It’s hard to contextualize all the monumental things that have happened this week.
Over the past week, protests sparked by police violence following the murder of George Floyd were met with further police violence. (Early in the week, The Verge compiled several documented instances of police brutality. The accompanying images are disturbing.) Members of the press covering the events were arrested or injured. CNN reporter Omar Jimenez & his crew were arrested live, on TV. A 75 year-old man in Buffalo was pushed over by a police officer and suffered a brain injury, and two officers were charged with assault; 57 other officers resigned from the Emergency Response Team “in disgust” not at the act of police brutality but because of how the charged officers were “treated.”
America is aflame; the “American carnage” that Trump alluded to in his apocalyptic inaugural address has bubbled to the surface. Everywhere we look, we see and feel just how fragile our sense of “stability” is—and how comfortable we have always been here in America with allowing racial injustice to continue in order to maintain it.
And all this is happening amidst a once-in-a-century pandemic, with skyrocketing unemployment. We cannot ignore this; our media environment, fractured as it is, will not let us. In 1967, media theorist Marshall McLuhan wrote that “in an electric information environment, minority groups can no longer be contained—ignored. Too many people know too much about each other. Our new environment compels commitment and participation. We have become irrevocably involved with, and responsible for, each other [emphasis mine]. ”
The Culture Wars Have Become More Visibly Violent
Because this is a newsletter focused on white evangelicalism, let’s take a moment to contextualize its role in all this.
For the last several decades, the term “culture wars” has been used to describe the clash of ideas and ideals in America, between liberal and conservative visions for society. In evangelical circles, this was framed as God-fearing white evangelical Christianity vs. a secular, godless new world order.
In reality, the world that white evangelical leaders & Christian nationalists envisioned was one where they possessed the authoritarian rule to impose their particular vision on the American people. In the lead-up to this current moment, white evangelical leaders and institutions have inculcated beliefs, instituted spoken and unspoken norms, and established policies that have endangered, abused, and traumatized people who do not fit their model. Women, Black & BIPOC members in majority-white churches, trans & queer people - all people with marginalized identities have been oppressed in the name of a white Jesus.
White Jesus serves white supremacy.
The culture wars have always been violent. The costs and the casualties have been borne by the Black community, and it is in this moment that, coupled with the pandemic and its concomitant economic depression, they cannot be silent.
Because Black Lives Matter.
We Are Divided & We Have No Leaders
Even on our best day, America is deeply divided. Politics strains families; conservative parents don’t make efforts to understand their (grown) liberal children, and the children don’t bother. Right-wing media bias demonizes and dehumanizes their political opponents, feeds white anxiety, and foments violence.
We also have no leaders. Trump cowers in a bunker as his nation revolts even while racked with a pandemic. The lights of the White House are off, but real leadership hasn’t been there since January 19, 2017.
The past several years have been an indictment of Republican leadership and establishment, as Trump has re-fashioned the party in his callow, power-hungry image. He did not invent these tactics, but he has perfected them.
On Monday, Attorney General Bill Barr ordered for President Trump’s walking path from the White House to the nearby St. John’s Episcopalian Church to be cleared; the Attorney General ordered peaceful protesters to be tear-gassed. The president’s path was cleared so he could take a photo in front of a boarded-up church and awkwardly hold a Bible.
It was a shallow, callous, and calculated piece of political propaganda. Many people saw through it; religious scholar and author Diana Butler Bass wrote an op-ed decrying its offensiveness. The Right Rev. Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington who oversees St. John’s, did not mince words. She is quoted in The Washington Post:
“I am the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and was not given even a courtesy call, that they would be clearing [the area] with tear gas so they could use one of our churches as a prop,” Budde said.
She excoriated the president for standing in front of the church — its windows boarded up with plywood — holding up a Bible, which Budde said “declares that God is love.”
“Everything he has said and done is to inflame violence,” Budde of the president. “We need moral leadership, and he’s done everything to divide us.”
Yet the tactic worked amongst Trump’s court evangelicals, who rallied to his cause and defense, as Chrissy Stroop has noted in Religion Dispatches. Franklin Graham, who never misses an opportunity to praise the president, had this to say:
I recommend reading Chrissy’s piece to capture the full extent of just how effective this messaging was with Trump’s core base.
Finally, this week’s avalanche of Momentous Events was preceded by Trump’s executive order following the light chastising Twitter gave him for glorifying violence and referencing a historically racist phrase. And yet, this pity party/crying wolf about anti-conservative bias is without merit. Here are the top posts on Facebook on 6/2/2020, the same day Franklin Graham shared the tweet embedded above:
Note the prevalence of conservative media here. Also note that Facebook CEO Mark uckerberg refused to take action on Trump’s vile statements on the platforms he controls.
Move Beyond Feelings of White Guilt & Shame and Educate Yourself
But let’s return to what is really being put in relief for many white Americans: the injustices BIPOC Americans, and in particular Black Americans, face here in our country. I do not know why George Floyd’s death was the catalyst that woke so many people from their stupor, ignorance, or indifference. But there have been many Black Americans sharing sentiments like this one below.
We know that these extrajudicial killings of Black people have been happening for centuries. We know the names of the victims of police brutality because the Black community has been speaking up for years on social media, and for decades through social activism. We do not know so many more.
There have been too many precedents to this moment that were not seen or heard and did not lead to the uprising of support we are seeing now—but I will highlight one in particular: #whitechurchquiet. This hashtag was started by professor & pastor Dr. Andre E. Johnson; his post on the Rhetoric, Race & Religion blog explains his motivation for starting it. I recommend reading the whole post, but a couple quotes are relevant:
Therefore, when I saw African American pastors and ministers marching with protestors or giving interviews and speaking out, yet again, on abusive police tactics, this time, I asked a different question; “Where was the white church in all of this? I began to wonder do they have anything to say about these killings….To find the answers that I was in search for, I took to Twitter and started the #WhiteChurchQuiet hashtag. I started it because I wanted to hear from members of predominate white churches and get their reasoning behind the silence. I wanted to know what pastors and preachers were saying when yet another black person is shot and killed. I wanted to know how many, who already celebrate law enforcement on a regular basis, would also stand with the victims of police brutality. I wanted to know if they mentioned Black Lives Matter in white churches and if so how was it mentioned.”
. Written in April 2017, Dr. Johnson continues:
First, this is why we have a Black Lives Matter movement in the country in the first place. The truth is that black people have been trying to tell others about their plight for years. Black people and indeed, all people of color have tried to share instances of racism in their own lives; in the lives of their children, they have tried to tell anyone who would listen about the injustices they faced on a daily basis. The problem has been that when black people talked, they simply are not believed. Black people have been too sensitive; too loud; too angry; too militant. We have been charged with playing the race card; or the proverbial, “Why do you have to bring race in it? Many times however, we just shut down and wonder sometimes “are we crazy for feeling like this?”
It is good that many people are speaking out and marching on the streets. It is good that people want to learn more and work to become anti-racist.
Now is not the time for performative wokeness, or to wallow further in white guilt and shame.
It is the time for white people to commit to educating themselves, and investing in building an equitable future. I count myself among that group. It’s a lifelong work that is never complete. It isn’t done for applause, to appease white fragility, or to get a pat on the back. It is done because it is the right thing to do. And if you are a white person just beginning to reckon with white supremacy and don’t know where to start or how to process what you’re feeling, email me. We can talk it through.
Fund the Change You Want to See in the World
It has been great to see anti-racist educators and activists get further attention and funding in this moment. But in order for this moment to be carried to the next moment and build lasting change, we need to continue investing in them.
Seek out Black-owned businesses—Yelp has built a tool for that purpose.
Donate to bail funds to help pay for bail for protesters.
Support anti-racist educators and activists. Here are some that I support:
Tori Williams Douglass’s White Homework
Andre Henry’s Hope & Hard Pills
Austin Channing-Brown’s Roll Call
If you’re unable to donate or support these efforts, that’s ok! Boost creators on social media or find other ways to donate your time, influence, or energy.
Rev. Al Sharpton said at George Floyd’s memorial that this moment felt different, and it does. The pressures we’ve all felt over the past few years—and the stresses from all angles that have built up during the pandemic—have led to a moment of reckoning. But we must keep it going.
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Thank you for all the self-education resources, Blake!
As a white american raised in a conservative and ethnically homogeneous environment, these are invaluable 🙏
👍🏻🙏👏🏻✊🏻 Just one thing to add: it’s not likely to be a once in a lifetime pandemic. It may be as permanent as AIDS, malaria, and the common cold. There will be more. We’re due for an influenza pandemic soon. There’s a climate and economic layer to it all. Good to see that being more broadly understood too.