Wells unmasks the logic of white male supremacist redemption politics. What is significant to foreground is that Wells not only unmasks these narratives through investigation and political discourse, but also reframes the terms of who counts as a human in theological language. In the context of white redemptive necropolitics that justified murder, mob violence, and dehumanizing practices against African Americans for—as Henry Adam’s testified—trying “to be free,” Wells understanding re-articulates the humanity of African-Americans over against the anti-humanity of white male supremacy. More particularly, Wells supplies an apocalyptic account of the demonic in her anti-racist anthropology.
Wells’ language is indicative of this radically revised anthropology. In Southern Horrors, Wells responds to a Memphis newspaper that justified the lynching of several black men through appeals to the “black beast” myth—even representing black men generally as the “black scoundrel.” Wells characterizes these representations as the “deviltry of the South.” The lynchings of African Americans evidence the “inhuman and fiendish” practices of white men, and further, a situation “more brutalizing than slavery.” The category of the demonic becomes the theological and rhetorical key in which white male supremacist violence is reinterpreted.
Wells perceives the fundamental stakes to be the contested territory of “the human.” She perceives lynching as the violent practice of maintaining the identification of Man-as-human, disciplining humanity either under the jurisdiction of Man—understood as white male supremacy—or representing it as anti-humanity. She challenges the humanity of white men who lynch, and thereby works towards the abolition of the ...
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...nt of what he calls the religious mood of white southerners that makes use of lynching’s violence to uphold the order and righteousness of society.
For Mathews, further, there remains a connection between this “rite of sacrifice” and a theology of the atonement for whites even if it remains less transparent than could be hoped. Mathews concludes his essay by explicitly showing the power of a theology of the cross for African Americans in response to lynching. He writes, “[i]dentifying with the crucified Savior, African Americans affirmed the moral sublimity of Christ for having lived his life amid persecutions like their own and having—through his life, death, and resurrection—become the redeemer of the world.” Thus, for Mathews, a theology of the cross for blacks and a theology of sacrifice for whites provide an apt focus for interpreting lynching theologically.
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