This was originally posted on August 12, 2019
This week’s news from America. Where to begin? When will it end?
The President of the United States is a racist who incites racist violence. Republicans have been slow to condemn the President and are not likely to pass a complete ban on assault weapons and to make those currently in circulation illegal.
After reading a speech condemning hate speech and gun violence that he obviously didn’t write, the President scheduled a round-up of brown people working in chicken-packing factories in Mississippi to coincide with his unsympathetic visits to the cities of Dayton and El Paso, where two recent mass killings by assault weapons occurred. The next morning, we were greeted by images of little children coming home from school in small towns in Mississippi to find their parents missing. We were told that none of the surviving victims of the El Paso shooting wanted to meet the President.
This is not the America I want. But it is the America that many Americans seem to want. I would like to think that women as a group reject the President and his agenda. Sadly, this is not true.
In a recent opinion piece in The New York Times, Sahil Chinoy discussed the demographics—including race, education, sex, wealth, and religion that contribute to the great divisions in American politics. Studies show that race, not sex, is the greatest predictor of whether a person supports the Republicans or the Democrats: black people–especially black women–are likely to vote Democratic while whites are split down the middle, with white men being somewhat more likely to vote Republican than white women. Race and racism do not always coincide but, the President is encouraging his supporters in their white supremacist attitudes and beliefs.
Religion is the second most important factor, with those who say religion is important in their lives being likely to vote Republican. Breaking this down further, older white male religious Protestants who live in the South are the most likely to support the Republicans. Chinoy does not mention that with liberal Protestantism and liberation Catholicism in decline, those who consider themselves religious are increasingly conservative.
Women as a group are about evenly divided between the two parties, but seventy per cent of young women of all races choose the Democrats, while fifty-seven per cent of unmarried women of all ages and races favor the Democrats. There is hope.
Studies have also shown that many Republicans have attitudes described as “hostile sexism.” People holding these views believe that traditional sex roles are just fine and that attempts of create equality between men and women go too far. These statistics suggest that a very large group of married white women are willing to accept male domination in exchange for traditional promises of economic support and protection. These married white women are likely to blame the victims of male sexual abuse and rape for being in the wrong place at the right time. They proudly support a President who has shown in word and deed that he does not support them.
These white married women continue to believe that “if they play their cards right.” they will be supported and protected by men. They believe that divorce happens only to women who refuse to put men first—until it happens to them. Then they discover that even “good” wives can be discarded for a younger woman. Then they discover that women who have been out of the workforce do not find good jobs, that child support is not always adequate and not always paid, and that divorced women struggle to provide for themselves and their children. But until it happens to them, they close their eyes.
Lyndon B. Johnson once said to Bill Moyers:
If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.
Johnson was describing the cunning of rich white men who use racism to keep the poor white men they are exploiting through low wages and poor working conditions on their side. This “devil’s bargain” has also been offered to white women. Johnson’s words might be paraphrased:
If you can convince a white married woman that she is better than every single person of color and better than women who are not married, she will accept your power over her. Hell, if you can give her somebody to look down upon, she will stand up for you even when you rape and abuse her.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the mainline liberal white Protestant churches attempted to dismantle the white supremacist myth through a different interpretation of the Bible. Many white Christians heard Martin Luther King’s call to find a message of “black and white together” in the scripture. Johnson would not have been able to sign the civil rights bill without the support of mainline white Protestants who listened to their ministers preach a different way.
My father was one of those who left the church when the minister began to preach about civil rights. Though he was not an active white supremacist, my father accepted white supremacy. He could not tolerate the idea that white people or government policies and laws were responsible for black people’s inequality. He preferred to believe that black people had not worked as hard as his ancestors did to rise out of poverty.
My mother would not have stopped going to church because the minister was preaching about civil rights. But whether she accepted them or not, my mother did not challenge my father’s views. In fact, when I stayed up late one night arguing about poverty and racism with my father, she told me never to speak about those subjects again or I would not be welcome in her home.
I do not know what my mother thought about my father’s views. What she did know was that there would be no peace in the home if anyone challenged him. What she did know was that she did not want divorce.
If you can convince a white woman that to challenge her husband’s views will end her marriage, you have sold her the devil’s bargain, whether she realizes it or not.
Today instead of challenging the bargains white people have made with the devil, the churches white people choose to attend reinforce them. The good news is that time is not on their side. White Republicans tend to be older than the population as a whole. White women who are not married favor the Democrats, while white married women with college education are also moving left. The bad news is that there are still a lot of white male supremacists–male and female–and they are doing a great deal of harm.
BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.
“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” — Carol P. Christ