Episode One: "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism" with Anthea Butler

Transcript: 

Simran Jeet Singh:
Hi everyone. Welcome, and thank you for joining us. This is the inaugural episode of our new program with the Religion News Service called "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism," and I'm joined here with Professor Anthea Butler, who, if you don't know, is brilliant and delightful and amazing and all those good things. We'll have some time to introduce her in a moment, but before we start anything, I just wanted to check in with you. How are you doing?

Anthea Butler:
Well, you know, I'm reasonably well, considering everything that's going on. I mean, I kind of feel like, as I tell somebody, I feel like an Old Testament prophet. I knew that this stuff was coming, so where people have been trying to check in on me, and make sure I'm okay, I tell them when you're always prepared for the worst to happen, nothing bothers you.

Singh:
Mmhmm. Would you say this, this is, I don't know, like more of the same or nothing new, or does this something feel different about what's happening right now?

Butler:
Well, it depends on your perspective. If you're a black person, this is nothing new, I mean, this is America, right? This is, you know, racism one-oh-one, is like -- kills somebody black. And, you know, in a terrible thing that with the policemen kneeling on your neck or shooting you or something and, you know, the community being an uproar and then things go back to business as usual. Well, what I think is different about this time is that everybody was home and they got to see this violence that African Americans are exposed to every day and this really changed the framework of everything.

Singh:
Mm Hmm. And how about the pandemic, like kind of tying into all of this? How is that going?

Butler:
Yeah, I think that's also kind of really made things just much more heightened because we've all been at home. People are afraid. We may know people who have been sick and passed away and haven't been able to mourn them properly. And it seems as though people want to also sweep up the fact that over a hundred thousand people in this country have died. And I think that's a real tragedy that we are not dealing with as a nation.

Singh:
Yeah. And then we're following the stories, right? Like we're all following these stories. And that the virus, the coronavirus is disproportionately affecting black people and communities of color. And so, I don't know, it's so much to wrap your head around that, like the uncertainty of the pandemic and then, and then there's all this information and then the Black Lives Matter and George Floyd's murder. I mean, it seems like overwhelming.

Butler:
Yeah. It's, it's overwhelming. But if you go back to the core theme of racism, then it's easy to put it all together because basically, you know, the pandemic is affecting communities that are brown and black, connecting communities that are having to be frontline workers, affected communities of people who don't have what everybody else has. And some of that is about white supremacy. Some of that is about racism. Some of it is about a poor healthcare system in this country. So I think these things revolve around each other. They're not necessarily exclusive of each other, but we have to learn how to start to put things together where we can think about a multitude of things all at once.

Singh:
Right. And with George Floyd's funeral today, it feels like, you know, we haven't even, like you're saying, we haven't really had a full chance to warn or even digest, right -- like what's happening. And I mean, I'm feeling like it's been really tough to process, right? Like the pandemic, but then also the protests and George Floyd's murder, Breonna Taylor's murder. And so, I dunno, usually you see moments like these funerals as moments of closure, right? Like you're like, okay, we're moving on now. But in some sense it feels like, like we're not, we haven't even started. Is that similar feeling for you?

Butler:
Yeah, no, this is the beginning. But I, yeah, I've been really thinking about George Floyd and because I'm a historian, I'm thinking back and I'm comparing, what did these three funerals -- basically memorial services in the funeral today -- of George Floyd with what happened? You know, in the 1950s with Emmett Till, and how Emmett Till was the beginning of people, really trying to see the violence, it didn't mean that the violence stopped, but what happened to Emmett Till was so horrifying and the way in which his body looked, it was horrifying for us to see George Floyd being killed nonchalantly, but the Minneapolis policemen being knelt upon for almost nine minutes, that was the same kind of horror, the same kind of racism, the same kind of inhumanity. It absolutely inhuman behavior from that police officer and the officers that also knelt on him that, you know, makes us take pause.
It grieves our souls, but you know, I'm going to say something really harsh. And I think that this is really true. I mean, my thinking after this was basically like, how can white people look at themselves in the mirror? I mean, you know, there's always a sense where African Americans, you know, used to joke with us when we were growing up, we'd watch these TV shows and say -- Oh, you know, if the black person is doing something bad on the TV show, you get embarrassed. Or if you think about the crime as the black person is like, I want to know how white people feel about another white person murdering somebody in cold blood like this. How could you look at yourself in the mirror? How can you think about your whiteness in a different way? How do you reconcile that? Do you just push that away and say, that's not me? Do you feel race, shame? What do you feel? And so that's, those are the kinds of questions I have around this right now.

Singh:
All right. So for those of you who are joining us this is, this is a nice little appetizer for our conversation today. You're listening to Professor Anthea Butler. And before I introduce her, I just want to welcome you all to this conversation. This is our new program with the Religion News Service, and it's called "Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism," and our vision with this program is to offer two things that I believe, and that we believe, the world needs so badly right now. First we want to offer you insight into actually what's going on with racism. And that's why each episode will focus on a particular aspect of racism and helps take us through it. And our goal is to help us understand how racism impacts people on a personal level, but also, on a larger systemic level, and I think that'll help us see more clearly.

What's actually going on, you know, as James Baldwin beautifully stated --and this has become part of my spiritual and political philosophy --he said, if I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don't see. And so that that's part of the thesis of this show. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move from just understanding racism as an intellectual idea and how to really take action. So this many come in different forms on the program. It may come as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within ourselves. It may come as guidance on actions we can take to address forms of racism all around us. It can be any form of wisdom, but the vision really is to put what we learned into action, because if we don't, the idea is just stay in our heads and nothing changes.

Not us, not the people around us, not the broken systems around us. Nothing. There's another quote that I wanted to share that that's part of my own political philosophy. It's Angela Davis, who said, in a racist society, it's not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist. And our point is that there's no middle ground. When it comes to racism, we may be all somewhere in the process of becoming less racist, but our ultimate goal, both spiritually and politically is to push back against it actively. So thank you all. Thank you all for being here, on this journey with me, especially we collectively mourn George Floyd during the time of his funeral today. We're joined today by an incredible scholar, Professor Anthea Butler, who many of you may recognize from your television sets or your Twitter accounts.

Dr. Butler is an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, because she's fancy and she's written and published a number of books, because she's smart, and she's currently working on two books, one of which focuses on racism and publishing and another that examines white evangelical racism. And I thought she'd be a perfect fit for our first guest on the program, someone who could help us shed light on ideas that maybe you're relatively new to many of us, but it becomes so central to our cultural conversations. We desperately want to learn more. And so then, today's focus will be on understanding what we mean by whiteness and what we can do about white supremacy. So, thank you Anthea for being here with us today. I want to ask you just straight up out of the gate, no punches pulled, what's the earliest experience with racism that you had with white people?

Butler:
Thanks, Simran. Thanks for having me. The earliest experience I had with white racism was in Catholic school. I believe it was fourth or fifth grade. We had moved out to the suburbs in Texas and, you know, if you're a black kid Catholic in Texas, that means that you're already a bigger minority than just being, you know, how black white people treated you, right? And every year we would sell candy and that candy was called World's Finest, for those of you who are Catholic school people. And some kid got a box of candy stolen, and there was a African American kid selling it at the local store. And so the principal brought the four black girls who were in my class, not that many black kids in this whole Catholic school and said, which one of you gave that candy to that boy, so he could steal and take that money.

So they accused us of stealing. Now you've got to know my daddy, he's a Texan. And he went in there. He cleaned that principal's clock, basically. I won't tell you what he said. There were some, probably some really bad words in there, but my dad stepped up for me. And I remember thinking that, you know, how could he just accuse us? And it was clearly a, a boy, somebody who wasn't in school and we weren't the ones that gave him the box of candy in the first place -- but we were the ones who did it. And so that was my first real experience of thinking about that, because prior to that, I had been around African Americans most of my life. And so I think that was hard for me. You know, most people remember the first time they get called the n-word, but for me, It was that event because it was a person in authority accusing me of something. And, you know, it took my father to have to defend me to be able to get past that.

Singh:
Hmm. And tell us, can you tell us a little bit about how your experience of racism sort of evolved over time? I guess another way of asking that is -- in what ways has whiteness affected your life?

Butler:
Yeah. And every way, I mean, I think, you know, it's definitely affected my academic career from, you know, a chair who touched my hair and appropriately to, you know, one of the people who was supposed to be on my exam, who decided that I didn't pass the exam and didn't want to ask my black advisor to read it. It happened when, you know, unfortunately, when you're a kid and you like you like another boy, right? You know, and that boy happens to be white. And he's like, I don't like you because you're black. You're really too black for me. And look at your hair. It's just that kind of stuff that really sticks with you. And so having to navigate white people throughout my life, I had to learn two things. One is, it's like you put on a veneer so that these things don't hurt you at the times that you can be able to move forward. The second thing I think, which is really important and really sad in a way is that you figure out that you can't trust anybody and you go from that point. You know, I always joke that I have the X Files philosophy of trust. Racism, it was what taught me the X-Files philosophy. You don't trust white people. You don't trust them to do right by you. You don't trust them to have your best interest in mind. And so for me, that's always been very problematic.

Singh:
Yeah. Can I ask you, so you gave the story and I mean, I had flashbacks to my own childhood of like liking someone, right. Having a crush on someone and then being like, no, no, you're not my type. And like, not in this sort of innocuous kind of, you're not my type, but I'm like the racist kind of -- you're not my side. It's so, I mean, you said it and I kind of laughed cause I was like, "Ha ha, I'd been there before." But then like, as you were talking, I was like, Oh man, that was so painful. And like, I don't know. I'm just thinking about, you know, we call things microaggressions as if they don't matter, but can you talk a little bit about the depth of the pain of a microaggression? Like I'm thinking of myself as a 10 year old, like how absorbed I was in that pain of like the crush, right? What is it about microaggression?

Butler:
Well, I think the thing about microaggressions is, one, you'd get them a lot. Two, microaggressions shaped the way you behave. So, you know, let me, let me be really blunt about it. It is very, you know, in relationships. I mean, I've had relationships with people with all colors, right? It has been very hard for me to say, you know, to some white person, I love you. You know? Cause I don't trust that. I don't trust them to hold that love. I don't trust them to do anything with it. It makes you behave differently. It shapes how you think about people and think about things. It also makes you, you know -- It cuts down on your personality. Now I have a pretty big personality. People know this already, but that big personality came because I'm a fighter. And so the kind of microaggressions that happen to me, I just decided I either have to bulldoze over them or I'm going to keep them in a certain kind of space. So, you know, I think that for me, microaggressions are the things that wear you down every day and make you do things or say things that you don't want to say, or it makes you withdraw from people or it also makes you think that I just don't want to be around white people today. I need to go be around somebody else.

That's honest truth. And I mean, I think people need to hear that because even though that hurts, it's the truth. It's why, you know, that whole thing about -- why do all the black kids sit at the same table at lunchtime? They do because they're tired of you. They're tired of you saying things to them that make them crazy. They're tired of the little remarks that you don't understand. That's a microaggression. They just want to be in a space where they can be accepted.

Singh:
That's great. Thank you. Thank you for answering that. So honestly, and if you're just joining us, this is the very direct, very straightforward Professor Anthea Butler from the University of Pennsylvania. She's an expert on race and religion and blackness. And so, one of the things that I'm really excited for you to shed light for us on is this idea of white supremacy and whiteness, right? These are buzz words that we're hearing everywhere now. Like we weren't hearing them in the same way five years ago, 10 years ago. Could you just tell us what is white supremacy and how do we recognize it?

Butler:
Okay. So I want to back up for a minute and talk about a racist construction. So those of you who are not academics, you need to go read up on this. Okay. And then I'll suggest a couple of books at the end for you to think about this. All right, so race is a construction. It's not a real thing. One of the best things I've ever read about the construction of racism and the 16th and 17th century is a chapter that was in Cornel West book, Prophesied Deliverance on the Construction of Race. So if you read that, that'll help you think through that. So that's another one. White supremacy is a system that benefits white people. It's a system that is constructed so that white people have the benefit of doing things. Now, when people hear the word white supremacy, they think, well, I'm not in for that. I don't do that.

But it comes out in little different ways. If you think that there's somebody who got a job, they got a promotion that didn't look like you, there was a brown or black or you know, Asian person descent. They would probably say, Oh, well, you know, I probably could have done that job better. That's white supremacy. Okay. So you can be a white supremacist, right, and get benefit from that system of white supremacy. Okay. So there's lots of different ways that people like to cut this. I like to think about it. One, as a system, two, as a construction, and three as a way of being in the world that benefits white people over and against other people. And you know, they're going to be some people out here that will say -- Oh well, there's affirmative action and everything else.
I mean, I'm sorry. Go back and look at [inaudible] and all the rest of these cases. I mean, if you're white, you get benefits and this society, if you're not, you don't get benefits in the society. It also is a way that we've constructed our world. So in other words, when a white woman walks across the street, when she sees a black man coming and grabs her purse, that's white supremacy because you already think that a black person is going to hurt you. Or that incident that happened in Central Park a couple of weeks ago, that started us off on the very bad week. That also opened up a lot of doors -- that Miss Amy, as I like to call her, basically messed up everything. She -- the jig was up. She let you know exactly that white power, white supremacy works. I'm going to call the cops and I'm going to say a big black man is there and they're going to come and rescue me like a damsel in distress.

That's white supremacy. Okay. I think there's no other better explanation then what happened in the park. Now, if you put that up against whiteness, whiteness is a construction. Not everybody gets to be white. So I'm going to say something real quick about this. So let's take the Irish, for instance. I have an Irish middle name, Deirdre, right? But I'm not Irish, right? I probably have some Irish in me somewhere, but I'm not Irish. Right. But when Irish came to America, they weren't considered to be white people. That was like a leap. There's a whole book on how the Irish became light. And so they kind of moved up the racial scale, and dots would be white people. And then now, you know, we have, you know, Irish who don't think of themselves as anything else but white and we've always been white. So this is the way we have to start to think about race and these race constructions, but white supremacy is the system. And the way in which white people gain benefits in this country or wherever they might be around the world.

Singh:
That's great. That's super helpful. And as you were speaking, I was like, there are two things that really struck me. One is, if we think of white supremacy as an ideology, that's embedded within our systems, then I think the point is, you don't have to be white to have it within you. Right? So like, I have white supremacist ideas in my head because I was born and raised in America. Right? And we all do. So you were giving this example of a white woman crossing the street when a black man is there, like I did that when I was growing up and I was taught that that's how you be safe. Right? So like, I think that's really important for us to recognize that white supremacy is not just about white people. It's about the system that comes into us. Right?

Butler:
Exactly. And it's, you know, I think we could see it very much in beauty, you know? And in African American culture, we have a lot of colorism, you know, Latinos have colorism, the whiter you are, the better looking you appear to be. It's why people, why women bleach, it's why people want straight hair. It's why, you know, all of these things out how we construct beauty is definitely, if you could see white supremacy all through that, no matter what race you are.

Singh:
That's great. Okay. Thank you. Now I want to ask you a question that's not as popular a little bit more -- it makes people a little bit more uncomfortable, right? Like within the last few years, people have been like, okay, white supremacy and whiteness is okay to talk about. But what about Christianity in relation to white supremacy? You know, where we hear a little bit about it here and there, but what's the relationship? How would you make sense of that?

Butler:
It's a huge relationship. Every time you see a white Jesus, you see white supremacy. Full stop. I'm sorry. I have no problem talking about this, because if there's anything that's about white supremacy as Christianity, because Christianity tells you that, you know, if you want to look at the Warner Solomon Jesus, who's got blonde hair and blue eyes, it looks like a surfer boy, then that's who you should worship. And it's also in the ways in which we think about patriarchy. If you think about a very conservative Christianity -- it's white men who run things, it's not white women. White women benefit from that system within Christianity because they can be the moral avatars. Right? But Christianity has a problem. It has a problem in whiteness. And part of that, no problem. It's embedded, you know, in something that Christians, don't like to talk about missionary activity -- let's go save those poor benighted, Africans and Asians and Filipinos.

Wherever we go, whether we're talking about Protestantism or Catholicism, and let's go give them the message of Jesus Christ and civilization, because those things go hand in hand. Right? But the problem is that when people start to think about Christianity outside of a box of whiteness, that's when people get really nervous and start to wonder, well, you know, is that really Christianity? Was Jim Cone really right to talk about a black theology and black power? These are the kinds of questions we have to ask of you. Christianity can be appropriated in lots of different ways, but the ways in which has been used to appropriate whiteness is, I would say, very egregious.

Singh:
Okay. So help us make sense of one of the things you talked about -- missionizing, right? And evangelizing, and that's what your new book is about. So can you tell us a little bit about your new book and I mean, I'm assuming that part of what you're covering there is what we're seeing in America today, right? And this sort of allegiance to Trump through white evangelical Christians. I dunno, I feel like a lot of people have questions as to why or how a Christian could continue to support Trump. So, talk to us about that.

Butler:
I'm not actually talking about Trump. This is where I will do a little corrective here. This is a history book. This book is from the 19th century forward about the history of white evangelicals and racism. So I will give an example whenever [inaudible] tell their story, they like to tell the story about, you know, there's Charles Finney. We had the Great Awakening. We were abolitionists. We were temperance people. We did good stuff with missions. Then it was Billy Graham. And then, you know, we got to be moral and everything. And we had a nice president in president Bush, and then, you know, we supported Trump and that's where everybody has a big question mark. What my book is about, is telling you that racism has been at the foundation of white American evangelicalism period, full stop, from slavery. When people believe in the Bible that black people were enslaved because they were part of the Curse of Ham to the kinds of missionary activity that, you know, basically denigrated Native American and African American communities to the kind of, you know, gentle light racism of Billy Graham. When he says -- Oh, I will go and appear with a very racist Texas governor, you know, and not care that Martin Luther King asked me not to do so, you know, to that racism of him being on the tape with Nixon, talking about Jews, I mean, all of those things are part and parcel of American evangelicalism. And I think that a lot of evangelicals want to give themselves a bow.

I'm not surprised that they're for Trump. I mean, they're for Trump because Trump gives them the things that they think that they want, but it also has uncovered their basic white supremacist beliefs.

Singh:
That's great. Thank you. Thank you for historicizing it. And if you're just joining us, this is our new program with Religion News Service, "Becoming Less Racist: Lightening the Path to Anti-Racism." I'm joined here with Professor Anthea Butler of the University of Pennsylvania. If you have questions or comments, feel free to leave them, and we will try to invite Professor Butler to engage with us a little bit more. Right now, we're talking a little bit about the history of evangelicalism and how it relates to racism, and what Professor Butler is illuminating for us is, it's part and parcel, right? It's always been there and this is nothing new. And I, from what I'm hearing from you, it sounds like anyone who's read up on the subject, shouldn't be surprised by what's happening right now.

Butler:
No, but I think people are, because evangelicals have cloaked themselves in morality. They basically said, Oh, we were pro, you know, we're pro-life we, we are for the family. We don't want a lot of excessive spending and we want, you know, a righteous and just world. Well, they want a righteous and just world with white people running it, specifically, white men running it. And so what my book is trying to do is to show you these inflection points in which this racism has really affected the history of evangelicalism and the history of what has happened with race in America. So I'll give you a very short example. I think that is worthwhile talking about Bob Jones University, which is a fundamentalist university -- the reason why we think about the manner in which the religious right came to be, we think about it because we think that it was about abortion.
Well, that's partially true, but the real energizer was at Bob Jones University, which didn't want to let black people in -- namely black men -- because they didn't want interracial dating, essentially. Yeah. And they got their tax exemption taken away from them in the seventies because of this. And so that was where lots of evangelical Christian schools who were all white in the South, decided that -- what we call segregation at schools -- decided that they needed to start to advocate because they wanted to keep segregation going. It's the same reason why you see this charter school thing come up. This is about segregation. Let's go put all these black kids over here. Let's keep these white Christian schools for our kids and nobody else. Right? So there's all these different ways in which, you know, racism has affected American evangelicalism. I think about Billy Graham who is, you know, a singular figure in American religion, but he was the exemplar whiteness throughout the world in the fifties and the sixties and seventies, you know?

And I think he came to a point where he was embarrassed about that. But when you think about his son, Franklin Graham, who was basically a birther from day one, talking about Obama, you have to start to think about -- what are the things that evangelicals say that don't line up with what they claim they believe, and how do we parse that out? And I think for evangelicals, especially for evangelical historians, right, it's very difficult for them to see that racism. Every time I pick up a book about American evangelicalism it's nothing but white guys, maybe there's one or two black people in, it might be a woman, but it's all white men defining what evangelicalism is. And they wanted to find it either theologically, they barely want to talk about culture, but they always ignore race. I have that big book on American evangelicalism that the woman who won the Pulitzer Prize for, and I went back into it to look to see how much it was about race in there, because I'd read it, kind of cursory reading.

And I was just stunned to see there was, it was all about white people. There was nothing about black evangelicals, which has a history -- nothing. So evangelicalism means white in this country. And I think that we need to really start to grapple with that, right, and throw out all of these theological, you know, quadrilateral Bebbington crap that everybody wants to hold on to. And just say, evangelicalism is about white people and white people trying to either resist people of color coming in or making people of color come in and be like them. They want people of color who are culturally white.

Singh:
Yeah. It's fascinating. I mean, I think fascinating for a number of reasons. Right? Part of what's fascinating to me how the weaponization is so similar to how we see it in other aspects of our lives, right? It's the same story. It's just a different particular community in a different language, right? In terms of how we're talking about whiteness and white supremacy.

Butler:
Yeah, exactly. And I mean, you know, if people should understand something here, I went to another local seminary. I went to Fuller, okay? So, understand that. I'm not speaking out of turn, I'm speaking from experience. I was the first person to ever teach in a summer session, you know, a history of American evangelicalism. They never taught the class before. Why? Because they didn't have to. They just felt like everybody knew what a joke it was. So yeah, it gets weaponized. It's very much weaponized. And I think, you know, evangelicalism, unfortunately, today, especially in America, can't look at themselves outside of the political realm because they have embedded themselves so deeply within the Republican party, even the ones who don't want to be there, why it's hard for them to differentiate themselves from these other evangelicals, decided to go a political route and use that their beliefs and their whiteness to get the things that they want from the government.

Singh:
That's great. Well, let me ask you, we have a question from, from Debbie Caldwell of the Religion News Service -- what would you say about mainline Protestants? How does their tradition fit into America's racist past and its present as well?

Butler:
Yeah, well, I think for the mainline, there's racism there too. I mean, we can think about how long it took to get, you know, the first black Episcopal bishop. We can think about the ways in which, you know, the Baptists split, you know, Southern Baptist versus American Baptist, you know, over the issue of slavery. We can think about Presbyterians, who've had that same kind of split. We can think about the kinds of racial activity that happened with them. Some of these denominations were involved with the civil rights movement, but they too have a racial issue. Okay. It's not just evangelicals. We have to look at churches as a whole, and I will especially pick on my own tradition, the Catholic tradition. We want to talk about racism in this country. I mean, hello, you know, the Catholic church at different religious orders owned slaves. Right now, Georgetown is trying to figure out, how do we make reparations for the slaves that we own, that we sold, so we could keep the school running. You know, there were orders that had slaves there, you know, it didn't matter that the Pope's that don't have slavery, they sanctioned it. We have plenty of people right now who are, you know, right-wing white supremacists there in the Catholic church. I mean, some of my earliest experiences of racism were post-Vatican when you had the, you know, shake the hand of peace. And we were going to integrate a church and people wouldn't shake our hand because we were black, and that's in the Catholic church. So that racism is in all of these religious systems. We can't just focus on evangelicals. But my focus has been because this is what I do and what I study has been on American evangelicalism, right. And the black church and their relationship to African Americans.

Singh:
Thank you. I think one of the things I'm hearing from you is, and an affirmation of, the sense that it's so easy to get lost in the moment and to be outraged about what's happening right now, right. And we can easily get stuck in what's happening with racism among evangelical communities. But if we look horizontally, it's true across the board, and if we look vertically meaning over history, right. And that's where to sort of shown us, it's been true. And so part of the reminders here is like, this is not something that's new, it's something that's so deeply entrenched within America about like --this is how it's always been. And that's how it continues to be one of the things. I mean, I want to move into a more pragmatic question now. And that's... if we accept that this is true, which is which I do, then what do we do about that? How do we examine ourselves when it comes to whiteness and white supremacy? And what can we do to be anti-racist?

Butler:
Well, I think the first thing is I'm going to resist saying something that normally people would say is, well, you need to look inside yourself and blah, blah, blah. None of, none of that. Because part of what the problem is in America is that we're also individualistic that we don't want to think about this in a global kind of way to think about the ways in which you'd benefit from a system. And so I think the first thing you should do is to think about -- what can I read, how can I educate myself on what white supremacy is, what white nationalism is, what Christian nationalism is, how do I think about, you know, Ibram Kendi's book, How to be Anti-Racist is really great, you know, because I can't give you in a two-minute talk on Facebook, what you need to do, but you know, I can give you one thing to say, if you're white watching this right now, quit calling your black friend to figure out whether they still like you or not, okay? Cause that's all I've been getting this week. And like, I still like you just stop. All right. Really stop. Because basically what you're doing is trying to write your experience of, I feel uncomfortable because of all these things that are happening, take a step back and say, how do I think that I should behave in this manner? Can I just, you know, support something that's anti-racist? Can I give some money for bail fund? Can I give money to this work? Can I spend some money on some books to read? Is there somebody safe that I can have a conversation with about this? Where are the areas of my life that I have benefited from white supremacy? Where have I thought about this in the wrong way? Where have I thought about my friend as being less than I am? Because they got some kind of benefit or I thought, Oh, they got a promotion before me.
So that must mean I, you know, yeah. You're just getting affirmative action and they weren't good enough. Okay. So those are the kinds of simple things you can do, but I beg of you -- every, every black person in this country right now is beleaguered because we're having to have to see this violence, go back and forth all the time, over our bodies, over people that look like our cousins or brothers, our lovers, our friends. And so for you to write and ask, you know, are you okay? And all that, that's really nice -- but don't write and ask people -- I feel so bad and I'm miserable, and what can you do? Start doing this stuff yourself, stop expecting the brown and the black and all the rest of us to drag you through this. Because it's time that you learned, we had to do it. It's time for you to do it too.

Singh:
Thank you. And that's super powerful. And I appreciate you saying that. Can you tell us why it feels unfair for people to ask you...

Butler:
You want us to do the work? You want us to do the work. You want us to not only just clean your house and clean your stuff, you want us to clean the shit you did. And, I don't, I'm not for that. I mean, I wrote a piece back in 2016 for Religion Dispatches, and I'm happy to put it up on RNS, where I talked about this. I'm like -- you fix this, you do this. Because you know, every time my institution asks me to come on board to some diversity committee and we give them everything to do and they don't do anything. And we still have the same amount of faculty of color that we had before. And all of a sudden, nothing changes. You ask us to the work, the race work that you won't do, because it makes you feel better to see us doing it. And then you don't do anything about it. So unless there is structural change, unless you're going to do some structural change within yourself and within the systems that you work in and fight for that, that I really don't care for you to call me up or ask me, you know, how I'm feeling, because clearly you don't give a damn.

Singh:
Thank you. Thanks for sharing that. And one other question from the practical standpoint, what about folks who are coming in, you know, black people, people of color who are trying in their lives to navigate white supremacy and whiteness, what wisdom do you have to offer us? In terms of dealing with racism.

Butler:
Start to think about the ways in which has destroyed your life. Start to think about what you might be like without the systems of oppression oppressing you. So, I will give this as a personal aside -- and this is me being really honest -- I had a point because I was being attacked by racist online. And these were some of the things that I wrote in 2015 where I was traveling a lot. I mean, like I was on a plane outside of the country almost every six weeks and I couldn't figure it out. And I didn't know why. And in retrospect and reflection, I realized that I was trying to get out of this country ‘cause I was sick of racism, even though there's racism all around the world, the racism of America is so oppressive. It's so overwhelming that you hate being in these confines.
If you are a thinking person, if you, you know -- if you can get away, I had the luxury of being able to get away. I'm very grateful for that. But if I hadn't, I don't know what would have happened to me because my mechanism was, I just got to get away from these people. I got to get away from this constant thing. And so I think for those of us who are struggling under this -- you have to do self care. You have to pull away from the kinds of things and watching black bodies be mowed down or shot at or kneeled upon. You have to take yourself away from those images. One of the most violent things that happens in the media today is that they just keep showing us over and over again. And I am convinced, I am firmly convinced, that continuing to show George Floyd's death every night on a loop is there to make black people realize that you are not safe. You are not welcome. You are trash in this country and we want you to be afraid of us. It is the media working with this whole program of white supremacy to continue the pain and the violence.

Singh:
So, if you're joining us, this is, this is our new program with Religion News Service, called "Becoming Less Racist." And we're here with Professor Anthea Butler. I want to move us into the Q and A session and invite folks who are tuning in to offer their questions. I want to start with a question from Dave, who asks if you could comment on why it is so hard for white American Christians to think of racism in terms of systems rather than interpersonal relationships.

Butler:
Well, it's easy for them to think about it in a personal relationship, because basically all they think about is the individual. Sin is individual. They don't know how to think about corporate sin. They don't know how to think about structural racism. Everything is -- well, I'm nice to a black person, so I'm not sitting, I'm okay. When the matter of fact is, it doesn't matter about the individual thing. It's about what happens corporately. And so if you are trained in a religious system like evangelicalism to believe that my individual salvation is the most important thing, then that's all you think about is the individual. And you don't see everybody as part of a larger whole, you don't see systems as part of a larger whole, you just look at your church, your little family and everything else, and everything's fine. And that is a naive supposition.

Singh:
That's great. And if I could follow up on that, Anthea, what about this sort of desire to keep clean one's own religious system? So is there, within the psychology of a religious practitioner, you know, you may say -- this is messed up about my tradition, but you don't actually know. Like -- I know the inside. I know the people, they're not racist.

Butler:
[Laughs] That's my answer. Oh, again, naivete. I am a religious studies scholar through and through. I'm going to tell you, you got racist people sit by your day. I went to evangelical churches. I know. I mean, I have experienced that racism and predominantly white mega churches and it's there. And if you don't want to see it, then you don't want to see it. And I can't make you see it, but it's there. And you have to figure that out. I can't, I cannot change what religious practitioners think about their own little church or their school, everything else. I mean, I'm sorry if you're sitting in a whole white church right now and you don't have anything, but two or three black people there, you're probably kind of racist. Okay. And if you do have more than two or three black people there, what are they doing? How are they participating? What do you ask them to do in the congregation? If they're just singing, you're probably racist because you just think we can sing and you don't think we can preach or do anything else. Start asking yourself those questions.

Singh:
Let me flip that question -- Dave's question -- and ask you in a different way. Let me just ask you as if I am a person who is trying to figure it out for myself...Hey, Anthea. I am a well-intentioned person. I don't ever say anything racist to my friends and I have black friends. Is it possible?

Butler:
Yeah. Cause you just said the racist thing of, well, I have black friends. They should just be your friends. Why do you gotta call them black? I have black friends. The moment somebody says that to be, I always know. I'm like, Oh yeah, you're racist. I mean, it's like the dog. It's like, that's the racist dog, right? Yeah. That's the tell, right? If you start, are you telling me the story? Like, I dated a black girl. Once you can date somebody out of your race and still be racist, this is where we fall into these fallacy moments. You know, race is not a prop. It's not about this thing that you can just prop up and say, I have a black friend, you know, I would rather my friend say, I have a friend named Anthea who, you know, I love and I care about. And you know, we do things together and we hang out and you know, we're really good for each other and blah, blah, blah. I mean, if that's the first thing you think about me, then, you know... I present as an African American woman, I'm proud of my heritage. I know who I am. But if the first thing you get to tell me, when you meet me, is this, then yeah. That's a problem, right?

Singh:
Yeah. But talk to me a little bit about this idea of intention, right? Like we said, I'm a well-intentioned person. I've no racism in my heart.

Butler:
You can be well-intentioned and be racist. I mean, I think this is where I want to challenge you and say, this is not about feelings.
This is about the facts. I mean, well-intentioned doesn't mean crap to me. I mean, you know, well-intentioned could get me killed. You know, this is where I think we have to push back in America and start thinking about, you know, people like --Well, I'm nice to black people. I just --no, no. What are you doing about the system? What are you doing? Just, you know, take down the structure that's killing people when we say black lives matter. And we're trying to think about what the police is doing and to think about excessive police force and excessive violence to think about, you know, the kinds of verbal violence that we receive every day on Twitter from the man who's supposed to be leading this country. You know --I've done more for black people than anybody else -- for real dude, like, stop lying. We know you haven't. It's okay. You don't even have to put up that show. We don't care. We know what your record has been, you know? So it's that well-intentioned thing, or I'm gonna make you feel good, no. This is what I tell my students all the time -- stop the feeling crap and start really looking at what you're doing.

Singh:
Hmm. Yeah. It reminds me of that Angela Davis quote we started with -- in a racist society, it's not enough to be non-racist.

Butler:
Yeah. Yeah. It's not, it's not enough to just be a nice racist.

Singh:
Okay. So we have a question from Claire. She asks if you can talk about the history of the weaponization of race in evangelical moral campaigns, such as an abortion.

Butler:
Yeah. Well, this is one of these big ones that I actually have an article about -- that was in a volume in 2015. And I can put that up on Twitter after we get done. One of the things that they've done is that, you know -- the abortion campaign is basically say, well, black people, you know, have been aborting babies, and don't you want to live. And this Moffett 21 campaign that happened a few years ago, this actually starts back up way back in the twenties and thirties. And I'm forgetting her name right now -- I just can't remember the mother who does all the you know -- why, why can I think about this off the top of my head? It's kind of a switch about birth control, but you know, the thing is -- is that I think these campaigns are about, you know, trying to get black people into the fold to prove the non racism, right? So it's not just about, you know, abortion because it's a two-sided thing. On the one side, they're going to say, you know, there's all these black unwed mothers where we know that these numbers have gone down tremendously, and then the other side is -- but they're killing babies, right? So this is not about black people. It's about really trying to use more arguments to put forth what they want to put forward. And I think you have to look past what they're saying, to say how this benefits then can they fundraise off of this? Yes. Can they get, you know, spokespeople to help them fundraise? Yes. You need to look at what's going on underneath because all of these racial lies -- abortion campaigns are about fundraising and continuing to promote whiteness.

Singh:
Thank you. Thank you, Anthea. And, you know, I just want to say, it's such a gift to have you. I just got a text from a friend who said that you were a whole ass prayer, probably sums it up. This conversation has been illuminating. I mean, I know that I'm supposed to be the host and the expert, but really I'm along for the ride and really grateful to have to have your guidance here. And I'm thankful to all of you who have joined us for our first episode, as we all go on this journey together to become less racist and anti-racist... And yeah, I don't even have enough words to say how thankful I am, especially in this moment where so many of us are thinking about our own complicity, in the racial inequities in America and trying to think about what we can do about that both personally and socially. So thank you Anthea, for being our guide here, especially as we talk about whiteness and white supremacy.

Our next episode will be on Thursday at 11:30 Eastern standard time. I'll speak with the esteemed Princeton University Professor and MSNBC commentator, Eddie Glaude, and we'll be talking about the history and legacy of anti-black violence in America. And like today, we'll try to learn as much as we can about what racist violence has looked like in this country. And, we'll also try to learn what we can do about it. So, thank you all. Take care of yourselves, and see you on Thursday.