The Religion News Service has reported on a recent survey from Pew:
In April, Pew asked Americans which was the bigger problem facing the country when it comes to matters of race: People overlooking racism when it exists or seeing racism in places where there is none.
Overall, just about half (53%) of Americans said people not seeing discrimination where it does exist was a bigger problem. Just under half (45%) said people seeing discrimination where is does not exist is the bigger issue.
What was most illuminating about this split in public opinion was the breakdown of who believed what.
Among religious groups, however, white Christians are most likely to say claims about non-existent racial discrimination is the biggest problem, including majorities of white Evangelicals (72%), white Catholics (60%) and white Mainline Protestants (54%), according to data provided to Religion News Service from Pew Research.
Few Black Protestants (10%), unaffiliated Americans (35%) or non-Christian religious Americans (31%) agreed….
Among Non-White unaffiliated adults, 71% say overlooking racial discrimination is the bigger issue, compared with 29% who give the opposite answer.
Well, I’m just shocked. NOT.
The report noted that the wide divide over issues of race and racism has become more heated among American Christians over the past few years. It has prompted the so-called war against “woke” and has pitted those who believe America still suffers from systemic racism against those who dismiss any concern about those structural disadvantages as the dreaded (and totally mischaracterized) “CRT.”
That divide has fueled conflicts in the Southern Baptist Convention and other evangelical groups, led to feuds in local churches and Christian colleges, become a major debate during school board meetings and been a major talking point in the current race for U.S. president. The issue of race also led to concerns about the rise of white Christian nationalism in churches.
The divide wasn’t just between White Christians and everyone else; it was also–predictably–partisan:
Most Republicans and those who lean Republican (74%) said that people seeing non-existent racism is a bigger problem, while 80% of Democrats say the bigger problem is people not seeing racism that exists.
To be fair, one of the problems with polls of this sort is that language is imprecise. If a respondent defines “racism” as overt hostility–burning a cross on a black family’s lawn, or shooting random people because they are Black–that respondent is more likely to see the problem as people being labeled “Karens” for less blatant behaviors.
A recent column in the Guardian reacting to the recent racist shooting in Jacksonville, Florida illustrates what we might call the continuum of racism.
As the article noted, Jacksonville’s murders followed a larger mass shooting of Black Americans in Buffalo, New York. Both were motivated by an explicit desire to kill Black people.
The gunmen’s ideology of white supremacy, revealed in their rants, revolved around the perceived threat to White people from higher birth rates among non-whites, and included animus against gays and Jews. The Buffalo gunman’s manifesto, for example, included his belief that gender fluidity is a plot by Jews to subvert the west (AKA White civilization), and that critical race theory is a Jewish plot “to brainwash Whites into hating themselves and their people.”
Plenty of those who think American racism is overplayed harbor similar, albeit modified, versions of those beliefs: As the article points out, the idea that Whites face a threat of replacement by non-Whites explains much of the brutal treatment of immigrants, emerges in the mass incarceration of Black Americans, and helps explain the lack of action on America’s vast racial wealth gap and militarized police force.
As the essay notes, politicians like Ron DeSantis “recenter the world through the lens of an America defined by whiteness and Christianity.”
Through this lens, it certainly does appear that America is under threat by non-white mass immigration. Critical race theory is indeed a threat to such a perspective, as is an education that also allows a Black perspective on US history, or one that normalizes LGBTQ+ citizens. It is a politics that has justified DeSantis’s treatment of immigrants as things. More recently, DeSantis has essentially suggested shooting migrants even suspected to be drug smugglers – here, he connects immigrants to crime, and uses that connection to justify killing some of them on sight.
It’s easy to make sense of the Pew survey. If you are a Republican White Christian American who thinks “racism” is defined as overt violence against people who aren’t White Christians, then America is indeed overhyping its prevalence. If you dismiss as irrelevant the defense of privilege and the persistence of structures that operate to disadvantage those “others” then concerns about systemic racism are clearly overblown.
Today’s Americans don’t just occupy different realities; we speak different languages.