Race and Religion (1)
So you want to talk about race and religion
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of how race shapes American minority religions (and vice versa), we need to define our terms and get our timeline straight.
What we’re reading:
- How does Oluo define and describe race and racism in America? Did anything in her reflection surprise or upset you?
- How do Chan-Malik and Gerbner help us think about the relationship between race and religion?
- What do you think Chan-Malik means when she says we “cannot do religion without race” and “cannot do race without religion?”
- How does Gerbner help us understand the creation and “elasticity” of American whiteness?
I’ll be honest, y’all — usually when I talk about race in my classes (which happens in all of my classes), we do a quick day at the beginning of the semester to make sure we’re all on the same page and then dive into history and case studies.
With this class and at this fractious, fractured moment of American history, I didn’t want to rush this discussion. I want us to be very, very clear about the realities of white supremacy, racism, and especially anti-Black racism in what’s now the United States — and the role(s) religion has played in creating, perpetuating, disrupting, and resisting racist oppression.
For #ScholarStrike last week, I sketched a brief and incomplete history of American race and religion. Be sure to read through this thread (you can comment on it for participation credit as well — don’t forget to include #NUcults!).
This episode drops in a few weeks — I won’t require it for homework, but it’s directly related to our conversations this semester, so check it out if you want to know more. Here’s the most important part:
“We built America out of religion and race, and specifically through an economy of white christian supremacy. Americans USED religion to construct race.”
That is not an exaggeration. Americans used religion to construct our notions of whiteness and non-whiteness, and built a nation and an economy on the devaluation of everyone who was not white. (Gerbner’s going to help us think about this further.) This is what we mean when we say “white supremacy”: the term does not only apply to the Klan or the Proud Boys. It means the way we are taught to privilege whiteness and things associated with whiteness over all other races.
Read the whole thread, though. It’s important. If you’d rather read it in narrative form, here’s the Thread Reader version:
Thread by @KeepingIt_101: so I think I'm going to cheat a little bit bc I'd planned to start from…
Thread by @KeepingIt_101: so I think I'm going to cheat a little bit bc I'd planned to start from e101 and just tweet…
I also uploaded a quickie slideshow to Canvas about race as a social construct, if this is a new concept for anyone.
So you want to talk about race
You are smart people and this is not a hard book, so I am not going to rehash it for you. The basics are:
- yes, racism is just as bad and just as prevalent (if not worse) as Oluo makes it out to be
- yes, just about every issue in what’s now the United States is, to a greater or lesser extent, about race
- yes, you are going to fuck up talking about race sometimes. you feeling uncomfortable is not more important than addressing racism. walk it off, learn from folks with more experience, and (as Maya Angelou says) when you know better, you do better
- no, racism isn’t about hearts and minds: it’s systemic oppression that functions to privilege white people and things we associate with whiteness over everybody and everything else, whether we mean it to or not
- no, experience of discrimination or oppression because of one identity (like gender) does not invalidate privilege (like whiteness) — you know this, because we literally just talked about intersectionality
- no, reverse racism is not a thing
Race and religion
Both these pieces are taken from the Immanent Frame’s “A Universe of Terms” series.
About the Universe
When approaching A Universe of Terms I distinctly understood two challenges. The first was visually representing the…
Prof. Sylvia Chan-Malik is Associate Professor of American and Women’s and Gender Studies at Rutgers University and the author of Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color in American Islam.
I initially wrote this essay before the pandemic. "Before" now seems, as many have noted already, a no-longer world…
The roles religion, spirituality, and the sacred play in people’s lives, what and how people believe, and how they interpret and carry out these beliefs in public and private life — these all matter eminently in understanding the machinations of social movements and collective change, and how we envision facilitating their paths of emergence… [R]eligion has always been lived both in and through race and racism in the United States; race produces religion’s forms and animates its presence and practice in people’s lives, which in turn shape the horizons of possibility for social change.
- Sylvia Chan-Malik
Chan-Malik argues that we cannot “do” religion without race, nor race without religion. What do you think she means by this? How is she theorizing race, religion, and the relationship between the two?
Again, not required, but I wrote a…call it a meditation on this summer’s uprisings that echoes a lot of Chan-Malik’s thinking. It’s here, if you’re interested:
This Is Not an Antiracist Reading List, OR, the Treachery of Allyship
By Megan Goodwin and Yohana Agra Junker. Though it began as a sole-authored curation, this piece developed in…
Prof. Katharine Gerbner is Associate Professor of History at the University of Minnesota and the author of Christian Slavery: Conversion & Race in the Protestant Atlantic World. We’re going to read more of her stuff later in the semester.
Race, like religion, is a moving target; a constantly evolving constellation intimately connected to both self-identity…
What does it mean that whiteness — and white supremacy — are intimately tied to a Christian heritage? Even before white people were considered a “race,” Christians used their religious identity to exclude Jews and Muslims from political rights.
- Katharine Gerbner
Gerbner argues that “race is not merely embodied: it is also a political strategy intertwined with religion.” How do religion and race constitute a “political strategy,” and what do you think the goal of that strategy is? How does your understanding of religion and race shift when you think about whiteness as both created and “elastic?”
(Did you catch how often Gerbner cites Weisenfeld? There’s a reason we’re spending so much of the semester on New World A-Coming.)