Black Theology and Black Power Analysis
by James H. Cone

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Black Theology and Black Power Analysis

Several times throughout Black Theology and Black Power, Cone examines the invocation of “law and order” by White churches and American society at large when met with civil unrest. By referring to the necessity of “law and order” when Black communities are fighting for their lives, these institutions reveal that they are more invested in maintaining the status quo than protecting the underserved. Cone thinks that “law and order” is nothing more than a racist dog whistle. He writes,

“Law and order” is the sacred incantation of the priests of the old order; and the faithful respond with votes, higher police budgets, and Gestapo legislation. . . . The black man has violated the conditions under which he is permitted to breathe.

By ascribing moral authority to laws that often only serve to hurt and dehumanize the Black community, the law-fearing White church sides with the violent state. Cone claims that this response is anti-Christian: Jesus’s message to the faithful is not about what is politically expedient, after all, and America’s legal system can never grant justice to Black Americans so long as the system itself is founded in racism. Cone writes that the White appeal to “democratic order” is simply a backhanded method of the White hierarchy defending its right to oppress Black people.

It is impossible to ignore the parallels between Cone’s 1969 text and the contemporary Black Lives Matter movement in America, especially when thinking about the use of the phrase “law and order.” When President Donald Trump tweeted “LAW AND ORDER!” on May 31, 2020, in response to riots in Minneapolis over the police murder of George Floyd, he wasn’t just issuing a vague demand of the people. He was participating in a long tradition of White nationalism.

By policing the responses of Black people to yet another hideous act of state violence, the president, the media, and much of White society across the conservative-liberal political divide suggest that acts of “rule-breaking” or civil disruption are more grievous offenses than are the continuous murders of Black people by police. The political climate today is alarmingly similar to the one Cone describes in Black Theology and Black Power. Both overt White supremacists and well-meaning White liberals prioritize the maintenance of the system as it exists, at the expense of Black life, over a total reimagining of our relationships to each other. Today, as in the 1960s, Black radicals and their comrades are agitating for a better world. By the terms that Cone outlines, this is Christ’s work in action.

In his book, Cone regularly touches upon the “riots in the cities,” the various acts of civil unrest that occurred across the country in the late 1960s in response to antiblack racism, state violence, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April 1968. Cone describes the riots as instances of Black Power saying “Yes” to life—to Black humanity—and “No” to those social structures that oppress and dehumanize them. Cone writes,

If the riots are the Black man’s courage to say Yes to himself as a creature of God, and if in affirming self he affirms Yes to the neighbor, then violence may be the black man’s expression, sometimes the only possible expression, of Christian love to the white oppressor.

Essentially, Cone argues that for Black people to express their humanity, by whatever means necessary, is an act of love for themselves and for the Christ in every individual. By recognizing their own humanity, the Black community can address their oppressors as their equals. It is infuriating, though unsurprising, that these same concerns apply to the George Floyd/Black Lives Matter riots of 2020. The phrase “Black Lives...

(The entire section is 928 words.)