"He had a bad day."
On the role of white evangelicalism in the tragedy unfolding in Atlanta.
TW: shooting, mass shooting, racism, white supremacy.
Last night news broke of a series of shootings in Atlanta, targeting Asian American businesses. 8 people were killed: six of 8 were Asian women, all but one were women.
The police wanted you to know “he had a bad day.”
Press has already uncovered a lot about the murder suspect. It’s being covered here because the murder suspect (who was arrested, and not killed) has ties to a Southern Baptist church which has since tried to scrub its website. Some Twitter users have been able to screenshot or cache the site and related social media accounts:
Other essential commentary is happening on Twitter, notably the entire thread written by Bradley Onishi that starts with this tweet:
Robert Jones of PRRI gives this relevant detail about the shooter’s church:
Emily Joy Allison provides this broader cultural context for purity culture (and another relevant tweet in this thread will be posted further down):
Chrissy Stroop has a write-up providing context at Religion Dispatches. Akiko Bergeron, an Asian woman who spent decades in SBC churches and social circles, gave this context:
“White supremacism and toxic masculinity are intertwined, historically and in the present, and both have their own inflections in evangelical subculture, where the fetishization of Asian women like those Long targeted is also common. Akiko Bergeron* knows this firsthand as an Asian-American woman who was active in Southern Baptist communities for decades, before evangelical Trump support led her to become an exvangelical.
Bergeron told RD, “White supremacy holds Asians in a weird light, complimenting them on being the ‘good minority,’ while also devaluing women into sex objects who exist for their pleasure.” Describing her own experience, she recalled, “As an adult in the SBC, I saw this fetish and devaluation from white men who thought I should have sex with them because as an Asian, I was a geisha (which they take to mean ‘sex worker’), and so it’s not really cheating or adultery for them.”
Bergeron’s experience with the few men of color in her SBC communities diverged sharply from her experience with white men, who “would confess their porn addictions to me, thinking I would fulfill their lust.” She says they were surprised when she showed that she took her own “purity” seriously, refusing these men by asking, “Do you believe it is appropriate to see women as sex objects?” By contrast, SBC men of color “saw me a whole person and did not fetishize me for my race.””
We are seeing some informed coverage of the shooter, but media outlets need informed knowledge of white evangelical spaces. Their relevance and impact on society (in significant, harmful, and deadly ways) did not vanish on January 20th, 2021.
Terms like “sex addiction” have alternative meanings in these spaces. And the psychological effect of purity culture cannot be overstated as it relates to this story. As Linda Kay Klein wrote in her book Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free, quoting one of her interviewees: “Women are taught their bodies are evil; men are taught their minds are.” One sentence, short enough for a tweet, captures what might go unnoticed by someone unfamiliar with purity culture.
That quotation captures shines the light on this killer’s dark and twisted motivation. To “eliminate temptation.” Such a callous and cruel way to describe someone else’s existence, as if they only existed in relation to someone else’s desires.
That’s purity culture for you.
I’ve written before about the problem of unexamined whiteness in white evangelical circles. I’ve sat in diversity training sessions led by Black women who presented evidence of systemic racism to largely white audiences, only to hear them patiently diffuse and refute claims of ignorance.
Ignorance is the final backstop of white supremacy. Racist violence against Asian Americans has increased dramatically since the pandemic, inflamed by Trump’s rhetoric.
We know better. These facts aren’t hard to find, and we all have Google in our pockets. This ignorance is feigned.
Ignorance of the very real violence of white supremacy is only possible if you are white. For everyone else, it could get them hurt or killed. We know this isn’t hyperbole.
I don’t have a tidy way to wrap this up. I hope what I’ve compiled helps contextualize things for you. I hope you extend kindness to AAPI people in your life at all times, but if you have an established relationship and it’s appropriate, check in on them. Don’t make excuses or mollify your own conscience, if your conscience is bothering you - it’s not about white guilt. If you’re in a predominantly white religious space, challenge racist ideas when they’re espoused. Divest yourself if you must. The collective refusal of white religious spaces to reject white supremacy is what led us here.