By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
We don’t often take the time to pause and reflect upon the fact that all of this country’s institutions – governmental, judicial, religious and publications – have participated in, fueled and supported white supremacy.
The fact of the matter is, however, that those three components of this country’s infrastructure bear much of the blame for racial animus based on and in the belief in white supremacy.
Isabel Wilkerson, author of The Warmth of Other Suns and more recently Caste, said in an interview that the history of the Civil War and how the defeat of the Confederacy’s “Lost Cause” resulted in the losers of that war writing the history, helping to shape the mindset of the entire country and, in fact, of the world in their belief in the “rightness” of white supremacy as noted on MSNBC’s The Last Word.
Southerners, angry at their loss, made sure that their children knew “the truth” about the war, about the inferiority of Black people and about their entitlement to privilege based on the color of their skin.
They taught that their support of the enslavement of Black people and their belief in their inferiority was not theirs really, but was found in the pages of the Holy Bible. A Christian pastor said in a documentary that “Christ was the greatest teacher of segregation ever,” according to the Freedom Summer segment of the PBS American Experience series. And Bob Jones said in a sermon that broadcast on Easter Sunday, 1960 that “God was the author of segregation,” as recorded by TheGospelCoalition.org.
The most famous and most-often quoted words relative to the “rightness” of racism came from Chief Justice Roger Taney who said that “the Black man has no rights that a White man is bound to respect” in writing the majority opinion in the 1857 Dred Scott case, according to his biography in The Encyclopedia Britannica.
We know the pieces of intricate support system of white supremacy. It is easy to point the finger at government and politics, but what we don’t want to talk about is the complicity of the church in racism’s proliferation, and we ignore the astounding role of the media, particularly print media.
It is deeply troubling but true that many of the nation’s newspapers were not only owned by White people but White people who deeply believed in white supremacy and who used their newspapers to “spread the word.”
The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism has produced a series of articles compiled by journalism students entitled Printing Hate: How White-Owned Newspapers Incited Racial Terror in America. The headlines printed, the slant of the articles they wrote, were designed to uphold the status quo of racism in this country by feeding into the fear and misconceptions White people carried about Black people.
Newspaper publishers and editors coaxed their writers to “spread the word” Black people – i.e., that they were bad, and troublesome, unworthy of respect and incapable of governing White people. They wrote headlines that fed into the ever-present fear Whites had of Blacks, and wrote in the aftermath of violence Whites instigated against Black people that it had in fact been Black people who had “started” the fights. So, for example, newspapers blamed Black people for the Tulsa Massacre of 1921 and the insurrection and coup planned and implemented by angry White people in Wilmington, North Carolina. Hundreds of Black people were killed but the local newspaper glossed over the fact that they were dead because gangs of rogue Whites had attacked them in their quest to remove Blacks from political office and to keep them from voting. The headlines warned anxious Whites that Black people were armed and were going to be attacking and killing all White people – and the people believed them.
Black people in this country have no clear path to support, protection and justice. The church is complicit, the government is complicit, law enforcement is complicit, and the media is complicit.
The question for Black people becomes, then, “how do we move forward? What does and should social justice activism look like when there are no guardrails in place to protect us?”
It is a question with which I am wrestling. I welcome input from those who read this piece, and I encourage you to visit The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism at https://cnsmaryland.org/the-howard-center-for-investigative-journalism to read some of the stories that tell the stories of the complicity and participations of newspapers in this country to spread the message of racial inferiority, criminal behavior of Black people and support of lynching caused and spurred by racial hatred.
It is sobering, but it is a fact that the enemies of racial justice are everywhere.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. She is available for speaking. And she is an award-winning author for her latest book, “With Liberty and Justice for Some: The Bible, the Constitution, and Racism in America,” available through all booksellers. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.