Broderick Greer is pursuing a Master’s of Divinity at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. After graduating this month, he will take a job as an assistant priest at a church in Memphis. He describes the times ahead as “very exciting.”
I have followed Greer via Twitter for a few years. There, I have observed him discover his voice not only as an emerging preacher, but as a powerful voice in the struggle against white supremacy. I connected with Greer two weeks back about his discovery of this voice, his relationship with faith, and how he avoids letting haters get him down.
When did you begin to publicly speak out against white supremacy?
It was really last summer when Michael Brown died. I read the Ta-Nehisi Coates essay on reparations and it really came home. I thought this is it. This is the thing that’s killing our people. And these people who are killing us are possessed by white supremacy. In the Episcopal Church, we tend to steer away from “demonic” and “devil” language, but I really think that’s probably the most appropriate way of referring to it. In a Christian language, we would call those forces, demonic forces, evil forces and I really believe that white supremacy is an evil force that possesses people. This is a spirit that exists in the world and possesses people and makes them do terrible things. In some ways, it takes the blame off individuals and puts it on a system, but still the individuals are accountable because they are acting on behalf of the system. It helps stop me from making it too personal. I don’t see a white person and think “Oh my Gosh, they are possessed by a demon.” But they can act that way if so moved.
And benefit from it’s existence. I am very well intended and try to do what I can for this fight, but I remain a beneficiary of the existence of white supremacy.
Absolutely. I know a lot of neoliberals set on talking about about “white privilege” but that doesn’t quite get to the insidiousness of it. Privilege sounds nice. It’s like, “Yeah, I have a privilege and that lets me go to college.” It sounds like, “I’m more advanced as a white person, and so I got this.” Or I get to vacation every Summer or whatever. It makes it sound nice and cozy and romantic. When I am referring to white supremacy, I am talking about the under-girding ideology that is not just advantageous to white people for social mobility and security, but it is also the thing that is actively killing and eliminating black and brown bodies every 21 hours. And it keeps us in what Michelle Alexander calls this “permanent undercaste.” There is no social mobility. I am trying to be very clear about what we’re referring to. White neoliberal terminology is not specific enough about these terms. Those terms have not liberated us from this constant cycle of death, degradation and dehumanization.
I was really moved by watching the video of Eric Garner in which he says, “This stops today.” He wasn’t this docile, submissive dispassionate black person they could push around. That’s why he was killed. That’s the fear of white supremacy. Black people will resist because black people always have. Black people have never simply gone along and accepted their lot as a permanent undercaste in this country. They have always rebelled.
I was reading The Half Has Never Been Told by Edward Baptist and he talks about the slave patrols, which ended up beheading men who rebelled against enslavers and putting their heads on wooden posts all along the Mississippi River so that when slaves were on ships or working on the labor camps, they would be reminded that if they resisted, that would be their fate. When Michael Brown’s body was laying on that pavement for 4 hours, they were doing that same thing. If you resist us—if you talk back to us—we will kill you and we will leave you here and let you fry in the sun. We will let your people watch your limp, lifeless body lie there. The date has changed but the tactics have not.
This stops today. If you’re silent about this, you are just as guilty as the servants of white supremacy.
When this generation is discussed in popular media, those discussions are very typically about Millennials in technology, or Millennials and the housing market, or something along these lines. In the journalistic narrative about this generation, there is rarely an acknowledgement of issues that aren’t focused on the experience of the bourgeois or upper class.
That’s capitalism and consumption. If think I need to buy a new computer, Apple will tell me that I need to do that. Clinique will tell me that without great skin, no one will have sex with me. The heroes of this white, hetero-patriarchal capitalist narrative are Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of SnapChat, BuzzFeed types, Tyler Oakley… Though Oakley represents more of the homo-patriarchal structure—but they are elevated and received this mantle of leadership and competence from Bill Gates and Bono and all of these other people who represented that for Gen X and Boomers because we need to buy their products, consume their videos, drive their cars. With this media complex—this capitalist complex—that literally sucks our souls out of our bodies, we are constantly resisting that and saying, “I am not defined by what I buy or what I have.” I am defined by my relationships and the people that I am in community with. We are resisting that in very real ways by constantly struggling liberation for all people.
You’re black, Christian, and gay, all of which are arenas in which if you’re not “doing it right” according to different communities, you’re not being “real.”
How do you deal with that?
For the longest time, I did not deal with it. I definitely never said anything about being gay and I never said anything about being black and so as long as my identity could be erased and lumped in with this broader white heterosexism and heteronormativity, then I was fine and quote safe. As soon as I began to realize that I was not any of those things, it quickly became a very unsafe space for me. I never went into panic mode, but I had to figure out what I was going to do. I knew that I still believed in God and that I still believed in Jesus Christ and I still believed in the potential of the church to be a community of healing and transformation, but I knew that I couldn’t stay in the conservative branch that I was in. I kind of stumbled into the Episcopal Church and found it to really be a space of healing for me. I was very broken at the time, very confused—not that I am not anymore, but I was more so then.
And so basically how I cope with these very controlling, vindictive, dictatorial religious leaders is I laugh at these people. They think that they are God. They actually do. The funniest part is that I know that—other oppressed people know that—but they don’t. So much of Jesus’ life was spent ridiculing religious leaders. It is so funny that religious leaders use Jesus to elevate and block themselves off from criticism, but he spent his whole life laughing at the religious establishment and saying that I have come to establish something new and different that is not centered in the religious and political center of Israel. And so I find great solidarity with Jesus in saying that these people take themselves so seriously… You know, I had been condemned to Hell by the age of 19 by at least two churches. Those people don’t have my back. They don’t love me. They are white supremacists. They are heterosexist. They have created a dungeon and a cage of religious imprisonment for themselves and the reason that they hate me is that I don’t live in that cage with them and they can’t tell me what to do.
How do you stop yourself from conflating the shady practices of shady churches with your religious practice and belief?
They aren’t the church. They are a part of it, but they aren’t the whole church. I have found a segment of the church where I can live out my baptism in good conscience that has nothing to do with that other part that I came from. It’s like you don’t have a bad experience in one country and then respond by leaving Earth. You can find another country to live in, hopefully. I can’t write off the whole planet because of one territory.
What has it been like to find your voice in public?
It is wonderful. I receive nice messages every day. I just released a manuscript of a talk I gave at William and Mary and had overwhelmingly positive response. The dark side of that, of course, are the people who say that I am pushing division because I am talking about race. “You’re racist.” It is really funny how people really try to pit classes of black people against each other. I think a lot of people assume that I am middle or upper class based on pictures they see on social media. So they say things like, “What does a college educated person who is about to receive an advanced degree have to say to black people? What is your street cred for talking about these issues?” Of course this is all white people who are saying this. And I’ve gotten messages from Episcopal priests who say I am emphasizing division. Those people can go away. I really just don’t care what anyone thinks. The people whose opinions who I care about are my Mom, my Dad, and my aunt and uncle. That’s my community of origin, meaning and purpose.
When people are very critical of me being black or gay or speaking out about white supremacy, what they’re doing is they’re trying to push an identity on me that is actually not me. Since I know who I am, I am not listening to those voices. They are wasting their time.
Not listening and not hearing can be two different things. You can go out of your way to not listen, but sometimes you can’t help but to hear—especially the more critical voices.
Oh I end up hearing a lot of it. The one thing I hear that gets me is “that happened a long time ago.” No it didn’t. Chronologically, it did not. Experientially and traumatically, it did not. We know that trauma can be genetic. I always wondered “Why do black people have higher blood pressure, more cases of diabetes, Sickle Cell and all of that?” Our people were out in the cotton and tobacco fields for 200 years. We inherited all of this shit from them. White constructs of time insulate us from seeing heritage as something physical as well as sociological or economic.
I know who I am at my core. I have voices that I listen closely to. I listen closely to God’s voice, which is always one of compassion and mercy. I listen to my parents, who reflect that voice, and my friends who reflect that voice. Sometimes I do hear and listen to those other voices, but it is to my own detriment. Would I rather be a whole person, and be mentally, emotionally, and spiritually whole, or do I want to be this fragmented, angsty, anxious, panicky person who can never know who he is or know why he is on earth? In the words of Sweet Brown, Ain’t nobody got time for that.