As I did the last two days…
every day this week, I will blog on different reasons why a growing number of Evangelical Christians are crossing party lines this election. Today’s post will deal with the topic of racial equality. In particular, we will look at the growing concern among Evangelicals that President Trump and his administration have made policy decisions and statements that have heightened racial tensions in America. Trump’s ongoing language has been a catalyst (not in helping the racial divide) but in moving forward an increasingly hostile America and a deepening partisan divide over the matter of racial injustice and inequities.
Unfortunately, political conversations often focus on whether or not President Trump is a racist rather than looking at the larger national context and history of our country on race and how Trump fits into it. Understanding this is important to consider as we look at our present racial tensions, so that is where I will turn in the first section below.
As I did with the last two topics, I will intentionally pay close attention to the tone of my words while also keeping honesty and forthrightness at the center. I will also include source links throughout (click on the blue words) for you to fact-check if this is the first time you are hearing this.
Alright, deep breath…
What is Equality?
Equality refers to the freedoms (or rights) afforded to American citizens under Constitutional law. State governments have interpreted these rights differently throughout American History. At times, our three branches of United States Government have stepped in to ensure those rights are not denied.
When American freedoms, or rights, have still been denied within states even after government intervention, Americans have taken to the streets to protest, challenge, and demand our national and state governments make good on the rights afforded in the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Today, we are looking at racial equality, although equality has to do with so much more.
Equality after Lincoln:
There are primarily 2 American stories that pervade the American psyche with regards to racial equality. One story says that following the Civil War and the end of slavery under the leadership of President Lincoln, in addition to the period of Reconstruction, systemic racism gradually came to an end. Individual acts of racism happen from time to time in America, but systemic racism no longer exists and hasn’t existed for some time. Today, all Americans are generally treated equally. They have equal opportunity for economic success and equal protection under law.
Another American story says that following Lincoln’s presidency and American Reconstruction, people of color, particularly black Americans, were consistently denied the freedoms and rights afforded to every American citizen under the US Constitution. Even basic freedoms like freedom of speech, freedom to assemble to petition the government, equal justice and equal protection under law. While slavery was technically abolished in the 1860’s under Lincoln, new expressions and forms of systemic racism have continued, both in northern and southern states. In the south, states discriminated against black people through debt peonage in the sharecropping system, Jim Crow laws, voter oppression laws and the Ku Klux Klan. In the northern states, black Americans intent on purchasing a home were cheated through bad loans and contract sales. Cities and states engaged in redlining, a legalized form of discrimination where loan lenders did not give loans to those in redlined neighborhoods. The civil rights movement beginning in the 1950’s and 60’s attempted to address these grave inequities that people of color faced. This short summary doesn’t even touch on the grave inequalities faced by Mexican Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans.
Black people in the Criminal Justice System
Another area where black people have been treated unjustly and not been afforded their rights is in our criminal justice system. A 2018 report by the Bureau of Justice Statistics shows that black people are “more likely to be stopped by police that white” people. A 2020 study put out by NYU shows that “black drivers were about 20 percent more likely to be stopped than white drivers.” A 2019 study by Stanford University shows similar findings. Black people are also “imprisoned at more than five times the rate” of white people according to a 2017 study at Stanford Center of Poverty and Inequality. In another study from the National Violent Death Reporting System, data gathered between 2009 and 2012 shows that black people were 2.8 times more likely to be killed by police officers, and of those stopped by police, 14% of black people were unarmed as opposed to 9.4% of white people; meaning more white people are armed when they have altercations with police than black people. Since the murder of Michael Brown back in 2014, there has a been a growing list of unarmed black men who have been shot and killed by police officers.
Two Justice Systems
After the murder of George Floyd in May, Americans all across the nation and people all around the world took to the streets to protest race related police brutality and excessive force that led to the death of another black man. More than that, they were protesting for equal justice and equal protection under law. Since the 1900’s, especially during the start of the civil rights moment, black communities and individuals have called on elected officials to consider the mounting evidence that there seems to be two justice systems in our country: one for white Americans and one for people of color, especially black people. While Americans, white and black, have petitioned the government in times past with some tangible effect, Floyd’s death seemed to be a tipping point in the collective American conscience. His murder was on the heels of a growing number of highly publicized deaths, two of which in happened in recent history: Breonna Taylor’s at the hands of Louisville police officers, and Ahmaud Arbery, at the hands of two Georgian vigilantes.
Trump’s Missed Opportunity
Since Floyd’s death, President Trump and a large number of his administration officials have publicly denied the existence of systemic racism in policing or elsewhere in America. On June 1st, five days following Floyd’s murder, the president gave a “Law and Order” speech at the White House Rose Garden. While he offered his condolences to Floyd’s family and asserted his administration’s commitment that “justice will be served” for Floyd, he spent only twenty seconds of his seven minute speech on Floyd and the rest on the riots in the streets and using federal agents to quell the unrest caused by agitators destroying public property and using violence against police.
Most Americans agree with the president that anarchy and reckless property destruction can’t go on in our cities unchecked. Law and order is important. However, the question rightly being asked by peaceful protestors in late Spring was this: “Who is the law serving? All Americans or some?” Protestors were appealing to our state and national governments that equal justice needs to be served, but for some time our history, it has not been served to all Americans.
What Americans needed to hear, what our black communities needed to hear and experience is a president who could empathize with them and demonstrate compassion on them due to a long strain of racial injustices that have occurred in our history. They needed to know their president had their support and commitment to see “Equal Justice” for all communities, white and black. This is what is behind the Black Lives Matter movement.
But instead, we heard different priorities on display that day on June 1.
It was more important to Trump to use his presidential power to “dominate the streets” (as he put it), rather than call Americans to come together to grieve the loss of another unarmed black man at the hands of police. Certainly it was important for him to speak to the violence and anarchy in the streets by agitators. The problem is that he made this the number one take away in his speech. Spending so little time showing concern or empathy for what black communities and individuals were going through demonstrated his true priorities. It was by all measurements a missed opportunity.
While Trump’s speech was deeply disheartening for many Americans, it didn’t end there. To pour salt on America’s wounds, his actions immediately following his speech were shocking. Local DC police used pepper balls and smoke flash bands on a mostly peaceful crowd of protesters near Lafayette square. This created opportunity for these same police to push back the crowd. Why? Trailing behind the police just minutes away was President Trump, some administration officials and a decorated military officer (this same military officer later apologized for his presence in what he believes was an abuse of power by our president). Using these chemicals compounds on a peaceful crowd and pushing them back was to create room on that road for the president to walk on. Where was the president and his team going that demanded such action?
They were heading St. John’s church. Upon arriving, President Trump lifted up a black Bible in the air and his photographers took pictures of him in front of the church. Let’s put the pieces together: The removal of the crowd was for the purpose of a photo opt of Trump holding a Bible? The disconnect couldn’t be greater when comparing the purposes of the peaceful crowd of protestors and President Trump.
What message was he trying to send that day? And to who? Knowing that a large portion of Trump’s base was Evangelical Christians, who BTW hold the Bible with reverence and respect, was he trying to say something to them? 81% of Evangelical Christians voted for Trump in 2016. According to Trump, the answer was yes.
Closing, Then a Final Question worth considering
Your vote this election will put into office someone who either holds one of the two American storylines we discussed. Trump holds to the first storyline. Americans are generally not racist, and racism does not exist on a systemic level, either in our legal system, policing or anywhere else. His policies will continue down this line of reasoning.
Final Question: Is President Trump a racist? You decide.
Here are some links to footage and articles to consider.
Listen to President Trump’s Presidential Run Announcement Speech back in 2015. Pay attention to how he talks about Mexican Immigrants and Muslims within the first ten minutes. Historically speaking, this kind of speech resembles what has been traditionally referred to as fascism: an extreme form of nationalism that is deeply suspicious and hostile toward immigrants and attempts to maintain a population that resembles the majority of the populace (in this instance white Americans from Western European descent).
Trump has publicly mocked black and Muslim Congresswomen, all naturalized citizens of our country, saying they should “go back to their crime infested places” implying their country of birth.
Trump raised public doubt of former President Obama’s birthplace during Obama’s presidency. This action is now called birtherism. Here’s a more lengthy article. Obama comes from a mixed lineage of African American (his father’s side) and white (his mother’s side). You can only become president if you were born in the United States. Obama’s birth records eventually were shared; he was born in Hawaii. The question is why aren’t white president’s put under this kind of public scrutiny regarding birth records.
Trump has since raised public doubt about Kamala Harris’ birth. Harris is the running mate of Joe Biden. She is an American citizen, was born in the United States, and she has both an Indian and African American heritage. Coincidence?
Following the Charlottesville Unite The Right Rally, where white supremacist and Neo-Nazi groups came together, violent clashes occurred outside between these groups and some counter protesters against white supremacy, President Trump seemed to call the white supremacists “very fine people.” His now infamous statement “you also had very fine people on both sides” has come under heavy public scrutiny.
During his first presidential debate with former Vice President Biden, when asked if he would condemn white supremacy, he stated, “Proud Boys stand back and stand by.” The Proud Boys is a Neo-Fascist group who is known for having white supremacists among their ranks. They are also known supporters of Trump. They believed his words were affirming of who they are and his knowledge of them. The way Trump addressed them leads one to wonder what the nature of his relationship is with them and why he would assume they would care to follow his instruction to “stand back and stand by?” And why focus on them and not other groups with white nationalists?
This is a short list.
For a more detailed analysis of black history and the treatment of black citizens within the US Criminal Justice System, check out the following resources: Ken Wytsma’s book The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege, Ta-Nehisi Coates article in the Atlantic Magazine, or check out the Netflix film 13th. (free on YouTube or with your Netflix subscription).
Email me your responses to the above questions at email@example.com. Make sure to check out faithrethink.com for videos, blogs and other resources.
To listen to the reasons why Evangelicals, Conservatives and Moderates are crossing party lines this election visit…
Photo credit: Clay Banks