How to Write about Ferguson

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Allow me first to correct the punctuation in my title, above:

"How to Write about Ferguson?"

Now you can hear it the way it sounds in my head.

For a week and a half, I've been preoccupied by the Michael Brown tragedy, by the ensuing protests, and by the depressingly and infuriatingly (but not surprisingly) misconceived police response that still grips the city and daily threatens further loss of life. At the same time, I bang out nearly-due revisions to one writing project and draft two more, both also under deadline. At the same time, I prepare my fall upper-level course for waiting learners.

Today, Nyasha Junior, biblical scholar and public speaker, rightly has asked:

The ONScripture piece is a resource for "preaching reflections" on Michael Brown and Ferguson. "#SBL" refers to the Society of Biblical Literature, the flagship professional society for academic biblical studies.

I am primarily an academic, though I do preach occasionally, as an unordained layperson. I teach the literature of ancient Israel, understood as having two interpretive "anchor points": the likely meaning of biblical texts in their ancient Near Eastern social/historical context, and the range of possible meanings such texts may support for us johnny-come-lately readers in our own social/historical contexts. Additionally, my job description asks me to explore digital learning, finding and modeling better practices of online pedagogy.

My habitual mode, then, is less to tell people HOW to interpret biblical texts in light of the murder of an unarmed Black teen by a white law enforcement officer, and more to PREPARE learners to generate such interpretations as they might find liberating, for themselves and for others.

My habitual mode is less to rally faculty colleagues to a particular understanding of the racist and preposterously over-militarized police response in Ferguson, and more to rally them to the possibilities for facilitating online communities of inquiry where they and their learners can be genuinely present to one another in a time of crisis, even if the learners are prevented (usually for economic reasons) from enjoying on-campus residency.

In an upper-level seminar on "Inner-Biblical Allusion: The Old Testament in the New Testament," I may ask learners to write creative, biblically-allusive blog posts on Ferguson, white power, and casual brutality. Persuading faculty colleagues to learn to live-stream lectures & panels, I may appeal to their desire to reach at-risk communities…perhaps including Ferguson. I'm working up notes! But shit takes time. And the revisions, and the drafting, and the fall classes.

For now, I'm a white academic whose relative privilege would allow him to monitor Ferguson passively while sweating out those scholarly revisions and drafts. For whom Ferguson is important but for whom (let's face it) Ferguson need not be treated as urgently as some other things in his life. How can I write about Ferguson now?

Like this, apparently. And by letting people know, here and on my Facebook feed, that I am Tweeting about #Ferguson and (more importantly) Retweeting about #Ferguson, and that they should be too. By letting people know that they can become better informed. That other academics are trying to figure out what we owe our learners now and later in response to Ferguson.

If you are a non-Black biblical scholar, then (aside from preaching), how do you write about Ferguson?