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Red, White, and Blue No Longer: Religion and A Non-White American Future

Bad religion reinforces racial hierarchies and plantation capitalism. Can good religion help us face a more diverse future?

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For White Religious Progressives, Learning Real Servant Leadership

It is, of course, unbecoming for people like me to to sit in judgment of the poor benighted white Christians who fall for subtle or not so subtle appeals to racial identity and racial solidarity. Sitting in judgment may be the classic posture of white liberals, but it’s hardly good enough when so much is at stake over the next 30 years of momentous demographic change. Singing our little paeans to diversity while remaining remarkably un-diverse in our own pods; wagging our fingers from our ivory towers in response to ugly attacks on immigrants communities; not nearly good enough. 

It’s not quite true that white religious progressives have remained totally on the sidelines. For a brief time some white congregations lived out a radical welcome by joining the  New Sanctuary Movement—sheltering individual immigrant families from deportation—but these gestures were so little reported and remained so incomprehensible to most on the outside that they barely made a dent in the wider public consciousness. In addition, New Sanctuary’s focus was mainly on hospitality for immigrants who are here without documents; it did little to help the vastly greater number of immigrant community members today who were born in this country but who are still often treated as though they are here illegally.

Here’s a proposition: if breaking the grip of plantation capitalism and its political enablers requires the empowerment of immigrant communities and communities of color, then white liberals who are serious about wanting a significant progressive shift in the way this country is governed must offer maximum strategic support for the organization and mobilization of non-white people and non-white movements.

There is no shortage of ways to channel such support: fight voter disenfranchisement moves, call out anti-tax conservatives on the racial/ethnic subtext of their anti-tax campaigns, attack America’s thoroughly racialized system of mass incarceration, support union representation drives that bring greater income and dignity to immigrant workers and all people of color, and take an active role in local and regional organizing to maintain adequate funding for schools and public colleges serving students of color and the children of immigrants. 

The truth is that many white religious progressives understand, in a theoretical way, that these are our proper tasks. But we are more than a little ambivalent about taking asupporting role rather than directly orchestrating things or preaching from on high. We haven’t learned the discipline or the grace of ethically-based accompaniment. And at some level we are anxious about what might happen to cherished values like LGBT equality as the active electorate gains greater pigmentation. (I would say, as an aside, that anyone who remains aloof from the existential struggles faced by immigrant and non-immigrant communities of color really has no business lecturing the leaders of those communties on the finer points of social inclusion and social justice).

To my mind, there’s no shame in being ambivalent or anxious if one acknowledges it—and also acknowledges openly, and rejects openly, the shamefulness of still wishing to run the world and keep the course of events under one’s control. But it’s not easy for those accustomed to to step out of the saddle and agree to to take the role of foot soldier in a march toward the unknown. White skin privilege among educated elites is every bit as persistent as white tribalism among non-elites—and in some ways more destructive. 

Ethical accompaniment is a learned discipline. But it occurs to me that it’s a discipline that at least some white progressives—including religious progressives—did manage to learn and put to honorable use during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. Those of us who already are, or will soon be, members of the new white minority could do worse than to study and learn from that still-resonant experience. 

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