(Christian) White Supremacy 101: In The Beginning…

Originally published 8/31/2016


 

“We are all one in Christ, race doesn’t matter to God”

“God calls us all to be united, can’t we focus on what we have in common? That’s Jesus.”

“We need to focus on saving souls, not this political stuff”

Sound familiar?

Most times that I have conversations about race in the Church, these are the most common responses. They make me want to run to a high place and yell “STOP HYPER SPIRITUALIZING AND AVOIDING THE SUFFERING OF HUMANS AROUND YOU!” But alas, in my day-to-day, I don’t have space for that much dramatic activity, and it clearly wouldn’t be helpful for moving the conversation forward (though cathartic as hell for me). This is because at our core as a religious community, we only associate racial oppression with a picture of White supremacy that looks like this…

KKK pic for SC

With pictures of hooded figures and intentionally hateful people in mind, we divorce ourselves from our collective racial (Christian) history as well as our modern involvement in perpetuating racism. It is easy and natural for us to distance ourselves from the conversation because we never owned slaves or don’t feel racist. The Church most often prefers focusing on good and spiritual intentions for unity over understanding our involvement in racism in the United States. It is this removal from our historical reality and our inability to look racism square in the face that causes the Church to fundamentally misunderstand what White Supremacy is (and by extension to do anything about it). We understand racism as individual racist moments instead of a historically entrenched system of oppression rooted in capitalism. So lets go back to basics:

 White supremacy is the historically entrenched system of benefits and protections afforded to White society politically, economically, and culturally in such a way that provides White people overwhelming control over resources and power (physically and ideologically).

All of these powers and resources normalize Whiteness consciously and unconsciously in ways that produce phenomenons like mass incarceration, heightened mortality rates among People of Color, and everyday messages that People of Color are serviceable to White society. White supremacy in short, affords unearned privileges and benefits to White society while dehumanizing and perpetuating injustice against People of Color.

Christians must be clear: God hates injustice and thus hates White Supremacy. So, in order for Christians to fully embody the love of a God who hates evil, we must also hate what God does and be willing to take a look at the roots of our oppressive systems.

In the United States, one of the most wealthy and powerful nations in the world, our roots are clear and pervasive: We are a nation built on the well intentioned but unjust acquisition and multiplication of wealth. Particularly as Christians in the West, we don’t get a pass when it comes to thinking critically about money, our text is actually quite clear about it.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6:9-10

1 Timothy 6:10 is not only true in theory but is the foundation on which the United States built the modern experience of racism that we have inherited today. Our story is one of well intentioned Christians motivated by the pursuit and love of money that inadvertently ensured that the U.S. became the first nation born simultaneously racist and capitalist.

In the case of the United States, the love of money is the root of White Supremacy

In other words, White supremacy and economic power through capitalism were established together In the United States like baking ingredients together -they started distinct, but when mixed together and “baked in”  have created an entirely different reality- the White supremacist culture that we inherit today with the tagline “land of the free, home of the brave.”  


But how did this all come to be the foundation of the United States?

Let’s do a quick history.

Genocide and Land Seizure

When earlier colonizers landed on the East Coast, they had one thing in mind- a new life of religious and economic freedom from the English government. They came under the notion of Manifest Destiny- that God, Glory, and Gold awaited them in the “New World.” Obviously, the world wasn’t new and over the space of  ~400 years (prior to the Indian Removal Act of 1830), they took more than a billion acres of land from indigenous peoples through genocide.

This was not initially racially motivated…

The desire for land and a better life created the pretenses necessary to claim that Native people were “savage” (and thus unfit for their land) because their cultural values differed from White Europeans. So, in just over 100 years, European settlers intimidated, threatened, raped, and murdered millions of indigenous people while withholding vaccines and medicine for disease that they had brought such as cholera and smallpox.

The economic incentive here: land.

For people settling in the U.S. to create a capitalist economy, land was the first key component in an acquisition of wealth itself, but more so as the basis for generating income as an agricultural economy.

The love money is the root of all kinds of evils.

But what happens when you steal more land than you can till? What happens when your economy is starting to grow toward massive global imports and already is yielding significant financial income?

You need more laborers.

Enslavement

Not enough white workers and indentured servants came from Europe and the mass demand for labor created a market boom and need for supply. It was over 10 million enslaved people from Africa who filled this market void.

Notice here that no one had to say “hmmm, black people aren’t really human, lets buy them.” We would like to think of it that way because it is easier to distance ourselves from someone who is abjectly racist. But that is not the reality, they simply took the most cost effective route to building economic capital, much like we would think of buying a tractor or new tools.

Through their need to make their stolen land profitable, they increased demand for human capital, buying people as objects who would be trapped in intergenerational slavery…meaning that purchasing a female slave and raping her was incentivized because her child was born a slave and belonged to you. In this way, the early dehumanization and objectification of Women of Color is deeply embedded in the U.S. economy. Learn their names and histories. Say their names.

Increasingly, Black people became marketable objects under the guise of practicality and properly “stewarding” land that colonizers believed that God had intended them to have. The byproduct however, of buying and treating black people as property, is the elevation of Whiteness over anyone who was not White. The enslavement and high demand for cheap and forced labor was the single largest factor for moving the  the United States from an agricultural economy to an industrial economy because of the exporting of cotton.

10 million enslaved African people purchased on blocks as objects as the backbone of our entire historic economy.

The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils

Divide and Conquer

European colonizers now had a different problem- they were outnumbered. Both European low wage laborers (soldiers, manual laborers, etc), indentured servants, poor whites, and tenant farmers joined the fight for greater freedom as enslaved Africans began to revolt.  The U.S. colonizers, fearing the loss of their property, money, and general livelihood, responded with a tactic that, to this day, is employed to hinder racial and socio-economic justice: divide and conquer.

The White elite legally gave privileges to White indentured servants specifically but lower class white people in general including the right to carry weapons, to join localized militias, and to acquire land among other opportunities and protections not afforded enslaved people. They did this on the basis of skin color and continental origin, thus protecting their wealth through elevating Whiteness and instilling an explicit ideology that White people had greater inherent value than Black and Indigenous peoples.

They took this one step further by employing  poor white people to work in slave patrols whose job was to protect and return human capital to their White owners. White people now had an incentive on the base of skin color to band with other White people instead of on the basis of their economic need. White privilege and power became the means through which the love of money was protected.

Anti-Blackness thus became and remains the most crucial component and the modern upholding of White supremacy, even at the economic detriment of impoverished White people.

The love money is the root of all kinds of evils.

Global Colonization

In the mid 1800’s after the Indian Removal Act, the U.S. set its sights on the west coast and world as spaces of new economic possibility. The move west involved the seizure of half of Mexico for the sake of greater land and the production of resources. After taking half of Mexico, the U.S. violently forced Indigenous peoples to flee or to become tenant farmers on the land that was once theirs.

After taking so much of Mexico “successfully,” they continued on to Guam, Puerto Rico, The Philippines, Hawaii and Cuba all along the way physically and economically exploiting nations while gaining the neo-colonial benefits of additional economic and military power.

The love money is the root of all kinds of evils.


Much of the “what happened” isn’t new or profound, but in these major events: genocide and seizure of native lands, enslavement of African peoples, and the annexation of land from People of Color communities, it becomes clear that while the U.S. did not start with White supremacist or bad intentions, that the love, acquisition, and defense of monetary power created our modern racial landscape and the significant success of our capitalist and spiritual society.

The love of money created exploitative capitalism and thus, White supremacy.

This is sobering because historically, the absence of bad intentions does not produce good or neutral results. Even good intentions like fleeing religious oppression and seeking economic freedom, keeping your community safe through policing, doing missions to unreached peoples, and trying to help develop undeveloped nations have produced some of the greatest evils in the developed world.

And if these came from the love of money and the pursuit of being rich…then the very thing that created white supremacy and exploitative capitalism is inside of us  and in our religious communities. We must take the love of money seriously and work actively to dismantle the embedded idea and practices in our society, churches, and communities that rely on oppression to uphold Whiteness as normal in our theology, politics, and interpersonal relationships.

Spiritualized capitalism and racism are not the way of Jesus and God is constantly working to rectify the evils of his people’s historic and present suffering by helping them to see differently and more clearly. He is tearing down empires, flipping over tables, and judging nations because he is not ok with what the love of money has created.

So, as Christians (particularly in the U.S.), we have no excuse. Our history speaks of our corporate role in creating White supremacy…so what are we going to do to dismantle it in our relationships, ideologies, Churches and in our relationship with money?

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