The events that transpired in Charlottesville, Virginia this weekend reflect growing concern over the removal of Confederate monuments across the South. White nationalists protesting what they take to be revisionist history and promoting a desire to make white privilege great again came face to face and fist to fist with those who oppose a return to the overt racist past (Refer here and here). The white nationalists’ concern reflects a growing sense of the loss of white superiority and the accompanying fear of white scarcity. How often are these white nationalists the victims of a revisionist history created by various powerful mythmakers? Michael Eric Dyson gets at the matter this way in a New York Times piece on Saturday:
They cling to a faded Southern aristocracy whose benefits — of alleged white superiority, and moral and intellectual supremacy — trickled down to ordinary whites. If they couldn’t drink from the cup of economic advantage that white elites tasted, at least they could sip what was left of a hateful ideology: at least they weren’t black. The renowned scholar W.E.B. Du Bois called this alleged sense of superiority the psychic wages of whiteness. President Lyndon Baines Johnson once argued, “If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
Care for Black lives does not need to spell the lack of care for blue collar Whites, just as it does not need to spell disregard for police officers of various ethnicities in blue uniforms. As a society, we are smarter hopefully than to fall back upon a myth of scarcity in compassion that pits one group against another to steal their daily bread. Rather, we should seek to foster better conditions on behalf of all who reside here in search of relational abundance for all.
If we are to use the language “Make America Great Again,” it would entail making this country great by privileging among others the great indigenous tribal peoples who were forced from their native lands based on the myth of Manifest Destiny. Making America great (again?) should not take us back to an age of supposed white superiority, but to an era of increasing equity for all people.
It is not just those in the South who have fostered and benefited from white superiority. The North has as well during their shared history (Refer here and here). To the extent we benefit today economically from injustices committed against ethnic minorities in the past and remain silent in the face of calls to return to a white supremacist past, we are still culpable, whether we live in the North or South.
One of the ways we can and must move forward is not to rewrite history in favor of white supremacy or any other people group’s superiority, but to transform history and our racial story in favor of diverse solidarity. It will require moving beyond what Walter Brueggemann has called “the myth of scarcity” in search of narratives and liturgies of abundance.
The Bible has been used as a source to divide people of the North and South on the question of race and enslavement, a point made by President Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address. Instead, it should serve as the supreme written authority to unite us. If, as Paul proclaimed, Jesus makes Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female one and equal (Galatians 3:28), then we who claim to follow Jesus should figure out creative and collaborative ways to live as equals and transform our collective story to be one that honors people of all hues as being of supreme value.
See for example Walter Brueggemann, “The Liturgy of Abundance, the Myth of Scarcity,” in The Christian Century, March 24–31, 1999, pages 342–347.
On the theological crisis involving use of the same Bible in the development of differing theologies and responses to slavery, see Mark A. Noll, The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, The Steven and Janice Brose Lectures in the Civil War Era (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006).