic and daily racism.

We See Christ There with His Black Face and Big Black Hands Lounging on a Streetcorner13

Cone argues that the only thing that can save the oppressed and oppressor alike is black power echoed in the liberating gospel of a Christ who is “symbolically black,” identifying and siding with our culture’s oppressed. For Cone, the extent that black theology is for the white church is only in its willingness to participate in the suffering of others, to recognize its own complicity and choose the side of justice. What happens, though, when the “symbolically black” Christ moves past symbolism and emerges as a person? What happens when the white church appropriates this black Jesus, using him for white salvation in the place of black liberation? In what ways is that black Christ for us?

Two years after Cone published Black Theology and Black Power, while the civil rights movement was underway and black persons demanded that their bodies were beautiful, author John Updike published his own commentary on the times.14 Rabbit Redux, a sequel to Updike’s celebrated Rabbit, Run, displays a tableau of American life in the late sixties, framed by the moon landing, sexual revolution, and domestic race tensions. It’s in the midst of this that Updike introduces his own vision of black Jesus in Skeeter, a drug-dealing convict.

The antihero of the story, Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, finds his life interwoven with two unlikely friends—Jill, a white eighteen-year-old hippie, who becomes Rabbit’s lover, and Skeeter, who bunks in Rabbit’s home while on the run from the police. Rabbit himself is part of Nixon’s “silent majority,” a middle class white male, anxious about his country’s future. Like today’s president-elect promising to “Make America Great Again,” Rabbit yearns for the previous decade when the dollar was strong, women were simple homemakers, and race was not a national conversation.15 “So personal for Rabbit is this vision of old America,” writes Updike scholar Marshall Boswell, “that in Rabbit Redux, it becomes a stand-in for Rabbit’s subjective God. In fact, God and America become conflated in Rabbit’s inner theology.” Thus, Rabbit’s imagined role as a good American is that of “America’s own begotten son . . . a defender of the faith.”16 This perception of America, and his role as its defender, is disrupted, however, when Skeeter enters Rabbit’s world. The middle section of Redux revolves around Rabbit’s “education” by Skeeter, who claims himself to be a savior—not America’s begotten son—but the black Christ, whose presence begins to open Rabbit’s eyes to the racist structures in his world. But as much as he is a savior to racist Rabbit, Skeeter is also an antichrist, a savior strictly for the salvation of white lives.

Like in many of his novels, Updike employs a Barthian/Kierkegaardian dialectic in which two paradoxical ideas coexist without synthesis. Thus, in Redux, Skeeter can be both Christ and antichrist without true contradiction. Skeeter names himself the “new black Jesus” while at the same time blaspheming Rabbit’s white “pansy” (American) God: “Hey. Chuck,” Skeeter says to Rabbit. “Ain’t no Jesus. . . . Hey. Wanna know how I know? Wanna know? Hey. I’m the real Jesus. I am the black Jesus, right? There is none other, no.”17 It is this paradox that makes the reader most uncomfortable with Skeeter and Redux as a whole. In creating a black Jesus, Updike does not transcend racist stereotypes but rather lets Skeeter embody many of them. Skeeter is the lazy thug, the noncompliant youth, the sexual aggressor. Yet it’s through this embodiment, ironically, that Skeeter is his most Christlike. By Updike’s casting Christ as a racial stereotype, the gospel of salvation reveals our racism to us, the white church.

One particular scene stands out as representative of Skeeter’s paradox. In their suburban living room, Skeeter instructs Rabbit to read the Life and Times of Frederick Douglass to him, Jill, and Rabbit’s twelve-year-old, Nelson, as part of their black “education.” The vignette Rabbit reads—the rape of Esther, a black slave girl—is juxtaposed with a scene playing out in his own living room. As Rabbit reads, a fight breaks out between Skeeter and Jill, ending with Skeeter grabbing and ripping Jill’s dress off her chest. Rather than reaching out to the hurt Jill, Rabbit orders his son upstairs as a way to protect him. Nelson refuses to leave, and an argument triangulates around Rabbit: Nelson fears that Skeeter in his anger will kill Jill, Skeeter blames Nelson for thinking he “owns this cunt,” and Jill asks Rabbit to intervene. When at last Nelson marches upstairs, Skeeter tells Rabbit to continue reading and speaks a word of love to Jill to soothe her anger. Rabbit continues, thinking it will keep Nelson safe in his room, but behind the pages of the Life and Times, Rabbit spies Skeeter and Jill “wrestling; in gray flashes her underpants, her breasts exposed. Another flash, Rabbit sees, is her smile.”18 When Jill catches Rabbit spying, she runs off, naked with clothes in hand. Updike scholar Jay Prosser calls this scene “a race reversal of black and white,” an echo of the Douglass memoir. Here “Rabbit is designated slave, Skeeter slavemaster, and Jill slave girl—a rape scene Rabbit enjoys watching.”19 In a single moment, the reader is struck by the despicability of both men: Rabbit, the complicit observer, and Skeeter, the sexual aggressor.

In the Redux scene, Skeeter embodies a fear that white men have had regarding black men for centuries—that they rape white women. Cone addresses this in his 2011 book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, naming suspected rape as a primary cause for black male lynchings in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He writes,

Without slavery to control blacks, new means had to be devised, and even a new rationale for control. This was supplied by black men’s imagined insatiable lust for white women. Because of their threat to white womanhood, black men must be carefully watched and violently kept in their place, segregated and subordinated. . . . Even when sexual relations were consensual, “race-mixing,” mockingly called “mongrelization,” was always translated to mean rape, and it was used as the primary justification of lynching.20

Prosser, in his analysis of the scene, assumes the sexual act between Skeeter and Jill is rape, but the smile on Jill’s face plays to the ambiguity and thus to the suspicion that even consensual sex between a black man and woman must be rape. In this scene, Skeeter embodies white racism by becoming the very “black beast rapist” that white men expect him to be.21 This fulfillment of expectations, however, is ultimately what brings salvation to white readers. In being provoked by the racist identity of Skeeter, the reader must confront his or her relationship to this Christ. Does this Christ make us uncomfortable because he’s “unapologetically black” or because he embodies all of our negative stereotypes of black men? And can those two perceptions be teased apart?

Rabbit is faced with these questions as Skeeter plays a continued force in his life. It is in the presence of Skeeter that Rabbit begins—ever so slowly—to recognize his need to be saved: from his racism that is both embodied in and foiled by Skeeter. Prosser writes, “Updike . . . argues that the Skeeter chapter is a 1960s ‘teach-in.’ Rabbit tries to learn. Reading aloud the words of Frederick Douglass, he becomes black, and in a fashion seeks solidarity with Skeeter.” The reader gets a glimpse of this solidarity in Rabbit’s confrontation with neighbors who are angry that a black man is on their premises. Rabbit finds their racism absurd and Skeeter impossible not to defend.22 Likewise, when the police chief assumes Skeeter is responsible for Rabbit’s house fire, which kills Jill by asphyxiation, Rabbit again defends Skeeter’s humanity and suggests that his racist white neighbors are the culprits. Through Skeeter, Rabbit begins to see racism in others and in himself. This is both the miracle and tragedy of Skeeter: the only way he can save Rabbit is by bearing the sin of racism upon his shoulders, a burden placed there by his white creator, Updike.

Is Skeeter the kind of black Christ that Cone imagined as he wrote Black Theology and Black Power? Does being a black Jesus in America mean bearing the sin of white men and women upon one’s shoulders? When Cone writes that black power means black people get to decide, on their terms, what liberation looks like, we see that Updike’s savior is not Christ to black lives at all. To black men and women, Skeeter is all antichrist, saving only white people on their terms. This is what happens, it seems, when the white church claims black Jesus as our own without listening to hear what the real Christ, “with his black face and big black hands,” says to us.23

Skeeter Lives

In the following two sequels, Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest, the memory of Skeeter haunts Rabbit. Although a newspaper clipping cites his death, Skeeter returns as graffiti on the side of a building—“Skeeter Lives”—as an echo of the resurrection. “So there is life after death, of sorts,” Rabbit reflects late in his life, “Skeeter lives.”24 Critics have not offered many explanations as to why Skeeter keeps returning to Rabbit, except to suggest that this haunting serves as a way for Rabbit to bear witness to the role Skeeter played in his life and as a way for Rabbit to continually confront his own sin: his racism and culpability in Jill’s death and the traumatization of his son.

Catholic theologian Christopher Pramuk speaks of the role of haunting in his essay on the white response to black suffering. Pramuk connects the memoria passionis (memory of the passion) to the collective memory of the black community in remembering its suffering: slavery, lynchings, Jim Crow.25 “For African Americans the memory of the dead is largely a memoria passionis,” he writes,and this casts the community of the dead with a distinctive role, a certain kind of presence.” This role, according to Pramuk, is “the stubborn refusal to forget the victims, both before God and before the victors of history,” to bear witness to the unjust deaths, to #SayHerName.26 He writes of “[placing] oneself under the Black cloud of witnesses,” of sitting “at the feet of Black suffering,” as one would sit at the foot of the cross, and admitting and grieving one’s complicity in the continuance of racial injustice.27 In Redux, Rabbit does not fully address his own racism, yet Skeeter’s continual presence in his life suggests that he’s on his way. The resurrected Christ—in this case, Skeeter—has not let Rabbit forget him and the force he played in his life.

In Black Theology and Black Power, Cone writes that “the time has come for white Americans to be silent and listen to black people.”28 It is clear that white Americans, and in particular the white church, have not listened well. We have insisted that our culture be the norm, making it difficult to embrace the blackness of Beyoncé, let alone broader representations of blackness in America. We have insisted that our Christ be white and have used him to justify racism from slavery to the mass incarceration of black men. Maybe what we need is a black Jesus to come and disrupt our perspective, to show us the extent of our sin. Updike’s black Jesus does not quite get us there. He may reveal to us, the white church, our sin, but he does not offer liberation to black lives. Skeeter as Christ functions only to help the white church begin to address its privilege and racism by forcing us to see our racism for what it is. To black lives, Skeeter is pure antichrist—he is a misrepresentation of what it means to be black and is thus no savior at all. It is the black Jesus imagined by Cone who fully functions as Christ to both black and white lives: liberating black persons from oppression and liberating white persons from their role as oppressor.

  1. Niraj Chokshi, “Sheriffs: Beyoncé Is ‘Inciting Bad Behavior’ and Endangering Law Enforcement,” Washington Post, February 18, 2016, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2016/02/18/the-beyonce-backlash-continues-sheriff-cites-super-bowl-show-after-shooting-near-home/. See also Alex Young, “Police Unions across the Country Call for Beyoncé Boycott,” Consequence of Sound, February 20, 2016, http://consequenceofsound.net/2016/02/police-unions-call-for-beyonce-boycott and Lisa Respers France, “Why the Beyoncé Controversy Is Bigger than You Think,” CNN, February 24, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/02/23/entertainment/beyonce-controversy-feat. For the farcical trailer, see “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” YouTube video, 3:24, from a performance televised by NBC on February 13, 2016, posted by “Saturday Night Live,” posted February 14, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ociMBfkDG1w.
  2. SNL signals this by rating the Beyoncé horror flick NC-17 for white people but G for black people.
  3. James Cone, Black Theology and Black Power: 20th Anniversary Edition (San Francisco, CA: Harper & Row, 1989), 38.
  4. For Zelizer’s commentary, see “Is America Repeating the Mistakes of 1968?” Atlantic, July 8, 2016, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2016/07/is-america-repeating-the-mistakes-of-1968/490568. Black Theology and Black Power is said to be written out of Cone’s anger toward the church’s silence, and compliance, in the 1967 race riot (see Kelly Brown Douglas with Delbert Burkett, “The Black Christ,” in The Blackwell Companion to Jesus, ed. Delbert Burkett [Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011], 417). Political analysts, as well as late-night comedians, have drawn connections between themes in Nixon’s 1968 campaign and Trump’s this year. In her episode on the 2016 Republican National Convention, Full Frontal’s Samantha Bee compares the two, noting that both candidates painted a picture of an America in peril, despite the current numbers of violent crimes being down: “Like Trump, Nixon, the candidate, courted old white middle Americans made anxious by civil unrest, a group Nixon would later come up with a snazzy nickname for,” the silent majority. Bee continues, “Oh, Donald, I can think of a lot of things to call your supporters, but silent isn’t one of them” (Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, episode no. 20, first broadcast July 20, 2016 by TBS, directed by Paul Pennolino and written by Samantha Bee). See also Ashley Killough, “Top Aide: Trump Will Channel 1968 Nixon in speech,” CNN, July 18, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/18/politics/donald-trump-richard-nixon-speech. And for additional context concerning the Black Lives Matter movement and the civil rights era, see Paul Rosenberg, “Think Black Lives Matter Is ‘Divisive’? The Civil Rights Movement Split the U.S. Far More,” Salon, July 20, 2016, http://www.salon.com/2016/07/20/think_black_lives_matter_is_divisive_the_civil_rights_movement_split_the_u_s_far_more; Mika Edmondson, “Is Black Lives Matter the New Civil Rights Movement?” Gospel Coalition, June 24, 2016, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/is-black-lives-matter-the-new-civil-rights-movement; and Elizabeth Day, “#BlackLivesMatter: The Birth of a New Civil Rights Movement,” Guardian, June 19, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/19/blacklivesmatter-birth-civil-rights-movement. These writers show that while some right-wing commentators like to differentiate the good movement led by Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s from the current manifestation of civil rights, fifty-year-old Gallup polls show that 60 percent of the public felt that public sit-ins and freedom rides “hurt” a black person’s “cause for racial equality.”
  5. Cone, Black Theology, 8, 7, and 16.
  6. Ibid., 32 and 37. Here Cone borrows from the Latin American liberation theology of Gustavo Gutiérrez, Leonardo Boff, and others. Liberation theology focuses its attention on the liberation of the poor from the wealthy and religious authorities in South and Central America, whereas black theology is primarily concerned with the liberation of black persons from white racial oppression. Both identify liberation as God’s preferential option for the oppressed. The symbolic blackness of Christ is articulated by Douglas with Burkett, “The Black Christ,” 417, who writes that “Christ’s blackness is predicated on Jesus’s identification with the oppressed in his own time and on the fact that in a white racist society black people are the oppressed ones.”
  7. Cone, Black Theology, 38. Though twenty-five years old itself, Jonathan Kozol’s Savage Inequalities (New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 1991) paints a harsh reality of poor school districts across the country—districts with disproportionately high numbers of racial minorities. For reports concerning Ryan and #OscarsSoWhite see Mazin Sidahmed, “Paul Ryan’s ‘White’ Selfie with Interns Shows Lack of Diversity in Washington,” Guardian, July 18, 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/18/paul-ryan-intern-selfie-capitol-hill-diversity; and “Oscar Nominees Discuss Diversity in Hollywood amid the #OscarsSoWhite Backlash,” Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2016, http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/la-et-oscars-so-white-reaction-htmlstory.html.
  8. Cone, Black Theology, 69.
  9. Ibid., 21. Cone writes, “There is no place in this war of liberation for nice white people who want to avoid taking sides and remain friends with both the racists and the [black person]” (67).
  10. Of course, it’s important to note here other forms of oppression, such as sexism. Cone addresses his own blind spot toward sexism in the 1969 edition of Black Theology: “When I read the book today,” he writes in the 1989 edition, “I am embarrassed by its sexist language and patriarchal perspective” (Cone, Black Theology, x). Fighting against racial inequality means recognizing that there are many systems of injustice at play in our culture; however, claiming black theology as my own because of my oppression as a white woman remains an inappropriate response to Cone’s work. A recent and extreme example of appropriation comes from the 2015 outing of Spokane NAACP chairwoman Rachel Dolezal as a white woman who identified as black and for years passed as black, with tanned skin and braided hair. The black community criticized Dolezal for wearing “blackface” and for using her presumed race to her advantage. See Britni Danielle, “Sigh. Why Won’t Rachel Dolezal Go Away? Latest images of self-proclaimed Black Woman Reveal a New Look and a Very Disconcerting Domain Name,” Ebony, May 9, 2016, http://www.ebony.com/news-views/Rachel-dolezal-rasta#axzz4I67OcQ3Y; Kirk Johnson, Richard Pérez-Peña; and John Eligon, “Rachel Dolezal, in Center of Storm, Is Defiant: ‘I Identify as Black,’” New York Times, June 16, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/06/17/us/rachel-dolezal-nbc-today-show.html.
  11. In early American history, white supremacy was characterized by the physical enslavement of African men and women; in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries it was characterized by lynchings, segregated facilities, and involuntary medical experimentation. Today we see white supremacy in the disproportionate number of black bodies incarcerated or killed by police, media whitewashing, and unconscious racial bias affecting the day-to-day lives of persons of color. Huffington Post’s Zeba Blay puts Cone’s argument about silence in contemporary terms in her critique of actor Daniel Radcliffe’s assertion that he can remain friends with racist people while disagreeing with their ideologies: “The problem is the silence. Silence is complicity. That’s something every white person who feels that they are against racism should consider whenever a friend or family member says something racist and they don’t challenge it. If you’re really against racism, if you really cared enough about stopping the spread of racism, how can you be complacent?” (“To Every White ‘Ally’ Who Has Racist Friends,” Huffington Post, August 22, 2016, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/to-every-white-ally-who-has-racist-friends_us_57bb1191e4b03d5136896e9f). In a long critique of the white church, Cone suggests that to be a Christian in a white American church means to acknowledge, and then grieve, the role churches had in promoting “separate but unequal” segregation and the institution of slavery in the South (Black Theology, 62–90).
  12. Cone, Black Theology, 67.
  13. Ibid., 68.
  14. See Stephanie M. H. Camp’s comprehensive history of the “Black Is Beautiful” movement. While “white supremacist beauty ideals were never quite dismantled” in the 1960s and 1970s, Camp writes, “‘Black Is Beautiful’ had made a real difference in the ways that many black people, especially the young, thought about black hair” (Camp, “Black Is Beautiful: An American History,” Journal of Southern History 81, no. 3 [2015]: 687).
  15. Early in the novel, Rabbit’s wife, Janice, and her lover, Charlie Stavros, mock Rabbit for his pro-Nixon politics. Stavros says, “‘Bully for you. You’re what made America great. A real gunslinger.’ ‘He’s silent majority,’ Janice says, ‘but he keeps making noise’” (Updike, Rabbit Redux [New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971], 40). Updike scholar Boswell writes, “[Updike] establishes Rabbit as an exemplar of an America that the sixties have begun to eradicate—that is, a white, middle-class America built on such Depression-era values as hard work, manifest destiny, and trust in the liberal working-class polices of Roosevelt’s Democratic party” (“The Black Jesus: Racism and Redemption in John Updike’s Rabbit Redux,” Contemporary Literature 39, no. 1 [1998]: 105).
  16. Ibid., 106.
  17. Updike, Rabbit Redux, 183.
  18. Ibid., 243 and 244.
  19. Jay Prosser, “Updike, Race, and the Postcolonial Project,” in The Cambridge Companion to John Updike, ed. Stacey Olster (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78.
  20. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2013), 7.
  21. Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 6. Also, note that there are other points in the novel in which Skeeter unambiguously rapes Jill, with Jill begging Rabbit for protection that he never fully gives.
  22. Prosser, “Updike, Race, and the Postcolonial Project,” 79. Prosser writes, “The novel’s solidarity [with Skeeter], occurring when we enter Skeeter’s consciousness and he thinks he cannot make those ‘ofays’ understand, is minimal. But perhaps this indicates the limits of Rabbit’s and whites’ understanding” (ibid.).
  23. Cone, Black Theology, 68.
  24. Updike, Rabbit Is Rich (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 31 and Rabbit at Rest (New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), 562.
  25. Cone writes similarly in The Cross and the Lynching Tree that the blues acted as a way for black Americans in the era of lynch mobs, to resist their dehumanization and fear (Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 12). As Ralph Ellison says, “The blues is an impulse to keep the painful details and episodes of a brutal experience alive in one’s aching consciousness, to finger its jagged grain, and to transcend it, not by the consolation of philosophy but by squeezing from it a near-tragic, near-comic lyricism” (Ellison, “Richard Wright’s Blues,” in Shadow and Act [New York, NY: Quality Paperback Book Club, 1994], 78, quoted in Cone, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, 13). Thus, the blues kept alive both the hope of the black experience as well as the memory of the suffering.
  26. Pramuk, “‘Strange Fruit’: Contemplating the Black Cross in America,” Arts 20, no. 1 (2009): 354. Note that the #SayHerName movement focuses its efforts on antiblack violence against women and girls specifically. The campaign followed the wrongful death of Sandra Bland by the police.
  27. Pramuk, “Strange Fruit,” 358 and 360.
  28. Cone, Black Theology, 21.