The year was 2000 A.D., the Year of our Lord, and the very first November I would be eligible to vote for U.S. President and local elections, but most importantly, VOTING FOR PRESIDENT! The 2000 presidential campaign is a memorable for some people because of all of the dangling chads left in Florida and one candidate winning the popular vote while the other candidate “earning” the most votes from the electoral college. For me, the 2000 Presidential election was one of my first theological lessons on race. In Charisma Magazine, there was a survey taken where the results showed a split between White Christians and Black Christians. White Christians were claiming then Texas governor George W. Bush was “God’s man” as they readied up America for a “revival.” Black Christians, according to the survey didn’t really have a notion of “God’s man” but they did prefer to vote for former Vice President Al Gore.
What was wrong? Were these two groups reading different Bibles? What could have been the difference? One disturbing story out of Texas during W’s tenure as governor was his appalling silence about the lynching of James Byrd in 1998. Black communities were the lone group that decried this silence. Bush’s only response was that his administration pushed for the death penalty but is human sacrifice necessary to restore order? Capital punishment did not take away the hatred and racist practices of groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans, who mobilized during Bush’s predecessors’ three terms to get the Confederate flag on TX license plates. John William King, one of Byrd’s murderers, was in fact, a card-carrying member of a Neo-Confederate White Supremacist gang. A governor failed to listen to the cries of a marginalized people group, the people then continue to suffer. This isn’t a question about whether or not George W. Bush is racist. The question is, what did he do when confronted with the problem of systemic racism, and the victims of racial injustice? Nothing.
Fast forward to 2016. The world is a different place, it has changed, some for the better, and some for the not-so-good. Evangelical Christians in the post-Bush/Cheney era are more cautious with their words, after all of the negative representation from movies like Saved! And Easy A, they care deeply about their image as not seeming too odd. Although he was from a mainline protestant Episcopalian family, Evangelicals accepted George W. Bush as their very own, but as the markets crashed in 2008, discontent and buyer’s remorse was real in White evangelicalism. Who wants to be associated with an unpopular President anyhow? Not only that, but Black Christians and other religious adherents have found newer voices in the fight over white supremacy in places such as the Southern Baptist Convention. A few weeks ago The SBC has denounced the Confederate flag. My high-school self would have done ten back flips. Last week, the Presbyterian Church of America made an apology for racism, both new and old. , repenting for its failure to ‘ lovingly confront our brothers and sisters concerning racial sins and personal bigotry.” ‘
Another fascinating development among evangelicals in the field of politics has been the loud and resounding “NO!” of the #NeverTrump movement . Alan Noble of The Atlantic put it this way,
“Suppose you believe the presidential frontrunners are unfit for office — so unfit, in fact, that they are a threat to the moral, political, and social fabric of our nation. For the past three decades, conservative evangelical Christians in America have felt this way about Democratic nominees, particularly because of their stances on abortion and, more recently, religious liberty.”
Donald Trump, you see, on positions such as abortion and traditional marriage is just as bad as a Democratic candidate, and what’s worse, is that Trump is opposed to traditional conservative orthodoxy beliefs such as free market capitalism. Drumpf’s political solutions are authoritarian, and his speeches, tweets, and campaign contain overtly racist ideas. The impetus of the #NeverTrump movement is two-fold: one is many evangelicals principled stands for traditional family values, and the other is the objection to Trump’s shock-jock ways, saying racist and sexist things and then back-tracking on them the next day. It’s not really about Trump’s inexperience or his lack of grasp of any and every issue. Whenever they get a chance, #NeverTrump evangelicals take the opportunity whenever they can to differentiate themselves from Trump’s “authenticity.” It’s a new anti-racism, “Trump’s a Bigot!” “Trump is racist. #NeverTrump.”
Never-Trump Evangelicals are not the only persons joining the fight against racism. Bernie Sanders’ supporters love to remind Black people that Bernie Sanders “walked” with Martin Luther King, Jr. Bernie Sanders is against mass incarceration (who isn’t nowadays?), and that the 50 states locking up thousands of Black and Latinx people is the fault of their favorite scapegoat, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yes, you guys, the Clintons were in charge of all 50 state prison systems [ enter sarcasm here]. One BernieBro in a “conversation” this week even had the gall to call me “a Super Predator” as a reminder of something Hillary already apologized for; another BernieBro provided a survey from the Berner circle jerk as “evidence” that Bernie supporters are way less racist than any other voters. That’s exactly why Bernie had all-white volunteer groups recruiting Black voters and held all white rallies at Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Even white Hillary Clinton supporters see themselves as forces of anti-racism. If Black people and other People of Color vote overwhelmingly for your candidate, you are now the defender of multiculturalism. Place a picture of Barack Obama as your AVI on Twitter, and now you, too, can be a Social Justice Warrior!
Don’t get me wrong. It is good that people are not only recognizing that racism still exists in the U.S., but also that they are getting bold it in calling it out. I want to go back to the basic premise of Noble’s piece for a moment, the idea that Donald Trump, like Democrats past and present are threats to the “moral, political, and social” fabric of our nation in the mind of White evangelicalism. Probably from a majority culture perspective, the U.S.’s social fabric may have been at one point stable and perhaps picturesque, perhaps a time before legalized abortions and the LGBTQIA movement. As a racial realist and a Christian realist informed by history, the nation’s fabric was sewn by enslaved blacks laboring in plantation fields and built on death of children and the destruction of families of African and First Nations descent. No social or religious construction of social cohesion that glosses over histories of oppressions can have any integrity. The failure of a more honest perspective from #NeverTrump Evangelicals is part of the reason why their denunciations of Drumpf ring hollow.
On one hand, conservativism blames “individualism” “the sovereign individual” (right?) for today’s problems and various groups requesting their individual rights, but on the other hand, conservatives address the issue of race and racism as an individual sin. The PCA is repenting for individuals who had racial prejudice; the SBC is protesting the Confederate flag now in the year 2016 because one individual, Dylan Roof murdered nine Black persons in a historic black church. The conservative camp stresses individual, interpersonal acts of addressing racism because racism is more about personal bias because of conservative institutions’ and thinkers’ commitment to rugged individualism.
I’ve made the case elsewhere that White Supremacy is a social disease, it’s an institution that involves practices and systems and is not easily explained as simply individual prejudices. Donald Trump is more than just a demagogue, the rise of Trump is a symptom. Donald Trump simply took advantage of antiBlackness, racial animosity, and xenophobia that was already being pandered to within Conservative institutions. Drumpf is the crazy uncle that conservatives don’t want at the dinner table. Conservatives brought him to the table, now they are upset because they have to be responsible for him.
Like I said in one of the previous paragraphs, conservatives, like any other group, are more concerned with optics. It looks awkward when there are #allwhitepanels discussing race or #allmalepanels discussing gender at evangelical events. Some younger evangelicals may have hope that if conservatives avoid this awful news site, or we keep all the crazy uncles like Donald Trump or a Douglas Wilson away, sprinkle a few token minorities, they can make conservativism more appealing to outsiders. That may be a temporary solution, but it does nothing to solve the real issues of social inequality. Did it ever occur to conservatives that perhaps it’s not extremists that’s the problem, but maybe it’s just the ideology and institutions themselves?
Progressives from the majority culture also seem to have a difficult time understanding how systemic racism works. There’s a local seminary that sees itself as progressive and forward thinking and it even had a chapel service dedicated to Black Lives Matter. However, semester after semester, the school’s population gets more and more culturally homogenous. Green Party Candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, who some people have claimed is an anti-racist, “more peaceful” (not pacifist, I mind you) alternative to the Democratic Party, celebrated Brexit while Green parties in the U.K opposed it, she and her followers patted themselves on the back for attending an all white Juneteenth celebration, and now blames “Clintonism” for the rise of Trump. Stein, who markets herself on social media as a “white anti-racist ally” is just really showing her real cards, as someone co-opting the labor of People of Color all the while, in her actual praxis, promoting color-blind racism.
A leading socialist magazine Jacobin, like Stein, continues to promote a narrative of white saviorism, contending that anything but racism is responsible for Brexit and Trump. Forums such as Jacobin have been known downplay the importance of identity politics, preferring to make class as the one marker that counts and thus making them just as susceptible to White Supremacy as their conservative counterparts. For white progressives, socioeconomic status operates as a substitute for the conservative’s “social fabric” or the “natural law” of the land, an all-encompassing concept meant to promote cultural hegemony and a suppression of difference.
My goal for this essay as an intellectual exercise was to push for the idea that anti-racism just isn’t some fad; it’s a long-term labor of love that requires us to act and maybe react on a daily basis. In addition, as one of my friends has suggested, anti-White Supremacist praxis and an ideology can operate within contrasting systems of power, which I would include religious communities, established institutions and publications on the Right and Left, and even institutions of higher learning. Anti-racism efforts are at least three centuries old so the key is to have one eye on the past, and one eye on the present. Ask yourself, “where did the idea that this culture or that culture is inferior to mine own? Where did this cultural norm come from?” If your predominantly White institution is seeking to be more “inclusive,” think of which barriers in that place make it less hospitable to People of Color. Whether you see yourself as radical left or traditionalist right, there is anti-racist work for you to do. As for the fascist threat that is Donald Drumpf , for me, there is one viable #NeverTrump movement left, and it’s #ImWithHer.