The Long Southern Strategy and the Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity

While the South lost the war, this secessionist religion not only survived but also thrived. Its powerful role as a religious institution that sacralized white supremacy allowed the Southern Baptist Convention to spread its roots during the late nineteenth century to dominate southern culture. And by the mid-twentieth century, the SBC ultimately evolved into the single largest Christian denomination in the country, setting the tone for American Christianity overall and Christianity’s influence in public life.

The theologically backed assertion of the superiority of both “the white race” and Protestant Christianity undergirded a century of religiously sanctioned terrorism in the form of ritualized lynchings and other forms of public violence and intimidation.

The link between political leaders and prominent white churches was not just incidental; these religious connections served as the moral underpinning for the entire project of protecting the dominant social and political standing of whites.

This book puts forward a simple proposition: it is time—indeed, well beyond time—for white Christians in the United States to reckon with the racism of our past and the willful amnesia of our present.

White Christian churches have not just been complacent; they have not only been complicit; rather, as the dominant cultural power in America, they have been responsible for constructing and sustaining a project to protect white supremacy and resist black equality. This project has framed the entire American story.

American Christianity’s theological core has been thoroughly structured by an interest in protecting white supremacy. While it may seem obvious to mainstream white Christians today that slavery, segregation, and overt declarations of white supremacy are antithetical to the teachings of Jesus, such a conviction is, in fact, recent and only partially conscious for most white American Christians and churches. The unsettling truth is that, for nearly all of American history, the Jesus conjured by most white congregations was not merely indifferent to the status quo of racial inequality; he demanded its defense and preservation as part of the natural, divinely ordained order of things.

The historical record of lived Christianity in America reveals that Christian theology and institutions have been the central cultural tent pole holding up the very idea of white supremacy. And the genetic imprint of this legacy remains present and measurable in contemporary white Christianity, not only among evangelicals in the South but also among mainline Protestants in the Midwest and Catholics in the Northeast.

After centuries of complicity, the norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness. To many well-meaning white Christians today—evangelical Protestant, mainline Protestant, and Catholic—Christianity and a cultural norm of white supremacy now often feel indistinguishable, with an attack on the latter triggering a full defense of the former.

Source: Jones, Robert P.. White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity (pp. 2, 5 – 6, 10). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

At the base of that fear was what Smith calls the “grand bargain” of white supremacy, buttressed by paternalism and evangelicalism, whereby the southern white masses relinquished political power to the few in exchange for maintaining their social status as better than the black man. It was a bargain that required no paperwork or signatures. This deal was silent, embedded so deeply in southern white culture that it functioned as a political institution in and of itself, checking and balancing the forces of change. “No white southerners, rich or poor,” says Smith, “ever sat down and wrote out this bargain as a creed to believe and to live by, or ever said aloud or whispered in their own minds all of it at one time, or even faced in their hearts its full implications for people who claim to be Christian and democratic; for it grew on them, little by little,” she explains. “It was absorbed by them from their newspapers, from their friends’ talk, in smoking compartments of trains, in wispy little odds and ends of jokes and rumor,” Smith noted, and “from politicians’ speeches and promises.”

Ever the dealmakers, these southern white elites bent their culture to their political will, trading democracy for power. When that power was threatened by the civil rights revolutions, they struck another grand bargain—this time with the Grand Old Party—the terms of which have yet to expire.

This book is not about any single election, for that matter, nor is it a history of realignment or a longitudinal quantitative study. Rather, it is a panned-out, backward glance at the long-term implications of the Republican Party’s decision to court southern white voters. Initially, the GOP acted on the advice of Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona who, in a speech following Richard Nixon’s loss to Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy in 1960, told fellow Republican leaders, “We’re not going to get the Negro vote as a bloc in 1964 and 1968, so we ought to go hunting where the ducks are.” To do so, the GOP decided to capitalize on white racial angst, which was not in short supply in the South. However—and this is critical—that decision was but one in a series of decisions the party made not just on race, but on feminism and religion as well, in what is called here the “Long Southern Strategy.”

This southern white way of life, however, is not based solely on white superiority. Rather, it is best viewed as a triptych with religious fundamentalism and patriarchy standing as separate hinged panels that can be folded inward—bent to cover or reinforce white supremacy throughout much of the region’s history. The stereotype of southern white womanhood, for example, by which delicate, sacred white women of privilege need constant protection from black males, was constructed and maintained to justify everything from slavery, to lynchings, to segregation. It was a red herring from its inception, promoted to cast white supremacy as chivalry while relegating southern white women to a distant pedestal where they could be seen and not heard. This two-for-one deal criminalized black men while silencing white women and kept southern white male power unchallenged. Any threat to such authority by African Americans could be met with swift violence. Southern white women, on the other hand, needed cultural reinforcement of their “special” status as the fairer of the sexes, or so they were taught from childhood via countless Sunday sermons where patriarchy came wrapped in scripture. As a result, the cult of southern white womanhood requires women to participate in misogyny—or at least in the way that philosopher Kate Manne describes in her 2018 book, Down Girl , where misogyny is defined as the constant practice of correcting and policing women’s behavior to maintain male power. 26 For many southern white women, at a subconscious level, submissiveness became their duty. Their oppression became their privilege. Tradition became their cause, and faith became their defense, just as it had been for much of the Confederacy.

Once the GOP was seen as the protector of the southern sacraments of white privilege and patriarchy, many southern white voters flocked to it, turning the South solidly red in 1984 for the first time in history.

Source: Maxwell, Angie,Shields, Todd. The Long Southern Strategy (pp. 1-3, 8-9, 15). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

One thing that short vote to impeach the president makes visible: the degree to which impeachment pits a diverse America of women, people of color, and immigrants trying to uphold democracy against a white, largely male past trying to use corrupt means to cling to power.

Source: emptywheel on Twitter

The Republicans who voted against were all white. Just two were women.  These Republicans voted to permit a racist white male President to cheat to get reelected in violation of the rule of law.

This is about a clash between the rising America and the past.

Source: A Diverse America Votes to Uphold the Constitution; A Largely Male White America Votes to Abrogate It | emptywheel

For that white male past to retain power, this impeachment makes clear, they need to abrogate the Constitution and join Trump in his fondness for authoritarianism.

Source: emptywheel on Twitter

Trump’s political movement is pro-authoritarian and pro-oligarch. It has no interest in preserving pluralism, free and fair elections or any version of the rule of law that applies to the powerful as well as the powerless. It’s contemptuous of the notion of America as a lofty idea rather than a blood-and-soil nation.

Source: Opinion | Democracy Grief Is Real – The New York Times

After watching a few reviews of the new Leatherman multi-tool line during a logged out session, YouTube served me far right conspiracy theories and fear mongering as ads.

Our movement, however, needs nothing of respectability politics. Accepting — conceding, surrendering, submitting to — that will only erode our movement until it crumbles entirely. Respectability politics is what’s gotten us into reliance on foundations and nonprofits, and elected officials and bureaucrats, and policies and programs that only benefit the most privileged and resourced members of our communities at the direct expense of the most marginalized. Radical, militant anger — and radical, militant hope, and radical, wild dreams, and radical, active love — that’s what’ll get us past the death machines of ableism and capitalism and white supremacy and laws and institutions working overtime to kill us.

Source: Autistic Hoya: The neurodiversity movements needs its shoes off, and fists up.

The specific dissonance of Trumpism—advocacy for discriminatory, even cruel, policies combined with vehement denials that such policies are racially motivated—provides the emotional core of its appeal. It is the most recent manifestation of a contradiction as old as the United States, a society founded by slaveholders on the principle that all men are created equal.

Source: The Nationalist’s Delusion – The Atlantic

White people in North America live in a society that is deeply separate and unequal by race, and white people are the beneficiaries of that separation and inequality. As a result, we are insulated from racial stress, at the same time that we come to feel entitled to and deserving of our advantage. Given how seldom we experience racial discomfort in a society we dominate, we haven’t had to build our racial stamina. Socialized into a deeply internalized sense of superiority that we either are unaware of or can never admit to ourselves, we become highly fragile in conversations about race. We consider a challenge to our racial worldviews as a challenge to our very identities as good, moral people. Thus, we perceive any attempt to connect us to the system of racism as an unsettling and unfair moral offense. The smallest amount of racial stress is intolerable—the mere suggestion that being white has meaning often triggers a range of defensive responses. These include emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt and behaviors such as argumentation, silence, and withdrawal from the stress-inducing situation. These responses work to reinstate white equilibrium as they repel the challenge, return our racial comfort, and maintain our dominance within the racial hierarchy. I conceptualize this process as white fragility. Though white fragility is triggered by discomfort and anxiety, it is born of superiority and entitlement. White fragility is not weakness per se. In fact, it is a powerful means of white racial control and the protection of white advantage.

I began to see what I think of as the pillars of whiteness—the unexamined beliefs that prop up our racial responses. I could see the power of the belief that only bad people were racist, as well as how individualism allowed white people to exempt themselves from the forces of socialization. I could see how we are taught to think about racism only as discrete acts committed by individual people, rather than as a complex, interconnected system. And in light of so many white expressions of resentment toward people of color, I realized that we see ourselves as entitled to, and deserving of, more than people of color deserve; I saw our investment in a system that serves us. I also saw how hard we worked to deny all this and how defensive we became when these dynamics were named. In turn, I saw how our defensiveness maintained the racial status quo.

Source: DiAngelo, Robin J.. White Fragility (pp. 1-4). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Publications | Robin DiAngelo, PhD

In Mills’s view, white supremacy is a system of power and domination, one founded on racial oppression and which provides material benefits to people socially defined as “white.” More broadly, critical race theorists such as Mills emphasize the role of European colonialism, genocide, and chattel slavery in producing intertwined ideologies of white superiority and scientific racism in order to retroactively justify the (continued) exploitation of people socially defined as “nonwhite.” And here’s the kicker: Mills has convincingly argued that the maintenance of white supremacy involves and requires “cognitive dysfunctions” and warped representations of the social world that conveniently serve the interests of the majority population. These distortions and cognitive errors produce “the ironic outcome that whites [are] in general … unable to understand the world they themselves have made.”

This brings us back to Mills’s rather esoteric phrase: the epistemology of ignorance. The word “epistemology” refers to the study of knowledge and its formation, so an epistemology of ignorance would involve creating “knowledge” based on … a profound lack of knowledge or stupidity. Using fancy academic language, Mills is basically saying that whites’ ideas “about race” are fundamentally based on misrepresentations and distortions of social reality, but their “not knowing,” their ignorance, gets routinely repackaged as credible, authoritative “knowledge,” even as “science.” But racial ignorance is not restricted to white folks, unfortunately. My sociological interpretation of Mills’s argument is that racist societies socialize all of us to be racial idiots, insofar as we are exposed to forms of racial ignorance. Moreover, this widespread ignorance sustains the racial power structure, and the racial order, in turn, helps maintain the economic power of capitalist elites. The powerful always thrive on the miseducation of groups they seek to exploit and control. As long as everyday citizens are fed a daily mental diet of white supremacist ideology, historical ignorance, and disinformation, the overall power structure remains difficult to detect—and oppose. Thus, becoming less stupid about race involves discovering how we’ve all been socialized in ways that obscure the realities of racial domination for the benefit of white male property owners.

Source: Fleming, Crystal Marie. How to Be Less Stupid About Race (pp. 34-35). Beacon Press. Kindle Edition.

Beacon Press: How to Be Less Stupid About Race

“One of the great perceived attractions to becoming involved in extremism is it presents a simple way of understanding a complicated world”

Source: Faith Goldy, Toronto’s White-Nationalist Poster Girl

MAGA is a rejection of the foregrounding of the complexity, nuance, and spectrums of humanity. It is a rejection of pluralism and democracy.

For those who are tired of complexity and debate and politics, there are autocrats ready to relieve them of the burden.

Imagine an eleventh-grade classroom in American history in early fall. The text is Life and Liberty; students are reading Chapter 2, “Exploration and Colonization.” What happens when an African American girl shoots up her hand to challenge the statement “Not until 1497 to 1499 did the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama sail around Africa”? From rap songs the girl has learned that Phoenicians beat da Gama by more than two thousand years. Does the teacher take time to research the question and find that the student is right, the textbook wrong? More likely, s/he puts down the student’s knowledge: “Rap songs aren’t appropriate in a history class!” Or s/he humors the child: “Yes, but that was long ago and didn’t lead to anything. Vasco da Gama’s discovery is the important one.” These responses allow the class to move “forward” to the next topic. They also contain some truth: the Phoenician circumnavigation didn’t lead to any new trade routes or national alliances, because the Phoenicians were already trading with India through the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf. Textbooks don’t name Vasco da Gama because something came from his “discovery,” however. They name him because he was white. Two pages later, Life and Liberty tells us that Hernando de Soto “discovered [the] Mississippi River.” Of course, it had been discovered and named Mississippi by ancestors of the American Indians who were soon to chase de Soto down it. Textbooks portray de Soto in armor, not showing that by the time he reached the river, his men and women had lost almost all their clothing in a fire set by Natives in Alabama and were wearing replacements woven from reeds. De Soto’s “discovery” had no larger significance and led to no trade or white settlement. His was merely the first white face to gaze upon the Mississippi. That’s why most American history textbooks include him. From Erik the Red to Peary at the North Pole to the first man on the moon, we celebrate most discoverers because they were first and because they were white, not because of events that flowed or did not flow from their accomplishments. My hypothetical teacher subtly changed the ground rules for da Gama, but they changed right back for de Soto. In this way students learn that black feats are not considered important while white ones are.

Source: Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (pp. 45-46). The New Press. Kindle Edition.