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:


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  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    I have heard the Weyrich video. That doesn’t mean that pro-life or opposing two men having sex has anything to do with male headship- that is nothing but conspiracy theorist garbling.

  • Carstonio

    No one is alleging it’s a conspiracy. Instead, it’s a mindset and an ideology about unequal gender roles. Vast swaths of the pro-life moment treat the real problem with abortion as women not wanting to be mothers, implying that it’s their appointed duty. Similarly, most but not all homophobic arguments boil down to husband and wife being sex-specific roles and not simply sex-specific titles, wrongly viewing gay men as acting like women. This mindset defines gender roles as men holding the authority in families and societies. Obviously some pro-lifers and homosexuality opponents don’t subscribe to that ideology.

  • hdtex

    Jonathan Kuperberg thinks of NOTHING but HOT HOMO BUTTSEX!

  • 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.

  • Narrator 1

     I live in Jacksonville, NC, and I have never heard of this.  Guess I learned something new today.

  • 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.

  • markedward


    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.

  • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    Pat Buchanan is a paleocon Catholic; for all he says about Jews, his morals are much closer to Orthodox Jewish communities than the values the ADL espouse. I loved the culture-war speech though, being on his side in that culture war, it made me upset to discover how bigoted he was on some other things. WND is Wingnutdaily, I’ll give you that one.

  • hdtex

    Closeted HOMOSEXUAL says WHAT!!!

  • 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’.

  • 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?

  • Lori

    Did you not see things like the Tea Party anti-“Obamacare” signs showing Obama as a witch doctor with a bone through his nose?

  • markedward

    I didn’t; that is horrendous.

  • The_L1985

    There was also one that asked for the difference between the White House and the DC Zoo.  It answered its own question: because the zoo has an African Lion and…you can guess the other half.

    The Tea Party is pretty nasty about race.

  • JohnK

    I personally don’t feel that the Tea Party is inherently racist, or even that all Tea Party people are (the term is so nebulous that it’s almost not worth ascribing too many personal traits to them — it’s like trying to make a general statement about the personalities of “evangelicals” or “libertarians” — it’s going to be too heavily shaded by your perception of them as people).

    However, there is a disturbing trend of racist imagery and argument used by many people who hold positions of influence in various Tea Party-affiliated organizations. Apart from the signs like the one Lori describes, one specific example (which Invisible Neutrino alluded to earlier) was the “Obamaphone” campaign ad run by the  Tea Party Victory Fund in the past election. In it, Obama was accused of using taxpayer money to give phones to people (blacks) in exchange for their votes. (They concealed the fact that the federal program providing phone service to low-income Americans was enacted by President Ronald Reagan almost 30 years ago, and that Obama has only continued a policy that has been reliably supported by both Bushes and Clinton, and probably would have been continued by Romney if he had been elected.) 

    If you are not an American, or maybe if you’re not black, you might not see the racial undertones to that, but what you have to understand is that many politicians in our history have portrayed blacks as being the undeserving recipients of government largesse at the expense of white Americans. It was a way of pitting poor whites against poor blacks, creating the impression that the main reason a lot of low-income whites struggle in life is because of their tax payments are redistributed among (presumably lazy, unemployed) blacks by corrupt politicians.

    (There are other examples, of course — Obama being referred to as “the Food Stamp President” during the campaign, Glenn Beck describing Obama’s policies as “reparations”-inspired — I just chose the one that was easiest for you to check.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    I heard a race-based criticism of Obama today that I think is actually valid.

    His father’s African. His mother’s white. Lots of his formative years were spent outside the US.

    He doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up black in the US.

    Michelle Obama does. Their daughters do, though that’s been blunted a lot by being the kids of a big-name politician. Barack Obama doesn’t. Slavery and Jim Crow aren’t in his history the way they are in Michelle’s.

    (The person who voiced this criticism was, it happens, black.)

  • JohnK

    See, I kind of get that (although it does get uncomfortably close to the whole “you’re not black enough because X” thing which just makes me sick). There are some things that you only get if you grow up in the US full-time, in a lower-income family. And living in Hawaii is itself a major difference-maker — the racial dynamics are very different from the mainland. 

    But on another hand, that’s not exactly fair, either When it comes to the societal factors relating to being black, no one knows or cares if you have a white mother or if your father came from Africa in 1960 or 1760. Strangers don’t run a DNA test on you or look up our lineage on a genealogy chart, any more than people study anthropology or theology before lumping together Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus (groups that are much more distinct). They see the color of your skin and their expectations and behavior are set. 

    I know for me one of the biggest things that I noticed was the embrace of the birther movement. It’s something that a lot of successful blacks have to deal with to some extent — the classmate or (worse) the teacher who simply can’t believe that a black person can be successful in academia, business, or politics without having cheated somehow. 

    (This doesn’t happen only to blacks though — Marion Barry’s offensive comments about Asian-American business owners is an example of the same kind of sentiment — in this case by a black leader against another minority group.)

  • EllieMurasaki


  • Darkrose

    I’ve heard that one before. I think it’s “blacker than thou” bullshit.

    What matters to me is that Barack Obama self-identifies as black. He’s well aware that if he got stopped by the Cambridge Police, they weren’t going to stop to let him explain that his mother’s white, so really, he’s Driving While Half-Black. The idea that blackness requires adherence to a specific life story and that any variations of that make you not black is projection by people who aren’t comfortable with who they are.

  • EllieMurasaki

    So-called ‘white trash’ and Harvard WASPs are differently white. Someone who immigrated from Japan to the US in their lifetime and someone whose ancestors did so before WWII are differently Japanese. Barack and Michelle Obama are differently black.

    I am not making a judgment call on which is better, or whiter/Japaneser/blacker respectively, and I note that the person I heard this from did not make a judgment call on whether Barack is black enough (at least not in my hearing). But we’re talking about people in the same broad racial category with vastly different life experience re being a member of that category, and I think it’s important to remember that Barack’s experience of being black mostly does not map to Michelle’s or the Obama daughters’ or Keisha Washington’s down in Birmingham.

  • Daughter

    Michelle’s experience doesn’t really map to her daughter’s (she grew up in a working class Chicago family in the first post-Civil Rights generation; they’re growing up as daughters of the U.S. president.) Saying that everyone’s experience is different (true) doesn’t make Barack Obama “differently black” in the way that you seem to be implying (since you put the experiences of Michelle Obama, their daughters, and a random woman in Alabama in the same category, with him on the outside).

    My family descends from slavery and Jim Crow – but with a German great-grandfather on one side and an Irish great-grandmother on the other, I’ve had plenty of people question my “blackness” because I look pretty “other.”

    Meanwhile, my husband, of whom there is no question about being African-American, is from a family that descends from free blacks living in Rhode Island back in the 19th century.

    I knew black families in Boston whose ancestors came to the U.S. from Haiti and Cape Verde in the 19th century. They were never slaves in the U.S., and never officially lived under Jim Crow.

    As someone once quipped, the same criticisms the “blacker than thou” crowd use against Obama would eliminate Frederick Douglass (biracial) and Shirley Chisholm and Stokely Carmichael (children of West Indian immigrants) from
    the African-American community.

  • EllieMurasaki

    you put the experiences of Michelle Obama, their daughters, and a random woman in Alabama in the same category

    I did?

    If I’d said red isn’t yellow or green or blue, would I be saying that yellow and green and blue are the same color?

  • Daughter

     You started by saying that you found the following criticism valid:
    He doesn’t know what it’s like to grow up black in the US.

    Michelle Obama does. Their daughters do, though that’s been blunted a
    lot by being the kids of a big-name politician. Barack Obama doesn’t.

    And in your follow-up comments, you said that while everyone is different and it’s not a judgment call, “I think it’s important to remember that Barack’s experience of being
    black mostly does not map to Michelle’s or the Obama daughters’ or
    Keisha Washington’s down in Birmingham.” The way that’s worded – “A differs from B, C and D” rather than “A differs from B, which differs from C, etc.” certainly sounds like A is a separate category. Especially if read in light of your previous comment.

    And seriously, Keisha Washington?

  • EllieMurasaki

    Like John Smith only black and female.

  • Daughter

     It comes across more like a stereotyped name than a generic one.

  • EllieMurasaki

    And ‘John Smith’ doesn’t?

  • Daughter

    There’s no implied ethnicity in John Smith (other than perhaps, “from an English speaking country” – but the person could be of any race). Although I’m not sure this is the case anymore, “John Smith” originally became used as a synonym for a generic man because for a long time, John was the most common male first name in English, and Smith was the most common last name.

    Keisha Washington is hardly the most African-American female name, nor has it ever been. I think it might have been the book Freakanomics that noted that the most common baby names among African-Americans trail the most common baby names among white Americans by about a decade – which at the time the book was written, was probably Ashley.

  • Daughter

     To add to this point: when I’ve heard white male names stereotyped, it’s been either a stereotyped rich WASP (e.g., “Bradley Harrington III”), or a stereotyped good ol’ boy (e.g., “Billy Bob Wilson.”). Very different from the generic John Smith.

  • Daughter

     … and even I just indulged in stereotyping, even if it was to make a point about stereotyping, with the term “good ol’ boy” rather than “poor or working class white Southerner.”

  • Daughter

     It didn’t sound like you were saying the others were the same, just similar, akin to “red is not turquoise, indigo or cobalt.”

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Icegreenmetallic

    WWII in Europe ended in 1944 so large numbers of troops had been returning for over a year by January 1, 1946. Just sayin’.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Erm, the official date of the armistice (V-E day) is in May, 1945.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart


  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    And I was born in 1993 and am proudly Religious Right, a rejector of the wicked sexual revolution and its Stonewallist faction, the lies of secular humanism, and someone who is completely opposed to the idea of morality changing with the “times”. So I’m as far from a product of my times as one could get.

  • Carstonio

    Morality is about what helps or harms other people. Or as one Slacktivite put it, pursuing one’s own happiness in ways that don’t interfere with others’ pursuit of their own happiness. That principle doesn’t change. What does change are social norms, which can be either just or unjust.

    At one time the vote in the US was limited to white men who owned land, which contradicted the nation’s founding principle of everyone being equal. The civil rights and women’s rights movements were about having the nation live up to that principle. That’s the distinction between moral principles and social norms.

    There’s nothing inherently immoral about homosexuality, so it was wrong for societies to deem  it unacceptable. An individual’s sexual orientation should not be the concern of others or of society. It would have been just as unjust if societies had deemed heterosexuality to be unacceptable.

    And if you declare allegiance to the Religious Right, it’s reasonable to conclude that you support the group’s unconstitutional objective of enacting laws based on nothing more than sectarian doctrine. Theocracy is wrong no matter what religion is used as the source of the doctrines. The Religious Right might have a good idea for a law, but if it refuses to translate its sectarian stances into secular terms, then it essentially opposes democracy.

  • hdtex

    YOU have a singular interest in HOMOSEXUALITY in all its various forms. Jonathan Kuperberg is ONE SICK TICKET!

  • 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.

  • P J Evans

     And a lot of Vietnam-era veterans are still swearing that Jane Fonda is a traitor, even after she’s apologized and said it was a stupid thing to do. They haven’t finished their war yet.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Even some of those who don’t like her have said some of the trash talking is going way overboard (such as claiming John Kerry and Jane Fona actively campaigned for the Communists or some such rot).

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Matri

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

    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?

  • Tricksterson

    Oh I have no doubbt that type of person has a whole list of outrage substitutes.

  • 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. 

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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


  • 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.

  • 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:

    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…

  • 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.

  • arcseconds

     OK — it’s just that you were causing me to start questioning my entire existence :]

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    God forbid. I’m too old to enjoy playing “what if arcseconds’ existence is just a collective hallucination?” so let’s shake hands and carry on with the regularly scheduled discussion :)

  • 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.

  • Anon

     That’s not true, Andover, Episcopal Academy, St.Paul’s, and other schools are Episcopalian.  Those are the schools that really count, not your Catholic School down the street.

  • 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?

  • 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.

  • Tricksterson

    I don’t remember homeschooling being a thing until at least the mid-eighties.  I think it’s explosion in popularity came about more as a response to the evolution debate, although not all homeschoolers are Christians (had a couple of Wiccan friends who were considering homeschooling their kid a couple of decades ago) or even religious.

  • The_L1985

    If Florida schools start “teaching the controversy” instead of teaching actual science, my children will be pulled OUT of the science classes then and there.  Does that count as homeschooling in response to the evolution debate?

  • 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’.)

  • 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.

  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    All this may be valid for the Christian private schools until the early to mid 1970s. Then came Planned Parenthood under Faye Whattleton plus Gloria Steinem, Paul Ehrlich, communist-sympathiser professors (they were open about it, so this is no rightwing conspiracy theory), and the likes of Friere [Pedagogy of the Oppressed], the psychologists with their anti-traditional-morality Values Clarification, the perversion of education known as “OBE”, and all of these people wanted to get to the next generation through the public schools. There were more and more teachers who thought that intimate involvement with students’ personal lives and other professionals was appropriate, and that parents should have no right to opt out of this extension of a school’s function, backed up by social workers with “child-protection” rhetoric; explicit sex education began to rear its ugly head… with all that, is it ANY surprise that the HSLDA (Farris), CEE (Simonds), Pro-Family Forum (Connie Marshner), Profamily United (Onalee McGraw), etc. took action to remove children from those corrupted public schools full of far-left ideologues and anti-family professionals?

    But it’s easier to demonise the parents who objected to that whole set of anti-family developments as “racist”. Many were poor/working-class people from the South and rural Midwest who could barely afford it, or who ended up home-schooling their large families and the children got little by way of education. Do you feel good bullying such desperate people, liberals?

  • hdtex


  • 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.

  • 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.)

  • 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.

  • The_L1985

     Considering that this was That Town In Alabama With The Bug Statue (you know the one), your analogy is perfectly apt.

    We also learned about how atheists want to destroy all that is good in America, people worship “voodoo” because they have demons in them, and the Rapture is coming soon.  Also, nobody liked then-president-elect Clinton, and being as young as I was, I didn’t fully understand why–something about the military?

  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    One tee I’ve seen: (first word black, “is” red and final word white on a blue background in each case) Jesus is Savior, Abortion is Murder, Environmentalism is Idolatry, Homosexuality is Abomination, Evolution is Deception… Some Things are just Black and White.

  • EllieMurasaki

    MLK would have a few words to say about that. MLK DID have a few words to say about that. Something about how appalling it is that ‘black’ is synonymous with ‘bad and nasty’ and ‘white’ with ‘good and pure’.

    I thought you were taking your bigotry somewhere the fuck else. Different Slacktivist thread != somewhere else.

  • The_L1985

    That’s even more cringe-worthy than the one  that was popular at my school that said “Evolution: Man Making A Monkey Of Himself.”

  • EllieMurasaki

    They prosecuted some poor sucker in these United States
    For teaching that man descended from the apes
    They coulda settled that case without a fuss or fight
    If they’d seen me chasin’ you, sugar, through the jungle last night They’da called in that jury and a one two three said
    Part man, part monkey, definitely

    Springsteen’s buying in to a damaging binary, but it’s funny.

  • hdtex


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • FangsFirst

    Weird. I never had anyone say anything but good about the Triangle’s public transit (or even specific branches thereof).

    But then, I spent my seven years living in Durham (not predominantly black, but notably so) and working in Chapel Hill (rather noticeably not black, but…well, I’ll get to that). North Raleigh, on the other hand, was very different. It, too, tends to swing in the same (leftish) direction politically as a county (Wake), but it’s a lot fuzzier there socially. Was this perhaps a declaration from up north?
    I mean, I had a friend I worked with who was warned by the folks in North Raleigh that Chapel Hill (where he was moving and would then work with me and relay this to me) was filled with “Liberals™”. I always thought this was pretty funny (as did he) because he was gay, which, if nothing else, tends to sway his opinions away from–oh, I don’t know, the people who don’t have much nice to say about who he is. The people I knew of up there who would talk about restaurants getting “darker” as the clientele changed, or find drawing swastikas in the dust on someone’s car funny, as well as openly use the N-word didn’t really help my impression of some of northern Raleigh’s social climate. I also heard more “don’t go into Durham” from up there (yes, Durham is the most racially diverse of the three cities, by far).

    Back in Chapel Hill, we’d get tag teamed by a couple accusing us of racism for having Dreams from My Father in the “African American Studies” section, who denied to me that it was about growing up as a child of two races. I admitted I had only gathered that was an important element and had not read it myself, so perhaps this was true. If they didn’t have a habit of doing it to me, I’d almost find it cute the way the local folk were so devoid of obvious discrimination in town that they had to manufacture it. But then I guess bookstores in college towns are known hotbeds of conservatism (???).Then again, again, in Durham I got my first person-to-person experience of explicit racism from some people I ended up working with. I have no idea why they decided to live and work in Durham.

    All that said: I was nearly a teacher in North Carolina. By some miracle, I was assigned to the group on the issue of prayer in school when I was a Teaching Fellow for the purposes of a seminar-class. I don’t know how that happened, but it was a relative superstorm of fecal matter.

    After researching the project as directed (and spending half my time explaining the realities I was acutely aware of to my two Christian groupmates, who eventually saw how things are, legally speaking) and “strangely” finding nothing that endorsed prayer in school via actual study or history, we made our presentation and took a vote. First, we asked who wanted to allow prayer in school, and the great majority (if not the entirety?) of the class raised their hands. After reading off a litany of abuses performed in the name of not only Christians against Jews in schools but even denominations against denominations (and I mean Baptist on Methodist kinds of splits, not Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons or Catholics other sects that are most radically different, or at least seen to be), explaining the laws and judicial precedent as they stand, we took another vote.

    Some people (thankfully a severely reduced number), intent on being teachers, still wanted to change the law about prayer in school. All I could hope is that they were kept far, far away from any children. No one who thinks discriminatory abuse is acceptable loss for pronouncing their faith by force or public decree should be anywhere near developing humans, for the safety of those who would be abused and for the sake of the social well-being of society.

    (They proceeded afterward to refer to it as specifically my group and complain–on a class messageboard, rather than in person–that I (not “we”) had not covered “both sides” of the issue. Until someone pointed out that the assignment WAS to pick a side anyway–and we did address the fact that, quite honestly, there are no studies on the issue endorsing it, nor any information to encourage it).It is, however, worth noting that this was a group of white people in a mountain town, which makes you feel like other races are a mythological concept if you stay there long enough. One of my friends counted the black people he saw when we visited to tour the campus. I think he got to five over the whole weekend. I don’t know that the group of (all white) future teachers I was around would’ve even had the time to think of segregation considering up there it wouldn’t be necessary. It was culture shock every time I came back down the mountain.

  • Invisible Neutrino

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

  • abb3w

    GSS indicates that back in the 1990s among Whites, only about 1 in 5 of those who objected to the SCOTUS ruling on school prayer said they would object to sending their kid to a racially half-and-half school, compared to 1 in 8 of those who were OK with the SCOTUS ruling. Though there’s some slight correlation, I don’t think the sociological data supports your Venn diagram.

  • Carstonio

    Again, the chart shouldn’t be read that literally. The core complaint about Brown was not desegregation but the undermining of white hegemony – these folks wanted society’s institutions to treat whites better than other groups.

  • abb3w

     You want to be taken more figuratively, don’t use conventions from mathematics to risk the attention of mathematicians. ☺

    (In the 1990s, objection to prayer in schools was 2:1 among whites objecting to their kids going to 50-50 mixed schools.)

  • Matri

    Again, the chart shouldn’t be read that literally. The core complaint
    about Brown was not desegregation but the undermining of white hegemony –
    these folks wanted society’s institutions to treat whites better than
    other groups.

    So, like keeping The Others separated from the white hegemony. Separate drink fountains? Separate schools?

    The front of the bus reserved only for whites?

  • ReaderJohn

    Lord knows I don’t have much patience with Republican shibboleths these days, but the accusation that ostensible concerns about secularization are veiled concerns about racial integration have always struck me, ironically, as rank bigotry. Drawing some overlapping circles of sets and subsets doesn’t change that one iota.
    Even Fred tacitly admits that Christian school didn’t start blooming until after 1962. Only uncharitable speculation appears to back his suspicions.

  • Carstonio

     How is that bigoted? Fred’s follow-up post explains his point about the chart. The folks who slam secularism want preferential treatment for their religion and its adherents. The folks who slam desegregation and civil rights want preferential treatment for people of their ethnicity. These are two different versions of the same hegemonic argument, and it’s no accident that they’re most often made by the same people.

  • Elanas Moonlily

    Racism is sometimes best measured in terms of what isn’t said and done. Who stands up in Tea Party gatherings to say “We won’t pay for this racist crap! We want the people who did it fired, and not rehired by any group associated with our cause!”? Who tells prominent right-wing groups “I won’t give you money because you keep hiring racist SOBs who bring the cause of Christ and the best of America’s heritage to disgrace, again and again!”?

    The Democratic Party has some deeply entrenched racist elements. It also some long-time anti-racist (and anti-other prejudice) elements, and I can point you at clearly voiced criticisms of racist actions among alleged moderates and liberals, and action intended specifically to reduce racist influence and make Democratic politics more inclusive and representative. Now point us at anything of the sort among Tea Party, people who actually care enough to do anything about it.

    I do not expect a long list.

  • Urthman

    Even if Fred’s right, it seems there are a lot of better and more productive arguments against school prayer than, “I think the people who support it are just, deep in their hearts which I can see better than they can, racist.”

  • Dave

    Leaving aside questions of both optimal rhetorical tactics and optimal ways to oppose school prayer, I will re-emphasize that there’s an important difference between judging my heart and judging the cultural norms my behavior reinforces.

    The former is none of anybody’s damned business; the latter is a legitimate subject of community concern.

    Insisting on framing discussions of racism in terms of the contents of people’s hearts is problematic.

  • Carstonio

    Not only problematic but also mistaken. Racism and sexism are systemic concepts. 

  • Invisible Neutrino
  • ohiolibrarian

    Racist Tea Party signs

    More racist and violent Tea Party signs

    Yet more

    They certainly link hate for the President often expressed with racism with their supposed “Christianity”. I can’t imagine how it would be possible to miss all this.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    Oh god, that RINO season sign? What genius thought putting gun sights on a sign like that was a smart idea?

  • Carstonio

    The Tea Partiers I’ve encountered, and the ones in the interviews I’ve read, use deceptively polite versions of the same language. They stubbornly insisted that health care reform was another welfare program, and all their arguments about government turned into rants about public assistance or foreign aid. Obama is a convenient lightning rod for them, not because he’s a black man but because he’s an educated black man in a position of authority.

  • Carstonio

    I mean that segregation wasn’t the ultimate goal. It was a highly visible symbol of the hegemony. Remove the power of whites to maintain separation from The Other and keep all the best things for themselves, and whiteness arguably ceases to have any meaning.

  • Invisible Neutrino

    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.

    You know, I’d love to learn who it was that first manufactured that kind of ZOMG BANNING PRAYER urban legend and popularized it.

  • zendodeb

    I’m sure racism is a factor for some. But you are practicing the same thing. All (or most) “home-schoolers” are racist. Fill in that blank with another group, and see how it sounds… Jews, Muslims, Wiccans, Heathens, Italians, Irish, whatever…  Prejudging an entire person based on one aspect of their life or inclusion in 1 group is wrong, even when you are the one doing it.

    I am equally sure that some parents are appalled by the quality of education offered by some public schools. Not to mention the level of violence encountered.

    So hold to your prejudice (against home-schooling) and feel good pretending it is better than any other kind of prejudice. 

  • Anomony

    Your Ven fails, you would need a third circle of people who pretend. The way diagram is now constructed you can have only people upset about both decisions.

    Add a third circle and populate it with people who feign being upset in order to further their agenda.


  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    This is the last time I go on this blog. Race-baiters of any stripe are dumb and dead wrong. That includes Reagan with his states’ rights speech in 1980, Lou Dobbs’ anti-immigrant speeches, the dominionists and reconstructionists speaking of “Euro-Christian civilisation” AND you folks on the left who think you have the right to throw the race card around like a blackjack dealer. (Whoops? Did I say “black”? Pinochle, then.) First you bring it into the marriage debate. Then you say the evil prophesied in Left Behind is offensive to Hitler’s victims. Now you think that Christian traditionalism is a front for racism? Ha ha ha, funny. Christian states with Christian prayer by officials  existed for centuries before the beginning of colonialism and the transatlantic slave trade, which is usually considered the advent of racism in its current Western form of hegemonic white supremacy and the justification thereof.

    If you knew the first thing about intersectionality you would be targeting the white, well-off, elite school principals who find it acceptable to invite Planned Parenthood in for sex ed in poor, minority-dominated  districts and the unprofessional ones over here who let students from Asian families discuss their sexual experiences with them in explicit detail and refuse the parents any right to know what their sons or daughters are up to on trumped-up, anti-family  “confidentiality” and “pastoral care” rationales.  Who are the reason I first got into the P-L/P-F movement, as explained in my post on the Inouye thread. You would stand up to the advocates of that corrupt bullshit from your position as progressives and thus in their favour, the National Education Association, SIECUS, etc. and tell them to stop in the name of racial justice, to stop trying to contaminate minority families with their white sexual decadence, and stop RIGHT NOW.

    But that would involve standing up for parental rights, family values, and implicitly supporting traditional moral values. So you don’t oppose this anti-family elite and their  indirectly discriminatory nonsense yet when I spoke of that to a racially mixed group at the Pro-life Student Alliance two weeks ago in London, I was applauded (there are photos of me with five of them carrying a red and blue PRO-LIFE PRO-FAMILY sign, the one Robertson’s Christian Coalition first had made for the ’92 RNC.)

  • EllieMurasaki

    I thought you were taking your bigotry somewhere the fuck else.

  • hdtex


  • Jonathan Kuperberg

    Well as I oppose preferential treatment for secular humanism, my children will be privately or home schooled should I end up in the US- which means as much sectarian prayer as the teacher/my future wife likes, and no chance of my children’s moral development being snookered by Constitution-quoting “freethinkers” and ACLU’ers. More likely, they’ll go to a tax-funded, pro-family Catholic school in Ireland or Eastern Europe, where I can see myself moving to once I finish university.

  • hdtex

    GOOD GAWD PLEASE TELL ME YOU’VE BEEN NEUTERED…….We don’t WANT you in the US you single minded PERVERT!

  • P J Evans

    DNFTT. He’s been very annoying on another thread. (When the fuck is he going to go away?)

  • hdtex

    Syphletic dementia is NEVER pretty.