August 19, 2012

One link between fundamentalist Christianism and racism

Blogger Jesse Curtis explains that one source of his own racism was the horrible Bob Jones U history texts he read as a child:
-The book's entire treatment of slavery, other than briefly mentioning it in other contexts such as the constitutional convention and the Missouri Compromise, is contained in a box inset on two pages. In this brief box, we're assured that slaves were well fed and clothed, and that the vast majority of southerners did not own slaves. Nowhere in the whole book do we find out what life was like for average slaves or free blacks, nor are we told that over a fourth of slave families were broken up by sale.
-The text states that slavery was not the primary cause of the civil war and argues that it had more to do with constitutional differences of opinion. It does not discuss the actions of slaves, free blacks, and black soldiers during the war to win their freedom.
-It says that the 14th amendment was the most important and far-reaching of the reconstruction amendments because it increased the power of the federal government. Apparently this theoretical concern was of greater importance than the 13th amendment which officially ended slavery for four million people.
-It dispenses with Jim Crow in a single page, and we're not told how the "Redeemer" governments regained control in the South.
I wish I could say I was shocked by this, but I am not.  But this is part of (only part) why we are still battling the civil war, and Obama's election was the latest part of that.  And, if you know anything about fundamentalism, you know that many conservative Christians have pushed their kids to read these very textbooks.  No wonder we have a race problem in the southern church as well.  


Smitty said...

What an unfortunate dissonance.

The Christian church, throughout history, both defended and led the charge to abolish slavery. Quakers called for the end of it while other churches used the bible to defend it. Both testaments make references to rules of slave ownership (or at least don't condemn it)...but that was perhaps a reflection of the times in which the book was "written." Religious organizations in the 60s, 100 years after Emancipation, helped bring about the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

One would think we are in a time and place where slavery is generally viewed by everyone as among the worst things we've done to one another...but here we have a major religious institution excusing slavery and minimizing its role in our history and the cultural history of Black Americans.

I am acting like I'm surprised, but really, given Christianity's split role in the question of slavery, I guess I'm not surprised. Just resigned and depressed...and alarmed that there exists a small (THANKFULLY) group of Americans who believe that slaves were simply treated all nice-like and were cherished family members of plantation families, and so all the bitching that them Blacks do just hurts their feelings so, given how nicely they was treated.


steves said...

Not to rag on the South, but does this have more to do with geography rather than religion. I am by no means an expert on the Civil War, but most of the proponents of the Civil War having little to do with slavery seem to come from the south.

In terms of jurisprudence, the 14th Amendment was the the most far reaching of any of the Reconstruction amendments. IMO, this doesn't diminish the historical and social ramifications of the 13th.

Streak said...

I had the same thought, Steve, though didn't say it. The 14th's impact is widespread, though the 13th is certainly important.

Smitty, I think you are right, that we sometimes really miss that far too many Christians endorsed slavery and were bitter to see race relations change.

WJB said...


Aren't many conservative talking points coded racist and racialist language? I have been toying with this idea for awhile, but it seems to me that many of the following statements respond to the civil rights movement.
1) "State's rights": This one has always been racially coded. In the 1830s, the worst President in United States history would not enforce a Supreme Court decision and extend federal protection to the Cherokee nation against Georgia's extension laws, thereby opening the door for ethnic cleaning in the South. Southern states demanded or asserted the right to own other human beings. Southern states asserted the right to segregate schools and then enacted "massive resistance" to post-Brown integration efforts.

2) Personal responsibility: I just thought of this one in the context of civil rights, but think about what personal responsibility asks - you are responsible for actions, not larger historical and sociological conditions. Completely adhering to this idea, then, absolves society of persisting forms of colonialism and racism. I could probably articulate this better and I am willing to discuss it further if it elicits discussion.

Streak said...

Unfortunately, I think you have a point, WJB. I am not sure all of their words are coded racially. Some are coded class wise--which you hint at with the personal responsibility comment. It isn't just used in racial contexts, but also with the poor, and even with the disabled and elderly. And that one so permeates conservative thought that people generally embrace it without thinking.

Streak said...

Oh, and when you said worst president in US history, I automatically thought of Andrew Johnson. Jackson is worse in a more destructive way, I understand, but for pure incompetence, not sure anyone beats Johnson. Not even Harding.