- Black Scholarship Matters
Frank Leon Roberts’s website (BlackLivesMatterSyllabus.com) is brilliant in recognizing and promoting the connection between what one does in the academy and as an activist. Academic scholarship does not require neutrality. As Howard Zinn explains, academic “objectivity” does not mean that one should not “have strong opinions on which ideas are right and which are wrong,” but only that one will be “fair to opposing ideas by accurately representing them.”1
As the Black Lives Matter movement confronts society with the question, “Whose lives count as lives?” I find myself asking, “Whose scholarship counts as scholarship in my guild?”
Just as the African American civil rights movement in the 1960s helped open and pave the way for other racial/ethnic “minoritized” groups to fight for equal access to legal rights and protections, Stony the Road We Trod,2 which I read as a doctoral student in the early 1990s, helped me consider if and how my specific location as a first-generation male immigrant from Asia could or would impact my practice of biblical interpretation. Cain Hope Felder’s “Introduction” provided for me insights into the racialized dynamics of the US academy and words to express my own feelings. He talked about the structural factors (both economic and political) that kept most African Americans from pursuing higher education, the pervasive and inveterate whiteness of graduate programs in biblical studies, as well as black biblical scholars’ experiences of isolation and pressure to assimilate.3
I read and reread that anthology in those early years. Womanist readings therein exposed me to intersectional analysis with their focus on both race and [End Page 237] gender.4 I was especially intrigued by and indebted to the essay by Renita Weems, because it also emphasizes literary and interdisciplinary readings of the Bible by referring to the work of feminist literary critics in “linguistics, psychology, sociology, and philosophy.”5 Weems’s essay also points to the need for biblical scholarship to be methodologically rigorous, even or especially when reading processes “are both empirical and intuitive, rational and transrational, recoverable and unrecoverable.”6 A sentence in her essay remains important to me today: “Texts are read not only within contexts; a text’s meaning is also dependent upon the pretext(s) of its readers.”7 Largely because of this anthology, I decided to make “identity politics” one of my comprehensive examination topics and started dipping my feet in African American studies and Asian American studies and learning from the writings of Barbara Christian, Henry Louis Gates, Patricia Hill Collins, Elaine Kim, Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, and Cheung King-kok. Though I was not ready to dive into anything that might be called Asian American biblical interpretation on my own for my doctoral dissertation,8 I did enough to sense that a group project similar to that of Stony the Road could be both desirable and feasible. Since (1) many among the already low number of Asian American biblical scholars at the end of the twentieth century were trained, as Felder pointed out, by white scholars in white institutions; and (2) I was just beginning my teaching career at the time and had little to no knowledge of how to organize or fund a gathering of scholars as the black colleagues did for Stony the Road, I decided to go beyond the biblical studies guild to see if and how scholars more familiar with Asian American studies might read the Bible. This resulted in a special double issue in the journal Semeia, entitled The Bible in Asian America.9 [End Page 238]
While this Semeia volume would have been inconceivable to me without the example and inspiration provided by Stony the Road, its publication in 2002 was actually preceded by another important publication of black biblical scholarship: the encyclopedic African Americans and the Bible.10 Despite differences not only in scope but also in direction (to which I will return in a moment), both of these volumes were intentional in involving scholars outside the biblical studies guild to talk about the Bible. In view of the temporal proximity of these two publications, a day-long symposium brought together a panel...