Your lips say ‘school prayer,’ but your eyes tell me ‘desegregation’

Part of the problem with arguments about “prayer in schools” is that quite often they don’t seem to really be about prayer in schools.

The anger and resentment over the loss of cultural hegemony the 1962 school prayer decision has come to symbolize seems to trace back earlier than 1962. About eight years earlier, I’d guess.

Which is just to say, more or less, that I suspect something like this:

 

  • fraser

    I disagree. Living in the Bible Belt I’ve found that people PO’d about not having mandatory prayer in schools are PO’d about yes, mandatory prayer in schools. Some also have racial issues, but many do not.

  • Jurgan

    I’m gonna need to see this one unpacked a bit more.  Why do you think school prayer advocates are really talking about segregation?  What’s the connection?

    Oh, speaking of school prayer, I found this from Steve Benen: ” In Jacksonville, N.C., this week, members of the Baysden Chapel Pentecostal Free Will Baptist Church trooped down to the Onslow County School Board building to demand that public school students be allowed to pray voluntarily. When officials explained that students already have that right, the church members said there’d been a “misunderstanding” and quickly ended their protest.”

    It’s funny, but at the same time I’m kind of impressed they accepted they were wrong and didn’t insist the officials were lying about their claim of legal prayer.  It’s a low bar that “accepting reality” is admirable for the culture warriors, but here we are.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    It doesn’t need to be “unpacked”. It just needs to be explained.

    I actually seriously do need Fred to explain the connection between school prayer and wanting to reinstate formal segregation because I really don’t see it.

  • JoshuaS

    Everyone gets misled sometimes. ‘Good Jackies’ admit their mistake, laugh it off, and find something real to do; they don’t particularly enjoy getting anry and causing a fuss, they just thought it was necessary and once they found out that it wasn’t, they were relieved to find that out the terrible thing they thought was happening turned out not to be true.

    Bad Jackies would be enraged at the thought that something awful wasn’t happening in Onslow County public schools. Finding out that children weren’t being persecuted for voluntary, private acts of faith on their own time would probably ruin their entire week.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alan-Alexander/502988241 Alan Alexander

    I’ve never really thought the school prayer debate had anything at all to do with racism. It is ultimately more about tribalism, as the true purpose of school-sponsored prayer is to provide an overt demonstration of the power of the majority to impose its will on a minority. It springs from the same well of pride and self-righteousness as racial bigotry, but the message being conveyed is not “we are inherently better than you” so much as “we have the right to publicly pronounce what we believe in a way that you never will.” That this prideful demonstration is in direct defiance of Jesus’ condemnation of public prayer found in the Gospel of Matthew is, of course, lost on them.

    A perfect example was from last fall, when I attended a football game at my old alma mater to watch my nephew play football. There was still prayer over the loudspeaker at the start of the game (this is in rural Mississippi) led by a nervous young girl from the Student Council who had a somewhat amusing verbal tic: she ended every single sentence of the prayer with the phrase “in Jesus name.” At one point, she even worked it into a single sentence twice (once as a comma rather than a period, I guess). Apparently, “in Jesus name” was a form of punctuation to her, a natural consequence of a culture in which prayer exists as an incantation used to establish tribal identity rather than as a sincere means of communing with one’s deity.

  • jamesprobis

    Look at the history of private religious schools in this country. Prior to Brown v. Board of Education Catholics were the *only* ones with private religious schools. Suddenly after the decision there was a massive explosion of ostensibly religious private schools.

    If people with the money to send their kids to private school chose to portray their decision as being based on religion, what makes you think those unable to afford private school are doing any different?

  • LouisDoench

    Exactly.

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     I don’t think Fred’s really trying to say that it’s specifically about racism. Rather, what  it’s “really” about is cultural hegemony: it’s not “When they say they are upset about losing school prayer, what they are really upset about is desegregation” per se; what it is is that they’re pissed that “White christian” is no longer enshrined in law as “the default citizen.”  And it’s more comfortable for them to frame that in terms ofschool prayer than to admit that it’s really been about “People who look like me on top” all along.

    It’s like that close-to-right thing my dad said about his childhood memories. It seems to him like there was, at least superficially, a lot less intolerance back when he was a kid (this would be the 50s and 60s) — sure, white christians got more rights and privileges than anyone else, but people weren’t going around saying that we should round up all the muslims. And sure, you said the lord’s prayer in public school, but if little Arnie Goldman kept quiet during prayer — heck, if Joe The Atheist kept quiet during prayer, it was no big deal. There was, he thinks, a willingness by the hegemony to live and let live, and let the heathens and the minorities do pretty much as they liked just so long as they didn’t get all uppity and stayed in the backs of the buses*.

    It was only once the law started doing things that sounded like “No, equality under the law is a right, not a bone we toss to the Other on sufferance as a reward for good behavior,” that things like where you got to put your nativity scenes became an existential threat.

    It’s not that “school prayer is really about school integration”, but rather that school prayer and integration are themselves both about the systematic deformalization of the hegemony’s power — a process Fred’s identifying as beginning with Brown vs Board of Education. (I wonder if it’s significant that sufferage was largely done via legislative rather than judicial action?)

    (* That is not how my father would have characterized it. My father just finds it strange and inexplicable that all of a sudden some time in the 60s, christian white folks started acting like the existence of non-christian non-white folks was an existential crisis.)

  • http://www.facebook.com/matt.mcirvin Matt McIrvin

    I think it *started* fifty-odd years ago as being about Brown v. Board, but by now may actually be about school prayer for most of the people involved, combined with more diffuse cultural resentments whose origins they can’t or won’t see.

  • MikeJ

    I understand this one really well.  I remember “christian” schools popping up in my hometown when  busing threatened to integrate public schools. But hey, decades later the school I went to let that one kid from “The Blind Side” in because he could play football, so it must not have had anything to do with race, right?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Teh-Bewilderness/100001375292446 Teh Bewilderness

    I think the connection is clear. SCOTUS had ruled that religious reasons were valid for keeping children out of public schools. Although they never ruled on homeschooling itself. Both homeschooling and religious schools grew rapidly in the aftermath of Brown v BOE. The prayer decision simply added impetus.

  • P J Evans

    A lot of those church-run schools are in areas where the public schools have a lot of people who are brown (or at least not Northern-European-white). (They’ll say it’s because they have smaller classes and kids will do better. Some of them explicitly describe their teaching as ‘Bible-based’.)

  • Matri

    Finding out that children weren’t being persecuted for voluntary,
    private acts of faith on their own time would probably ruin their entire
    week.

    Well d-uh! They’ve already scheduled the entire week for outrage, and now you tell them that’s cancelled? Do you have any idea how hard it is to schedule last-minute replacements?

  • http://dpolicar.livejournal.com/ Dave

    If I value outrage as a mechanism for exerting control over the behavior of others, then when the environment changes so that my outrage is no longer broadly seen as justifiable, I have lost something I value. 

  • Keulan

    I’m not sure if there’s a connection between people upset about school prayer and people upset about desegregation or not. What I have noticed is that the people upset about Engel v. Vitale like to ignore the fact that the only prayers banned in schools are mandatory ones.

  • Erl

    This reminds me of something my amazing high school American history teacher said. He was discussing the Plessy v. Ferguson decision, which describes segregation as a long-established custom. But of course that wasn’t true, my teacher pointed out. Segregation was an entirely post-Civil War phenomenon, because before that, when you rode the train through Louisiana, you wanted your slave in the same car as you , in order to do shit for you. (Equivalently, you were told to stick close to the person purporting to own you.) Segregation became the manifestation of the racial hierarchy of the South only after slavery was tossed out. 

    It seems that this sort of thing is one of the clearer arguments that what people are invested in is the power structure. When slavery is overturned, or legal segregation, or what have you; well, they just trim sails, rearrange the facade, and talk about how the new system has established tradition on its side. 

  • markedward

    Yeah.

    Maybe I’ve been living under a rock and there genuinely is a large group of Christians in 21st century America that have vocalized their desire for racial segregation to be reinstated… but otherwise this post sounds like ad hominem slander to me. (Excuse me: libel.)A large group of Christians wants prayer reinstated (this I have heard of), therefore they must be racist, because of two semi-related events that took place fifty years ago?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Have you ever heard of white flight?

    I can’t say as I’m connecting the dots Fred is, and it’s no longer polite to be explicitly racist in public. But there is no shortage of people who are implicitly racist in public. And that doesn’t even count the ones who don’t know themselves to be racist or the ones who know they are but who find that a defect in themselves in need of correction.

  • jamesprobis

    So you’re saying you’ve never heard of the Tea Party? Never seen any random article from World News Daily. Never seen any of the birther bilboards. Never heard religious right leaders talk about “taking their country back.”

    Are you also unaware of the racist policies of Bob Jones University?

  • Ben English

    I honestly don’t see the connection here, except insomuch as they’re two different elements of the old hegemony that were dismantled within a decade of each other. I live in Eastern Tennessee and I sure as hell never made this connection, or heard anyone else make it even implicitly. That’s not to say there’s no overlap between people against desegregation and people who want mandatory prayer in schools, because there certainly is.

    But that Venn diagram suggests some things that I don’t think hold up. For one thing, whatever the ratio of the overlap is, I don’t think there’s a broad pretense of concern about prayer in schools: just a bunch of people angry about their loss of  religious hegemony (irrespective of the weakened racial hegemony) and true believers who think mandatory prayer would improve things in public schools.

  • markedward

    Birther billboard = racist, but unrelated to the issue of prayer in schools.

    I’ve not heard a single thing (other than ad hominems) that suggests to me that the Tea Party or the ‘religious right’ are overwhelmingly racist, even if a good portion of either group may want prayer in schools, or even if small groups or individuals express racist opinions.

    I was unaware of BJU’s racist policies, thanks for pointing that out to me. But can it be demonstrated that the BJU’s racist policies are representative of the broad spectrum of the ‘religious right’, or is that an assumption? And since BJU dropped its racist policies over a decade ago, publicly stating that the policy was immoral, how is it representative of ‘religious right’ Christians thirteen years later?

    I’m looking for specific connections between ‘prayer in school’ and ‘racial segregation’ on a widespread basis within (so-called) conservative Christianity. None of these has shown me that such a connection exists on that broad a level.

  • Ben English

     To me the issue is that we’re almost sixty years removed from Brown v. Board of Education. Desegregation has been a reality for three generations of American school kids. It’s been more than long enough for any pretense of religious outrage masking racial outrage to dilute into true believers and non-racists who still cling to religious privilege.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Look at the history of private religious schools in this country. Prior to Brown v. Board of Education Catholics were the *only* ones with private religious schools. Suddenly after the decision there was a massive explosion of ostensibly religious private schools.
    If people with the money to send their kids to private school chose to portray their decision as being based on religion, what makes you think those unable to afford private school are doing any different?

    For most of Australia’s history the only religious schools were Catholic. In the last few decades there has been an explosion in ostensibly religious private schools. We have no equivalent moment to the Brown vs Board of Education decision.

    So I don’t think your argument is water tight. And I have no earthly idea what Fred’s argument is, so I hope he elaborates cos otherwise it looks like he’s just calling people racist because he doesn’t like them.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    I don’t think Fred’s really trying to say that it’s specifically about racism. Rather, what it’s “really” about is cultural hegemony

    If that’s true he’s missed the mark somewhat.

  • Aiwhelan

    I keep seeing this, but the catholic elementary school I went to was nearly half POC/half white, compared to the local public system in which there were 24 black students in my senior year of 300+ kids. It really depends on the part of the country.

  • arcseconds

    For most of Australia’s history the only religious schools were Catholic

    Really?  I’m sure I’ve met the odd Australian who attended non-Catholic religious schools.  In fact, I think I was billeted in one once, a long time ago — think it was in Newcastle.

    At any rate, your statement isn’t completely true, because while trying to remind myself of the Newcastle school I visited, I came across this:

    http://macquariecollege.adventistconnect.org/

    They’re Seventh Day Adventist, and have been around since 1901, which of course was the year of Federation, so all of Australia’s history by one way of counting it…

  • Carstonio

    Paul Weyrich confirmed that the religious right first organized as opposition not to abortion, but to the federal government’s threat to lift the tax-exempt status of religious schools that practiced racial discrimination. These folks often seem to use “Christian” as a euphemism for white, and this has become more common in the years Obama has been president.

    “Hegemony” is close but doesn’t quite capture the nature of the phenomenon Fred is talking about. The most fervent supporters of Jim Crow and segregation were whites who lacked economic power and thus prized the social status that their skin color gave them. You and Fred didn’t mention this, but the women’s rights movement and Title IX were probably also major factors. Many white Christian men perceived themselves as owning nothing but the privilege that came with being all three, and these were being deformalized at about the same time.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Should have said “the large majority” but I was caught up in reflecting the phrasing of the post to which I was replying. But until the 1970s it was mostly Catholics who had separate religious schools; there has been a dramatic increase in other religious schools in the last couple of decades.

  • Carstonio

    Simple – the school prayer issue is being used as a dog whistle. Similar to how the abortion and homosexuality issues are largely proxies for male headship, and similar to bashing Obama as a “Muslim” and a “socialist” as indirect references to his ethnicity.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001112204188 Gabe Nichols

    A lot of the modern evangelical right got their start arguing not against abortion (Fred has covered that recent development extensively) but against miscegenation.  Jerry Falwell started out as a rabid supporter of segregation and in fact,  it can be suggested that a lot of the “culture war” backlash,  particularly as it manifested in the south, was a reaction to Dr. King telling which southerners that hating their brother made them bad Christians. 

    After all a lot of those new religious schools were explicitly discriminatory with policies preventing the enrollment of nonwhite students.  It wasn’t until 1971 and Green vs. Connolly where the Supreme court stripped the tax exempt status from discriminatory organizations that they opened up to “allow” integration.

  • fraser

    But saying “religious private schools and homescholling exist to segregate students” is not the same as  “demands for prayer in school are demands for segregation.” People who homeschool their kids and also condemn public schools as godless may fit into Fred’s overlap zone. People who condemn public schools as godless and demand they have school prayers again are (I think) angry about school prayer. They probably have a lot of other complaints about society but it doesn’t automatically follow racism is one of them.
    So still unconvinced.

  • The_L1985

     Exactly.  In their minds, “White” is part of “Christian,” for reasons they can’t articulate, don’t associate with racism, and don’t dare try to understand or question.  It’s just The Way Things Are.

  • Carstonio

    But Fred isn’t saying that demands for prayer in school
    are demands for segregation. His point isn’t even about segregation specifically, but about hegemony. The culture war has always been about preserving status based on personal characteristics, especially for people who lack economic status. The Brown decision and the Civil Rights Act symbolized the loss of hegemony even more than Engel. To treat racism as a separate phenomenon is to ignore the role that race has placed in the US social order in the US for all of its history.

  • The_L1985

     When I was growing up, I was told, over and over, that the public-school students over at Pinedale Elementary weren’t allowed to pray in school and got in trouble for wearing Christian T-shirts.

    It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that they actually weren’t allowed to force people to pray, and that the only Christian T-shirts they would have worn that would have gotten people in trouble would have been along the lines of “Evolution is a LIE!” (This was in the early 90′s; post 9/11, I’m imagining anti-Islam would have reared its ugly head.)

  • The_L1985

     I would venture to say that most of the people in America today who are racist don’t know that they are, because they think that racism looks a certain way.  After all, they don’t use those nasty words, they don’t try to kick black people off the bus, they just don’t want to drive through black neighborhoods alone.  Even in broad daylight.

  • The_L1985

     Seconding Ellie’s comment about “white flight,” which is still happening in various parts of the country as the racial makeup of American towns changes.

    Also, my own parents would not consider themselves to be racist, but when I moved out, they expressed their approval that there are inexpensive shops nearby that I can get to without having to drive into [Black Neighborhood].  Even though I work in [Black Neighborhood], am reasonably able to defend myself, and keep my cell phone on me at all times in case of emergency, they don’t like the idea of me ever setting foot in [Black Neighborhood] for any non-work-related reason.

    I figure what they don’t know won’t hurt them.  Just like how they don’t like me shopping at Goodwill because only poor people ever need to buy used things.

  • The_L1985

     It’s also been more than long enough for actual racism to dilute into vague, half-remembered discontent.  You don’t remember why public schools are a Bad Thing, just that they’re bad.  For some reason.  Must be a religious thing.  Yeah, prayer in schools.

    Again, I’ve seen what happens when people who grew up with mid-century racism grew up, realized that Racism Is Bad, and tried to fix themselves–but ended up with racist beliefs that they didn’t know were there and thus never quite got rid of.

  • MaryKaye

    I visited a scientific colleague in North Carolina, and asked, while there, about using the bus.  He said, no no, the bus system here is terrible.  I’ll drive you everywhere.  But I persisted, and ended up taking the bus all over Raleigh-Durham.

    It was quite a decent bus system.  (Past tense because I know there were plans being floated to defund it.)  The buses were reasonably frequent, on time, and went where I needed them to go.  But I was, every trip, the only white person on the bus.

    I don’t *think* my colleague was being racist.  I think that  when he moved there everyone said “The buses are terrible” and he believed them–why shouldn’t he?  But someone in the chain of communication was being racist, perhaps unthinkingly, perhaps not.

    Seattle has its problems but at least people of a wide variety of backgrounds do take the bus.

    It seems to me that one oblique test of Fred’s Venn diagram would be to ask what proportion of the people upset about school prayer are in fact black.  Are there any statistics?  The best ones would be within a given community, to control for regional effects.  If, in any given community, white Christians were upset about school prayer and black Christians were not I think it would give a lot of credence to Fred’s position.

  • Carstonio

    That rewriting of history sounds so much like Civil War revisionism about the  downtrodden oppressed South. Conveniently ignoring the fact that the South started the war, seceding because of the Republican stance on slavery and firing on Fort Sumter.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    I’ve never really thought the school prayer debate had anything at all
    to do with racism. It is ultimately more about tribalism, as the true
    purpose of school-sponsored prayer is to provide an overt demonstration
    of the power of the majority to impose its will on a minority.

    Racism IS a specific form of Tribalism.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    Birther billboard = racist, but unrelated to the issue of prayer in schools.

    Actually, the biggest and most blatant Birther billboard I’ve ever seen (Route 15 northbound  between Gettysburg & Harrisburg, Summer of 2011) had “WND” in fine print in the lower right corner.

    WND = World Net Daily.  Christianese Website screaming constantly about Evilution, and who proudly names Hal “Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist” Lindsay and Pat “Blame-the-Jews” Buchanan on their editorial staff.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

     

    To me the issue is that we’re almost sixty years removed from Brown v.
    Board of Education. Desegregation has been a reality for three
    generations of American school kids.

    Dude, the 2004 elections were forty years removed from VIETNAAAAAAM but what did you hear over and over and over?

    VIETNAAAAAAAAM is now almost as far in the past as World War One was when Vietnam was going down, and yet the Oldies stations still run playists of “Dope is Groovy” and “Get Out Of VIETNAAAAAAAM!”

  • Carstonio

    I’m part of Generation X (a term I still associate with Billy Idol) and one of my college classmates lamented that our generation would spend decades in the shadow of the far larger Baby Boomer generation, like a younger sibling. While she had a point, tons of great music came from that era, so I don’t begrudge the oldies stations. I’m used to thinking of  “oldies” as not the Beatles or Stones but Buddy Holly and Chuck Berry, and I find myself assuming that anyone over 70 listens to Perry Como and Doris Day.

    The Boomers grew up in the thick of the social changes that reduced hegemony, and they still remain bitterly divided over those changes. David Broder once predicted that these folks will spend their nursing-home years still fighting the 1960s battles.

  • Carstonio

    In some of his Glass Teat columns from that era, Harlan Ellison railed against the Nixon cronies and the reactionaries in the media, both of whom threw minorities and feminists and intellectuals under the bus to pander to Silent Majority resentment. Change a few names and these entries could easily describe Fox News.

  • Lori

     

    I’ve not heard a single thing (other than ad hominems) that suggests to
    me that the Tea Party or the ‘religious right’ are overwhelmingly racist   

    I think your use of the term “overwhelmingly racist” is certainly convenient, especially WRT the Tea Party. It’s public face is clearly racist. It rallies people using racist dog whistles and often racist fog horns and occasionally outright racism. Yet somehow there’s just no proof that the people who heed the call are racists. Because they never personally called anyone the N word, don’t ya know. [eyeroll]

  • markedward

    By ‘overwhelming’ I meant ‘majority’, i.e. ‘I’ve not heard anything that suggests to me that the majority of the Tea Party or the “religious right” are racist’. I know there are racist individuals, or even racist subsets, but is the *majority* of either group racist or express racist ideas?

    If racism is prevalent in these groups, I would be glad to learn of it so that I can rightly stand against it, but again, I would like actual sources that I can look into, and not a Venn diagram that effectively says people are lying (‘pretending’) and are actually upset about racial desegregation, all based on his ‘suspicion’.

  • markedward

    I stand corrected.

    I MUST be living under a rock if WND is genuinely representative of wider ‘conservative Christian’ culture, and not just a small subset of it.

  • Lori

    Again, I think you’re phrasing the question in a way as to get the answer that you want—that no one can prove that the majority of Tea Party members are racists.

    I’m just going to point out again that from it’s beginnings (as a wholly astroturfed group) the Teas have used very thinly veiled racism at the heart of their messaging. I don’t feel obligated to give the benefit of the doubt to the folks who responded to that messaging. If someone blows a dog whistle and your head goes up the chances are pretty good you’re a dog. My parents support the Tea Party. They will deny to their last breath that they’re racist. I love them, but that’s just not true. They’re a product of their time and they’ve never fully risen above it. They aren’t evil. They would never intentionally hurt someone just because of their race. They’re still racists.

  • markedward

    Just to make it clear, I’m not affiliated with any ‘right-wing’ politics (Tea Party, Republican, whatever), and I don’t consider myself part of the ‘religious right’. So I’m not intentionally ‘phrasing the question in a way’ to get any particular answer. I just want AN answer, rather than generalized accusations. Do you have any links/sources you can point me to, so that I can learn more about the Tea Party’s inherently racist undertones?

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    The Tea Party’s “inherently racist undertones” have to do with foghorns like complaining about Obamacare and spending on inner-city youth.


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