Tag Archives: racism

White Christian Privilege

Atlanta        As always, there are things you know, things you think you know, and then the dreaded assumptions that mask as both, but are neither.  It’s those assumptions that Professor Khyati Joshi of Fairleigh Dickerson University in Virginia surgically attacks in her book, White Christian Privilege:  The Illusion of Religious Equality in America, all of which led to a lively conversation on these themes on Wade’s World recently.

As Professor Joshi said from the beginning, part of what she was trying to do in her book was look at the history of such privilege, not simply the current manifestations of it that permeate our civil and secular society.  Good examples were everywhere it seems.  Certainly, the stains of slavery are ubiquitous on this issue, but also take something that many assume to be a pillar in the US Constitution, the separation of church and state.  Joshi points out that oft-repeated concept dates simply to a letter from Thomas Jefferson where he used the phrase.  Or, the modern obsessions with the Pledge of Allegiance that was only rivaled recently by the issue of kneeling for the Star Spangled Banner, preening as a national anthem.  The phrase “under God” linked to “one nation” dates only to the early 1950s.

Joshi deals with these cultural and religious assumptions on a regular basis, not just in her book and university, but in regular workshops where she mentioned having been in dialogue with 500 to 1000 people even during the pandemic months.  She’s not trying to shame people or even to negate the traditional touchstones, but to get people to realize the issues that underlie the assumptions that many have unthinkingly.

In our conversation she offered some personal experiences, growing up, as she said, a “brown Hindu girl in Atlanta.”  She didn’t do well in American literature classes, partially because some of the metaphors were steeped in this white Christian privilege.  One story she told was of a teacher referencing an allusion to the story of the good Samaritan.  Hearing that, she was dumbstruck, because she had no idea what was being discussed.  Her point was not that the biblical reference didn’t have value, once she understood it, but that it was so deeply embedded in the teacher’s expectations of the class, that there was no effort to explain it.  For those of us force-marched through years of Sunday School, where as my high school Latin teacher would have observed, repetitio est mater studiorum or “repetition is the mother of study,” it was easy to recognize how common such oversights inevitably must be and therefore deserving of our constant attention.

Joshi points out that Christianity no longer even claims the majority of adherents in the United States, which might be part of why evangelicals and conservatives are so focused on its advocacy, as it slips in standing.  Other religions in our diverse population are increasingly common, as is no religion or religious practice.  Joshi argues for a “social justice religion” that might find a more fertile soil in the country now, especially if accompanied by “critical consciousness” about both what we know and what we assume, making our cultural interchange more accountable and encompassing.  All of which offers much food for thought and a regimen that requires constant and daily practice in order to do no further harm.

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Richard Rothstein’s Reparations Formula

New Orleans     Richard Rothstein, a distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, D.C. wrote a watershed volume several years ago, The Color of Law:  A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America.  The title goes to the heart of his well-documented, thoroughly researched evisceration of local, state, and federal policies that fomented and enforced segregation targeted at non-white populations and assuring white supremacy and diminished wealth for minority families that endures to this day.

            One of the many interesting angles in the book was his documentation of these practices, so often associated with the South and large, urban cities, in the paradise by the Pacific, California.  He was back at it in an op-ed in the New York Times using San Mateo and its upper middle-class Hillsdale neighborhood as a case in point.  He catches the reader off guard by starting with the story of a young, white protestor who jointed the protests there in support of the Black Lives Matter movement and the rage over the killing of George Floyd.  Sophia Heath and her recruits initiated a small civil rights movement in her segregated city and neighborhood.

While forefronting the protests, Rothstein backgrounds the activity of corporations and governments that created the segregation.  He looks at the 1941 deed on Heath’s family home that required that “No persons other than members of the Caucasian or White race shall be permitted to occupy any portion of said property, other than as domestics in the employ of the occupants of the premises.”  The racial covenant was required and signed by officers of the American Trust Company.  Her house and many others in the neighborhood were developed by David D. Bohannon, who was also a bigwig in the National Association of Home Builders, and a principal in suits to block integrated neighborhoods.  The houses were marketed by a real estate firm, Fox & Carskadon, that advertised the restrictive covenants as “permanent” to recruit like-minded buyers.   Tragically, this is an oft-told story.

Rothstein turns the tables though to make his argument for their responsibility to pay reparations.  The bank is now owned by Wells Fargo.  The realtor is now owned by Coldwell Banker.  Bohannon is still in business as a developer of properties including high-end malls in the area.  The houses that first sold for $5000 now move for $1.5 million.  No surprise, he wants them to pay.

His real argument though is not about San Mateo or even these three companies and the protests being organized by Sophia Heath.  He is begging for activists and organizers to mount place-based campaigns all over the country.  He is making the case that to do so requires the kind of exacting research he did in his book and in looking at this case study in San Mateo in order to root out the facts, identify the targets, and ascribe specific, undeniable accountability.  Once the research is done, he wants people to then do the work and steel themselves for the fight with training, planning, and developing organizing skills.  As he concludes,

“Cities and towns in metropolitan areas across the country have a history analogous to San Mateo’s.  Uncovering it is hard work.  Undoing it will be even harder.  Winning the civil rights victories of the past required unusual dedication and persistence – extraordinary, really – and it will take more of the same to make Black lives matter in every neighborhood.”

Sounds right to me.  Who can disagree?  Who wants to join us in doing the work?

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