Simran Jeet Singh:
Hi everyone. Thank you for joining our program, “Becoming Less Racist: Lighting the Path to Anti-Racism.” I’m your host Simran Jeet Singh, and I’m so delighted to be joined today by Dr. Khyati Joshi, a scholar, a social justice activist, and author of the new book — I’ll show you — “White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America.” And I’ve been pouring through this book this week, and I have to say it so illuminating and refreshing. And it’s easily digestible and we’ll talk more about it shortly. and I’m really excited to do that with Dr. Joshi, but before we start, I just want to give you a word on the program. Our vision is to offer two things that we believe the world needs badly right now. First we want to offer you insight into what’s actually going on with racism and that’s what each particular episode focuses on an aspect of racism and helps take us through it.
As James Baldwin so beautifully stated, if I love you, I have to make you conscious of the things you don’t see. The other thing we hope to do here is to receive guidance from our expert guests on how to move forward from just understanding racism, into taking action. And this may come in different forms.
It may come as wisdom on how to grapple with the racist ideas embedded within ourselves, or it may come as guidance on actions that we can take to address the racism all around us. At the end of the day, what we’re really hoping to do is move our ideas into action. So Dr. Khyati Joshi is here to help us with that today.
And I’m really grateful for her. She’s a professor of education at Fairleigh Dickinson University and a founder of the Institute for Teaching Diversity and Social Justice. And she’s also the author of this new book, “White Christian Privilege.” And, actually I first reached out to her, after asking people online who they would like to hear talk about whiteness as it pertains to South Asian experiences.
And Dr. Joshi’s name came up multiple times and we’d met last year and I thought it would be a fun conversation. So I ordered her book and started reading it this week, and about halfway through, I emailed her and said — You know what? We can talk about South Asian experiences another time. We have to talk about your book right now, because I was just learning so much from it.
So, so that’s how we got here. It’s a great book. I recommend it to all of you and Dr. Joshi, thank you so much for writing it and sharing it with us. And I’m excited for all of us to get the chance to learn from you. How’s everything on your end. How are you doing?
I’m doing all right. I’m doing all right.Simran, thank you so much for having me. I’ve been looking forward to this conversation and I’m so thankful for the work you do and the public space you occupy and have occupied for some time. I think you are really providing, you’re shedding light on some of the issues that often don’t get a focus.
And so I’m really appreciative of being on the show and having this conversation.
Oh, thank you. That means a lot. It means a lot coming from you and yeah, it really does. I really appreciate that. I want to jump in, you know, I typically start the program by asking people about their personal experiences with racism.
But I want to change that up a bit here and just dive right in because there, there’s so many ideas in your book that I think are helpful. And the first one I want us to explore is the idea of privilege, because it can be an of -putting term to some people. It can, it can make people feel like you’re attacking them or putting them on the defensive. But it seems to have some utility for you in this book. And so could you help us understand what you mean by the idea of privilege?
Absolutely. And people do have a very strong, negative reaction, many people, to the concept of privilege, and privileges are unearned assets.
So, if we’re talking about white privilege or male privilege or Christian privilege, these are advantages that someone of that identity and of that group has that other folks don’t have. And while this group has advantages, other groups have disadvantages. So here’s what happens — where people are often used to hearing the term, disadvantaged groups.
Right? We sometimes use that language, to talk about racial minorities. And the thing is, if we’re talking about disadvantaged groups, there are advantaged groups, right? We have not been, kind of socially conditioned to talk that way, to think that way. So people hear white privilege, for example, and think, no, no.
You’re, you know, do you know how hard I’ve worked? I’ve come across folks in my workshops and things where a working class, poor person will be like, what do you mean I have, you’re telling me I have privilege, do you know what I’ve experienced? We’re all have someone who’s Jewish who, say, you know, I experienced anti-Semitism.
You can’t tell me that I have white privilege. And I say to them, well, actually you have white privilege and you experience anti-Semitism, right? You don’t have Christian privilege. So we have to be able to kind of dissect our identities. We live our multiple identities all the time. And the final thing I’ll say about privilege is that, it has nothing to do with you.
Like folks who have white privilege, you didn’t do a darn thing to ask for it, but you have it. Why? Because it’s a product of systemic racism. So if we get a better understanding of systemic racism or systemic religious oppression, we can then better understand white privilege and Christian privilege and white Christian privilege.
Yeah, I thought, I thought that was such a smart aspect of your book. And I think, you know, it’s, it’s true for me in the justice spaces that I’ve worked in, that, you know, we focus on the oppressions and the forms of discrimination. And it’s almost like you’re fighting the fires so actively, that you never really stepped back and look at what the larger system is.
And I think one of the shifts that we’re seeing in the last few years is that people are thinking about systems in a different way, but I haven’t seen someone connect the dots in the way you have. And I thought privilege, or at least the what you, what you talk about in your book in terms of focusing on the advantages, which, what you just talked about momentarily, what it really did for me was, was it flipped the question and said, you know, we, instead of focusing on those who are disadvantaged, let’s look at the systems that have been produced. I just want to read a quote from your, this has the nerd in me, but as soon as you were talking, I was like, I remember exactly what you said, where I was like, Oh, that makes perfect sense.
So you said social justice approach — here, I’ll hold it up so people can see the cover — the social justice approach focuses beyond individual experiences to recognize the structural dynamic of both the advantaged and disadvantaged. More succinctly examining society with a social justice mindset means acknowledging that for every down there must be an up.
The advantaged group or identity: it took decades for the scholarship and popular dialogue on racism to go beyond looking at how Blacks and others are targeted for racial discrimination and to focus on whiteness and white privilege, the built in advantages that members of the nation’s historic majority enjoy whether they want them or not.
And I thought, you know, I was reading that and I was like, it was such an aha moment for me because, both as a scholar and as an activist, and then also as somebody who is thinking and dealing with discrimination as an individual on a personal level, you get so distracted by the disadvantages and the victimization and the pain that you forget to say, Oh, well, if we really want to dismantle this, we have to understand what’s going on and how it’s produced.
And so I, yeah, I, I thought that was really interesting and really smart. And then there was this, this other connection there that you, that you really made that up was powerful, which came in terms of religious privilege. And it’s something that some of us are starting to think about a little bit more.
But I don’t know many folks who have done so in the depth you have. So can you help us talk through and think through the conceptions of Christian privilege — that’s not a term we typically talk about. Right? And so, so what is Christian privilege and what does it look like?
So, Christian privilege refers to the everyday advantages that folks who either identify as Christian or grew up as Christian, have in the United States.
And I’m having, this whole book is about, you know, everything within US culture and society. The concept up disadvantage advantage, right, it comes from actually the work of Paolo Freire in his book, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And what I really like about this framework is that it can be used around the world.
Right? So, but I’m, we’re having this conversation vis a vis, the United States. So Christian privilege is about the everyday advantages that Christian folks have and simultaneously the disadvantages that religious minorities and those who are freethinkers, atheist, agnostic, don’t have. Right? And then I bring in other terms also — Christian normativity and Christian hegemony to talk about a bias and privilege at our different levels of society, because so many of the topics around -isms, like racism, sexism, that are really seen, Simran, right at the individual level day to day.
And we have to show how it’s part of our, kind of in the oxygen that we breathe, you know. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a psychologist, talks about racism as the smog in the air. It’s just there, you know, we’re gonna, we’re breathing it. We have to be able to see it. And then Christian hegemony, you know, very highfaluting academic term, but really what it’s getting at is how, Christianity is embedded in our social and legal structures.
It’s there in Supreme Court decisions and immigration policy. But the thing is, we don’t see it because it’s so pervasive, to the point where it’s invisible. And the goal, my goal, with this book has made is to make the invisible visible.
So if you’re just joining us, this is Dr. Khyati Joshi. She is the author of a new book called “White Christian Privilege.”
And we’re talking about the ways in which religious privilege functions in the American context, and you know, what, what you just said about religious privilege being so hard to see because it’s so deeply embedded in our society — can you, can you explain to me what that, how, how does that work? That something is more difficult to see because, it’s what it’s, it’s, it’s part of your everyday experience? It’s part of your culture and your society? What, what does that mean?
Yeah, it’s all of the above of what you just said, Simran. So for example, the way this looks in law is that, for those who are listening, who might be familiar and, and watching, for those who are familiar with the field of critical race theory, right?
It is, I’m using that framework. The way I explain it to my students is, we want to see the underbelly of the law. We want to see the impact of the law, not just what is written on paper. So, we’ve had immigration laws in this country’s history that have actually restricted the number of non-Protestants, essentially, coming to this country.
That’s not what the law says, but it’s the impact of the law. Okay. Now a very everyday example. I was sitting in my English class one day. And I didn’t do so well in English class. I never read any book in high school except for Night by Ellie Weisel, which is also one of the reasons I do what I do — but my English teacher said something, we were learning similes and metaphors and those things, and she said something. And she’s like, you know, the story of the Good Samaritan blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Well, no, I didn’t know the story of the Good Samaritan. I’m Hindu. I didn’t go to Vacation Bible School and go to Sunday school, but it was said as if everybody would know what she was talking about. And I certainly was not about to raise my hand and say, what is Good Samaritan story? I don’t know what that is. Right? So it comes out in everyday language and really like, many Christian theological principles underlie, some of the foundational beliefs and ideals of this country. And sometimes it’s just about recognizing that and understanding that it’s not universal. When you’re a part of the dominant group, it’s very easy to think, oh, some of these things are just universal. But they’re not.
Yeah, there, there are multiple things I want to say about that. I think the first is, there, there was this moment in your book where you talked about your, your friend Suha, I think was his name, high school soccer player who, who was benched or at least he wasn’t able to start because he didn’t, he didn’t kneel for the Lord’s Prayer. And, and it took me back to my own childhood. I had the exact same experience, except I didn’t push back, you know, our high school soccer team, public school, we knelt before every game and did the Lord’s Prayer. And, you know, I still have it memorized and, like that, never heard it before that for a moment. But it never occurred to me.
I mean, I hadn’t thought about it in years and I read that story and I was like, Oh yeah, it was like, it seems so normal, I guess. I guess that’s part of the point, right? It’s, we use the language of normalizing now, to the point that you, you dismiss it and you say, Oh, it’s, you know, even as kids, it’s not a big deal, right?
Pledge of Allegiance, and you say under God, and you know, you say it a hundred times and you say 500 times, and you say it a thousand times, it doesn’t matter anymore at some point. I guess your point is it does matter. And so this is, this is where I want to talk through a little bit with you.
Why does it matter? What is the impact — you know, you’re talking about the underbelly — what is it, the impact that white Christian privilege has on people in this country?
Well, it’s different based on who you are. So, you know, if you’re Christian, it actually impacts you. Sometimes you don’t even know it.
It strengthens your beliefs, you are a part of what’s normal. It provides reason to oppress people in this country. And it affects religious minorities in a way where people doubt their own faith. People, especially children and adolescents, will, doubt who they are, look down on their own religion.
I certainly did that. I think Monday through Friday, I did that, and I say that because I grew up with a strong Indian American Hindu community, thankfully, in Atlanta, Georgia. So I was proud to be Indian American. I was proud of my religious background, but Monday through Friday, Simran, I, I would have done anything to literally be white and Christian, you know, because it was brutal sometimes in middle school and even high school. And so, an atheist, our friends who are atheist and agnostic, it affects them in a different way because many of them may not even want to talk about Christian privilege. They would say, as you mentioned earlier, we have religious privilege.
The idea of religion is privileged over not having, right. So it actually impacts people in different ways and we’re gonna, this is important to reckon with, because it affects people’s lives and it affects relationships with friends and colleagues. It affects relationships with family. It’s real. It’s very real stuff.
Yeah. I’m thinking again about the way that privilege works in almost… I’m thinking a lot about what you said earlier in terms of how it could be that something is so prevalent to make us unable to see it. And I’m thinking about male privilege now, because I think that’s, that’s the trick of privilege and, and, you know, for me, and it’s, it’s kind of embarrassing to admit this, but I didn’t really even think about male privilege seriously until I had, until I had daughters. And, and, and, you know, we, we all know in this space, at least we talk about, you shouldn’t have to think about your, your wife or your mother or your kids in order to, in order to care. But I mean, that, that was my experience. Like that’s what it took.
And, and all of a sudden, you know, my daughter was born and it kinda hit me like a, like a ton of bricks — that all of a sudden it has a personal impact in a different way. And so, yeah, that’s, that’s kind of the way that privilege functions. Let me say this before I ask you, I have so many more questions that I, I want to share you with our guests as well.
So if you have questions, feel free to leave them in the, in the comment section and we’ll try to get to them. In the meanwhile, I’m going to continue hogging Dr. Joshi’s brilliant brain. So, okay — here’s, here’s what I want to know. The first half or so of your book, you do this brilliant weaving, I think, brilliant weaving of history in telling the story of how Christian privilege is tied to white privilege and the ways in which Christianity is used to create American racism and white supremacy.
So here’s, here’s what I want to know — why is it that when we talk about white supremacy in America, why is it that we never talk about religion, really? Right? Like it’s, it’s usually exclusive to race. Religion never really enters the question. So, so where does, where does Christianity fit in and why don’t we, why don’t we usually see that?
So, social justice circles, white privilege, racism, all these things, come out of, let’s say, you know, a lot of the stuff that we’re dealing with now comes out of movements of the ’60s, of ethnic studies and Black studies and everything. And religion was really seen as, an opiate of the masses, right?
And folks who are progressive. who were raised Christian, or identify with Christian, were often embarrassed to say that, because Christianity has been oppressive, as have many other religions also. And so the idea of being religious and being for social justice almost is an oxymoron and they are mutually exclusive categories unfortunately, today. And we can’t continue that way. I mean, there is a progressive religious left in all faiths, and we’ve got to be able to recognize and see that. So I think that’s one of the reasons that religion has been left out of the conversation.
Another reason is that because we don’t learn about religion in public schools, because of this, you know, error that religion shouldn’t be in schools because of two Supreme Court cases in the ’60s — listen, government was trying to take sacred reading of Bible and prayer out of schools, it wasn’t taking religion out of school. Although the conservative Christian movement, basically said, you know, government is taking religion out of schools and everybody bought it, unfortunately.
And so, because we didn’t learn about religion in school, Simran, people aren’t comfortable having these conversations. They don’t know enough, they know that religion is sensitive. And so people just kind of want nothing to do with it. Right? So that’s another reason these conversations aren’t happening. What I will say is that where we are seeing a conversations about Christianity and whiteness are really only regarding evangelicals, you know? It was now about a month ago since Trump came out and waved the Bible in front of St. John’s, you know, and I mean, and all the commentary since then has been about evangelical this and racism within the church.
That is important. However, my book and the work I’ve been doing is a broader conversation. So my, instead of focusing only on looking at racism within the church, predominantly in a Black-white context, I’m looking at the role of Christianity in the construction of whiteness, in the construction of white supremacy and that effects, that conversation actually involves many, many more people.
Right. I think, I think that’s, as I was reading your book, I was, you know, I asked myself this question often and it comes up with pretty much every guest we’ve had on the show so far. And as I was reading your book, one of the things I was that that was in my head was, it’s hard to talk about the ways in which religion and racism intersect because there are so many dots to connect there. I mean, your work and, you know, I was writing a review of the book and I used the term tour de force. You have to do so much to work in order to understand what’s actually going on. And the moment that you… I mean, a lot of the ways in which we study this stuff in the academy is we do case studies, right?
Like, this is how religious privilege affects the Sikh community or the Muslim community, and to do the work of synthesizing all that is, I mean, it’s intense and, and outside of scholarship, like how do you, how do you do that? And so that’s, that’s why I really appreciated your book and felt like I hadn’t seen something like that.
And now having said that I’m going to make you do a little bit of work for us. So if you would, we’ve talked a bit about the role that Christianity has played in shaping white supremacy and whiteness. Could you help us understand what that looks like? I think people understand that in theory. It’s so hard to, to sort of trace a line through that that helps us see how this works in reality.
So, so what does it look like? What do we mean when we say Christianity has played a role in shaping whiteness?
Well, sure. So, let’s go back in time to the 1790s. Okay, and I’m gonna do a quick overview to answer your question. So, in the 1790s, we have a naturalization act where Congress declared you had to be a free white man of good moral character to be a citizen of this country. You know, I know that when I first learned that, I was like, are we sure that this? Like, I wasn’t exposed to that until I was in my late twenties when I was in graduate school. And yet it seemed so important, partially because I’m a naturalized citizen. And so I could relate to it.
And I found myself, like, I might’ve thought differently about social studies and history if these elements have been included, you know, and it is US history. So we have that. Now fast forward to the 14th Amendment, 1868 and, the Naturalization Act of 1870, where African Americans get the right to citizenship.
Now what’s interesting here is that during this time, there were conversations and we know this from primary source documents, a shout out to all my historian friends and colleagues, couldn’t do this work without the work y’all have done. And we know that there was the concern about African Americans getting the right to citizenship, but what some of the documents reveal is that, well, you know what, but at least they’ve accepted Christ.
We cannot let the China man or the Indian, Native Americans, get citizenship. Why? Well, one of the main reasons was they were heathens. They were not Christian. They had not accepted Christ. So we see, again, the linkages, there was issues of whiteness, and linkages of, of Protestant Christianity coming in.
Two immigration acts that are really so interesting to me are the Immigration Act of 1917 and the Immigration Act of ’24. And both of these, let’s be clear, if all the viewers go and check out these acts, you will see religion, no where written in the law. Indeed, it can’t be there because we have First Amendment, freedom of religion, First Amendment and everything that goes with that.
The Immigration Act of 1917 basically closed off immigrants coming to the United States from most of Asia. So that’s a pretty large chunk of the planet, Simran, you know, and the religious identities of these folk were Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, some case Jews, sometimes Christian, Jain, and so on. Right. And then Immigration Act of 1924 really curtailed immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Now it did let some people in. The way I describe it is, think of a door that’s a little open, you know, when you would kind of stick your shoe in so that it doesn’t fully close. That’s the Immigration Policy of 1924 for people coming from Southern and Eastern Europe.
Now, who are those people in terms of religious backgrounds? Jewish, Catholic, Russian and Eastern Orthodox. So we can see here how whiteness and Protestant Christianity were again linked. Now those coming from Europe and folks who were, and you know, those who were Jewish and Catholic experienced a lot of discrimination in the United States.
Italians, Irish, Germans, you know, less so Germans, they experienced a lot of discrimination. However, they were allowed to be citizens. So while they were socially excluded, they were legally included, unlike Asians. Okay. And people coming from today known as the Middle East, back then known as greater Syria.
So this, through the lens of immigration, just til that point is one pathway to see the intricate relationship of whiteness and Christianity.
That’s great. That’s really helpful. And for those of you who appreciated that and found it insightful as I did, the book has many, many examples that sort of sort of trace the ways in which religion and race are interlinked in, in America.
If you’re just joining us or even if you’ve been here, let me invite you to, to write your questions into the comment area. I want to ask one more thing before I turn it over to other folks. And that is your, your usage of, of the optical illusion. I found that really helpful. And what you said was, enough delusion does two things.
It, it obfuscates reality and it, and it leads just to see something, it distorts whatever we’re actually looking at. And so I’d like for you to just talk through what you mean by optical illusion, as it pertains to religion and race in America.
Sure. Well, in terms of religion, you know, folks believe that, well, we have freedom of religion.
It’s there enshrined in the First Amendment. So, oh, all religions can, you know, can be practiced freely. Well, that’s not entirely true. Right? And because people believe that it’s in the First Amendment, people just think, therefore it’s reality. And it prevents us from seeing the fact that some houses of worship, i.e. churches are able to be built, and other houses of worship, like mandirs, Hindu temples, and mosques, and gurdwaras and synagogues, face opposition. You know, so that’s one example of how the optical illusion prevents us from seeing what’s happening in our own communities and neighborhoods.
And in terms of race, I think folks, especially in light of the murder of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, you know, we are seeing a bit more of awakening and understanding that while our founding documents laid out these amazing egalitarian and principles , we’re still working on perfecting this union, right? We’re still working on perfecting it and that we still have a long ways to go. And it’s going to need to start with actually learning real United States history so that we have an understanding of what’s going on today.
Yeah, I appreciate that.
And I want to jump to, as you say that there’s a question from, from Russell Marsh who asks about, about what it looks like to teach. He asks, how can we use white Christian privilege, to interrogate curriculum and its impact?
Well, it’s, gosh, there’s I think so many ways to think about it. It’s about what’s considered, you know, sometimes we talk about the Protestant work ethic, you know, and well, what does that mean? And then it’s seen as universal, but wait a minute. There’s others of us who have other ways to describe it and things that could be more meaningful. You can’t escape white Christian privilege when we’re talking about language. And I’m especially thinking about ESL students and English language learners, and what’s considered proper English, even with other racial minorities.
And why is that proper English and where did we get it and how did it become defined so? You know, and really understanding, and there’s so much, we need to decolonize about K-12 education. So those are some of the places I would start.
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great, it’s a great response. And it makes me think about — you, you made this comment earlier about, you know, your teacher referring to Christian texts and assuming people would know. And I, and it’s made me think about what is it that I was reading, in, in classes, which, you know, as you’re confessed, you weren’t really reading and in your high school classes. But what, what were we assigned as, as part of the class?
Exactly, exactly. That’s right. That’s right. What are we assigned? What’s considered standard? What’s considered required? Versus what’s an elective? You know, someday, Simran, the history that’s in this book and the history that’s in so many people’s, you know, books they’ve written is going to be US history and not called multicultural US history.
That’s what I’m, that’s one way to see we’ve made it.
But yeah, it’s such an, it’s such an interesting point because the, who, who is included in a philosophy department, for example. Like who, who has philosophy and are. In our conception of philosophy? It’s Western Europeans, right? We have a Greek philosophy, Roman, you know, there’s such thing as Indian philosophy, but you won’t find it in a philosophy department.
There’s such thing as Chinese and Japanese philosophy, those aren’t there.
It’s called that and it’s labeled accordingly and it’s an elective if you want to take it.
Right. And then it’s marginalized. Right. And it ends up in the margin. So it’s, it’s so interesting. This morning, I was having a conversation, my daughter four-year-old, and she we’re learning about planets.
And so we’re, we were reading about the names of the planets and, Neptune, as I learned in talking to her, Neptune is, you know, the Roman God. And so we were, we were looking up and reading about it. And I was trying to think of what it would look like for me or not even what it was — how, how should I engage her in thinking about cultural difference in a way that is not marginalizing? So at the same time, knowing that Roman mythology and history will be at the center of her own learning, and at the same time, her having her own convictions and, and, you know, as, as a Sikh girl and having to understand, like having to negotiate that, you know, we don’t believe the same things.
This is not our God. And so, yeah, it was really interesting kind of thing, but it, but it made me think a lot about your, your argument in the book about what religious equality and religious pluralism would actually look like compared to what we have right now.
So anyway, it was, it was just a, it was a fun conversation, but also, you know, parenting is really scary like that because the stakes seem higher.
Well, the stakes are very high and I’m, you know, I’m thrilled to know that the book, you know, it resonated with you on that level. I mean, that’s what I’m going for. That’s why there are personal stories, you know, I let my parents know I was going to be sharing some things in my own family. I was going to be sharing some things.
Because that, this is real, this book is both a professional and personal project for me, you know, it’s not just an academic project. This is about real life issues.
Yeah. Yeah, I appreciate that. And, and it comes through and, I, I have to admit, so I read part of it as, as the audio version, because yeah, ‘cause I was chasing around the kids over the week.
But yeah, I wish I wish it was in your voice because yeah, it would have been, it would have been, even more personal. Let me, let me jump to a question from Meagan, you know, speaking about this sort of multicultural piece. What country, and I would say, what, what culture, what society, what community, would you point to, as the best example of religious equality and multiculturalism?
Well, I think first of all, we have to think about, well, what are you meaning by, you know, by best country? I mean, religious pluralism looks differently in the United States versus Canada, versus, for example, Australia versus India. First thing we have to do is look at, you know, make sure we’re talking about, secular democracies.
You know, it’s not, it’s difficult to have a conversation about US and Saudi Arabia, and talk about, religious pluralism and the social justice approach, which I use. And I think that, you know, for example, Canada has a federal policy on multiculturalism, so it highlights things in a different way. England, what’s the word I’m looking for? Kind of center stages, if you will, religion in a way that we don’t here in the United States, you know? So it does look different at different places. And I think in all of those countries that I named, what we have to do is look at issues of privilege and power.
And that’s why I talk about having a social justice approach versus just religious pluralism. Religious — I can’t even say it. Religious pluralism is important. It’s looking at religious diversity, but it’s not enough to look at all the different religious groups that are present in our country.
They’re not on equal footing and that has to be taken into account.
Yeah, that’s, that’s a great point. And I think this is where I thought this social justice lens was really helpful in your book. You know, that there are even your, your point earlier about impact, right? As opposed to intention — what’s, what’s the impact that these laws have on people?
It’s not the kind of question we typically ask ourselves, but what we have to. So I appreciate that. Let me, let me pull up another question from Meagan, that, that lines up pretty well with, with this question of power and privilege. How do Black and Latino Christians fit into white Christian privilege?
And let me just point to her numbers. She gives from Pew — 79% of Black Americans, 77% of Latinos, 70% of white Americans and 34% of Asian Americans are Christian. And so there, there is some complexity when we’re thinking about the intersection of race and religion. And so, and so what did, what do we mean by Christian privilege when it comes to those communities?
Well, that’s a great question. Thanks, Meagan. And that’s why sometimes I’ll say we’re talking Christian privilege and sometimes we’re talking white Christian privilege, because the racial minority groups you lay out, who are Christian have Christian privilege, although then within the larger framework of white supremacy, they don’t have racial privilege.
Right? And so that’s where it starts getting muddied. I mean, look, take the example of prayer. Right? And I talk about this in my book. I have a chapter on everyday Christian privilege and I talk about prayer. Well, think about how usually it’s depicted, how people pray and where they pray. They’re sitting quietly in a chair, you know, hands, cross, head bowed, baby, you know, that’s depicted as the normal way of praying.
Well, first of all, there’s Christian privilege there because that’s not how I pray when I’m at the mandir, when I’m at the Hindu temple. But then we also have to bring in the race element. Because prayer in a Black Christian Church looks different than white Christian churches. Prayers in a Hispanic Christian Church, which may be in Spanish, look different than the way it looks in a white Christian Church.
And so, both of those sets have to be acknowledged.
That’s great. I think that’s, that’s really interesting. And it brings up another — your, your entire book, brought up a bunch of embarrassing memories for me, in, in unpacking my own internalized ideas. But it, but it reminded me of this one that I haven’t really admitted to anyone before, I don’t think, of what I thought God looked like when I was growing up. And so of course, like, of course on the one hand, you would imagine that my conception of God would be informed by me being of Punjabi descent, you know, South Asian family, Sikh teachings, like, you know, God would look very different, but, you know, when I was a kid at my babysitter’s house, she would have the televangelists on TV, after the Price is Right or whatever, whenever she watched. And I, I didn’t know, like I thought he was God, and that’s what I, you know, Joel Osteen lookalike kind of. Right? And so in my head, God was a white man.
And it’s just so, it’s just so like, normal, right? So on the, on the one hand, that’s just like, of course, of course that’s what I think God would look like. And on the other hand — Why? Why would I think God should look like that? So, yeah, it’s a really interesting…
Can I ask you a question about that? First of all, I really appreciate you sharing with everyone, but you know, that you made that connection, but then how you felt. And could you say a little bit more, Simran, when you started realizing that you had internalized, this is what God looked like, and you started gaining that awareness –like, well, I thought that, why did I think that, but this is really what I think it is — what did that feel like for you?
Yeah, it’s a good, it’s a good question. It was, it was almost like a… so, so in the Sikh tradition, and this is what I was learning as I was growing, so this was, it was really young when I started internalizing this idea, I was probably five or six, right?
Like it was, it was very early. And as I started learning about Sikh teachings and, you know, Sunday Punjabi school, and learned that in our tradition, we don’t have a physical form of divinity — yeah, it was, it was like somebody pulled the rug out from underneath me. I was like, well, what about that guy?
What about the guy who’s on TV? He was sitting on a leather chair and had a bookshelf behind him with like leather books. And I thought that’s what heaven looked like. And they were like, we don’t talk about heaven in Sikhism. That was like, I don’t know, it’s on TV.
But it totally felt like someone had… yeah. I don’t know, like, like, pulled out the rug from underneath me. I’m just like, I just, I just fell on my ass, so it was really embarrassing. Right?
And so when that happens as a child or as a young adult or even older, you know, then there’s ways people end up behaving, right, because they feel like, wow, how could I have thought this? And then it leads to feelings of an embarrassment or shame or anger, all kinds of things come up. So you showed us right there with that story, again, how real this stuff is.
Yeah. Yeah, totally. Totally. And we have this question from Drew. I think it’s — is that Drew? Yes, Drew Baker. There’s two questions, both of which I love. I’m going to start with the second one first. Why do you think we have compact terms in English like racism and sexism, but no equivalent for religion?
I think that people didn’t want to go there, in a nutshell. You know, I use the phrase and we’ve been using, when I say we, in social justice education, we’ve been using the phrase religious oppression, which is a mouthful, you know?
But to talk about religion-ism, I guess somebody could have tried to talking about that. And if somebody did, it didn’t catch on. I think that, religion is something so personal for those who believe it, that the idea that it could cause harm, it does cause harm, people don’t want to go there. So in a nutshell, I think that’s why.
Yeah, I think, I think that’s really interesting. As we’re seeing the ways in which religious freedom, which might be the closest equivalent, the way that that’s been interpreted diversely, maybe that’s a kind way of saying it, right — even, even, even Secretary Pompeo’s, you know, thing that came out yesterday around, around religion, I mean, it’s, it shows how complicated and personal it really is. And so it’s, it is very difficult to talk about it. And I think that might lead us into Drew’s other question. Why do you think religious studies as a field has generally failed to theorize about religious privilege and hegemony as concepts?
Well, I would answer that question differently around religious privilege versus Christian privilege. So, I mean, it’s, the field of religious studies, so of course religion is going to be privileged. I guess the other piece of that question, the way I’m reading it, is that why hasn’t it been more intersectional?
And that’s a good question. And the reason I believe, in terms of race, that it’s not been intersectional is that most religious studies scholars don’t know how to talk about race. It was not part of their training. It was not part of their course of study. And it’s shocking, but, I know, and, but so blatant that that’s not the case. And now that’s changing and scholars out there are, are making change in the world of, in the field of religious studies.
But the short answer is, is they didn’t know, they don’t know how to talk about race. And we still have a lot of folks who don’t know how to talk about race, whether it’s religious studies or other departments, education, certainly, unfortunately, and so on.
Yeah, I was scrambling to find it in your book where you talk about that, because, because it was, it was this moment where you said it in the book, like what you said just now you, you say it pretty directly in the book and I encourage Drew and anyone else who’s interested in this question, I think, I think Khyati is right on point here. Yes, I think it’s true that scholars of religion don’t know how to talk about race. And I think they don’t know how to talk about race because they don’t have to. And historically, and even presently, the academy is so overwhelmingly white, that race hasn’t really affected anyone.
And so now, who are the folks who are doing that? It’s, it’s mostly scholars of color who are saying, you know, this is, this is not a matter of, of interest. This is a matter of life and death, right? This is affecting me and it’s affecting my family and it’s affecting the people I care about. I mean, I think that’s, for me, at least from what I saw in your book for you, Dr. Joshi, like that’s, that’s really where we come at this from a social justice perspective.
Yeah. And there are more of our white colleagues who are saying, wait, the way it was done is not okay and that we need to change it. You know? And I think for me, you know, it’s interesting being a scholar of race and religion and also being a racial and religious minority.
So these are very real issues. So it’s, you know, sometimes the topics are not valued in the department. And sometimes that gets conflated with who we are. Sometimes they’re able to separate. It gets all muddy, but I’m just, you know, sometimes I see wonderful edited volumes put out and race is nowhere in this volume around American religion.
And I’m thinking, like, how do publishers allow something like this? You know? But it’s just happened for so long. Tide is turning, but we’ve got to be looking at things more intersectionally because that’s reality.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s totally reality, and I think, the, the growth of, of the movement from, from the grassroots especially is, is a testament to that.
I want to thank you for all your time. This has been a great conversation and your book is so helpful in understanding how religious discrimination occurs from an advantage point that we don’t typically see or think about. Christian privilege is not something we often talk about, and it’s, it’s usually brushed underneath the surface.
Okay. So yeah, I, I, I love the book. I’m going to show it one more time for those who haven’t read it. It’s “White Christian Privilege: The Illusion of Religious Equality in America.” And yeah, I’m just so grateful to you for taking time with us today.
Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m thankful you’re having these conversations and I hope to see many, many, many more shows that you do.
Awesome. Well, thank you. And thank you all for joining us today as we’re on this journey together to become less racist. I’m grateful to have you as company and I’m hopeful that we all move together towards anti-racism. Next week, we’ll be back to speak with two amazing guests, Dr. Megan Goodwin on her new book, “Abusing Religion: Literary Persecution, Sex Scandals and American Minority Religions.” And we’ll also be with Jennifer Harvey, who has a New York Times bestseller, “Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America.” And like today, as with every day, we’ll try to learn as much as we can about what racism has looked like in this country and to learn what we can do about it.
So thank you all and take care.