Preface to special issue on white supremacy

Part 1

by Ken Sehested

“No one cops to their own ingrained white supremacy, even though white supremacy is the water
and we are the fish, and it’s unlikely that we are not at least a little bit wet.”
—Timothy B. Tyson

        In recent years it feels like we have been drenched with news of a plague most thought was laid to rest with the successes of the Civil Rights Movement: festering white supremacy and white nationalism.

        An explosion of violent extremism, both here in the US and abroad. Mass shootings rooted in racial animus. A president who stirs hostility to immigrants, spews race-laced tweets, and fosters friendships with some of the world’s worst dictators (and, now, claims divine authority for trade wars).

        I’m remembering the response I got in the mid-‘80s to a grant request submitted to a faith-based foundation supporting justice, peace, and human rights advocacy. The request was for the production of material for use in local congregations on matters related to racial justice.

        I don’t recall the exact wording in their letter declining the request; but it was brief, something like “We already did that.”

        You probably remember talk of a “post-racial society” after President Obama was elected. “Whitelash” (Van Jones) largely gave us Trump.

        There are innumerable connections to be made regarding the rise of white supremacy. Immigration is front and center. Awareness is rising of the largely hidden legacies of Jim Crow and lynching and mass incarceration in the US, and the displacement of indigenous populations throughout the Americas. Religious discrimination is blossoming here and abroad. Overt expressions of a multitude of white nationalist, neo-Nazi, and other rightwing groups—many with violent tendencies, some claiming Christian inspiration—are flourishing. Exploding levels of economic inequality have a strong racial component, domestically and internationally. On and on.

        For people of faith, one element of white nationalism is especially egregious: the emergence of white supremacy bathed in religious—mostly, Christian—sentiment. Many are learning, for the first time, of the history of the German church’s seduction by Make-Germany-Great-Again politics in the 1930s—and what the resistance, the “Confessing Church” movement, did in response.

        Thankfully, there are several initiatives by people of faith to counter this narrative. Two recent open letters, noted below, are circulating and collecting signatures. I urge you to read them both and be on the lookout for similar efforts, giving support in whatever way you can.

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