A Quibble: White Evangelicals Are Not Anti-Structuralist

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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.

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What Is & Isn’t Being Said: 4. “Privilege”; A Parable of Smith & Emerson

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We concluded our last post, “What Is & Isn’t Being Said: 3. ‘White Privilege’,” by stating the importance of recognizing, not only the 400 years long history of racialization in the United States, but also the privilege that white Americans enjoy even today, particularly in relation to black Americans. When one refuses to acknowledge this history and privilege—or simply does not understand it—one tends to propose explanations for current disparities by ahistorical means, illicitly assuming a neutral historical starting point for discussion. Given that the average white person in America does not feel himself to be personally prejudiced, thinks that racism is the sin of a rare few, and believes that all barriers to entry have been removed by Civil Rights legislation, white Americans tend to believe that something must be wrong with the black community itself. If all is thought to be equal (in terms of “access” and privilege), what else is available to explain the vast inequities cited in the previous posts? (Even popular theologians can be found offering explanations such as greater sexual sin in the black community, a persistent “victim mentality,” a tendency to see the world through “the lens of race” rather than “the lens of the gospel,” and a lack of will to work hard and succeed because of welfare.)

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