Red, White, and Blue No Longer: Religion and A Non-White American Future
Continued from previous page
You don’t need the likes of me to walk you down these familiar byways, but just consider (if you please) the seamlessness lying within the old expression “white Christian nation.” When world-bestriding figures like Theodore Roosevelt spoke of “the nation” or “the national interest,” he did not need to spell out (although he often did) that he was referring to white Christian people, particularly white Christian men. Roosevelt’s view, completely consonant with the view of others of his era who had laced their Christian perspective with a dash of Darwinism, was that white people and people of color had simply evolved to different levels of civilization, with whites at the top and blacks at the bottom. Roosevelt considered himself enlightened and progressive and a “friend” to lesser peoples. In 1901 he even invited Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House (a political mistake he never repeated after the incident provoked a tremendous white backlash).
More than a century beyond Roosevelt’s day, one does not often hear the words “white Christian nation” uttered out loud any longer. What one does hear, however, amounts to code for the same thing. Thus, R.J. Rushdoony’s still-influential ideas about forging a godly nation— a nation organized according to biblical law—take it pretty much for granted that godly social organization has whites on top. Rushdoony, who lived into the current century, condemned interracial marriage as “unequal yoking.”
Un-dead David Barton, another hugely influential figure and hero to the religious right, doesn’t really need to say anything at all about retaining white hegemony, even if he hasn’t spoken at a white supremacist event in two decades. But it’s there by implication when Barton assaults church-state separation as a heathenish imposition upon the Founders’ original plan to build the new nation on Christian principles and to keep (white) Christians in charge.
Figures like Rushdoony and Barton may be dismissed as pseudo-intellectuals with crank followings, but I am quite sure that millions of white Americans who have never heard of these guys would still nod their heads in solemn agreement upon hearing the basic line: “God gave this fair continent to white people to occupy and populate. God has clearly blessed and prospered white people here. Others are certainly welcome to scoop up the crumbs from the table of American abundance, but no one who isn’t white should kid themselves about whose table it really is.”
To be clear, again: this openly racist view is no longer trumpeted in the public square in the plain light of day. So, for example, laws and practices known to subjugate and suppress the political voice of millions of African Americans via mass incarceration remain, on their surface, race-neutral. Legislators in Alabama and elsewhere who enact what amount to immigrant-exclusion acts, and legislators in many of these same states who craft laws aimed at voter suppression, will cite all kinds of reasons why they judge these measures to be necessary. But does anyone doubt that the threat to white hegemony (both economic and cultural) plays a major role in creating such legislative monuments?
Methinks the implied continuing linkage of “American” to “white Christian” also accounts for a good bit of the obsession with Obama as an outsider: neither a true American (where is that birth certificate?), nor a true Christian. If you doubt that whiteness counts for more than the doctrine part, consider this: white Protestants who were taught to believe that Mormonism is a dreadful false religion will nevertheless treat Willard Mitt Romney as an honorary Christian for purposes of giving Barack Hussein Obama the boot.