Jé R. Hooper and Rev. Dr. David Breeden will be presenting together at the American Humanist Association’s 79th Annual Conference, “Distant but Together: A Virtual Celebration of Humanism” on August 8, 2020.
Their discussion will examine the European roots of what is traditionally considered humanism in the United States and explore how humanism may both embrace the universalist impulse of the European roots of the movement and move beyond those roots to embrace a multiplicity of cultures.
Jé R. Hooper is the founder of FrequencyHouse Productions, a PhD interdisciplinary arts candidate at Ohio University and an Ethical Culture clergy-leader with the American Ethical Union. They are best known for their works entitled, “Moving Upon the Face of the Deep” featuring Dr. Cornel West, “The Black Sacred Communion,” and a collaboration with their life partner, storäe michele, entitled, [the listening heart]. Their recent film production, Humanitas: A Conscious Coloring of Kindness, about an imagined encounter between W. E. B. Du Bois and Felix Adler, was sponsored and funded by American Ethical Union’s Mossler Fellowship.
I had the opportunity to speak with Jé R. Hooper about their talk with David Breeden and what they hope virtual conference attendees will take away from their presentation.
Meredith Thompson: How would you describe the European foundations of humanism?
Jé Hooper: The shaping of the European foundation as I have studied and experienced it is deeply couched in conquest, contracts, and co-optings. Yes, I could observe the conversation within the means of power structure as eloquently described by Dr. Breeden. Nonetheless, to add to his brilliance, I would further see the roots or mythmaking strategy of European humanist philosophy.
The practice of conquest, for example, has been in existence and in circulation for centuries. It is rooted in the myth of scarcity, a cultural gluttony that seeks to disenfranchise by controlling resources, people, and culture. I remember when my undergraduate art history professor brushed over intersections of Mediterranean artifacts of Greeks and immediately segued into Roman replicas. He continued to do the same with Egypt, re-enforcing Elizabeth Taylor styles for Cleopatra and Alexander the Great. Anything Black, Brown, or Beige was improved upon or made better because of Eurocentric dominant narrative and centralization. Even if it entailed passive explanation of abuse, militarization, and forceful infringement on intellectual property—down to ancient theological paradigms of Jupiter superseding Zeus. Its operation of conquest is in the myth of scarcity.
Contract is another formation of humanist philosophy. If it is written, then it is absolute or valid. Contract within the framework of documentation suggests existence. Thus, if we examine the historical effects regarding the doctrine of discovery, it is the very violence-contractual concept that justified religious, political, and legal seizing of land from original people. It had such a profound effect, Supreme Court Justice John Marshall federally endorsed its ideology to safeguard the United States of America’s imperialism. And we as humanists struggled to the call of inclusive dialogue because the European process of knowing and believing had been in a contractual violence that was central their existence. But how can anyone discover a place where people already lived, moved, and bared their being?
Furthermore, the co-optings! The co-optings can be seen and observed in what I mentioned previously. Still, co-optings (especially in European humanism) can be as subtle as Descartes’s famous philosophical quote: “I think; therefore I am” in comparison to a biblical text: “So as a [person] thinks, so [are they].” They are the same brilliance, nonetheless we will privilege one form of wisdom over another. Clearly, Ancient Near Eastern thoughts were written much earlier than Descartes, but humanism would avoid such shared wisdom to “make a point” instead of honoring that wisdom as another “point of view.” Here, I am only stating that humanistic co-opting is ignoring, or worse rejecting, cultural pluralism of shared knowing, living, and doing.
Humanism must acknowledge that it has participated and is infiltrated with this developmental practice. It seeks to use a one-story narrative, steeped in Eurocentricism always seeking to maintain its hegemony in the cultural dialogue.
Thompson: What effect has colonialism had on humanism in the US?
Hooper: When I approach colonialism, I again emphasize its “rootworking power” as the cultural power to control and occupy time and space. Colonialism in America is made of four C’s:
Christianization: Christian religious occupancy and centralization, where one is expected to have religious literacy about the Judeo-Christian tradition. In addition, a religion outside of Christianity must privilege the Christian authority and oblige to its power as an initiator of its religious existence and its right to practice its belief.
Corporatization: Economic regulations of time and space with a high-demand on product and productivity. To be honored as fully human requires being productive. Yes, a citizen must be an asset to culture and/or exemplify “potentiality” that will lead to worth and wealth at the expense of existence.
Collegiatization: This is what I call cultural education or indoctrination of cultural assimilatory practices. This is a culture certification of conforming, integrating, and/or erasing one’s being for cultural acceptance and appeasement. It is a credential to control one’s knowing, being, and doing based on “power that might be.”
Capitalization: World occupancy! An attention-getting platform that shows itself as central, powerful, and culturally dominant. Example: how America was always front and center in a world map. It’s establishment of focus, entitlement, and presumptuous self-declaration requiring cultural components and not cultural humility.
Humanism, unfortunately, can’t avoid much of this without moving away from Enlightenment ideas or full trust in modern science. Honestly, some if not all of humanism is entangled and/or participates in these four practices. It’s a process so embedded and so engrained it’s a mentality of colonialism; we all suffer from a complex called “coloniality.” Sadly, the eras of Enlightenment and modern science are tainted with such things that our movement struggles to be steadfast in its own presence. Anyone or anything different is faced with the same pushback humanism has received. Thus, there is “metacommunication” amongst our movement causing us to be classified as religio-philosophy talking to itself and other’s like us.
Humanism is a religio-philosophy that promotes growth and human development. However, this growth is affected by an ostracism in which some moment of disconnection, misanthropy, and self-imposed social distancing are in correlation to its own trauma. Look, I get it!! Hurt people hurt people and we have to practice new methods or ways out of the so-called pain from which we come. But we must remember: that shows up against those who seek to find a home within humanism, most likely QIPOC, who come with experiential intelligence and bodily knowing that won’t always be justified by books and research.
Thompson: What are some things humanism inherited from its European foundations that you’d like to see improved? What would you like to see emphasized?
Hooper: Whether philosophical or religious, I have always considered humanism to be a white-flight religio-philosophy. Through American theological liberalism, there has been a gradual shift to move further and further away from a theistic framework. Of course, no matter what tradition—Judaism or Christianity—people have transitioned from some kind of orthodoxy to more reformed and/or liberal ideology, even nontheistic assemblies. However, if we examine the history of the Black/PoC folks in those religious/philosophical transitions within congregational community, many folx struggle(d) to progress.
Based on my own research, I have reason to believe that as white liberal congregations seek to practice inclusiveness, it will be only a matter of time before white people will struggle with sharing epistemic practices with Black/PoC because of white educational elitism and classism. As a result, there is gentrification of thought or moving away of practices that exempt Black/PoC from taking part. Well, when we arrive at humanism, (especially in the US context), the religio-racial diversity is very small, and most Black freethinking humanists are fortified by educational endeavors with humanist methodology, such as science, philosophy, and politics.
I would love to see humanism move from a Western-Puritan categorical perspective of inclusion and reach for being eclectic! Embody a real sense of cultural pluralism that holds healing values of reason and knowledge, while expanding itself toward intuition and embodiment.
Thompson: Can you describe ways in which humanism can move beyond European roots to embrace other cultures?
Hooper: There are plenty of ideas, but sincerely we need to change our approach in epistemology. Dr. Itihari Toure explains epistemology as “the worth of knowing” instead a way of knowing. Humanism has not gathered that, though it formed to seek such ideals. Dr. Toure gives an example of teaching a child the alphabet, in which a teacher will spend more time instructing letter recognition versus sound identification. The worth of knowing in this circumstance is sounding out letters so that the child can read, not only a rote-memorization of letter recognition. Humanism must get the “worth of knowing”—hear and take heed of those knowings and value eclectic wisdoms beyond just science or logic as deemed by Western constructions. How can humanism be considered embodiment, intuition, instinct, imagination—and emotions as acts of intelligence to enhance human development?
Thompson: What do you hope virtual conference attendees will take away from your presentation?
Hooper: Humanism is not one-size-fits all, and we need to make room at the table for everyone to make a contribution to empower our humanity together, especially if we want to see real change.
Don’t miss Jé R. Hooper and Rev. Dr. David Breeden’s session at the AHA’s “Distant but Together” virtual conference on August 8, 2020. Registration is free! To secure your spot today, go to conference.americanhumanist.org, and look for more speaker profiles in the coming weeks.