While most of the feedback to my The Problem of Slavery in Christian America has been very positive and welcome, some has also been, as you can imagine, less enthusiastic. Most of the more negative reactions are predictable, and we will spend a little time addressing them in the future. For now, one of the most common is this: “Why do you feel the need to drag up something that happened 150 years ago? Let it go!”
There is more than one answer to this. For starters, racism and even slavery did not just “happen 150 years ago.” As the book details in one chapter, overt forms of slavery, usually still targeting blacks, continued even into the 1940s. (If we count prison, and I do, it continues today.) More importantly, when we recognize that slavery and racism are separate phenomena, it is not difficult to realize that even if we accepted the idea that “slavery” ended in 1865, racism certainly did not.
After 1865, emancipated blacks almost immediately faced a barrage of legislation and extra-legal tactics based upon open white supremacy. Black codes, Jim Crow, segregation, Plessy v. Ferguson, the lie of “separate but equal,” various versions and historical permutations of the KKK, lynchings, terrorism, burnings, beatings, and much more continued for a long time.
Then realize this fierce anti-black attitude did not just end even when legal segregation ended. Many people still carry the attitude and beliefs, and some still quietly wish for a return to some form of segregation.
Just watch the overt racism, in many of my readers’ lifetimes, that permeates this documentary trailer. Listen to Georgia Governor Marvin Griffin announce that the state should annul the 1954 Supreme Court decision Brown v. Board of Education, which desegregated the schools. “As long as I am your governor,” he declared, “There will be no breakdown in the pattern of segregation in this state.”
Prominent examples like this could be multiplied by the scores, and have in some books.
In short, why do I feel the need to dredge up stuff that ended 150 years ago? Because it didn’t end 150 years ago.
And in the hearts and minds of many individuals, it didn’t end 50 years ago, either. Just a couple days ago, a man connected with me for the purpose of relating the following important message:
Not only could we show multiple examples of such beliefs among individuals, but I now regularly hear anecdotes of direct, overt racist acts in local neighborhoods and from random individuals. In at least one case, I have seen it caught on video, right here in my little county in Georgia.
A friend recently showed me his private security cam video of a black neighbor being harassed by a woman down his street who routinely let her dogs out on his lawn. He eventually had to get a court order against her. She still did it one night anyway, and when he merely asked her to come get them, she called him “n—-r,” told him to move out of the subdivision, and then threatened him not to move toward her because she had a gun. He was standing in his own driveway.
Every time I relate such anecdotes, someone says, yeah but that’s a random fringe element. It’s almost as predictable as the people who will ask why I keep bringing up what happened 150 years ago. How many anecdotes do you need to prove to you that it is still a problem? Because whatever number you mention, I am sure I can go find them eventually.
Nor is it a problem supported by merely anecdotal evidence. The guy who messaged me the nonsense above was referencing the work of a well-published British scholar. That scholar was cited and used substantially by the American conservative pillar Charles Murray, famous for among other things his 1994 book The Bell Curve, which gives support to the thesis of the guy’s message above.
In a more recent book, Murray continues the theme:
I am predicting that over the next few decades advances in evolutionary psychology are going to be conjoined with advances in genetic understanding, leading to a scientific consensus that goes something like this: There are genetic reasons, rooted in the mechanisms of human evolution, why little boys who grow up in neighborhoods without married fathers tend to reach adolescence not socialized to the norms of behavior that they will need to stay out of prison and to hold jobs. . . . These same reasons explain why society’s attempts to compensate for the lack of married biological fathers don’t work and never will work.1
I am sure that anyone who reads racism into this is just being a racist themselves right, because it doesn’t really come out and say it? And this guy is not a nobody or a random individual. He is a prominent conservative spokesman and political scientist.
In short, again, the racism didn’t end 150 years ago. It continued every bit as strongly as before. It continues today, more widely than many people may realize, or at least admit. It happens in modern scholarship and social commentary, i.e. leadership, and it happens often between average citizens and neighbors.
It’s bad enough that it happens. It’s worse that so many people work so hard to deny it, look away, stop their ears, or disbelieve it. Such denials and opposition are as bad, spiritually, socially, and morally, as the actual overt racist acts, for they cover for they cover for those who refuse to love their neighbors as themselves, but instead hate, and in doing so, refuse to love their neighbors. If we cannot be brought to love our neighbors, what makes us think we are really Christians?
So instead of asking why I am concerned over something that allegedly ended 150 years ago, why don’t you ask yourself why we’ve gone 150 years now without fixing the problem?
Get your copy of The Problem of Slavery in Christian America here.
- Charles Murray, Coming Apart (2013), 299.(↩)