supremacy

Reimagining the Bible Belt

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IF YOU'RE A Christian who cares about social justice, you can’t afford to ignore Texas.

In his book Rough Country, Princeton sociologist Robert Wuthnow puts it bluntly: “Texas is America’s most powerful Bible-Belt state.” Texas has the second largest population in the country, home to more than 26 million people. In 2014, Texans led six out of 21 congressional committees. And more than half of Texans attend church at least twice monthly.

No other state has more evangelical Christians than Texas. Many national Christian media companies, parachurch ministries, and influential megachurches are based in Texas. That’s why Texas is called the Buckle of the Bible Belt: It’s the most populous, wealthy, and politically powerful part of the country where evangelical churchgoing is still a dominant force.

But what if we reimagine the Bible Belt? In 2005, Texas officially became a “majority-minority” state, where traditional minority racial or ethnic groups represent more than half of the population. A majority of Texans under 40 in the pews are people of color. This creates an opportunity: Demographic change could lead to cultural change. What if we cast a new vision for faith in Texas public life that puts working families and people of color at the center?

But demographic change will not translate automatically into cultural change. The dominant historical Bible Belt narrative has influenced and shaped the identities of all Texas Christians, including in the African-American and Latino faith communities.

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July 2015
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Coloring in Oppression

THIS SHORT VOLUME by Jacqueline Battalora, a professor of criminal justice at St. Xavier University in Chicago, addresses a very important topic in American history and society: The legal, social, and political invention of the category of “white people” as a privileged group, which defines them as the normative Americans over against others, variously defined as “black,” “colored,” “Indians,” and “mulatto.”

When English settlers founded the New England colonies, they referred to themselves as British. As more people from other countries of Western Europe arrived in the area, they tended to group those they saw as similar to themselves as Christians, Germans, etc.—the term “white” was not used—over against “Negroes,” Indians, and rival colonizers such as the Spanish and French.

The term white was first used in colonial law after Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, during which some African and European indentured servants formed an alliance. Virginia’s colonial leaders responded with a package of laws that created a racial caste of African-descended slaves, distinguished from European servants. These laws decreed that African slaves could not be freed and free Africans could not hold office, serve in the army, or hold European bond laborers. This group was thus disprivileged, in contrast with those of European descent who were defined as “white.”

The term white also soon appeared in Maryland colonial law, forbidding African-descended people from owning weapons and testifying against “whites.” Anti-miscegenation laws also developed, forbidding “white” people from marrying those who were “black” or “Indian,” fining them if they did so and taking away any children from such unions, who were labeled “abominations.” These laws actually only applied to “white” women, since “white” men often had concubines from these forbidden groups without penalty.

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America's Original Sin

The United States of America was established as a white society, founded upon the genocide of another race and then the enslavement of yet another.

To make such a statement today is to be immediately accused of being rhetorical or, worse yet, of being "reminiscent of the '60s." The reaction is instructive and revealing. The historical record of how white Europeans conquered North America by destroying the native population and how they then built their new nation's economy on the backs of kidnapped Africans who had been turned into chattel are facts that can hardly be denied. Yet to speak honestly of such historical facts is to be charged with being polemical or out of date. Why?

One reason is that racism is no longer a hot topic. After the brief "racial crisis" of the '60s, white America, including many of those involved in the civil rights movement, has gone on to other concerns. Also, the legal victories of black Americans in that period, as far as most white Americans are concerned, have settled the issue and even left many asking, "What more do blacks want?"

Federal courts have recently interpreted civil rights legislation--originally designed to redress discrimination against black people--as applying to the grievances of whites who believe affirmative action programs have "gone too far." In addition, popular racial attitudes have changed, attested to by the opinion polls and the increased number of black faces appearing in the world of sports, entertainment, the mass media, and even politics. After all, The Cosby Show is the highest-rated TV series in the country, and Jesse Jackson is running for president.

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