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‘Whiteness is god’ to many American Christians, Rice U. sociologist says

New book argues racism continues because it’s ‘the life-giving force of a dominant group’s religion’

“Whiteness” has become a religion to many Christians in a way that allows racism to continue in America, according to two sociology scholars.

Michael Emerson, a sociologist and fellow at Rice University in Texas, and Glenn Bracey, a professor of sociology at Villanova University in Philadelphia, make the case in their new book “The Religion of Whiteness: How Racism Distorts Christian Faith.”

“It’s a unified system of beliefs and practices that worships or sacralizes, not some God in this sense, but whiteness,” Emerson told Religion News Service in a recent interview.

He said: “Whiteness is the god. It declares that everything else that isn’t supporting whiteness is profane, it’s wrong, it needs to be shunned.”

In the book, Emerson and Bracey argue the “religion of whiteness” governs the majority of white Christians in the U.S. and includes “unique beliefs, practices, sacred symbols, and organizations.”

They argue the belief system is especially dangerous to people and families of color.

Speaking with Religion News Service, Bracey defined “whiteness” as “the dominance that white people enjoy over people of color.”

Emerson said these Christians never call themselves the “Church of Whiteness,” but they use rhetorical moves to avoid actually saying it.

“One of them is that Jesus is white, and Jesus by definition is supposed to be for everybody,” he said. “So Jesus is universal. So as long as Jesus is white and Jesus is universal, then whiteness is universal. And once you do that, you no longer have to name it, because that is truth. Anything else is an argument against truth.”

Emerson told RNS their book has made some “white folks … very, very angry.”

But Bracey said some black people are part of the religion, too.

“There’s a lot of psychological benefit, in addition to monetary benefit, from being a person of color in the religion of whiteness,” he said. “People are constantly telling you you’ve done the right thing, you’ve broken from what they would say is the Democratic plantation, you are serious about faith, you put God before race.”

To determine if people of color support “whiteness,” Bracey said white evangelical churches have adopted “race tests.”

In one example, Bracey said he was asked “to adopt a biracial baby” at a predominantly white evangelical Protestant church. In another “test,” he said he was asked to go up and sing on stage during his first visit to the congregation.

Ultimately, Bracey and Emerson argue in their book racism has become so intertwined with religion and American identity that it will not go away.

“We argue – and test the argument with data – that racism and racial injustice have not receded from American life because they are, in good part, the life-giving force of a dominant group’s religion,” they wrote.

Their book follows similar themes to another written by Anthea Butler, professor of religious and Africana studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

In “White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America,” Butler argues evangelical Christian’s “racism, propelled by the benefits of whiteness, has since the nation’s founding played a provocative role in severely fracturing the electorate.”

MORE: Religion professors argue evangelical Christians are white racists who ‘may end up killing us all’

IMAGE: Oxford University Press

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About the Author
Micaiah Bilger is an assistant editor at The College Fix.