Christmas break provided me with some much-needed time for reflection and my podcast conversation with Dr. Jeannine Hill Fletcher, author of The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism, & Religious Diversity in America (2017), was one conversation that spurred on further reflection. If we’re going to serve a diverse Church, we need to understand the systems which undergird our society.
The events of January 6th brought that reflection to bear. It’s almost too obvious to say—but it must be said all the same—that the outcome of the desecration of the Capitol would have been much, much different if the mob had been black. White supremacy was on full display as these white rioters acted with confidence that they would not be stopped, shot, or prosecuted. All those who last summer called BLM a terrorist or “anti-life” organization should be also decrying the pro-Trump rioters as terrorists and anti-life.
When George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis last summer, I sought to participate in the national conversation and read these influential books which shaped my thinking:
- The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2020) by Michelle Alexander. This was, by far, the best book to look at how systematic racism functions in our society. After all, many people say, “I’m not racist or prejudiced…I treat everyone equally.” Alexander’s book works to highlight the impact of our systems.
- Between the World and Me (2015) Ta-Nehisi Coates. One man’s story of how racism impacted his life. Coates’ attention use of the term “black bodies” as in “people wanted to control our black bodies” was particularly impactful.
- Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody: The Making of a Black Theologian (2018 ) by James H. Cone. Cone explains how he helped develop Black Theology as a Catholic theologian at a Catholic college. Often dismissed as a radical, it’s important to recognize that black Catholics have been calling for change since the sixties.
- America for Americans: A History of Xenophobia in the United States (2019) by Erika Lee. It’s important to recognize how xenophobia worked against Asian-Americans and Hispanics. It’s important to recognize that many whites fight for a “normal” America which usually involves fighting against immigrants and people of color.
- Racial Justice & the Catholic Church (2010) by Bryan N. Massingale. This sweeping work touches on many issues facing the Church. If anyone believes racism isn’t an issue for the Catholic Church, start here.
- The Cross and the Lynching Tree (2011) by James H. Cone. A powerful reminder that Jesus was a victim of capital punishment and an outsider in his society. Cone connects the lynching tree to the crucifixion and argues that this identity shapes the mindset and theology of African-Americans.
- Caste: The Origins of our Discontents (2020) by Isabel Wilkerson. Powerful story of how our conception of race was shaped. Wilkerson connects the Nazi approach to genocide to their study of Jim Crow laws.
My study of these books came together when I read Fletcher’s work. The central idea is that our theology, our politics, our systems all support a norm of American life and anything outside of that norm (whether it be black, non-Christian, non-American, etc) should be disadvantaged. These norms have given whites dominion and control over the land and the people. Her words:
By manufacturing the ideology of White Christian supremacy, theologians and thinkers provided the logic for legislation that would dispossess Native peoples, make enslavement seem reasonable, maintain the disenfranchisement of Black citizens, extract the labor of Asian and Latino workers, all the while directing material resources to elevate the subject position of White citizens through land ownership and homeownership, education, health, and security. (82)
In the podcast, Fletcher references the Pew 2011 report on income disparity. I reference an interview with Rayshard Brooks, who was killed in an Atlanta fast-food parking lot during a dispute with police. Here’s a great America article on Fletcher’s book.
My hope is that last summer’s moment of increased racial awareness doesn’t pass as just a moment. I hope we can continue to learn and build fraternity to fight against systems of white supremacy.