The Great Divider: the Western Imaginary of Whiteness

Justice and History, Thomas Crawford (1863), Senate Wing, East Front, U.S. Capitol Building. https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/justice-and-history-sculpture. “By the mid-20th century, the head of History and the face of Justice were nearly gone…” https://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/art/artifact/Sculpture_25_00002.htm.

Without sword or blindfold, the white western woman, Justia, personifying, representing, embodying: possessing Justice, holds the Book of Justice|Law|Order in her left hand. It is bound, complete, and finished. Posed at leisure, she comfortably leans upon the globe. Her right hand rests upon the Scales of Justice — its chains slack and its cups empty — their weighing work is done. The stars carved into the globe are under her. Whether the deistic god of destiny or the Father of Lights, the Father of our spirits, this one from above is now beneath her and belongs to her. The struggle (sword) for justice is over. All ignorance and abuse (blindfold) is banished. The triadic process Justice, Law, Order is filled up to all its fullness upon all humankind.

The Son of Man comes not in His glory, nor do the angels accompany Him when He sits on His glorious throne to judge the nations.

The white woman, America, has replaced Him. She unfolds a scroll. It reads History|July|1776. The scroll announces the beginning of history for all. America with her right hand pins the scroll to a perfunctory and simple structure with no purpose other than to display it. The scroll is yet to be completely unfurled. America’s left hand and arm are still at work. Her elbow does not yet touch the globe.. She has yet to finish her work of bringing Justice|Law|Order to the world. The end-lock of her long hair gracefully alit upon the earth however anticipates the successful achievement of her task.

“All men are created equal…

Endowed

By their Creator

With certain unalienable Rights…

Among these are

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Hermeneutical Priests rightly Read

America’s Gnostic Universal Creed.

These Teach the Overseers what it Means,

Who then Impose what they’ve Received.

Might the “mystic chords of memory…

Swell the chorus of the Union, when

[Finally]

Touched,

As surely they will be,

By the better angels of our nature.”[i] 

[A penumbral paraphrase for today]

Reader,

How do you remember “It’s a Wonderful Life”?

When do you celebrate Jubilee Day?

Where are we? Who are we?

Annuit Coeptis — Novus Ordo Seculorum!

Who is the rebel? The hunter? The tyrant? The warrior?

Bearing without error?

The Elect yes, who Elected?

Who favors, asks America’s Jeremiah,

“The palace of mirrors

Where dog soldiers are reflected

The endless road and the wailing chimes

The empty rooms where her memory is protected

Where the [fallen] angels whisper to the souls of previous times”[?]

Responsibility for Justice

“Affirming the existence of white privilege does not amount to claiming that white people either as a group or as individuals owe some kind of payment to black people [or indigenous people or people of color] as a group or as individuals.  Those who are beneficiaries of racialized structures with unjust outcomes, however, can properly be called to a special moral and political responsibility to recognize our privilege, to acknowledge its continuities with historical injustice, and to act on an obligation to work on transforming the institutions that offer this privilege, even if this means worsening one’s own conditions and opportunities compared to what they have been.”[ii]

White Supremacy

“The systemic evil that denies and distorts the image of God inherent in all human beings based upon the heretical belief that white aesthetics, values, and cultural norms bear the fullest representation of the imago Dei.  White supremacy thus maintains that white people are superior to all other peoples, and it orders creation, identities, and social structures in ways that support this distortion and denial.”[iii]

Doctrine of Discovery: Theological Vision of Whiteness

“The Doctrine of Discovery is a set of legal principles that governed the European colonizing powers, particularly regarding the administration of indigenous land… From a theological perspective, the legal and political role of the Doctrine of Discovery is rooted in a dysfunctional theological imagination that shaped the European colonial settler worldview [inherited by British colonists in America and perpetuated by white America.]

“For the church, the social imagination can be influenced by the theological imagination, which can generate an even deeper embodied experience or feeling.  The theological imagination can have a logical component, but it can also shape and be shaped by emotional experiences.  This interconnection is found in the power of the collective imagination…. It is the arrogance of Western theology to assume that all of our theological musings are rooted in rationality and logic and therefore must not be susceptible to dysfunction.  However, a diseased theological imagination can put forth a dysfunctional expression that ultimately forms a dysfunctional social imagination.  The diseased theological imagination (such as Christendom, the Doctrine of Discovery, and the myth of Anglo-Saxon purity) contributed to a dysfunctional social imagination (white supremacy) that has perpetuated unjust leaders, systems, and structures.”[iv]

“Whiteness was being held up as an aspect of creation with embedded facilitating powers.  Whiteness from the moment of discovery and consumption was a social and theological way of imagining, an imaginary that evolved into a method of understanding the world.  It was a social imaginary in that it posited the existence of difference and the collectivity for those in the Old World faced with the not easily explainable peoples and phenomena of the New World.  It was a theological imaginary because whiteness suggested that one may enter a true moment of creation gestalt.  Whiteness transcended all peoples because it was a means of seeing all peoples at the very moment it realized itself.  Whiteness was [and remains] a global vision [rooted in Western civilization] … a way of organizing bodies by proximity to and approximation of white bodies.”[v]

Elevate & Desegregate Dealing Publicly with Whiteness

“The question is not what [we] should know.  Too many educational institutions are lost in that question, looking obsessively at the commodities of learning.  The question is, what should be the shape of the journey to know?  What should be the character of the search?  How might there be a shared inwardness that opens the joy of not knowing inside the joy of learning together?”[vi]

“Our highest spiritual power – the highest arousal of the spirit – is only ignited by mysteries revealed or by puzzles to be solved…  This way of the mind…seeks to discover reality in the first place [in the raw, unfinished — disclosed]!  This process of discovery is the mind’s supreme rational effort… The process rolls by cinematically in a series of scenes.  The scenes create the process; the thinker has as yet no ‘overall concept’ of [repentance, reparations, reconciliation, restoration or redress]…

“The movements and scenes of creative speech are not fragments, but are complete in themselves, areas with their own [texture], whose polyphonic sound uncovers and reveals the law of movements (or scenes or words).  All thought is afterthought, thought about an existing world… The creative speaker…is the mouth of an unfinished world, one that becomes a world [within the speaker]…seized by the forces of this world [in need of healing power]… This type of thought must not be dismissed as merely ‘poetic.’  This is not a question of the mere luxury of art, but of the mind’s discovery of the world…”[vii]

Structural Racism, Definitions

“Throughout this country’s history, the hallmarks of American democracy – opportunity, freedom, and prosperity – have been largely reserved for white people through the intentional exclusion and oppression of people of color. The deep racial and ethnic inequities that exist today are a direct result of structural racism: the historical and contemporary policies, practices, and norms that create and maintain white supremacy.”[viii]

“Structural Racism in the U.S. is the normalization and legitimization of an array of dynamics – historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal – that routinely advantage whites while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color. It is a system of hierarchy and inequity, primarily characterized by white supremacy – the preferential treatment, privilege and power for white people at the expense of Black, Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, Native American, Arab and other racially oppressed people.”[ix]

“Structural racism–the normalized and legitimized range of policies, practices, and attitudes that routinely produce cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for people of color, especially black people–is the main driver of racial inequality in America today.”[x]

U. S. Population by Race, 2019[xi]

Racialized Wealth, 2019

“Racial financial inequality is often discussed in terms of income inequality. While income inequality is important, it is essential that it is complemented by an understanding of wealth inequality. Inequities in holdings of wealth are particularly central to perpetuating economic immobility across generations.

“Who owns wealth in the United States?  According to data from the Federal Reserve, in 1990, white households owned 90.7% of household wealth in the United States, whereas Black households owned 3.8% and Hispanic households owned 2.1%.  These numbers have changed little over the past 30 years, with white households now owning 85.5% of wealth in 2019, and Black households owning 4.2% and Hispanic households owning 3.1%.  Most of the white wealth decline is due to other racial groups attaining a share wealth.

“Another way to look at this is the net worth, or assets (such as stocks and real estate) minus liabilities (such as loans and mortgages left to pay), by race. The average net worth per capita among white Americans is roughly $437,000 per person, whereas this value is $105,000 among Black people and $53,000 among Hispanic people.

“While the assets of white households are equally split between real estate, equity and mutual fund shares, pensions, and other assets, the assets of other racial groups are less diversified. Almost two-thirds of Black wealth is composed of real estate and pensions, with 38% coming from pension assets alone. Similarly, 61% of Hispanic wealth and 56% of wealth from other races is composed of just these two asset types.”

The gap in homeownership rates between white and Black Americans has also widened since the recession. In 2004, 49.3% of Black Americans and 75.5% of white Americans owned homes, with a gap of 26.2 percentage points. In the first quarter of 2020, 44.0% of Black Americans owned homes, while 73.7% of white Americans did, a gap of 29.7 percentage points.”[xii]

Racialized Corporate Executive Board Membership, 2018[xiii]

Racialized Nonprofit Leadership, 2016

“Nonprofit leadership remains predominantly white and isn’t likely to grow more diverse anytime soon, according to a new report.

“Whites fill 90 percent of board seats and CEO positions, according to BoardSource, a research and support organization for nonprofit boards. More than a quarter of boards are all-white.

“Those numbers have varied little since the organization began surveying board chairs and top nonprofit executives in 1994. And BoardSource concludes they aren’t likely to change, because recruitment, at least at the board level, typically doesn’t focus on diversity. Only about a quarter of board chairs and chief executives rate demographic diversity as a high priority in recruiting.

“These are really, really disappointing findings,” said Anne Wallestad, BoardSource’s president. “You would hope that we would have made much more progress in the past 20 years than we have.”[xiv]

117th United States Congress, 2021

About a quarter of voting members (23%) of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate are racial or ethnic minorities, making the 117th Congress the most racially and ethnically diverse in history. There has been a long-running trend toward higher numbers of non-White lawmakers on Capitol Hill: This is the sixth Congress to break the record set by the one before it.[xv]

Fifty State Legislatures, 2015

The nation’s growing diversity is not reflected in state legislatures. Nationwide, African-Americans, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, account for 9 percent of state legislators, according to a new survey of the composition of the nation’s 50 state legislatures by Stateline and the National Conference of State Legislatures. Latinos, who are 17 percent of the population, only account for 5 percent of state legislators. Asian-Americans account for 5 percent of the population but only 1 percent of state legislators.[xvi]

Racialized Marriages & Households, 2015

“Whites have experienced a sharp increase in intermarriage rates, even though they remain the group least likely to have a spouse of another race.  Between 1980 and 2015, the share of white newlyweds who marry outside their races has grown from 4 percent to 11 percent.”[xvii]

“Although 11 percent of white newlyweds are now married to someone of a different race or ethnicity, white people are still the least likely of all major racial or ethnic groups to intermarry.”[xviii]

“Gretchen Livingston, a senior researcher at Pew who authored the report [Pew Research, “Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia (5/18/2017)], says whites have the lowest rates of intermarriage partly because of the number of potential partners who are white. ‘If you’re living in a place where 85% of the marriage market is white and you’re white there’s a low probability that you will marry someone who is not white,’ she says.” Thus, “intermarriage occurs least in the places where the fewest minorities live.”[xix]

American Racialized Religion/Christendom, 2019[xx]

All Congregations, All Faiths – at least 20% racial/ethnic diversity in attending membership:

  • In 1998, only 6%
  • As of 2019, 16%  

Christian Only – at least 20% racial/ethnic diversity in attending membership:

  • Catholic Congregations: from 17% (2006) to 24% racial diversity (2019)
  • Mainline Protestant: from 1% (2006) to 11% (2019), having previously reached 12% in 2012
  • Evangelical Churches: from 7% (1998) to 23% (2019), up from 15% in 2012

Multiracial churches Leader/Head Pastor

  • Asian: 3% (1998) to 4% (2019)
  • Hispanic: 3% (1998) to 7% (2019)
  • Black: 4% (1998) to 18 percent in 2019, describing the growth as “pretty big change”
  • White: 87% (1998) to 70% (2019), down from 74% in 2012

Racialized Leadership of U.S. Military, 2018[xxi]

Racialized Collective Memories

“There are as many collective memories as there are groups and institutions in a society.” Maurice Halbwachs (1877-1945)

“For Halbwachs, it is the particular nature of the group and its collective experience that shapes its collective memory. The particular nature of a group’s experience creates a shared memory and identity. As a result every group has its own collective memory and that collective memory differs from the collective memory of other groups.”[xxii]


[i] Abraham Lincoln, “First Inaugural Address (3/4/1861), The Avalon Project, Yale Law School, Lillian Goldman Law Library, accessed at https://avalon.law.yale.edu/19th_century/lincoln1.asp.

[ii] Iris Marion Young, Responsibility for Justice (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), p. 187.

[iii] Daniel Hill, White Lies, Nine Ways to Expose and Resist the Racial Systems That Divide Us (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zonervan Books, 2020), p. 7.

[iv] Mark Charles and Soong-Chan Rah, Unsettling Truths, The Ongoing, Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery (Downers Grove, Illinois, IVP, 2019), Locations 214, 489 of 4498.  Teaching church history in the West from the tenth century forward without explaining the doctrine of discovery is like orienting a map to the landscape using a compass without a needle.  See Robert J. Miller, “The Doctrine of Discovery: The International Law of Colonialism,” The Indigenous Peoples’ Journal of Law, Culture & Resistance, vol. 5, iss.. 1 (2019), pp. 35-42. Available online at https://www.steiner-verlag.de/uploads/tx_crondavtitel/datei-datei/9783515129534_p.pdf.

[v] Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination, Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven & London: Yale University Press, 2010), Location 1307 of 8980.

[vi] Willie James Jennings, After Whiteness, An Education in Belonging (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans  Publishing Company, 2020), Location 1867 of 2450.

[vii] Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, “Ichthys, Life, Teaching, and Action as a Reflection of the Trinity from Das Alter der Kirche (1927),” trans. by Raymond Hussey in The Fruit of Our Lips, The Transformation of God’s Word into the Speech of Mankind by Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, ed. by Raymond Huessy (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2021), p. 44.

[viii] “Structural Racism in America,” Urban Institute, accessed at https://www.urban.org/features/structural-racism-america.

[ix] Keith Lawrence and Terry Keleher, “Structural Racism,” Race and Public Policy Conference (2004), accessed at https://www.intergroupresources.com/rc/Definitions%20of%20Racism.pdf.

[x] “How Structural Racism Works Project,” Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, Brown University, accessed at https://www.brown.edu/academics/race-ethnicity/programs-initiatives/signature-series/how-structural-racism-works-project.

[xi] Iman Ghosh, “Visualizing the U.S. Population by Race,” Visual Capitalist (12/28/2020), accessed at https://www.visualcapitalist.com/visualizing-u-s-population-by-race/

[xii] “White people own 86% of wealth and make up 60% of the population” USA FACTS (6/25/2020), accessed at https://usafacts.org/articles/white-people-own-86-wealth-despite-making-60-population/.  As the largest source for standardized US government data, USAFacts offers something unique. We exclusively use publicly available government data presenting a vast array of reports on US spending, revenue, population and demographics, and policy outcomes.  https://usafacts.org/about-usafacts/.

[xiii] Deb DeHaas, Linda Akutagawa, and Skip Spriggs, Deloitee LLP, “Missing Pieces Report: The 2018 Board Diversity Census of Women and Minorities on Fortune 500 Boards,” Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance (2/5/2019), accessed at https://corpgov.law.harvard.edu/2019/02/05/missing-pieces-report-the-2018-board-diversity-census-of-women-and-minorities-on-fortune-500-boards/

[xiv] Drew Lindsay, “Diversity Among Nonprofit Leaders Still a Long Way Off, Report Says,” The Chronicle of Philanthropy (9/6/2017), accessed https://www.philanthropy.com/article/diversity-among-nonprofit-leaders-still-a-long-way-off-report-says/. Read “Leading with Intent,” BoardSource Index of Nonprofit Board Practice, here:  https://leadingwithintent.org/.   On May 10, 2016, BoardSource sent the Leading with Intent survey to a convenience sample of 22,708 nonprofit chief executives and board chairs with an invitation to participate in the research project. BoardSource received a total of 1,759 individual responses: 1,378 from chief executives and 381 from board chairs.  The sample includes 191 organizations where both the chief executive and the board chair of the same organization completed the survey. https://leadingwithintent.org/methodology/.

[xv] Katherine Schaeffer, “Racial, ethnic diversity increases yet again with the 117th Contress,” FacttTank, New in the Numbers, Pew Research Center (1/28/2021), accessed at https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/.

[xvi]  Teresa Wilz,“Why State Legislatures Are Still Pretty White,” Governing The Future of States and Localities (12/9/2015).  Survey from National Conference of State Legislatures: https://www.ncsl.org/research/about-state-legislatures/who-we-elect-an-interactive-graphic.aspx#.

[xvii] Michael A. Fletcher, “more than 1 in 6 new marriages are interracial,” The Undefeated – Black History Always (5/18/2017), accessed at https://theundefeated.com/features/pew-research-center-steady-rise-in-interracial-marriage.

[xviii] Natasha Balwit, “The Urban-Rural Divide in Interracial Marriage,” Bloomberg CityLab (5/18/2017), accessed at https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-18/where-interracial-marriage-is-most-common-in-america.

[xix] Belinda Luscombe, “More Americans Are Marrying People of Other Races Than Ever Before,” Time (5/18/2017), accessed at https://time.com/4783074/american-race-marriage-pew/.

[xx] Michael Emerson, “Released! New 2020 Statistics on Multiracial Churches,” Multiethnic.Church (1/8/2020), accessed at https://multiethnic.church/released-new-2020-statistics-on-multiracial-churches/.

[xxi] “Diversity, Inclusion, and Equal Opportunity in the Armed Services: Background and Issues,” Congressional Research Service (6/5/2019), p. 21, accessed at https://fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R44321.pdf.

[xxii] Lewis A. Coser, ed., Maurice Halbwachs 1877-1945 On Collective Memory, trans. by Lewis A Coser (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 1992), p. 22. Nicolas Russell, “Collective Memory before and after Halbwachs,” The French Review, vol. 79, n0. 4 (Mar. 2006), p. 797.

Between the frozen myth of whiteness suspended over us all, imposed from above in commemorative stone, and the individual intentions, fears, and desires of the heart in each of us, there churns in America’s spacious skies the turbulent storm clouds of our racially disparate collective memories undermining the American motto, E pluribus unum.

Progress of Civilization Pediment, Thomas Crawford (1863), East Entrance to the Senate wing of the U. S. Capitol Building at https://www.aoc.gov/explore-capitol-campus/art/progress-civilization-pediment. America at the center personified as a white woman is blessed by the rising sun. The colonist clears the land and presses upon the four figures of an indigenous family to the right, who are without place or property except for the burial mound in the corner. The adolescent hunter is accompanied by a dog even as America has her totemic eagle. The compliment to the rising sun signifying divine blessing is the serpent defending the “Indian”, head raised about to strike against the advance of civilization. The serpent signifies Satan’s resistance to America’s progress of civilization. White civilization marked by military prowess, global commerce, educational enlightenment, industrial might promises a future full of hope (anchor) and bounty (sheaves of wheat).

Genesis 10:9; Ecclesiastes 1:11.

Published in: Uncategorized on February 18, 2021 at 2:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

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