N_2009_1_2There’s a lot of talk about racism in the American Right, and especially in the Religious (or Christian) Right movement. Rightists themselves deny any racism on their part, and the more religious among them point to two things: First, that the Abolition movement of the 19th century was primarily a Christian movement; and second, that the Republican Party, to which nearly all Religious Rightists belong, was founded as Abolitionist. What’s more, they say, the Democratic Party had done more to block the advancement of civil rights, during the 50s and 60s.

All of those things are true, particularly that many Abolitionists were devout Christians and many strongly motivated by their faith. But that doesn’t mean that it’s Leftists and Democrats who’re now (according to the Right) the chief promoters of racism. The reality of the Religious Right movement is that it was founded on opposition to desegregation (in other words, it was predicated on racism). Also, those conservative southern Democrats who once tried to stonewall civil rights reforms, have since then moved over to the GOP.

Put bluntly, “the Party of Lincoln” has become something very different from what it was in Lincoln’s time.

If anyone needs an example of how religiously-inspired racism still lurks deep within 21st century American Christendom, here’s an example to consider. As WBRZ-TV in Baton Rouge, LA reports, a shitstorm was kicked up over a Catholic school student’s essay (WebCite cached version):

Parents and students of a Catholic high school received a letter, apologizing after a student’s essay that chastised African Americans circulated on the internet.

The essay, assigned to a class at St. Michael the Archangel in Baton Rouge, was about Black History Month. Instead of writing about events in February in support of equality for all races, a white student wrote she was “unpleased” with having to write such a paper and continued not everyone is created equal.…

The student referenced what she thought were passages from the bible, supporting a claim that the only race on the earth during biblical times were Caucasians.

The school has disavowed the essay, and I have no reason to assume the student who wrote it learned her racist theology there. But, she learned it from somewhere. She didn’t come up with the idea that Jesus’ apostles were all white and there were no “different ethics” [sic] in Jesus’ time on her own. Someone — and an adult someone, at that! — had to have taught her this bullshit. To be clear, there were most assuredly different ethnic groups in Jesus’ time. There were even different ethnic groups coexisting in the Levant, back then. They spoke different languages and followed different religions, and they didn’t always get along … but they were definitely there.

It’s easy to dismiss this sort of thing as a kind of “one-off,” a unique expression of Christianist racism that doesn’t reflect what others think. But I’m not sure it can be dismissed that easily. Along with the B.S. about there being no “different ethnics” in Jesus’ time, the author complained about blacks wearing ill-fitting pants, and more. Tropes like this have been going around for a long time. This student absorbed them, and will — along with other kids her age — carry them forward into the next generation.

What I’m getting at is that this story is an indicator of a larger phenomenon, one that has a very old pedigree and which doesn’t seem to be going away.

Photo credit: State Archives of North Carolina, via Flickr.

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