When God Is White, White Is God (What Should Have Been A “Last Day of Black History Month” Thought)

In many white Christian contexts, theology produced by racial minorities comes with an assumption of heresy and heterodoxy. The implicit message from many [conservative] white pastors and professors is that black Christians have theological integrity to the degree they adopt the teachings that come from approved European and white American sources.
–from The Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby

Right as 2019 was ending, Daniel Akin, President of the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, called the late Rev. Dr. James Cone a heretic. I don’t know how much news of this made it to mainline/liberal/progressive theological circles, but it’s been on my mind since.

Then, earlier this month, Stanford University announced a paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology* by lead researcher Steven O. Roberts which shows a connection between people’s concept of God and who they think should be leaders.

While the first part of the paper talks about how people conceptualize God, what’s really fascinating is something that the authors note:

Again, even in a novel context, and even among adults who do not believe in God (Study 5) or children who have never heard of God (Study 7), beliefs about a god’s identity predicted the belief that those who shared that identity were more fit for leadership. Informed by these data, we propose that across many contexts, the extent to which people believe in a god and attribute a specific social identity to that god might predict the extent to which they conceptualize those who share that identity as god-like. Our data provide strong support for this possibility, though additional research, especially cross-cultural research, will be needed (see below).

Our finding that even young children conceptualize God as more White than Black (and more male than female), which predicts the conception of White candidates as more boss-like, is particularly important for understanding the development of religious ideologies and social biases. The present research demonstrates, for the first time, that U.S. children have beliefs about God’s social identity, which predict their conceptions of human beings. Preventing children from attributing a social identity to God, or perhaps even encouraging them to develop counter representations of God (e.g., Asian woman), may prevent them from making the kind of hierarchy-reinforcing inferences detected here. How to achieve this will be a challenge for future researchers, especially in the domain of gender, given that descriptions and depictions of God as male are so pervasive.

I’ve been around white religious liberals for a while now. And I see how both the Tisby quote and the information from the Roberts paper play out. Quite often, theology of the marginalized is looked at as a novelty (and less rigorous), if it’s looked at at all. And the way marginalized people are looked at if they talk in liberation theology-speak instead of liberal theology-speak is particularly telling. Is it because the God of liberation theology is decidedly not-white?

What does it mean for liberal religion if those who are the leaders (and lay people) in it mostly see God as white? Who is considered worthy? Who gets to lead? What gets preached from the pulpit? What gets taught in Sunday School?

If God is white, is white God?

*–Roberts, S. O., Weisman, K., Lane, J. D., Williams, A., Camp, N. P., Wang, M., Robison, M., Sanchez, K., & Griffiths, C. (2020). God as a White man: A psychological barrier to conceptualizing Black people and women as leadership worthy. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

When Affirmative Action Was White…or, Nothing’s Changing Until White People Do the Basic Reading

I have some speaking engagements coming up and I’m re-reading some writings that matter to me as a way of setting my mind in the direction I need to go. This re-reading got me to thinking.

Dismantling white supremacy takes some basic knowledge. The longer I am around liberal/progressive whites, one thing becomes patently clear: white people haven’t done the basic reading. And nothing is going to change until that changes.

Why? Because the ignorance of basic history gets in the way of proper analysis of the current situation.

Take the book that is the title of this post. How many of you have read it?

How many of you have read How the Irish Became White?

(for those of you who are part of one of my religious affiliations) How many of you have read Frances Ellen Watkins Harper? And why is she talked about more in non-liberal religious circles than she is within?

Do you know who Anna Julia Cooper is without going to Google?

(and for God’s sake) Have you read Du Bois?

Nothing is going to change until the majority of white people (especially those who say they are liberal/progressive) do the basic reading. Otherwise, we will continue to stay in the “Anti-Racism 101” loop.

This is not the last time I’ll talk about the basic reading, but that’s it for now.

Can White Congregations Honor Black History Month Authentically?

Happy Black History Month everybody.

Unlike King Sunday in January where I know that white ministers and congregations are going to at least nominally acknowledge the day, I don’t hear about white ministers or congregations doing much  in the way of recognizing Black History Month. And it makes me wonder…..

Can white congregations honor Black History Month authentically?

And by authentically I mean anything other than (badly) singing a gospel song or two.

‘Cuz let’s be honest….how many denominations in the U.S. split (or nearly split) because of slavery and the Civil War? How many denominations only stayed together because they completely avoided the issues? How many white congregations had “Negro sections” in their sanctuaries?

How many white religious people know why Black denominations (AME, AMEZion, CME, NBC, etc.) exist?

How many white religious people know about the pioneering Black religious people in their denominations?

How often are any of these subjects brought up from the pulpit?

So I”m back at my question…can white congregations honor Black History Month authentically?

Don’t Preach King on King Sunday–2020 Edition

It’s 2020 y’all. And January 19th, Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday, is rapidly approaching so I thought I would get this out while you ministers are still thinking about what you will say on that day.

First and foremost, white ministers…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING. It’s really that simple.

Now that I’ve told you what not to do, here’s some suggestions as to what you can preach about on that day.

Before doing anything else though, your first assignment is to read W.E.B. Du Bois. You have heard of him, right? I ask because I’ve heard a lot of you say things that if you had read him at any point in your life you wouldn’t be saying. anyway….your assignment is to read the last chapter of Black Reconstruction in America, “The Propaganda of History.”

2020 is the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Mayflower. If you come from a religious tradition that, in some way, traces its history in this event, I recommend that you use the Malcolm X quote “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. Plymouth Rock landed on us…” and talk about settler colonialism and how that has played out in theology and church organization.

For those of you who are biblical studies people, 2019 was the 30th anniversary of the publication of Dr. Cain Hope Felder’s  Troubling Biblical Waters, so you could use that as a starting point into how biblical interpretation amongst marginalized communities differs from that of white biblicists.  (I am, of course, assuming that you know who Dr. Felder was. That may be a bad assumption.)

2020 is the 50th anniversary of the publication of Dr. James Cone’s  A Black Theology of Liberation, so you could talk about liberation theology and marginalized communities. (again…I’m making assumptions about what you’ve read in seminary and post-seminary. This may be a bad assumption.)

On a totally different track…..2020 is the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Negro Leagues, so you could talk about race in sports or how baseball has gone backwards when it comes to the numbers of Black players/managers/front office staff and fans.

There are so many options to choose from. So, white minister friends, do everyone a favor…..DO. NOT. PREACH. KING.

This Country Is Killing Our Children (2019 Holy Innocents Day Thought)

In all the things going on there was a story that probably passed you by.

A new study* from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows suicide rates for African American children ages 13-19 nearly doubled between 2001 and 2017 (numbers are higher for Black girls) . And for children ages 5-12, African American boys have the highest suicide rate of any group of children.

Racism already makes it hard for Black children to survive being born and making it to their first birthday (I’ve talked about that on this blog many times). And we know that racism in all its forms makes it hard for Black people to live healthy lives.

It’s Holy Innocents Day. I try to always say something on this day, but today I’m mostly out of words.

This country is killing our Black children.

The Holy Innocents were slaughtered by decree from a rabid leader. Black children are dying because the whole system is set up to destroy us; physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This country is killing our Black children.

 

*- The study from the American Academy of Pediatrics is here

 

Author’s note 1/02/20: I knew there was the possibility that someone would come to the comments and “well actually…” this post. It happened today. That comment will never appear as I deleted it. You are welcome to “well actually…” the numbers all you want, but you will not do that here. Nor will you make the focus of this the rise in suicide among grown white men. Do that on your own blog or wherever you write.

 

 

Mamas Don’t Let Their Babies Grow Up To Have Their Weddings At Plantations

Well…I do declare…I didn’t know that there were so many unreconstructed Confederates in Unitarian Universalism. I know there are quite a number of race scientists, but the unreconstructed Confederates are a surprise.

Because there can be no other reason that there are so many Unitarian Universalists who don’t see why there shouldn’t be weddings at southern plantations (or, in less romantic terms, forced labor camps). Or are saying that Color of Change was wrong for trying to get entities like The Knot to no longer carry advertisements for plantations.

What I do no understand is why anyone would want to have their wedding at a place that only exists because of forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth? Or why some Unitarian Universalists, who purport to believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, are trying to “both sides” this.

Yet…I really shouldn’t be surprised. Most studies show that whites, including those who call themselves liberal or progressive, think that the Civil War was about states’ right, not slavery. If one looks at the textbooks schoolchildren read, slavery is glossed over, the Civil War happened for every reason besides the real reason (the real reason is slavery, by the way), and Reconstruction gets a paragraph–if it’s mentioned at all. And, with few exceptions, U.S. popular culture doesn’t show how brutal chattel slavery was.

But, back to some of my co-religionists. This shouldn’t be that hard, friends. There are many problematic places in the U.S. (and let’s not forget that the U.S. itself is stolen land), yet none are as romanticized as the forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth places known as plantations. The only reason those places exist is because chattel slavery happened there.

So…unless you are Scarlet O’Hara, do not have your wedding at Tara. And, if you are a Unitarian Universalist, stop supporting people who think that forced labor, mass rape, and forced pregnancy and birth camps are just pretty and “historic.”

 

articles about the Color of Change campaign can be found here, here, here, here

Hit Dogs Holler

If you knew your history, then you would know where I’m coming from. Then you wouldn’t have to ask me who the hell do I think I am.
–Bob Marley

So…some bloody coward decided to do a hit piece of the Skinner House book “Centering” and call it a “review.” I am in no way shocked by this hit piece (although I’m surprised that it took 2 years for the bloody coward to write it), because a whole lot of white people [especially white liberals] don’t like it when Black people and other people of color hurt their fragile feelings when we tell them the truth of our experiences with them.

What’s really interesting to me is that these same cowards who write hit piece ignore the evidence, like the evidence I wrote about–in September–from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* which–as the abstract details:

In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

The research shows that white liberal churches are less welcoming to newcomers who aren’t white. That being the case, why would the experiences of religious professionals of color in white liberal churches be any different? And why was the bloody coward so butt-hurt about it?

It took the train ride back from San Diego for it to come to me: hit dogs holler. The bloody coward reviewer has mistreated people of color in their congregation and doesn’t like their behavior being displayed for all the world to see. Or, they’re mad that people of color are not “grateful” enough about being “allowed” into “their” Unitarian Universalism.

Whatever the reason, the hit dogs hollering have given me the idea for a new syllabus; the “No Time For White Nonsense” syllabus. It’ll be a minute before I’ll have the first draft of it up as a page here, but all this ignant (yes, ignant, not ignorant) nonsense must get called out for what it is.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

Racial Justice at the Pace of White People’s Feelings Won’t Happen

I was going to name this post “Why Unitarian Universalism Must Change or Die,” but this is bigger than just that little corner of the liberal religious (and religious liberal) landscape.

PRRI in late June published survey data which shows that nearly one-quarter of white mainline/progressive Christians believe that businesses should be able to discriminate against African Americans if they are doing it for religious reasons. [the survey also shows results relating to discrimination against Jews,Muslims, queer people, transgender people, and atheists]

I can hear white mainline/progressives now…..”that means three-fourths of us don’t.” True. Not particularly comforting, but true.

The PRRI data brought to mind research from the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion* that shows white liberal churches are less welcoming of non-white newcomers. As the authors note in the abstract:
In response to these inquiries, representatives from mainline Protestant churches—who generally embrace liberal, egalitarian attitudes toward race relations—actually demonstrated the most discriminatory behavior. They responded most frequently to emails with white-sounding names, somewhat less frequently to black-or Hispanic-sounding names, and much less to Asian-sounding names. They also sent shorter, less welcoming responses to nonwhite names. In contrast, evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches showed little variation across treatment groups in their responses.  

Taken with the PRRI numbers, how should racial minorities look at this?

And then this month, the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology** published long-awaited research showing that white people who call themselves liberal talk down (or seemingly less educated/informed) in conversations with non-whites. From the abstract:
Most Whites, particularly sociopolitical liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but persistent ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites—that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent.

oh…I can hear you now, white liberals. “But Kim, I don’t talk down to non-white people.” Honestly, I don’t give a flying f*** whether you–individual white person–do or not. This research is not presenting a new phenomenon. It has been studied before.

Most mainline/progressive religious denominations are going through some racial justice crisis at the moment. Research shows that racial justice in these places is going to come (if it comes) in spite of white people’s feelings about non-white people, not because of some great change in white people’s feelings. The question becomes how do the denominations deal.

 

*–Wright, Bradley R. E., Michael Wallace, Annie Scola Wisnesky, Christopher M. Donnelly, Stacy Missari, and Christine Zozula. 2015. “Religion, Race, and Discrimination: A Field Experiment of How American Churches Welcome Newcomers.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 54 (2): 185–204. doi:10.1111/jssr.12193.

**–Dupree, Cydney H., and Susan T. Fiske. 2019. “Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology 117 (3): 579–604. doi:10.1037/pspi0000166.

Unlike King, I Don’t Have A Dream

Yesterday was the 56th anniversary of the death of W.E.B. Du Bois (on the eve of the March on Washington). Today is the 56th anniversary of the March on Washington. And the 64th anniversary of the lynching of Emmett Till.

I wonder, since so many white people love to quote part of the last part of the speech, how many have actually read the entire speech? Because, if more of you had read it, you wouldn’t be using it as a cudgel when you want Black people to shut up about racial issues. What I do know is that most white people who consider themselves educated haven’t read Du Bois. And that is a shame.

On August 18th, the New York Times Magazine published a special edition called The 1619 Project. It’s been interesting to watch the fallout and only confirms why I don’t have a dream. Too many want to debate the basics of U.S. history in regards to slavery. Until there is general agreement about the basics, there can be no moving forward.

As the title of this post says, unlike King, I don’t have a dream. I know as a religious person, I’m expected to. oh well. With the continuing move to make this country a white ethnostate, there doesn’t seem to be a reason to have a dream like King’s. Please, do not come into the comments and say things will change once Trump gets out of office (whichever way he goes). That is ahistorical. Trump is not the cause of the problem, he is the result of 65 years of political and social activity in this country. I could go even further and say that Trump is the tangible result of this country coddling and placating Confederates and their descendents for 150-or-so years. But the day is almost over, and I really don’t want to dig into the historical and political science weeds.

More later.

Eric and John and Michael and Kajieme and… (Five Years On)

I should be writing about El Paso and Dayton, but friends, I have written about this country’s idolatrous relationship with guns more than enough and I write about white supremacy all the time.

Anyway…
It started on July 17th.

Continued on August 5th.

And August 9th.

And August 20th.

For six weeks in 2014, the killing of Black men by agents of the state was all over screens.

It’s not as if Black people getting killed by agents of the state was a new phenomenon. It most definitely isn’t. What made these six weeks different was there was video (in most cases) that could be played on a loop.

The movement that started because of the August 9th killing has changed many things. Not enough things, but many.

Five years on, Black people are still killed by agents of the state for anything and everything.

Five years on, the agents of the state still do not (for the most part) face punishment.

Five years on, the families of those killed have to fight to set the record straight.

Five years on, law enforcement agencies still fight against changes in procedure.

In the aftermath of El Paso and Dayton, it is with a melancholy heart that I write about Eric and John and Mike and Kajieme. And think about the others. And see the connections between this and El Paso and Dayton.

The U.S. is so outside the norm when it comes to OECD countries. Especially around guns and mass shootings. And policing. And incarceration.

In no other OECD country is there the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy. This toxic brew plays itself out in many ways. It plays itself out in law enforcement (and others) having an unnatural fear of black/darker bodies, which causes people to want to arm up to alleviate the fear. Which, in turn, lets those who have other issues (like toxic misogyny, a thread through every mass shooting) create chaos.

It’s been five years. And the toxic brew of easy access to guns and white supremacy is still causing chaos. That’s all there really is to say.