The racially important cultural tools in the white evangelical tool kit are “accountable freewill individualism,” “relationalism” (attaching central importance to interpersonal relationships), and anti-structuralism (inability to perceive or unwillingness to accept social structural influences). (Divided by Faith, p. 76)
When I first read Smith and Emerson’s book, Divided by Faith (a must read), this section stood out above all else. I had wondered why the concept of structural, systemic, or institutional racism was so forcefully dismissed by white evangelicals in general, and opponents of racial reconciliation in particular. The concept of a “tool kit,” stocked with limited methods of interpretation (even conceptualization), populated by fundamental beliefs and assumptions found within evangelical ideology itself, seemed a welcome explanation for the obvious hostility toward structural explanations. The logic seemed simple. Evangelicalism rightly sees salvation as an individual affair (though often with illegitimate emphasis); God saves sinners from sin; sin is the ultimate problem; only individuals can sin or be saved from sin; racism is wrong because it is sin; therefore, racism is also only an individual affair. As such, evangelicals can only process racism as an individual attitude or as individual actions. Evangelicals simply have no interpretive category for institutionalized, systemic, or structural racism. It makes perfect sense.
The following is from Francis Fedric’s Slave Life in Virginia and Kentucky (1863), wherein he describes his own conversion to Christianity. It is just more confirmation of Peter Randolph’s conclusion quoted at length in an earlier post: “[a]fter such preaching, let no one say that the slaves have the Gospel of Jesus preached to them.”
[The monument imaged above is a perfect example of the “Lost Cause” propaganda prevalent in the South and common among conservatives.]
On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln delivered his “House Divided” speech to the gathered Republican Party:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved—I do not expect the house to fall—but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new—North as well as South.
Just a few months following, future president of the Confederate States Jefferson Davis offered his own perspective on this brewing divide within the United States, laying the fault solely in the lap of Northern abolitionist agitation:
In his autobiography, From Slave Cabin to the Pulpit, Rev. Peter Randolph (1825 – 1897) answers the claim that slavery was good for the African, freeing him from the bonds of paganism, bringing him to Gospel salvation. To be sure, there was a “gospel” preached to them; but was it the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, or a truncated facsimile, bastardized for the sake of exploitation?
Ibram X Kendi writes in Stamped From the Beginning,
The Puritans believed, too, in civilizing and Christianizing the world, but their approach to the project was slightly different from that of most explorers and expedition sponsors. For the others, it was about economic returns or political power. For Puritan preachers, it was about bringing social order to the world. Cambridge professor William Perkins rested at the cornerstone of British Puritanism in the late sixteenth century. “Though the servant in regard of faith and the inner man be equal to his master, in regard of the outward man… the master is above the servant,” he explained in Ordering a Familie, published in 1590. In paraphrasing St. Paul, Perkins became one of the first major English theorists—or assimilationist theologians, to be more precise—to mask the exploitative master/servant or master/slave relationship as a loving family relationship. […] It was Perkins’s family ordering that Puritan leaders like John Cotton and Richard Mather used to sanction slavery in Massachusetts a generation later. And it was Perkins’s claim of equal souls and unequal bodies that led Puritan preachers like Cotton and Mather to minister to African souls and not challenge the enslavement of their bodies. (Kindle location 581)
This is 100% true and a powerful point necessary for understanding the genesis, development, and justification of American chattel slavery. But, like a good little student of Kendi, I went back to the primary source, Perkins’ A SHORT SURVEY OF THE RIGHT MANNER OF ERECTING and ordering a Familie, according to the Scriptures.
[For needed context, please see the previous posts, “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 1. From the Arrival of the First African Slaves to ‘Partus Sequitur Ventrem’” and “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 2. From Bacon’s Rebellion to ‘White Men’ and ‘White Women’.”]
Thus far, we have witnessed the movement from a disparate group of indentured servants—originating from various European and African nations, working side by side in the English Colonies—into a bifurcation of (1) “white men” and “white women” and (2) “Negroes, Mulattos, and Indians.” Through the developing legal code, we have also seen the class “white” receive legal protections and privileges while the class “Negro and Mulatto” alone became subjects of life-long chattel slavery—they and their children.
As stated at the end of the last post, the only element lacking in the construction of the “white race” by 1723 was the concept of “race” itself. We will now briefly turn to this, though with an eye to our purposes rather than the details of the “science” itself, its definitions, etc. We will then move on to the post-Revolutionary era and conclude with some application.
[Please see the previous post, “Correcting (my own) Normativity of Whiteness: 1. From the Arrival of the First African Slaves to ‘Partus Sequitur Ventrem’,” for needed context.]
In what follows, we continue to consider the construction of the “white race” and “whiteness” as developed in Colonial American history. As noted before, there simply was no such thing as “white people” prior to the 17th century. We have already witnessed how, through legal changes, a disparate group of indentured servants from various European and African nations, working side by side at the beginning of the 17th century, were transformed into roughly two groups, (1) “Christians” and those from “Christian nations,” receiving legal protections, and (2) those imported from non-“Christian” nations, comprising (with few exceptions) those of African descent alone—and their children. The latter increasingly became subjects of life-long servitude, while the former were granted more and more legal protections and comparative privileges. But as we have also seen, once conversion to Christianity was legally clarified to not require manumission, new lines of demarcation and categorization were needed to maintain the social control system necessary for a slave-based economy, wherein a few wealthy land-holders employed with scraps and chains an overwhelmingly large labor class.
And possibly more than any other event, Bacon’s Rebellion made clear to Virginia’s leadership the necessity of new lines of demarcation among these laboring people groups. To this we will now turn.