Tag Archives: race

The Evolution—not “Reinvention”—of Malcolm X: A critical review of Manning Marable’s MALCOLM X: A LIFE OF REINVENTION

Malcolm X is one of the most multifariously portrayed individuals in human history, painted as someone between an “unashamed demagogue [whose] gospel was hatred”[1] to black people’s “own black shining prince—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved [them] so.”[2] After nearly two decades of scouring a cornucopia of government documents, periodicals, dissertations, journal articles, books, oral histories, and face-to-face interviews, the late Manning Marable completed an exceptionally detailed and illuminating biography of Malcolm, entitled: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention.[3] While Marable compendiously reconstructs Malcolm’s life within its sociopolitical and historical context, at times, he indulges in excessive interpretative privileges. In this essay, I will explicate the biography’s general framework, and provide a critical analysis of Marable’s speculative pursuits. Once readers discern Marable’s subtle biases, Malcolm emerges as a man who was so uncompromisingly committed to virtues of faith, truth, dignity, and justice for his fellow black brothers and sisters, that as he gained insight into his personal and ideological flaws, he had the courage to let go of deep-seated beliefs and evolve, not “reinvent” himself, toward becoming a man committed to the full humanity of all.

One troublesome element is the book’s recurring theme that Malcolm’s narrative was “a brilliant series of reinventions.”[4] Marable defines, “the art of reinvention” as the deliberate and “selective rearrangement of a public figure’s past lives.” Marable claims that, “self-reinvention was an effective way for [Malcolm] to reach the most marginalized sectors of the black community, giving justification to their hopes.”[5] While details of his past life may have been slightly exaggerated,[6] this hardly negates the fact that Malcolm’s experiences of being black, poor, and a former prison inmate in racist America all created an authentic, not invented, connection between Malcolm and millions of black people relegated to America’s ghettos.

The most egregious example of Marable’s speculative pursuits is his assertion around Malcolm’s “homosexual encounters.”[7] Based on a paradox, “circumstantial but strong evidence,” Marable takes the liberty to claim that in one section of Malcolm’s Autobiography he “was probably describing his own homosexual encounters [italics added].”[8] Drawing upon unverifiable rumors and the fact that Malcolm both worked for a man who was gay, and believed that the man would help him in a time of need, Marable implied that no other explanation was possible other than the two men being sexually involved. Homophobic narratives, such as this, are partly why many straight men think that if they become close friends with a gay man, they will be labeled as gay too.[9] Marable’s inclusion of the description, “homosexual lover,” along with a list of Malcolm’s past identities goes beyond responsible scholarship and into the tabloidization of facts.[10] Phrases like, “Malcolm was probably describing…” or in another section, “What [Malcolm] appears to be saying is…” are prime examples of Marable stating more than is given in the facts. It is necessary to discern Marable’s subtle speculations, because despite the book’s shortcomings, its overall tenor is well researched and very convincing.

Marable’s reconstruction of Malcolm’s childhood and early adulthood in the ghetto describes the early sources for the “emotional rage” he expressed when reacting “to racism in its urban context: segregated urban schools, substandard housing, high infant mortality, drugs, and crime.”[11] Malcolm’s first major evolution occurred in prison, where he met a sagacious and eloquent inmate named “John Elton Bembry: the man who would change his life.”[12] Bembry influenced Malcolm’s development into an “organic intellectual” as he devoured texts on history, philosophy, English, and religion.[13] The natural genius of Malcolm cannot be overstated.

Through the combination of learning about oppression in black history and his father’s involvement in Garveyism, Malcolm was “transformed…into a trenchant critic of white Western values and institutions.”[14] Additionally, the cumulative effect of incidents such as having his childhood home bombed by whites, being told by a white teacher that becoming a lawyer was “no realistic goal for a nigger,” countless negative experiences with whites, and the hope that the Nation of Islam gave him for his life after prison explain how Malcolm’s early life made him amenable to the NOI’s theology that all whites were devils.[15] Eventually, however, no individual would have as great an impact on Malcolm’s life as the leader of the NOI, Elijah Muhammad.

One of the book’s greatest strengths is its in-depth exposure of the history and structure of the NOI. In the biography, the NOI emerges as a heterodox sect of Islam (at least during Malcolm’s time), “whose core philosophy was apolitical” black nationalism, and was rife with internal conflicts sometimes resulting in violent disciplinary actions by “pipe squads.”[16] Elijah Muhammad’s control over the NOI, including much of his wealth, was “derived from his special (if fictive) status as Allah’s Messenger.”[17] Malcolm’s commitment to faith, truth, dignity, and justice for black people, as he believed it at the time, is demonstrated through his relentless efforts to grow the NOI and his fervent loyalty to Elijah Muhammad. As long as Malcolm believed that the truth of the NOI was the best alternative for black people, then Malcolm was sold out for its cause. Due to his loyalty to the NOI, Elijah Muhammad, and black people, Malcolm even made the regrettable mistakes of abandoning his brother Reginald and neglecting his wife and children.

Malcolm’s split with the NOI involved a combination of allegations around Elijah’s sexual exploitation of at least nine NOI secretaries, dissention and jealousy over Malcolm’s burgeoning status, and disapproval of his increasing involvement in secular politics. I would argue that this combination was the result of Malcolm’s commitment to faith, truth, dignity, and justice for black people. As Malcolm came to believe that neither Elijah was perfect nor that the NOI’s apolitical program was viable for black liberation, he drifted from strict adherence to the sect’s apolitical program. However, the fact that Malcolm did not speak out upon initially learning about Elijah’s sexual exploits is a good reminder that Malcolm was not without his flaws, and that even he waffled on his own values from time to time. Malcolm’s international experiences and exposure to orthodox Islam most likely added to his decision to renounce the doctrines of the NOI. Malcolm proclaimed that there is “no God but Allah,” yet:

Some of my very dearest friends are Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, agnostics and even atheists—some are capitalists, socialists, conservatives, extremists…some are even Uncle Toms—some are black, brown, red, yellow and some are even white. It takes all these religious, political, economic, psychological and racial ingredients (characteristics) to make the Human Family and the Human Society complete.[18]

The final chapters of the biography are the most exciting, hopeful, and tragic. They are exciting because Marable provides a phenomenally detailed reconstruction of Malcolm’s evolving thought processes. While Malcolm embraced Islam’s universality and “equality of all races,” he stated that “As a black American…I do feel that my first responsibility is to my twenty-two million fellow black Americans.”[19] As such, Malcolm established the Muslim Mosque, Inc. and the Organization for Afro-American Unity.[20] The former was a strictly Islamic organization, while the latter was dedicated “to unify[ing] the Americans of African descent in their struggle for Human Rights and Dignity” and to the ‘building of a political, economic, and social system of justice and peace [in the United States].”[21] They are hopeful because of the momentum Malcolm was beginning to gain among the mainstream Black Freedom Struggle, along with his evolving willingness “to take a firm stand on the side of anyone whose human rights are being violated.”[22] It seems that Malcolm was even beginning to evolve past some of his sexist worldviews, when he “[insisted] that in the OAAU ‘women [should have an] equal position to the men.’”[23]

Yet, it all ends in the immeasurably tragic loss of a “black shining prince—who didn’t hesitate to die, because he loved” so much. Marable’s detailed account of FBI files, along with the FBI’s refusal to disclose over a thousand pages in Malcolm’s file, revealed that the mystery behind Malcolm’s killers and the plausible complicity of law enforcement are yet to be resolved.

Contrary to Marable’s thesis of “reinvention,” I would argue that Malcolm was not deliberately changing his image to achieve a certain objective. Instead, Malcolm’s commitment to faith, truth, dignity, and justice for black people, along with his courage to change, fostered the evolution of Malcolm’s social, political, and religious views. My hope is that the church, theology, and American society, today, would pick up where Malcolm left off. Christians, especially, could learn from Malcolm’s willingness to “join in with anyone…as long as [they] want to change this miserable condition” of social, political, and individual oppression. We could especially learn from Malcolm’s courage to admit his wrongs and willingness to change his beliefs, all for the purpose of making “the Human Family and the Human Society complete.”


[1] Manning Marable, Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention (New York: Viking, 2011), 455.

[2] Ibid., 459.

[3] Ibid., 490.

[4] Ibid., 10.

[5] Ibid., 11.

[6] Ibid., 260.

[7] Ibid., 66.

[8] Ibid.

[9] To be clear, if Malcolm engaged in same-sex acts, it would do nothing to diminish his contributions to humanity, in my opinion. Also, conceding that it may be acceptable to “out” someone’s sexuality in the rare case that they are a deceased public figure, this action should only be taken if conclusive evidence is available.

[10] Marable, Malcolm X : A Life of Reinvention, 78.

[11] Ibid., 7.

[12] Ibid., 73.

[13] Ibid., 90–91.

[14] Ibid., 91.

[15] Ibid., 25, 38, 77.

[16] Ibid., 79, 133, 242–244.

[17] Ibid., 169.

[18] Ibid., 369–370.

[19] Ibid., 368.

[20] MMI and OAAU, respectively.

[21] Ibid., 350.

[22] Ibid., 329.

[23] Ibid., 374.

Book Review: Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the SCLC

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross : Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 1st Perennial Classics. New York: Perennial Classics, 2004. Print.

Garrow, David J. Bearing the Cross : Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. 1st Perennial Classics. New York: Perennial Classics, 2004. Print.

In the Pulitzer Prize winning biography, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, David J. Garrow gives an incredibly thorough account of the latter years of Dr. King’s life, and the development of the Black Freedom Movement from the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955, to The Poor People’s Campaign and King’s death in 1968. Over 150 pages of notes and a bibliography, including several hundred interviews, exposition of several of King’s writings, and remarkable documentation of FBI files on King and the Movement, all provide the content for Garrow’s 624-page account of the Civil Rights leader’s life during the Movement. The title of the volume alludes to the central theme in the book: Martin Luther King was a man with a strong sense of self-sacrifice, informed by his theology of the cross, as something “that we must bear for the freedom of our people” (148). That is, Garrow’s King emerged as a Civil Rights leader, not because of ambition or a messiah complex, but because the movement was “thrust upon him” and his deeply seated religious principles required him to respond (229). Yet, this man of noble principles was also no saint. In my opinion, the greatest value of this volume, as stated by King’s sister, is that it “demythologizes one of our heroes” (625). The two-fold goal of this essay is to provide an exposition and a critical evaluation of Garrow’s interpretation of Martin King and the Black Freedom Movement, and to argue that Dr. King and the Movement can provide invaluable resources and inspiration for social change today.

As indicated above, Garrow dedicates relatively few pages to the pre-Civil Rights years of Martin King. Still, we learn that as the son of “a strict disciplinarian” and Southern Baptist Preacher, King had a “long personal heritage in…the black church” (32). Yet, despite his early immersion into the black church, King was initially “decidedly ambivalent” about following in his father’s ministerial footsteps (37). King’s mother and grandmother imbued him with a strong sense of self-love and care, which undoubtedly gave him the confidence to pursue his dreams of intellectualism. King reported that his childhood was spent in “a very congenial home situation…where love was central” (33). Outside of the home, however, King could not be shielded from the racist reality of life as a black person in the South (35). Two racial incidents that were truly painful for King were the time when a childhood friend who was white abruptly told him they could not be friends due to their races, and when as a high school student he was forced to give up his seat on a bus for a white person. A decade later King recalled, “It was the angriest I have ever been… From that moment on, I was determined to hate every white person” (35).

Garrow documents how King’s college experience changed both his ambivalence toward the ministry and his attitude on race (37). King recalls how he overcame his skepticism with religion when “I studied a course in Bible in which I came to see that behind the legends and myths of the Book were many profound truths which one could not escape” (37). Highly influenced by liberal theologians and the social gospel movement, King would eventually decide to take up the call to be a minister of the gospel with a strong sense of social justice. Challenged with the Christian call to love one’s enemies, King struggled with how he could “love a race of people who hated [him] and who had been responsible [for earlier traumatic experiences]” (38). Garrow quotes King’s confession that, he “did not conquer this anti-white feeling” until he got to know white students through interracial groups in college (38).

Garrow’s first chapter chronicles how King was thrust into the movement after completing his dissertation while pastoring at Dexter Avenue Church in Montgomery. King would emerge as the unlikely president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, partly due to his status as a “newcomer.” Recalling his first public address as president of the new organization, King would write that he “became possessed by fear [and] obsessed by a feeling of great inadequacy” (23). This feeling of inadequacy was a theme that Garrow alluded to throughout the evolution of King as a national Civil Rights leader. A key corollary to this theme was a profound religious experience that King would tell over and over again. During a time of deep distress and desire to “escape the pressures the MIA presidency had placed upon him” King had an experience in his kitchen, in which he responded to fear through prayer:

I could hear an inner voice saying to me, ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’…I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. No never alone. (58)

Throughout the rest of the book, Garrow would repeat this theme of King’s reliance on his faith to overcome the internal and external challenges of the Movement.

Garrow’s subsequent chapters describe “The Birth of SCLC” and Southern initiatives, including Albany, Birmingham, Selma, and the March on Washington. Drawing upon myriad examples from the NAACP’s initial competitive resistance to the budding young “star in the South,” to tales of disorganization and even the misappropriation of Movement funds by higher level officials, Garrow characterizes the Movement as being rife with internal conflict and at times with egotistical personality clashes. Garrow attributes King’s ability to emerge as a leader in this contentious Movement partly to his “practical application of the Hegelian method” through which he would mediate highly contentious meetings by providing a solution upon which all could usually agree (464). The biography states, “One of [King’s] greatnesses…was his ability to master, to orchestrate a group of individuals that probably pretty much approached egomania” (464). It was also helpful that Garrow explained how King’s fascination with Hegel’s dialectical method of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis, provided him with a philosophical framework for integrationism, in which seemingly opposed groups (i.e. black/white, Jew/Gentile, rich/poor) could be united into a Beloved Community (46). Despite its flaws, the Movement left an indelible mark on the Universe’s bend toward justice. More importantly, Garrow’s portrayal of the Movement challenges any notions that Dr. King was the sole or even the most important person involved in the development of different initiatives and subsequent Civil Rights victories.

The most exciting chapters, for me, were the final four chapters on Chicago, the Meredith March, Economic Justice and Vietnam, and the Poor People’s Campaign. These chapters give a keen insight into the evolution of King’s social and political thought. Furthermore, they offer a treasure trove of strategies for the church and American society to engage in broad and inclusive movements for revolutionary change (484). Upon visiting the slums of the northern cities, witnessing the destruction of urban riots caused by the deplorable conditions of America’s ghettoes, and confronting even worse and violent resistance to change in the North, King began to see that the Civil Rights gains in the South had done very little to improve the conditions of millions of poor blacks in the ghettoes (440). Thus, King began to call for “a radical restructuring of the architecture of American society”—something akin to democratic socialism (567). As King’s scope extended to economic issues, they also extended to issues of world peace and global disarmament, mostly spurred by his growing conviction that he could no longer preach non-violence at home, while his country committed great acts of violence abroad.

Toward the end of the book, Garrow seems to focus more on the conflicts within and between Civil Rights organizations, the Movement’s loss of momentum, the criticisms of King both within and without the Movement, and the negative toll that all of this was taking on everyone’s morale, especially King’s. Garrow reports that even though King was able to perform when he needed to give a speech, toward the end of King’s time he would become increasingly depressed. Garrow attributes some of King’s heartache to his battles with “inner demons.” Indeed, as stated above, King was no saint, and his extra-marital affairs, and “sexual athleticism” were things that even King alluded to as causing him great internal conflict. Garrow’s careful, yet truthful, exposition of King’s deep flaws is commendable and integral to understanding that one does not need to be “holier than thou” to make the world a better place.

As I reflect on what King and the Movement mean to me, the Church, theology, and America, I believe they represented the best of both Christian and American democratic ideals. They demonstrated that a commitment to love and justice was neither a passive nor a violent one. Rather, a commitment to these principles requires a commitment to bearing one’s cross. I am reminded of Jesus in Gethsemane, where he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). This prayer encapsulates King’s theology of the cross as a divinely inspired commitment to freedom for all. King’s theology is absolutely necessary for the church today to remain true it its purported principles. As King’s dream of justice and equality is far from actualized, as the New Jim Crow, urban ghettoes, and young black lives such as Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin continue to be persecuted, America must recommit itself to King’s dream, lest it shirks its commitment to its democratic ideals.

Bearing the Cross not only provides a deep look into its subject, it also offers a counter-narrative to “mainstream” conceptions of King as a “‘rather smoothed-off, respectable national hero’ whose comfortable, present-day image bears little resemblance to the human King or to the political King of 1965-1968” (625). To anyone today who has that impulse “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [their] God” (Micah 6:8), I would urge you to read this volume because it shows that “The movement made Martin rather than Martin making the movement” (625). To paraphrase the book’s Epilogue: If we could understand that one of our greatest symbols for social justice was a human being as ordinary and as flawed and as unlikely a legend as any one of us, then maybe, we in the church or broader society could stop waiting for a great charismatic personality to lead us toward justice, and we could start asking ourselves, “What can we do to pursue justice, love, and peace?”

The Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism

 

In the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, sociologist Max Weber sought an answer to an “historical question…as to the reason for [the] particularly strong disposition of the economically most developed regions toward [Protestantism]” (Weber 2002:2). That is, Weber sought to identify the religious origins of an ideal type of “Capitalism” in what he called the Protestant ethic. While some scholars contest the accuracy of Weber’s conclusion regarding the origins of capitalism, it is widely accepted among leading sociologists and other social theorists that religious institutions serve as mediating or legitimating forces between myriad spheres of life (Christerson, Edwards, and Emerson 2005). As such, Weber’s theory suggests that religio-cultural orientations can directly influence the conduct of both individuals and society (Allan 2011:75; Weber 1949). Therefore, studying religious institutions can provide crucial insights for understanding society. As the racial landscape of the U.S. is projected to change drastically over the next few decades, it is evermore crucial to understand the legitimating forces behind racial inequalities, past, present, and future.[1]

As Weber constructed the spirit of capitalism, I am concerned with the historical reasons for the significant disposition of segregated communities toward evangelicalism. Thus, the goal of this essay is to employ Weber’s sociological methodology, of historical concept-formation, to identify both the theological origins and cultural orientations of white evangelical color-blind racism. Also, I will demonstrate how white evangelical color-blind racism contributes to racial inequalities in the United States. In doing so, I will argue that the evangelical ethic (i.e. the “race-neutral” theological and cultural orientations of white conservative evangelicals) has contributed significantly to the spirit of color-blind racism and racial inequalities in the United States.

THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK: HISTORICAL CONCEPT-FORMATION

Following Weber’s methodology, the definition of the spirit of color-blind racism must be composed of “a complex of configurations…in historical reality which we group together conceptually from the point of view of their cultural significance to form a single whole (Weber 2002:8). Thus, we will arrive at “the ultimate definition of the concept…only at the conclusion of the investigation” (Weber 2002:9). Moreover, our definition of the spirit is not exhaustive of all the essentials of colorblind racism. Indeed, the concept of race is perhaps one of the most complex concepts with myriad configurations. Thus, I am merely proposing the evangelical ethic as one significant element in the complex configuration of color-blind racism today.

As such, first I will define the term evangelical. Second, I will identify the direct relationships among conservative evangelicals and racial inequalities. Finally, I will identify the cultural and theological orientations that compose the evangelical ethic and the spirit of color-blind racism, thereby linking the ethic and the spirit to racial inequalities today.

Due to the long documented history of black-white tensions in American history, this essay will focus on the influence of white evangelical colorblind racism on black-white racial inequalities in the United States.

DEFINING CONSERVATIVE EVANGELICAL PROTESTANTS

The term evangelical is somewhat contentious, but the most widely-accepted definitions of these terms, among social scientists and nonpartisan agencies such as the Pew Research Center, are based on either core beliefs,[2] denominations, or self-identification (Brint and Schroedel 2009). In relevant scholarly literature and studies cited in this essay, the label conservative evangelical is often used interchangeably with the label conservative Protestant, and thus these two terms will be used interchangeably in this essay (Brint and Schroedel 2009).[3] Based on these definitions, white evangelicals comprise around 25% of the adult population, espousing “the dominant theological strain of the dominant faith in the United States today” (Lichterman, Carter, and Lamont 2009:189; Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life 2008).

In 90% of Christian churches today, one race constitutes more than 80% of each congregation; to wit, most white evangelicals attend segregated churches (Emerson and Woo 2006; Scheitle and Dougherty 2010).

EVANGELICALS AND RACIAL SEGREGATION

A study measuring poverty concentration in 2009, found that 36.3% of the total black population lives in high-poverty places, while 49.2% of black or African Americans below the poverty line are concentrated in neighborhoods with poverty rates greater than 20%. For all Hispanics, 23.9% live in high-poverty places, while 33.3% of poor Hispanics live in these communities as well. In sharp contrast, only 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites live in “high-poverty” neighborhoods (Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2012). Additionally, research indicates that over 60% of black or Hispanic students attend public schools where the majority of students are below the poverty line; compared to only “18 percent of white students” who attend high-poverty schools (Logan, Minca, and Adar 2012:288).

De facto segregation has been explained through the persistence of discriminatory housing practices such as redlining and restrictive covenants (Massey and Denton 1993; Sernau 2006). These willfully racist practices are indeed significant; yet, white evangelicals, today, need not be willful racists to perpetuate racial inequalities in the U.S.[4] Still, a recent study drawing on the 2000 Census and Church Congregations data, found that the strength of the white evangelical conservative base in a county, had a significant impact on increasing levels of residential segregation for black or African-American inhabitants in every region of the country (Blanchard 2007).

In their book, American Apartheid, Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton concluded that, “Residential segregation is the institutional apparatus that supports other racially discriminatory processes and binds them together into a coherent and uniquely effective system of racial subordination” (1993:175). It should be no surprise that the U.S. poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is 25.8% and 23.2%, respectively; whereas the poverty rate for whites was below the national average, at 11.6% (Macartney, Bishaw, and Fontenot 2013). The life-chances (i.e. opportunities for success) of individuals living in these communities are significantly influenced by, and often limited to, the ties set by their segregated neighborhoods. Therefore, to the degree that evangelicals contribute to racial segregation, they contribute to racial inequalities as well.

THE SIGNIFICANCE OF RELIGIO-CULTURAL ORIENTATIONS

For Weber, “very frequently the ‘world-images’ that have been created by ‘ideas’ have, like switchmen, determined the tracks along which action has been pushed by the dynamic of interest” (Weber 1949:280). World-images, according to Weber, are “systematized and rationalized images of the world,” examples of which are sets of cultural and/or theological orientations, that guide the ways in which individuals and communities interpret the world (Weber 1949:280). Subsequently, world-images determine the parameters in which humanity’s actions manifest. As such, rather than determine specific actions, their cultural and/or theological orientations primarily set the parameters for how evangelicals tend to behave.

CULTURAL ORIENTATIONS & COLOR-BLIND RACISM

In congruence with Weber’s theory, I will locate the cultural orientations (world images) of white evangelicals that have guided their actions toward color-blind racism. A litany of research posits the following orientations of white evangelicalism, in general:

‘accountable freewill individualism,’ ‘anti-structuralism’ (an inability to perceive, unwillingness to accept, or negative reaction to macro social structural influence), and ‘relationalism’ (assigning importance to interpersonal relationships) (Emerson, Smith, and Sikkink 1999:400; Gorski 2009)

To illustrate these orientations, we will briefly examine recent studies on this subject. A study using GSS national data found that white evangelicals “explain [racial] inequality in more individualistic, [relational], and less structural terms than other white Americans” (Emerson et al. 1999). [5] For example, 62% of white evangelicals believe that “most blacks just don’t have the motivation or will power to pull themselves up out of poverty,” while only 27% of white evangelicals believe that discrimination plays a role in current racial inequalities (Emerson et al. 1999:404).

In comparison, 51% and 36% of all other white non-evangelicals gave the same, respective, explanations. The gap between white evangelicals who believe that either a lack of motivation or discrimination play roles in current inequalities is 35 percentage points—“more than twice as large as the gap for all other white Americans (15 percentage points)” (Emerson et al. 1999:404). White evangelicals were also more likely than other whites to emphasize dysfunctional familial and social relations as the source of racial inequalities today (Emerson et al. 1999).[6]

The sweeping theme among white evangelical respondents was that “black Americans lack hope and vision” (Emerson et al. 1999:404). To deny systemic racism and place blame for stark racial disparities primarily on “unhealthy” black families and their “lack of motivation” is a form of tacit racism. It perpetuates inequalities by neither confronting nor acknowledging the root of the problem. While most white Americans espouse these orientations, religion nuances and increases white evangelicals’ reliance on them (Emerson et al. 1999).

Conjointly, the individualist, anti-structuralist, and politically conservative orientations of white evangelicals[7] make them more likely to espouse a world-image that blames black people and black families for current inequalities, and to deny the effects of systemic racism or other larger social factors (Blanchard 2007; Emerson et al. 1999). As aforementioned, “world-images…like switchmen, [determine] the tracks along which action [is] pushed by the dynamic of interest.” Predictably, white evangelicals tend to “dampen [or directly oppose] local support for governmental interventions” that have otherwise been integral in reducing racial segregation and inequalities, such as: affirmative action, fair housing policies, and the dreaded “welfare state” (Blanchard 2007; Emerson et al. 1999). Thus, white evangelicals indirectly contribute to racial segregation and inequality via their “color-blind” cultural orientations.

In addition to undermining the potential success of governmental anti-discrimination programs, the “relationalism” of white evangelical congregations “[results] in strong network closure and an emphasis on in-group social ties (Blanchard 2007:417; Emerson et al. 1999). Since 90% of all Christian congregations are over 80% one race, not only do most white evangelicals oppose or dampen support for governmental programs aimed at racial equality, white evangelicals do not even maintain relations with their fellow non-white Christians, let alone partner with them in their church-based efforts to mitigate racial inequality on a systemic level (Blanchard 2007).

The lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality (Blanchard 2007; Granovetter 2011; Weber 2011). Conversely, studies have found that externally-oriented and civically-engaged congregations (most of which have been Mainline, Catholic, or other) have been more “instrumental [than evangelical congregations] in developing [community-wide coalitions]” that have “[stemmed] the tide of residential segregation” (Blanchard 2007:419).

Thus, it should be no surprise that according to the aforementioned study, for every 1-unit increase in number of white evangelical congregations per 1,000 non-Hispanic whites in every county in every region across the country, there were significant increases in all measures of segregation (Blanchard 2007). That is, the more white conservative congregations there are in a county, the more segregated the county will be.

THEOLOGICAL ORIENTATIONS

I have heretofore demonstrated how the “race-neutral” cultural orientations of white evangelicals have guided their actions toward color-blind racism. While most whites in the U.S. tend to espouse these cultural orientations, what distinguishes white evangelicals are the ways in which these orientations guide their actions and the ferocity with which they are held (Emerson et al. 1999:400). Our investigation will now adopt a more historical approach to identify theological orientations that make up the spirit of color-blind racism. Because theology is neither created nor espoused in a cultural vacuum, we will see interplay between cultural and theological orientations in the complex configuration of the evangelical ethic.

The following are core theological beliefs generally accepted by most white evangelicals (Ammerman 2009; Gorski 2009; Wuthnow 2009): Inerrancy and/or or divine inspiration of Scripture; Personal relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation from eternal damnation; “Born-again” converts live repentant lives; and Christians should share their beliefs with others (i.e. evangelism). I will locate the interplay of these beliefs with culture and color-blind racism through an analysis of key events in American religious history from the 18th Century “Triumph of Arminianism” to the 20th Century Rise of the Christian Right.”

CALVINISM, ARMINIANISM, AND INDIVIDUALISM

To understand the significance of what Philip Gorski calls, “the [18th Century] strange triumph of Arminianism,” we will examine Weber’s analysis of Predestination. The primary effect of this doctrine, according to Weber, was “a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual…[who was] forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity” (Weber 2003:104). Calvinism, according to Weber, created an almost unbearable anxiety for individuals, because there was no way to know if one was “elected” for salvation, and there was nothing one could do if they were not. “Restless work in a vocational calling was recommended as the best possible means to acquire the self-confidence that one belonged among the elect” (Weber 2003:66). A life of hard work and good deeds was not a path to salvation, but it was viewed as its natural fruit. The emphasis was not on singular works, but on an entire life meticulously and consciously organized for God’s glory.

Protestantism also intensified an ethic of asceticism, because only the “eternally damned” were “given up to their own lusts and the temptation of the world” (Weber 2003:101). The combination of hard work, entrepreneurial skills in a special vocational calling, and asceticism—“all to the glory of God”—invigorated the capitalist ethic among Protestants, who understood wealth accumulation as a sign of God’s grace. That is, one way Calvinists were able to quell the anxiety of eternal hellfire damnation, was to rest in the knowledge that if they had a special calling, worked hard, and were economically “successful,” then they were surely among the “elect.”

While Calvinism is now a small minority of the “evangelical community dominated by Arminians” (Gorski 2009:87), both the individualistic work ethic and asceticism espoused by orthodox Calvinists remain among white evangelicals today, albeit for drastically different reasons. That is, as demonstrated above, white evangelicals tend to be more individualistic in explanations for one’s economic status than any other group in the United States. This ethic is related to the evangelical disdain for “idleness,” which manifests today in the individualistic view that “those who are generationally poor are generationally poor because they lack motivation to work hard.”

“Arminianism is the view that God’s grace is offered to all but accepted by some…[Its] universalist and voluntarist soteriology is radically at odds” with Calvinism (Gorski 2009:87). According to Gorski, the emphasis on personal transformation and individual choice turned Arminianism into “a potent weapon” for “heterodox fractions of the clergy and subordinate members of the laity…in a struggle against [New England “elites”]” (2009:87). By rejecting “the importance of hierocratic mediation…to achieving personal salvation,” and highlighting “the centrality of individual choice and self-expression,” Arminianism flourished in a synergistic relationship with the democratic and individualistic ideals of the budding American democracy.

Arminianism influenced the core evangelical belief that, unlike the Doctrine of Predestination, all people have equal access to God and the freedom to choose faith in Christ. It seems evangelicals believe that, “all are equal in the eyes of God; therefore all must have equal opportunity in the world.” This theological shift “paved the way” for the “alliance of conservative evangelicals with laissez faire” individualistic economics and anti-structuralist politics that dampen support for governmental programs for racial equality today (2009:87). Moreover, eternal salvation is still important for evangelicals; yet, instead of being helpless, the onus is on individuals to choose to believe. Since people are free to choose, then the theological requirement to evangelize individuals into Heaven is far more important for white evangelicals, today, than engaging in any anti-racist macro social reforms that appear to be part of the “liberal-agenda.”

SLAVE MASTER’S JESUS VS SLAVE’S JESUS

In my opinion, the root of white evangelical anti-structuralism and color-blind racism is insidiously hidden in the history of pro-slavery “Christianity.” An analysis of pro-slavery “Christianity” will elucidate the Christological differences between Black and White Church traditions today. W.E.B. Du Bois described how Christianity in the Colonies functioned to justify slavery (2000). White Christians claimed that “slaves were to be brought from heathenism to Christianity, and through slavery the benighted Indian and African were to find their passport into the kingdom of God” (Du Bois 2000:70). Eventually, whites were confronted with “the insistent and perplexing question as to what the status of the heathen slave was to be after he was Christianized and baptized?” (Du Bois 2000:70). Many slave owners questioned whether to expose their slaves to Christianity due to “the implications of equality in the Bible and…the fear that education might cause the slave to fight for his freedom” (Cone 1997:75).

The measure taken by white Christians to appease this contradiction is still with us today—that is, the “White” Jesus of the slave master was completely divorced from any implications of freedom or justice related to civic matters (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). As such, “It was expressly declared in colony after colony that baptism did not free the slaves” (Du Bois 2000:71). The crux of pro-slavery “Christianity” was to ensure peace, by creating “good slaves” that would emulate “White” Jesus’ “meek-and-turn-the-other-cheek” side. While many abolitionists were eventually motivated (in part) by their Christian faith, the majority of the White Church then, as the White Church today, was silent about the oppressive and racist structures of America (Cone 1997). Like the slave masters’ “White” Jesus, the “White” Jesus of evangelicals today is not concerned with ameliorating the plight of the oppressed on Earth as much as he is concerned with “order” and “saving individual souls” (Cone 1997).

Conversely, black slave ministers emphasized the God of the Exodus who freed the slaves from Egypt. Many black-slave ministers who led slave rebellions identified with the suffering of Jesus and saw his resurrection as the triumph over the oppressive forces of his day (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). In addition to eternal salvation, the Jesus of the Black Church tradition is more likely to identify with the poor and oppressed of the land—unlike the Jesus of the White Church today (Cone 1997). In this way, “Black Christianity” has operated as “the expression of…and also the protest against real distress…the sigh of the oppressed creature;” White evangelicalism, on the other hand, even if unintentionally today, has operated as “the opium of the [oppressed] people” (Marx 1975:175).

Many contemporary white evangelicals usually claim “objectivity” in their Christology, but they have forgotten the racist roots of their “White-American Jesus” who is not concerned with social justice. This is why both White and Black Church traditions can be “Christocentric” while having incredibly different interpretations of what it means to emulate Christ, having either concern with saving individual souls or concern for social justice (systemic change) as well as saving souls.

These differing Christologies partly explain the political schisms between white evangelicals and Black Protestants with seemingly similar surface-level theological beliefs. The majority of Black (72%) voters with seemingly similar theological beliefs to white evangelicals either identify with or support the Democratic Party, while only 10% support the Republican Party (Sahgal and Smith 2009). In sharp contrast, 70% of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the free-market (freewill individualism) and anti-government (anti-structuralist) platform of the Republican Party (Pew Research Center 2012).

BIBLICAL INERRANCY AND THE TRADITIONALIST-MODERNIST DIVIDE

The middle decades of the Twentieth Century imbued evangelicals, evermore deeply, with the isolationist and anti-liberalist spirit that tends to permeate their culture today. By the turn of the Twentieth Century, many Protestants struggled with tensions between modern science and literalist interpretations of the Bible (Brint and Schroedel 2009). From this tension emerged Liberal theologians who “tried to reconcile biblical truths with scientific developments” (Brint and Schroedel 2009:3). Conservative Protestants began calling themselves “Fundamentalists” and pointed to the horrors of World War I as reasons for “returning” to the “fundamentals” of Christianity—one being the literalist interpretation of the Bible (Brint and Schroedel 2009).

The belief in biblical inerrancy prompted the debate between fundamentalists and modernists over the tensions between Scripture and evolution, culminating in the 1925 Scopes Monkey trial (Brint and Schroedel 2009). Despite the outcome of the trial, white evangelicals emerged as “anti-intellectual opponents of science and progress,” and were portrayed as such in many media outlets (Belton 2010a). Since the embarrassment of the infamous trial, evangelicals have perceived liberals and secularist-humanists as enemies of “traditional Christian values.” The solution to the perceived “liberal-modernist onslaught on Christianity” was for evangelicals to retreat from public life and politics, resulting in an isolated, yet prodigious network of “Bible-centered schools and colleges, Bible summer camps…Christian radio programming,” bookstores and strong local churches (Ammerman 2009; Belton 2010a; Brint and Schroedel 2009:3; Gorski 2009).

These networks remain generally isolated from the broader community today, and as aforementioned, the lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality. The tension between biblical inerrancy and modernity solidified the wedge between conservatism and liberalism, which manifests in an aversion to any program that is perceived as part of a bigger “liberal agenda,” such as efforts to systemically reduce racial inequalities in the U.S. (Blanchard 2007).

ANTI-STRUCTURALISM AND THE BILLY GRAHAM GOSPEL

Following the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, Americans questioned the modernist claims of “progress” and the “inherent goodness of the human being.” America was ripe for the fundamentalist message to “return to Christian values,” to be “saved from the evils of men.” Even President Dwight Eisenhower spoke of returning to the “Judeo-Christian” roots of the U.S. (Belton 2010b). However, it was the Cold War hysteria that prompted the masses to seek a blatantly “Americanized” version of the Gospel as salvation from the “evils of this world” (Belton 2010b). Much like the “Terror Alerts” of our Post-9/11 World, after the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb, it was perceived that the “world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust” (Belton 2010b). In this ethos of fear, no single individual did more to marry an individualistic and anti-activist Gospel with right-wing ideals than Billy Graham.

Graham came to be “the primary engine of America’s cold war religious revival” (Belton 2010b). Preaching to thousands, Graham presented the Gospel as the only means of salvation from not only eternal hell, but from the “evil forces of Communism” as well:

The battle is between communism and Christianity! …When communism conquers a nation, it makes every man a slave! When Christianity conquers…it makes every man a king! (Belton 2010b)

The preaching of Graham was noticed by “media baron William Randolph Hearst, a staunch anti-communist,” who instructed his newspapers to “Puff Graham” (Belton 2010b). Hearst’s mass media support provided the medium that “rocketed Graham,” and evangelicals, “onto the national stage” (Belton 2010b). Graham’s anti-communist Gospel contributed to the marriage between conservative evangelicalism and right wing politics and economics, which oppose macro social programs aimed at racial equality today (Belton 2010b; Brint and Schroedel 2009).

It is true that Graham occasionally spoke about “racial tolerance,” but according to Graham, “racism [and all social injustice] is not a social/structural issue; it is merely a symptom of sin;” Therefore, all we need to do to save the country is to convert individuals to Christianity (Belton 2010b). Graham’s simplistic—“All you need is Jesus”—Gospel, required very little more than an outward expression of personal piety and church attendance, systemic efforts toward social justice be damned. Similarly, evangelicals today are focused on a Jesus who has little concern for macro social justice reforms that appear to be part of the “liberal-agenda.”

BILLY GRAHAM’S JESUS VS MARTIN LUTHER KING’S JESUS

It is noted that “one of the feats of Billy Graham…was to refocus the evangelical movement around the figure of Jesus in a way that cut across denominational lines,” thereby creating stronger ties among evangelicals (Wuthnow 2009:29). However, since white evangelicals have failed to take seriously the legacy of slavery, they have failed to deconstruct the figure of Jesus that was promulgated by slave masters in the U.S. That is, the Jesus that Billy Graham made popular among evangelicals was eerily similar to the Jesus who was preached to the slaves—one who was more concerned with obedience and an outward expression of personal piety than he was with any notions of social justice, such as achieving racial equality in the United States.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that Graham was trying to create “good” slaves, however, he did very little to oppose other white evangelical “leaders and congregations [that] frequently condoned and sometimes actively supported segregation and subordination of African Americans up through…the 50s and 60s” (Lichterman et al. 2009:192; Vesely-Flad 2011). While Billy may have sincerely wanted to save souls from hell, his obsession with the afterlife and conservative political leanings were more important to him, and most other white evangelicals, than the racial oppression that was happening right before their eyes.

Graham went so far, in April of 1963, along with other white preachers, to call on Martin Luther King, Jr. to “put the brakes on a little bit” regarding direct action to end segregation (Anon 1963; Belton 2010b). While Graham preached a few “integrated” crusades, all he really did was remove a rope that divided white and black people at his crusades. His “efforts” paled in comparison to those of the children who were hosed down, bitten by dogs, and arrested for protesting segregation in the South. The complicity of white preachers, including Graham, in maintaining segregation prompted Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he chastised the “white moderate [and preacher], who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” (Belton 2010b; King, Jr. 1963).

Herein lies a key theological distinction between white evangelicals and the Black Church today. The Jesus who identified with the oppressed is the same Jesus that motivated Dr. King and many other champions of the Civil Rights era—unlike the Jesus that motivated Graham’s individualistic, anti-structuralist, pro-conservative-politics gospel—which still influences evangelical thinking on race relations today.

ANTI-LIBERAL RISE OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT

The rise of evangelicals out of political inactivity undeniably occurred in concert with the racially motivated Republican Southern Strategy (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). Prior to Richard Nixon’s Presidency in 1968, social unrest abounded in America (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). Earlier that year, Dr. King had been assassinated, and “nearly one hundred fifty cities across the U.S. erupted in racial confrontations and riots” (Vesely-Flad 2011). Adding to the unrest, Vietnam protesters, feminists, and gay rights activists were emboldened to demand social equality (Brint and Schroedel 2009; Vesely-Flad 2011). Conservative whites perceived the movements of the 60s and 70s as an attack on “biblical values,” signs of moral decay, lawlessness and disorder (Brint and Schroedel 2009).

Republican leaders sensed that they could capitalize not only on anti-liberal white Southerners who feared they would have the most to lose from Civil Rights reforms, but they also capitalized on the fears of conservative evangelicals who were dismayed by the “moral decay,” “lawlessness and disorder,” of America. It is no coincidence that Nixon (and eventually Reagan) would make their platforms about “restoring law and order,” which many social and political analysts have interpreted as coded language to appeal to constituencies that were distressed by the progressive movements mentioned above (Alexander 2010; Vesely-Flad 2011). The end of the 1970s gave birth to a plethora of politically conservative organizations such as The Christian Right, the Christian Voice, and the Moral Majority (Brint and Schroedel 2009:5).

Since the 1980s, evangelicals have pledged uncanny allegiance to the Republican Party and conservative politics and economics. I would argue that a theological orientation that required nothing more than a personal relationship with Jesus and a life of individualistic repentance from sin, with no call to social justice, and selectively “literalist” interpretations of the Bible on issues of gender roles, homosexuality, and abortion are the prime orientations that guide evangelicals to detest progressive reforms that they believe are violating “biblical values.” Their propensity for “order” over justice is analogous to the slave master’s Christology, which elevated personal piety over both notions of justice and freedom related to civic matters. This anti-liberal ethos against Civil Rights reforms continues to cloud white evangelicals’ views on racial inequalities today, making them resistant to progressive reforms that they deem are part of a bigger “liberal agenda,” to oppress Christians.

In the decades following the desegregation of public schools (Brown v. Board of Ed.), and the Civil Rights years of the 60s and 70s, thousands of white families, including white evangelicals, moved to “more desirable locations,” and even opened privately-owned all-white “Christian” academies (Emerson and Smith 2000; Massey and Denton 1993; Vesely-Flad 2011). Today, many of these schools and neighborhoods remain just as segregated as they were forty years ago. As previously mentioned, the lack of ties with people of other races undermines community and/or faith-based efforts to oppose segregation and inequality.

CONCLUSION

At the end of our investigation we can define color-blind racism as such: seemingly “race-neutral” orientations that have a segregating effect on people of color, or that oppose or dampen support for macro social efforts to stem segregation and racial inequalities. White evangelical color-blind racism includes: accountable freewill individualism, anti-structuralism, relationalism, and internally oriented congregations. As stated in the first part of this essay, these orientations have had segregating effects in communities and have resulted in social closure of white congregations and the development of strong in-group ties that, even if unintentionally, have negative effects on racial equality today.

The spirit of color-blind racism derives from the evangelical ethic or the interplay between theological and cultural orientations that guide evangelicals toward the definition of color-blind racism above.

First, we have seen that the obsession with eternal salvation, and anxiety of eternal damnation, continues to drive the actions of believers today; in this case, white evangelicals tend to relegate social justice issues as subordinate to evangelizing individual souls into Heaven.

We have also seen how the belief in biblical inerrancy has caused events that have influenced evangelicals to draw sharp lines between believers and non-believers at first resulting in isolation (internal orientation/social closure/and relationalism), then resulting in an aggressive alliance with the Republican Party and anti-structuralist conservative politics and economics.

Most importantly, in my view, we have seen how the emphasis on a personal relationship with a Jesus who is divorced from notions of social justice is rooted in pro-slavery Christianity, which guides evangelicals toward individualism, relationalism, and anti-structuralism, today.

Together, all of these elements constitute what I would call the Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism.

WORKS CITED

Alexander, Michelle. 2010. The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. New York; [Jackson, Tenn.]: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution.

Allan, Kenneth. 2011. The Social Lens : An Invitation to Social and Sociological Theory. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press/Sage Publications.

Ammerman, Nancy T. 2009. “American Evangelicals in American Culture: Continuity and Change.” Pp. 44–73 in Evangelicals and democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Anon. 1963. “Billy Graham Urges Restrain in Sit-Ins.” New York Times, April 18, Archives. Retrieved (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0B15F9385D117B93CAA8178FD85F478685F9).

Belton, David. 2010a. “A New Light.” God in America. Retrieved (http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/transcripts/hour-four.html).

Belton, David. 2010b. “The Soul of a Nation.” God in America. Retrieved (http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/transcripts/hour-five.html).

Blanchard, Troy C. 2007. “Conservative Protestant Congregations and Racial Residential Segregation: Evaluating the Closed Community Thesis in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Counties.” American Sociological Review 72(3):416–33.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 2000. “Religion in the South.” Pp. 69–89 in Du Bois on Religion, edited by Phil Zuckerman. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Brint, Steven G., and Jean Reith Schroedel, eds. 2009. Evangelicals and Democracy in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Christerson, Brad, Korie L. Edwards, and Michael O. Emerson. 2005. Against All Odds : The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations. New York: New York University Press.

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.

Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by Faith : Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Emerson, Michael O., Christian Smith, and David Sikkink. 1999. “Equal in Christ, but Not in the World: White Conservative Protestants and Explanations of Black-White Inequality.” Social Problems 46(3):398–417.

Emerson, Michael O., and Rodney M. Woo. 2006. People of the Dream : Multiracial Congregations in the United States. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Gorski, Philip S. 2009. “Conservative Protestantism in the United States? Toward a Comparative and Historical Perspective.” Pp. 74–113 in Evangelicals and Democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Granovetter, Mark S. 2011. “The Strength of Weak Ties.” Pp. 589–93 in The inequality reader : contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender, edited by David B. Grusky and Szonja Szelényi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

King, Jr., Martin Luther. 1963. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Retrieved (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html).

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. 2012. “The Geography of Exclusion: Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty.” Social Problems 59(3):364–88.

Lichterman, Paul, Prudence L. Carter, and Michèle Lamont. 2009. “Race-Bridging for Christ? Conservative Christians and Black-White Relations in Community Life.” Pp. 187–220 in Evangelicals and Democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Logan, John R., Elisabeta Minca, and Sinem Adar. 2012. “The Geography of Inequality: Why Separate Means Unequal in American Public Schools.” Sociology of Education 85(3):287–301.

Macartney, Suzanne, Alemayehu Bishaw, and Kayla Fontenot. 2013. Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007-2011. Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau. Retrieved (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf).

Marx, Karl. 1975. “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.” in Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works, vol. 3, edited by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. New York: International Publishers. Retrieved (http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio6961573.008).

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid : Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life. 2008. U.S. Religious Landscape Survey. Pew Research Center. Retrieved (http://religions.pewforum.org/pdf/report-religious-landscape-study-full.pdf).

Pew Research Center. 2012. Trends in Party Identification of Religious Groups. Washington, D.C. Retrieved (http://www.pewforum.org/2012/02/02/trends-in-party-identification-of-religious-groups/).

Sahgal, Neha, and Greg Smith. 2009. A Religious Portrait of African-Americans. Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life. Retrieved (http://www.pewforum.org/A-Religious-Portrait-of-African-Americans.aspx).

Scheitle, Christopher P., and Kevin D. Dougherty. 2010. “Race, Diversity, and Membership Duration in Religious Congregations*.” Sociological Inquiry 80(3):405–23.

Sernau, Scott. 2006. Worlds Apart : Social Inequalities in a Global Economy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

Vesely-Flad, Rima. 2011. “The Social Covenant and Mass Incarceration: Theologies of Race and Punishment.” Anglican Theological Review 93(4):541–62.

Weber, Max. 1949. “The Social Psychology of the World Religions.” Pp. 267–301 in From Max Weber: Essays in sociology, edited by Hans Heinrich Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford university press.

Weber, Max. 2002. The Protestant Ethic and the “Spirit” of Capitalism and Other Writings. edited by P. R. Baehr and Gordon C. Wells. New York: Penguin Books.

Weber, Max. 2003. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Weber, Max. 2011. “Class, Status, Party.” Pp. 56–67 in The inequality reader : contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender, edited by David B. Grusky and Szonja Szelényi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Wuthnow, Robert. 2009. “The Cultural Capital of American Evangelicalism.” Pp. 27–43 in Evangelicals and Democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.


[1] According to the Pew Research Center, “Non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67% of the population in 2005, will be 47% in 2050” (Passel and Cohn 2008).

[2] Inerrancy and/or or divine inspiration of Scripture; Personal relationship with and faith in Jesus Christ as the way to salvation from eternal damnation; “Born-again” converts live repentant lives; and Christians should share their beliefs with others (i.e. evangelism) (Ammerman 2009; Gorski 2009; Wuthnow 2009).

[3] All research studies cited in this essay either use the terms (conservative evangelical and conservative Protestant) interchangeably or there is enough similarity in core beliefs or denominations to use them interchangeably for the purposes of this essay.

[4] Though I do not deny that willfully racist evangelicals exist.

[5] General Social Survey (GSS)

[6] Additionally, in 117 face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of self-identified white evangelicals, 72% cited either a lack of motivation, cultural deficiencies, or both, as reasons for black-white inequalities (Blanchard 2007).

[7] 70% of white evangelicals identify with or lean toward the free-market (freewill individualism) and anti-government (anti-structuralist) platform of the Republican Party (Pew Research Center 2012).

© Daniel Ismael Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Ismael Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

When the n-word appears on the forum wall

How Christians Might Talk About Race

Tattered Rose

(Published in Wheaton College‘s school newspaper, The Record, during the Spring 2012 semester)

forum wall ntalk

This Fall, the Forum Wall served as a venue for incredibly varied attitudes about the issue of race. Posters, letters, drawings, and a vast array of comments responded to student-led initiatives which attempted to promote racial harmony and reconciliation. The culmination of this discussion was the phrase: “This is Nigger talk.” Those four words were explicitly, and anonymously, scribbled on a letter posted on Wheaton College’s own forum wall. While most members of our community do not espouse the overt racism embodied in this phrase, we still tend to avoid engaging in thoughtful, constructive conversations about racism and prejudice. This aversion to race conversations may be a result of the way the conversation is initially presented. I would like to challenge us to go further and examine the way the race conversation is…

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Genealogy of a White American Jesus: From Slave Master to Billy Graham

Through five years of immersion in what is arguably the “holy land” of white evangelicalism in Midwest, USA (i.e. Wheaton has “more churches per capita than any other town in America”), I have come to the conclusion that white evangelicalism has a “White American Jesus” problem. While some white evangelical institutions are engaged in what some scholars call “race-bridging,” they are few and far between (less than 7%), and are unconsciously “Christ-centered” on a “white American Jesus.” As such, racial reconciliation efforts by white evangelicals have had little to no impact on the segregated nature of their white evangelical institutions (Christerson, Edwards, and Emerson 2005; Emerson and Woo 2006; Lichterman, Carter, and Lamont 2009). Below is an excerpt from a larger work of mine, entitled: The Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism:

white jesus

SLAVE MASTER’S JESUS VS SLAVE’S JESUS

In my opinion, the root of white evangelical color-blind racism is insidiously hidden in the history of pro-slavery “Christianity.” An analysis of pro-slavery “Christianity” will elucidate the Christological differences between Black and White Church traditions today. W.E.B. Du Bois described how Christianity in the Colonies functioned to justify slavery (2000). White Christians claimed that “slaves were to be brought from heathenism to Christianity, and through slavery the benighted Indian and African were to find their passport into the kingdom of God” (Du Bois 2000:70). Eventually, whites were confronted with “the insistent and perplexing question as to what the status of the heathen slave was to be after he was Christianized and baptized?” (Du Bois 2000:70). Many slave owners questioned whether to expose their slaves to Christianity due to “the implications of equality in the Bible and…the fear that education might cause the slave to fight for his freedom” (Cone 1997:75).

The measure taken by white Christians to appease this contradiction is still with us today—that is, the “White” Jesus of the slave master was completely divorced from any implications of freedom or justice related to civic matters (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). As such, “It was expressly declared in colony after colony that baptism did not free the slaves” (Du Bois 2000:71). The crux of pro-slavery “Christianity” was to ensure peace, by creating “good slaves” that would emulate “White” Jesus’ “meek-and-turn-the-other-cheek” side. While many abolitionists were eventually motivated (in part) by their Christian faith, the majority of the White Church then, as the White Church today, was silent about the oppressive and racist structures of America (Cone 1997; Emerson, Smith, and Sikkink 1999). Like the slave masters’ “White” Jesus, the “White” Jesus of evangelicals today is not concerned with ameliorating the plight of the oppressed on Earth as much as he is concerned with “order” and “saving individual souls” (Cone 1997).

Conversely, black slave ministers emphasized the God of the Exodus who freed the slaves from Egypt. Many who led slave rebellions were black slave ministers who identified with the suffering of Jesus and saw his resurrection as the triumph over the oppressive forces of his day (Du Bois 2000; Cone 1997). In addition to eternal salvation, the Jesus of the Black Church has historically identified with the poor and oppressed of the land, unlike the Jesus of the White Church today (Cone 1997). In this way, “Black Christianity” has operated as “the expression of…and also the protest against real distress…the sigh of the oppressed creature;” White evangelicalism, on the other hand, even if unintentionally today, has operated as “the opium of the [oppressed] people” (Marx 1975:175). Today, white evangelicals usually claim “objectivity” in their Christology, but have forgotten the racist roots of their “White-American Jesus” who is not concerned with social justice. This is why both White and Black Church traditions can be “Christocentric” while having incredibly different interpretations of what it means to emulate Christ—i.e., to be concerned with saving individual souls or concerned with justice on Earth as well as saving souls.

ANTI-STRUCTURALISM AND THE BILLY GRAHAM GOSPEL

Following the horrors of World War II and the Holocaust, Americans questioned the modernist claims of “progress” and the “inherent goodness of the human being.” America was ripe for the fundamentalist message to “return to Christian values,” to be “saved from the evils of men.” Even President Dwight Eisenhower spoke of returning to the “Judeo-Christian” roots of the U.S. (Belton 2010). However, it was the Cold War hysteria that prompted the masses to seek a blatantly “Americanized” version of the Gospel as salvation from the “evils of this world” (Belton 2010). Much like the “Terror Alerts” of our Post-9/11 World, after the Soviet Union successfully tested an atomic bomb, it was perceived that the “world was on the brink of a nuclear holocaust” (Belton 2010). In this ethos of fear, no single individual did more to marry an individualistic and anti-activist Gospel with right-wing ideals than Billy Graham.

Graham came to be “the primary engine of America’s cold war religious revival” (Belton 2010). Preaching to thousands, Graham presented the Gospel as the only means of salvation from not only eternal hell, but from the “evil forces of Communism” as well:

The battle is between communism and Christianity! …When communism conquers a nation, it makes every man a slave! When Christianity conquers…it makes every man a king! (Belton 2010)

The preaching of Graham was noticed by “media baron William Randolph Hearst, a staunch anti-communist,” who instructed his newspapers to “Puff Graham” (Belton 2010). Hearst’s mass media support provided the medium that “rocketed Graham,” and evangelicals, “onto the national stage” (Belton 2010). Graham’s anti-communist Gospel contributed to the marriage between conservative evangelicalism and right wing politics and economics, which oppose macro social programs aimed at racial equality today (Belton 2010; Brint and Schroedel 2009).

It is true that Graham occasionally spoke about “racial tolerance,” but according to Graham, “racism [and all social injustice] is not a social/structural issue; it is merely a symptom of sin;” Therefore, all we need to do to save the country is to convert individuals to Christianity (Belton 2010). Graham’s simplistic—“All you need is Jesus”—Gospel, required very little more than an outward expression of personal piety and church attendance, systemic efforts toward social justice be damned. Similarly, most white evangelicals today are focused on a Jesus who has little concern for macro social justice reforms that appear to be part of the “liberal-agenda.”

BILLY GRAHAM’S JESUS VS MARTIN LUTHER KING’S JESUS

It is noted that “one of the feats of Billy Graham…was to refocus the evangelical movement around the figure of Jesus in a way that cut across denominational lines,” thereby creating stronger ties among evangelicals (Wuthnow 2009:29). However, since white evangelicals have failed to take seriously the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and systemic racism, they have failed to deconstruct the figure of Jesus that was promulgated by slave masters in the U.S. That is, the Jesus that Billy Graham made popular among evangelicals was eerily similar to the Jesus who was preached to the slaves—One who was concerned with obedience and an outward expression of personal piety, divorced from notions of social justice such as achieving racial equality in the U.S. To be clear, I am not suggesting that Graham was trying to create “good” slaves, however, he did very little to oppose other white evangelical “leaders and congregations [that] frequently condoned and sometimes actively supported segregation and subordination of African Americans up through…the 50s and 60s” (Lichterman et al. 2009:192; Vesely-Flad 2011). While Billy may have sincerely wanted to save souls from hell, his obsession with the afterlife and conservative political leanings were more important to him, and most other white evangelicals, than the racial oppression that was happening right before their eyes.

Graham went so far, in April of 1963, along with other white preachers, as to call on Martin Luther King, Jr. to “put the brakes on a little bit” regarding direct action to end segregation (Anon 1963; Belton 2010). While Graham preached a few “integrated” crusades, all he really did was remove a rope that divided white and black people at his crusades. His “efforts” paled in comparison to those of the children who were hosed down, bitten by dogs, and arrested for protesting segregation in the South. The complicity of white preachers, including Graham, in maintaining segregation prompted Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, in which he chastised the “white moderate [and preacher], who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice” (Belton 2010; King, Jr. 1963). Herein lies the theological distinction between white evangelicals and the Black Church today. The Jesus who identified with the oppressed is the same Jesus that motivated Dr. King and many other champions of the Civil Rights era—unlike the Jesus that motivated Graham’s individualistic, anti-structuralist, pro-conservative-politics gospel, which influences evangelical thinking on race relations today.

ANTI-LIBERAL RISE OF THE CHRISTIAN RIGHT

            The end of the 1970s gave birth to a plethora of politically conservative organizations such as The Christian Right, the Christian Voice, and the Moral Majority (Brint and Schroedel 2009:5). Since the 1980s, evangelicals have pledged uncanny allegiance to right-wing politics. I would argue that a theological orientation that required nothing more than a personal relationship with Jesus and a life of individualistic repentance from sin, with no call to social justice, and selectively “literalist” interpretations of the Bible on issues of gender roles, homosexuality, and abortion are the primary orientations that influence evangelicals to detest progressive reforms that they believe are violating “biblical values.” The propensity for “order” over justice seems related to religious roots in the slave master’s Christology that elevates personal piety over notions of justice and freedom related to civic matters. This anti-liberal ethos against Civil Rights reforms continues to cloud white evangelicals’ views on racial inequalities today.

In the decades following the desegregation of public schools (Brown v. Board of Ed.), and the Civil Rights years of the 60s and 70s, thousands of white families, including white evangelicals, moved to “more desirable locations,” and even opened privately-owned all-white “Christian” academies (Emerson and Smith 2000; Massey and Denton 1993; Vesely-Flad 2011). Today, many of these schools and neighborhoods remain just as segregated as they were forty years ago.

In my paper, The Evangelical Ethic and the Spirit of Color-blind Racism, I outline several seemingly “race-neutral” cultural and theological orientations of white evangelicals today that guide their actions toward color-blind racism. The color-blind racism of white evangelicals includes the denial of systemic racism, which results in dampened support for programs that would mitigate racial inequalities on a systemic level. The most damning evidence for white evangelical color-blind racism can be found in the fact that “for every 1-unit increase in number of white evangelical congregations per 1,000 non-Hispanic whites in every county in every region across the country, there were significant increases in all measures of segregation” (Blanchard 2007).

In this excerpt I presented the genealogy of a “White American Jesus,” who influences white evangelicals to perpetuate inequality by subordinating social justice to personal piety and church attendance. I would hope that if they want to be true to the message of Jesus Christ, that they would take some time to learn from traditions that have championed causes for the poor and oppressed in the name of Jesus Christ.

WORKS CITED

Anon. 1963. “Billy Graham Urges Restrain in Sit-Ins.” New York Times, April 18, Archives. Retrieved (http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=FA0B15F9385D117B93CAA8178FD85F478685F9).

Belton, David. 2010. “The Soul of a Nation.” God in America. Retrieved (http://www.pbs.org/godinamerica/transcripts/hour-five.html).

Blanchard, Troy C. 2007. “Conservative Protestant Congregations and Racial Residential Segregation: Evaluating the Closed Community Thesis in Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Counties.” American Sociological Review 72(3):416–33.

Du Bois, W. E. B. 2000. “Religion in the South.” Pp. 69–89 in Du Bois on Religion, edited by Phil Zuckerman. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

Brint, Steven G., and Jean Reith Schroedel, eds. 2009. Evangelicals and Democracy in America. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Christerson, Brad, Korie L. Edwards, and Michael O. Emerson. 2005. Against All Odds : The Struggle for Racial Integration in Religious Organizations. New York: New York University Press.

Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black Power. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis.

Emerson, Michael O., and Christian Smith. 2000. Divided by Faith : Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.

Emerson, Michael O., Christian Smith, and David Sikkink. 1999. “Equal in Christ, but Not in the World: White Conservative Protestants and Explanations of Black-White Inequality.” Social Problems 46(3):398–417.

Emerson, Michael O., and Rodney M. Woo. 2006. People of the Dream : Multiracial Congregations in the United States. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

King, Jr., Martin Luther. 1963. “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” Retrieved (http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html).

Lichterman, Paul, Prudence L. Carter, and Michèle Lamont. 2009. “Race-Bridging for Christ? Conservative Christians and Black-White Relations in Community Life.” Pp. 187–220 in Evangelicals and Democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Marx, Karl. 1975. “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Law.” in Karl Marx, Frederick Engels: Collected Works, vol. 3, edited by Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx. New York: International Publishers. Retrieved (http://www.columbia.edu/cgi-bin/cul/resolve?clio6961573.008).

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. American Apartheid : Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Vesely-Flad, Rima. 2011. “The Social Covenant and Mass Incarceration: Theologies of Race and Punishment.” Anglican Theological Review 93(4):541–62.

Wuthnow, Robert. 2009. “The Cultural Capital of American Evangelicalism.” Pp. 27–43 in Evangelicals and Democracy in America, edited by Steven G. Brint and Jean Reith Schroedel. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Towards a Black-Womanist Theology of Mass Incarceration

My experience as a formerly incarcerated convicted drug felon from a low-income brown family has led me to ask the question, what does God mean for those under the oppression of mass incarceration? To speak of mass incarceration is to speak of a system of racial oppression.[1] It is also to speak of the failure of that system to rehabilitate persons, and the victims this failure creates. To speak of mass incarceration is to speak of the creation of nonpersons out of criminally convicted persons by replacing names with inmate numbers, personal histories with criminal histories, and by withholding social and political power through felon disenfranchisement laws and the institutionalized legal discrimination of criminal offenders.[2]

In this essay, first, I will describe and employ the task, sources, and Christology of black theology to locate God’s liberating work in the efforts of those who are working to dismantle mass incarceration at an institutional level. Then, I will describe and employ both the survival/quality-of-life tradition and Christology of womanist theology to locate God’s involvement with those who are not liberated, but have to endure through the struggles of mass incarceration instead.  Finally, I will explore the tension between these theologies and offer a third way to see the meaning of God amidst mass incarceration. The goal of this essay is to utilize the aforementioned elements of black and womanist theologies to argue that God is involved in the dismantling of mass incarceration and in ensuring the survival and quality of life of those who have to endure it.

BLACK THEOLOGY AND MASS INCARCERATION

The task of theology, according to James Cone, is to investigate the meaning of the gospel of Jesus Christ in such a way that all those who are oppressed would believe that God is both with them in their suffering and in their struggle for liberation.[3] This is so because Yahweh sided with the poor and oppressed of Israel, and because Jesus sided with “the oppressed, the poor and unwanted of society, and against oppressors.”[4] Therefore, theology must articulate how God sides with the oppressed nonpersons in society today. In light of slavery, Jim Crow, segregated ghettoes, and continued racial disparities in the U.S., the best description of oppression in America is found in the “ontological symbol and visible reality” of blackness. [5] Since white supremacy has been and still is the source for the racial oppression of blacks, then whiteness, in black theology, is a symbol of the oppressor. In other words, Christian theology in the U.S. must either be identified with those who are oppressed by white supremacy, in general, or identified with the black community, in particular. Therefore, in relation to a system that is at least operating in the form of a racially discriminatory system creating nonpersons disproportionately out of the black community, black theology affirms that God is on the side of those who oppose this system. We can now examine the sources and norm of black theology that affirm this idea.

One of the sources of black theology is the black experience in America.[6] Cone asserts that among other things, “The black experience is police departments adding more recruits and buying more guns to provide ‘law and order,’ which means making a city safe for its white population.”[7] When Cone wrote those words in 1970, the prison population was one-fifth what it is today.[8] However, according to Cone, black experience is not just “encountering white insanity;” it also includes God’s work in empowering black people to strive for their social and political liberation in the face of that insanity, such as in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. As outlined in Michelle Alexander’s book, The New Jim Crow, the current system of mass incarceration was conceptualized by the Nixon administration as an effort to appeal to disgruntled racist white voters in the South who felt they were being disenfranchised by the gains of blacks during the Civil Rights Movement. Nixon regularly associated the Civil Rights Movement with “lawlessness” by alluding to the race rebellions and civil rights protests in major cities across the country. In other words, white supremacy was the initial force behind the “tough on crime” mentality that galvanized mass incarceration. Since mass incarceration was an attempt to quell the events of liberation in the black community, specifically, and it reinforces white supremacy via the disproportionate criminalization of black and brown people, generally, then black theology must identify God’s presence in any community that is affected by, and attempts to dismantle, this system.

Revelation, as a source of black theology, urges black theology to take seriously the system of mass incarceration. As evidenced by the exodus, revelation for the Christian faith is God’s work “in human history for the oppressed of the land.”[9] Therefore, for black theology, “Revelation is a black event – it is what blacks are doing about their liberation.”[10] In a more general sense, revelation of God occurs when “a condition of oppression… develops into a situation of liberation.”[11] In relation to mass incarceration, revelation provides a source for describing God’s work not only in opposing mass incarceration on the institutional level, but for transforming the lives of individuals who have been affected by it as well.

Prisoner reentry and rehabilitation have the potential to be some of the most fertile processes for the manifestation of God’s revelation in the lives of individuals. Criminal behavior such as the selling and using of drugs, theft, and other crimes can be the result of internal oppressive forces. Even before being literally incarcerated, addiction was my metaphorical prison. If God’s revelation occurs when the oppressed are set free, then God’s revelation occurs whenever a habitual criminal or addict changes her or his life around for the better. In this sense, the fact that 7 out of 10 released prisoners are rearrested within three years[12] can be interpreted as the rate at which God’s revelation is denied in the life of criminally charged or chemically dependent persons. Exploding prison populations and the lack of decline in drug use demonstrate that the system is not helping to free drug offenders from the throes of addiction or associated lifestyles such as drug dealing. For this reason, black theology must describe God’s revelation as present in the process of opposing the system of mass incarceration through the rehabilitation of criminals and successful prisoner reentry programs.

Finally, black theology affirms that the person of Jesus Christ is the manifestation of God’s revelatory event. Cone asserts that “black theology takes seriously the historical Jesus” because Jesus was “the Oppressed One whose earthly existence was bound up with the oppressed in the land.”[13] Because of the resurrection of the oppressed Jesus, it means that Jesus is not only “present today” in oppressed communities fighting for liberation, but he identifies with those communities as well.[14] Therefore, Jesus is identified with the oppressed black community. In other words, Jesus is black. Today, prisoners who are working to liberate themselves and their families can find hope and strength in the Jesus who identifies with their struggle to be liberated from: the self-oppressive chains of addiction (or some other self-destructive behavior) and the oppressive forces of a system that disproportionately incarcerates low-income black and brown people in the United States.

WOMANIST THEOLOGY AND MASS INCARCERATION

While black theology is useful for describing God’s work of liberation through the dismantling of mass incarceration, Delores Williams’ womanist theology can best describe the experiences of those who are not liberated by God. Williams asserts that the norm of liberation in black theology does not work for the experiences of African-American women.[15] Instead, she finds the representation of black women in the story of Hagar in Genesis. First, like the experiences of many female African-American slaves in the U.S., Hagar was a female African slave “who was forced to be a surrogate mother” for her slave master.[16] Similar to African-American slaves who ran away, Hagar also ran away. Given the high chances of infant mortality during her day, especially if she was to give birth in the wilderness, Williams believes that God directed Hagar to return to her oppressor’s house because it was the only way for Hagar and her child to be saved. Thus, for Williams, God seems more concerned with survival than liberation. Finally, after Hagar and her child (Ishmael) were exiled into the wilderness, God promised that their “descendants will be numerous,” and that Ishmael would be a warrior and skilled hunter. This suggests, for Williams, that liberation “is not given by God; it finds its source in human initiative” through resources for survival and strategies to improve one’s quality of life.[17] Williams names this reinterpretation of Hagar’s story the survival/quality-of-life tradition of African-American biblical appropriation.[18]

We can see God’s response of survival and quality of life to Hagar’s predicament as parallel to God’s response of survival and quality of life to persons behind bars. This is evident through my experience of being incarcerated at the Cook County Jail. Prior to my arrest, I was shooting heroin into my veins daily and smoking innumerable amounts of crack cocaine. At best, my life as a drug addict on the street was rapidly approaching death. Though under radically different circumstances to Hagar, my time behind bars can be interpreted as God being more concerned with my survival than my liberation. At that time, there may not have been any other way for me to escape inevitable death other than to be incarcerated. Despite the fact of unjust enforcement of laws, most people behind bars have serious issues they need to overcome, and maybe they can find hope in the fact that God is still concerned with their survival despite the fact that they are behind bars.

Next, I believe the prison experience is similar to the wilderness experience of Hagar. In the wilderness, Hagar had “serious personal and salvific encounters with God… which aided Hagar in the survival struggle of herself and her son.”[19] Like Hagar, inmates enter into a situation that seems grim and hopeless. But it is in this state of being that I believe persons are most able to encounter God – at least that was my experience. Behind bars, in a seemingly grim and hopeless situation, I believe I had a personal and salvific encounter with God. This type of encounter is not unusual and is sometimes referred to as a “jailhouse conversion.” The problem is that many times, inmates may have a personal encounter with God in prison, but will fail to take the human initiative to acquire skills for improving their quality of life. Granted, the system does very little to help this initiative, but neither did Abram and Sarai do anything to help Hagar in the wilderness. The Hagar story does not justify mass incarceration, but it does say that despite this injustice, inmates can find hope for survival and improved quality of life by taking human initiative. When they take that step to improve their quality of life, in the same way and with the same faith that Hagar did, inmates and released prisoners can trust that God is with them.

Finally, we can see the meaning of God in the reality of mass incarceration by understanding the Christology of womanist theology. Williams would agree with Cone, that there is redemption in the person of Jesus Christ, but in contrast to Cone, she rejects the salvific and redemptive power of the cross.[20] According to Williams, to glorify the cross by portraying Jesus as a surrogate who suffers in the place of others, all too often results in the exploitation of black women who are told that God intends for them to suffer as Jesus suffered. Williams says black women must reject the notion of Jesus’ surrogacy as a redemptive act. However, Williams believes that redemption can still be found in Jesus Christ through his ministerial vision. According to Williams, Jesus did not intend to redeem humanity through death on the cross, but through a “perfect ministerial vision… giving humankind the ethical thought and practice upon which to build a positive, productive quality of life.”[21]

In dealing with mass incarceration, it is important for the loved ones of criminal offenders to reject the surrogacy role and to embrace the ministerial vision of Jesus. I know from personal experience that the loved ones of both literally and metaphorically incarcerated people often believe that they must stick by their loved one no matter what. Especially when a person is behind bars or in some sort of trouble, there is the potential for their loved ones to feel they have to personally fix all of their problems. Often times this results in a sort of surrogacy role for the men and women who suffer right alongside their loved ones in prison. In dismantling mass incarceration, theologians must affirm that there is no redemption in senseless suffering. This does not mean that people should abandon their incarcerated loved ones, but if abuse is any part of that relationship, then nobody should believe that God intends for them to suffer in that relationship in order for the other person to be redeemed or liberated.

JESUS, LAZARUS, AND THE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY

There is a clear tension between black and womanist theologies in addressing the issue of mass incarceration. In the former, liberation comes through systemic changes and programs that would eliminate the oppressive nature of mass incarceration and provide rehabilitative services for criminal offenders. In the latter, redemption and salvation comes from human initiative, in which those who are directly affected by the system, such as inmates, see that God is with them when they take the human initiative to change their lives for the better. I believe a melding of these visions can be seen through the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead in chapter 11 of the Gospel of John.

After receiving the news about Lazarus’ illness, Jesus told his disciples that he would go to him in Judea. The disciples, deeply concerned, questioned the efficacy of going into dangerous territory to help Lazarus, but Jesus was not deterred. When Jesus came to Lazarus’ sister, Mary, she was deeply worried that it was too late to save her loved one because “he had already been in the tomb for four days,” but Jesus comforted her by reminding her that he is the resurrection. Even though Jesus knew that he would raise Lazarus from the dead, upon witnessing the pain of Mary and the community of those who loved Lazarus, “Jesus wept.” Finally, Jesus told members of the community to remove the tombstone. Then, he called out to Lazarus, and Lazarus responded by coming out of the tomb. Finally, Jesus called on the community once again to unbind Lazarus and to let him go!

In this story, Lazarus is the prisoner. As a former drug addict and inmate, I can attest that being in this bondage can feel like one is spiritually dead. Like Lazarus’ loved ones, even the loved ones of inmates can sometimes lose hope that the inmate can overcome being “dead.” But like Jesus, the Christian community is called to be compassionate and to empathize with the pain of others—indeed, even weeping alongside those whose pain would otherwise not directly affect one’s self. Jesus did not raise Lazarus from the dead alone; members of the community were involved in removing the stone. As such, the Christian community must be involved in removing the structural barriers that keep inmates ‘dead’ and going in and out of prison (i.e. advocating for macro social prison reform). Like Lazarus, inmates must respond to Jesus’ call by taking the human initiative to walk out of the tomb. This is similar to the human initiative to improve one’s quality of life in womanist theology. Finally, Jesus calls on the Christian community to help Lazarus and the inmate re-enter into society by “unbinding” Lazarus and helping him to remove the vestiges of his former state of being. In this story, we can see that God’s involvement in mass incarceration involves structural changes, human initiative, and a Jesus who is the resurrection and raises the dead (i.e. rehabilitates individuals) even before and after the event on the cross.

CONCLUSION

 I believe we have an adequate answer to the question: What does God mean for those under the oppression of mass incarceration? Cone’s black theology showed us that God sides with the community that is working to dismantle an oppressive system that is in the business of creating perpetual nonpersons out of poor and disenfranchised racial and ethnic minorities. As evidenced in the book, The New Jim Crow, this system is truly massive and oppressive and without a theology that attempts to overthrow social structures for the liberation of the oppressed, we will not fully address the problem. Similarly, Williams’ womanist theology is crucial for giving hope to those who do not receive liberation, but who endure a prison sentence, either as an inmate or an inmate’s loved one, instead. This womanist approach is crucial for addressing the reality that despite the oppressive nature of mass incarceration, criminal offenders must take some responsibility for working to improve their own lives as well. Without this view we would not fully address the problem of mass incarceration, either.  Instead, I’ve offered a potential melding of these two theologies by showing how each uniquely addresses the problem and by offering a third tradition of Jesus, Lazarus, and the Christian community to demonstrate that the work of dismantling the system of mass incarceration is the work of doing God’s will.


[1] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (New York; [Jackson, Tenn.]: New Press ; Distributed by Perseus Distribution, 2010).

[2] Ibid.

[3] James H. Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 2nd ed. (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, c1986.).

[4] Ibid., 6.

[5] Ibid., 8.

[6] Ibid., 24.

[7] Ibid., 25.

[8] Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[9] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 31.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid., 48.

[12] Alexander, The New Jim Crow : Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

[13] Cone, A Black Theology of Liberation, 118.

[14] Ibid., 31.

[15] Delores S. Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness the Challenge of Womanist God-talk (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, c1993.).

[16] Ibid., 2.

[17] Ibid., 5.

[18] Ibid., 6.

[19] Ibid., 3.

[20] Williams, Sisters in the Wilderness the Challenge of Womanist God-talk.

[21] Ibid., 165.

© Daniel Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Daniel Aguilar and thetatteredrose.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For Christ and His White Kingdom – An open letter to the Wheaton College Community on White Supremacy

In February 2012, Wheaton College was jolted by a racial incident infamously known as: #chapeltweets. Participants in the Rhythm & Praise chapel service at this small evangelical liberal arts college (with the motto: “For Christ and His Kingdom”) were publicly mocked and insulted on the social networking sites Twitter and Facebook.  The chapel service, which presented forms of music, dancing, and painting largely from the African American tradition, was derided as an unworthy expression of worship. Tweets and memes ranged from being naïve and racially insensitive to malicious and borderline overtly racist. Examples include (more at the end of the post):

chapeltweetblackkids

black father meme chapel breakdancing meme chapeltweetsblackface chapeltweetsentertainment chapeltweetblackjoker terrorist meme

In the aftermath of these and other tweets, many students responded by downplaying the importance of race, claiming that the tweets were not offensive and that students of color who were upset were being overly sensitive. While the initial furor of the Chapel Tweets incident has died down, students of color continue to be underrepresented at Wheaton College. Moreover, the elephant in the room has not been addressed—that is, Wheaton College and other white evangelical institutions in the U.S. continue to operate to varying degrees under the framework of white supremacy.

Yes, white supremacy is the ethos of my alma mater, but here is what I am not saying: I do not believe that the people running the school or even most of the student body are white supremacists, if by the term, you mean they embody racial hatred and believe that the white race is superior to others. No, it is much more subtle (and systemic) than that—but this is the ethos of Wheaton, nonetheless.

I graduated from Wheaton in May 2013 and could very easily rid myself of anything concerning it, but two main things have urged me to write about my experience with white supremacy at Wheaton College. First, white supremacy is evil and when left unchecked has spawned the suffering of countless innocent people all over the globe. Second, I actually do care about the future of Wheaton, because I believe there are good people there who could transform it into an institution that cultivates students and leaders for improving our world.

Today, the inertia of white supremacy continues to drive racial inequalities in the U.S.—Wheaton College is no exception to this phenomena. I want to briefly outline some racial inequalities in the U.S. then talk about how racial inequalities at Wheaton are embedded in this system of white supremacy as well. When referring to Wheaton College, I am working primarily with an understanding of white supremacy as a system. See Tim Wise’s definition below:

As a system, racism is an institutional arrangement, maintained by policies, practices and procedures — both formal and informal — in which some persons typically have more or less opportunity than others, and in which such persons receive better or worse treatment than others, because of their respective racial identities. Additionally, institutional racism involves denying persons opportunities, rewards, or various benefits on the basis of race [whether intentionally or unintentionally], to which those individuals are otherwise entitled. In short, racism is a system of inequality, based on race.

White supremacy is the operationalized form of racism in the United States and throughout the Western world. Racism is like the generic product name, while white supremacy is the leading brand, with far and away the greatest market share.

WHITE SUPREMACY IN THE U.S.

This blog is insufficient to provide an adequate lesson in the history and development of white supremacy, such as: European conquest and colonization, Native American genocide, Black-African slavery, the Jim Crow Era, programmatic racial segregation, New Jim Crow, etc. Still, let’s examine, briefly, some current racial inequalities that people could explain by saying that either, “people of all races have equal opportunities, thus disparities are a result of flaws in certain groups’ cultures” or current disparities are a function of white supremacy.

According to a 2011 report by the Pew Research Center, wealth gaps between white, Hispanic, and black households have risen to record highs in the United States.

median net worth by race

In 2009, the median net worth (MNW)[1] of white households was “20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:1). The U.S. poverty rate for African-Americans and Hispanics is 25.8% and 23.2%, respectively; whereas poverty rate for whites is 11.6% (Macartney, Bishaw, and Fontenot 2013).

A study of all 3,141 counties in the United States, published by the University of California Press, provided “a place-based portrait of spatial inequality and concentrated poverty over the past two decades” (Lichter, Parisi, and Taquino 2012:370). The study finds there are disproportionately high levels of poverty concentration among black and Latina/o populations compared to non-Hispanic whites. Based on the latest data from 2009, 36.3% of the total black population lives in high-poverty places, while 49.2% of poor blacks are concentrated in high-poverty places.[2] For all Hispanics, 23.9% live in high-poverty places, while 33.3% of poor Hispanics live in these communities as well. In sharp contrast, only 11.1% of non-Hispanic whites live in poor communities (Lichter et al. 2012). Additionally, research indicates that over 60% of black and Hispanic students attend public schools where the majority of students are below the poverty line; compared to only “18 percent of white students” who attend high-poverty schools (Logan, Minca, and Adar 2012:288).

I hope it is obvious that I do not believe that these stark racial disparities are a result of morally devoid cultures in black and brown communities. Social scientists have presented ample evidence for the origins of racial segregation in past discriminatory housing practices such as “redlining,” restrictive covenants, and steering (Massey and Denton 1993; Sernau 2006). Racial residential segregation of people of color is one of the most damning tools of white supremacy, which perpetuates race disparities in areas of wealth, incarceration rates, employment discrimination, and more. Another leading cause of racial disparities in the U.S. is related to the underrepresentation of students of color in higher education. It is evident that a degree in higher education can be a ticket out of poverty.

RACIAL INEQUALITIES AT MY ALMA MATER

When we examine the racial demographics of Wheaton College, through data from the US Census Bureau and Wheaton College’s Office of Institutional Research (only accessible while on-campus through Wheaton’s intranet), we see that Wheaton falls unacceptably below average in providing equal access to education for black and Latina/o students. Data for 2010, indicates that the enrollment percentage at Wheaton College was a paltry 2.90% for black or African-Americans and 3.90% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. In comparison, enrollment at peer institutions during the same time period was 9.20% for black or African-Americans and 6.20% for Hispanic or Latina/o students. Enrollment for all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities in the U.S., during the same time, was 12.92% for black or African-Americans and 8.06% for Hispanic or Latina/o students.

In other words minority enrollment averages at peer institutions are double what they are at Wheaton; minority enrollment averages in all 4-year, private nonprofit colleges/universities are three times greater than they are at Wheaton. Moreover, in 1976, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. was 16.6%. By 2004, the total minority undergraduate population in the U.S. had nearly doubled to 32.5%, while Wheaton College, in 2012, had remained thirty years behind the national trends at a disgustingly low 17.5% total minority undergraduate population—or as the Wheaton website describes it “just shy of 20% of the campus.”

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf
Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), Spring 2011, Enrollment component. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/coe/tables/table-psi-1.asp

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), "Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities" surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), "Fall Enrollment" survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

Source: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, 2005 (NCES 2006-030), table 205, data from the Higher Education General Information Survey (HEGIS), “Fall Enrollment in Colleges and Universities” surveys, 1976 and 1980, and 1990 through 2004 Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), “Fall Enrollment” survey, 1990, and Spring 2001 through Spring 2005. http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2007/minoritytrends/tables/table_a23_1.asp
Source 2: http://intra.wheaton.edu/academic/ITIR/pdf/Ethnicity/Student_Ethnicity_2010.pdf

So what is Wheaton’s excuse for denying equal access to higher education for black and Latina/o students, thereby participating in the larger framework of white supremacy? Certainly, it is not the lack of black and Latina/o students in higher education as evinced by the significantly higher averages at other schools. (Cue  attempts to justify low enrollment rates for students of color at Wheaton by attributing it to “personal choice” or something like that. Also, this is where many people will say, in so many words, “Yeah, but Wheaton isn’t all that bad when you compare it to other similar colleges that are doing a horrible job at enrolling students of color!”)

WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS HAVE TO DO WITH CHAPELTWEETS?

Wheaton College does not have to have an active policy of denying people of color access to their institution in order to perpetuate white supremacy, but the fact remains that African-American and Latina/o students are egregiously underrepresented at Wheaton. Of course, this reality is complex, but based on my three years as a student and two years as the Executive Vice President of Community Diversity on Student Government, I want to offer what I think contributes to Wheaton’s complicity in white supremacy.

After the #chapeltweets incident, a few dozen students rallied together to respond to the insensitivity and racism of their fellow students. We met through the late hours of the night trying to figure out how to respond. #Chapeltweets was unique, because it was so public and galvanized our emotions and desire for change. Students of color (and a few white students) had had enough with racial insensitivity, ignorant jokes, and lack of institutional support for race-related equity on campus. So, we drafted a petition called, The Diversity Initiatives: A petition for institutional change. In it, we described the reality of white supremacy at Wheaton College as such:

The pain, frustration, and anger of many students at Wheaton College stems from a much deeper place than #chapeltweets. Many unique challenges for students of minority cultures, races, or ethnicities exist. These unique challenges do not affect ALL [students of color] or ONLY [students of color], but those students who do not fit into the dominant American, white, middle to upper- middle class, culture. While overt racism is not rampant, issues of racial prejudice, cultural supremacy, ethnocentrism, and insensitivity afflict these students in profound ways. For many, it is not an acute, shooting pain that can be described in one incident. Rather, it is the dull, subtle, and constant reminder that students of minority cultures are merely invited guests in someone else’s home. Furthermore, the College has unintentionally affirmed and reinforced the elevated status of dominant white culture among our community, as a result of inadequate intervention in institutional practices that affect the campus climate.

The emphasis on quantity over quality, regarding the approach to increasing diversity, has neglected the experiences of minority culture students once they arrive on campus.

Whether it is the lack of professors and staff members with whom we can identify culturally (88.3% all-white faculty and 87.7% all-white staff), the lack of College Union events that are inclusive of people of color (91% of all artists/bands hosted by College Union between 2000 and 2012 were white), the lack of academic material that educates our peers about white supremacy, the lack of affirmation of our own cultures on a less-than-superficial basis, or the lack of significant support for student-led initiatives that attempt to promote racial understanding on campus, students of color eventually realize that Wheaton College is an institution primarily for its white American students.

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

A list of concert artists/bands was provided by the Assistant Director of Student Activities at Wheaton College. Members of the community diversity committee searched artist/band webpages, billboard charts and Wikipedia to ascertain background information on the artists above

My former Professor of Anthropology wrote that, “Racism does not require racists. All it needs to thrive is people who deny the wider historical and cultural context in which their words and thoughts live.” I’m here to tell you that the denial of white supremacy is the pervasive attitude among Wheaton students. Year after year, a loud contingent of Wheaton College students vehemently deride “student-led initiatives which [attempt] to promote racial harmony and reconciliation” on campus.

Most white students at Wheaton, however, will tell you that racism is not a problem on campus. They are partly right. Most white students at Wheaton are willfully oblivious to the effects of white supremacy on campus, because it literally only affects a pittance of the campus population. So it’s understandable that white students would say that something that they do not see is not a problem. Let me take this brief moment to acknowledge the voices of white students who feel marginalized by my words. First, I have found that white people who acknowledge the reality of white supremacy tend not to get offended when people of color merely state that it exists or when we point out that most white people deny its existence. If you are white and you are aware that white supremacy is a problem, not only in the U.S., but also systemically at Wheaton, then I am probably not describing you in this post. If you feel offended by my description of white apathy toward racial realities at Wheaton, then I can think of no other reason for you being offended other than you do not agree that white supremacy is a problem on campus, and thus, you would fall into the category of students that I am describing. To deny white supremacy is to deny the experiences of students of color who are affected by it. To deny the experiences of anyone is to deny their existence, which is why students affected by white supremacy are further marginalized on campus.

I can tell you what all of this means to me. It means that as a result of Wheaton’s failure to educate its students on the reality of white supremacy in the country and abroad, and as a result of the racially apathetic student culture that derives from the institutional failure to affirm minority cultures, that I will not be recommending Wheaton College to any students of color without any serious caveats for how they will feel alienated merely because they won’t fit in with the dominant and celebrated white culture on campus. I know for a fact that I am not the only alumnus of color who feels this way. So if Wheaton wants to increase its enrollment averages for African-American and Latina/o students, I suggest (for now):

  • Make radical changes to how the most-supported campus organizations promote and exalt white culture
  • Drastically increase funding for students of color from low-income communities to attend Wheaton
  • Implement a serious academic curriculum that lightens the burden of small student groups like Solidarity Cabinet to educate the campus community about race and puts it on the faculty through a required “gen-ed” on race relations in the U.S.
  • Be sincere about claims related to hiring more faculty of color (and all claims related to diversity for that matter)

At this point, I am not interested in talking about small changes to the structure (and infrastructure) of Wheaton College. If it were even 20 years ago, then maybe we could still give Wheaton a pat on the back for trying to resist white supremacy through one or two added scholarships for Latina/o students, a half-funded scholarship for African-American students, a small change here, a small change there…but it’s almost 2014 and what we need is results! Real results are past due. We will celebrate Wheaton’s achievements on race relations when they are worth celebrating for our time.

I’m speaking to everyone in the Wheaton Community whether you are a student, faculty, administrator, staff, or alumni. Let’s urge the institution to put its money where its mouth is and to provide equal access to higher education for African-American and Latina/o students, immediately—because diversity is more than just “colorful” photos on pamphlets, brochures and websites, and thirty years behind national trends is unacceptable.

Works Cited

Kochhar, Rakesh, Richard Fry, and Paul Taylor. 2011. Weatlh Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks and Hispanics. Washington, D.C.: Pew Research Center. Retrieved (http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2011/07/SDT-Wealth-Report_7-26-11_FINAL.pdf).

Lichter, Daniel T., Domenico Parisi, and Michael C. Taquino. 2012. “The Geography of Exclusion: Race, Segregation, and Concentrated Poverty.” Social Problems 59(3):364–88.

Logan, John R., Elisabeta Minca, and Sinem Adar. 2012. “The Geography of Inequality: Why Separate Means Unequal in American Public Schools.” Sociology of Education 85(3):287–301.

Macartney, Suzanne, Alemayehu Bishaw, and Kayla Fontenot. 2013. Poverty Rates for Selected Detailed Race and Hispanic Groups by State and Place: 2007-2011. Washington, D.C.: United States Census Bureau. Retrieved (http://www.census.gov/prod/2013pubs/acsbr11-17.pdf).

Massey, Douglas S., and Nancy A. Denton. 1993. “American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass.” in The inequality reader : contemporary and foundational readings in race, class, and gender, edited by David B. Grusky and Szonja Szelényi. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Sernau, Scott. 2006. Worlds Apart : Social Inequalities in a Global Economy. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Pine Forge Press.

Related Images of Wheaton College Racism:

forum wall ntalkpendulum danny aguilarSTARSForumWall chapeltweetEJchapeltweetCrazinesschapeltweetsairplaneflaggerchapeltweetsblacksinforum wall postsolidarity meme 3The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) image 2The_Diversity_Initiative_(update) page 2


[1] MNW “is the accumulated sum of assets (houses, cars, savings and checking accounts, stocks and mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc.) minus the sum of debt (mortgages, auto loans, credit card debt, etc.)” (Kochhar, Fry, and Taylor 2011:4).

[2] Individuals were considered poor if they lived in families with incomes below the official U.S. government poverty threshold for their family size.

Addendum:

I am adding this addendum because I do care about Wheaton College, very much so. Do not take my strong language as hateful, but please read it as passionate (and frustrated with failed efforts to work within the system for two difficult years). I tried to make it clear that I do not believe that people are actually operating as conscious white supremacists, but evidently that is not as clear to some people.

Either way, PLEASE READ: An Open Letter to Students and Alumni of Color at Wheaton College by Brian Howell.
http://brianhowell.blogspot.com/2013/12/an-open-letter-to-students-and-alumni.html

Thank you, Brian, for this follow up to my blogpost. There is nothing in this post with which I disagree. You certainly emphasized some of the progress more than I did, and that is fine. My intention was not to imply that nothing has been done at all, or that there weren’t any people at Wheaton who have been sincerely trying to work hard to change the institution for a very long time.
Indeed, there are many people striving for change who I have worked with personally…and there are many who resisted me and continue to resist change as well.

I still affirm my claims that the institution has not supported these individuals enough to make the changes that are necessary for the college to be where it should be in 2014.

By the institution, then, I’m referring to people who for whatever reason haven’t made the decisions that would radically change the policies that continue to support white supremacy. My one fear with your blogpost is that some people might say, “see Wheaton has been making some progress! Therefore, we do not need to keep putting pressure on them to do more.”…To do what is necessary.

Finally, my post was indeed a call to action, a call to stay engaged or to get even more engaged, NOT a call to withdraw from all things Wheaton.

Thanks again for joining the conversation (as you have been for so long. Indeed, I learned a lot of what I know, from you.)