The enduring effects of white supremacy in American culture

June 25, 2015

Dylann Roof, a white male with a white supremacist ideology, shot and murdered nine African-American Christians gathered for a Wednesday night bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal church—a historic African-American church in Charleston, S.C. This evil act supports that the sin and evil ideology of white supremacy still holds a grip on parts of American culture. The Charleston shooting is the recent, most violent expression of white supremacy in America. The constructs of race and racism are very complicated, but white supremacy is basically an ideology that believes the European/white race is biologically superior to the black/African-American race. White supremacy had its racist fangs in the ideology of American culture from this country’s beginning.

Thomas Jefferson, one of American’s founding fathers, believed that blacks have a natural inferiority to whites. In his day, Jefferson suggested that the black “race” was inferior to whites. In his Notes on the State of Virginia in the 1700s, Jefferson stated “I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” To be fair, Jefferson’s notes do not state that he believed his views of blacks were scientifically verifiable. It is clear, however, that he thought blacks were nevertheless inferior to whites. Jefferson is the same man who signed the Declaration of Independence, which affirmed that “all men are created equal.” He, along with many other founding fathers, embraced a white supremacist ideology that believed the white race was superior to the black race. But from where did the American construct of race and white supremacy come and why does current American culture both consciously and subconsciously continue to affirm this construct?

The English term “race” first referred to human beings as a term of classification in English literature in the 16thcentury. In the 18th century, the term “race” was applied broadly to the diverse populations of Native Americans, Africans and Europeans in England’s American colonies. In this historical context, the term “race” developed into a hierarchal ranking system, which reflected the dominant English attitudes toward the diverse groups of people. The conquered Indians were segregated from Europeans, exploited or expelled from their lands for new colonists. The enslavement of Africans and their offspring was eventually institutionalized in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. By then, many Africans were identified as property and sources of wealth.

In the 18th century, European scientists collected data and arranged materials about the newly discovered people in the New World, Asia, and Africa. Scientists like Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) and Johann Blumenbach (1752-1850) thought that different groups represented variants within a human species. As a result, they constructed “racial” categories based on skin color and other physical characteristics. However, their method often included anecdotal data from travelers, missionaries, merchants, and sailors instead of depending on hard science. Eventually, these descriptions and classifications of diverse people entered the learned communities in Europe and America, and these communities eagerly appropriated these classifications to folk ideas about human differences. Eighteenth century anti-slavery sentiments threatened the system of American slavery. Advocates of slavery developed new and stronger rationalizations for the institution than previous arguments by focusing on the slaves’ nature and by hyperbolically explaining the differences between Africans and Europeans. Defenders of slavery linked behavior with Negro biology and constructed a description of Africans that suggested they were innately wild, uncivilized, inferior to whites, and whose natural state was slavery (Audrey Smedley, “Race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

The earliest and most sustained arguments of black inferiority arose in this period. Edward Long, a Jamaican jurist and a plantation owner, and Charles White, an English physician, employed an ancient model of a racial taxonomy in order to argue for the natural inferiority of Africans. By the 19th century, as abolitionism increased, folk images of Indians and blacks as inherently inferior became increasingly popular. The scientific writings of Samuel Morton, a Philadelphia physician who collected and measured skulls, Louis Agassiz, a Harvard zoologist, Josiah Nott, an Alabama physician, and others within the scientific community identified the Negro as “a separate human species.” Scientific debates eventually emerged in the middle of the 19th century about the Negro’s place in nature. “On one side were polygenists who, using cranial measurements and archaeological measurements, asserted that blacks had been created separately and were a distinct species.” Using equally pseudo-scientific racism, monogenists argued for a single creation. Yet, they likewise maintained that Negros had degenerated. Both of these so-called scientific communities accepted an image of the Negro that was tantamount to distinctions within species. These racist classifications became widespread throughout Europe and America during the 18th-19th centuries (Audrey Smedley, “race,” Oxford Companion to United States History, 641).

In its modern form, then, white supremacy is a racist social construct that emerged in modernity in the 18th-19thcenturies, influenced by scientific racism—eventually called pseudo-science. The category of “race” as we use it today in America emerged out of this racist context. Those in the 18th-19th centuries basically defined race as fixed, immutable, determined, biological characteristics that classified a group as superior or inferior to others without allowing for individual differentiation within a particular group. An element of this modern race theory suggests that certain “races” are biologically more beautiful than other races. For example, in his Outline of the History of Mankind, Christoph Meiners (1747-1816) stated “one of the chief characteristics of tribes and peoples is the beauty or ugliness of the whole body or face” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation from German original Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 43). He classified blacks as “ugly” people “distinct” from the “white and beautiful peoples by their sad lack in virtue and their various terrible vices” (citation from Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 105; original citation of Meiners, Grundriss der Geschichte der Menscheit, 116).

Racism, therefore, as an American social construct is an ideology of hate and particularly an ideology of hatred directed toward black or dark skinned people. And it refers to “any attitude towards individuals and groups of people which posits a direct linear connection between physical and mental qualities. It therefore attributes to those individuals and groups of people collective traits, physical, mental, and moral, which are constant and unalterable by human will, because they [are believed by the racist] to be caused by hereditary factors or external influences, such as climate or geography” (Benjamin Isaac, The Invention of Racism in Classical Antiquity, 23) (bracketed emphasis mine). One thing that makes racism so evil and potentially deadly is that racists consider individuals “as superior or inferior because they are believed to share imagined physical, mental, and moral attributes with the group to which they are deemed to belong, and it is assumed that they cannot change these traits individually.”

In fact, many racists in the 18th-19th centuries and racists today believe that it’s absolutely impossible to change these fixed, biological traits because they are predetermined by their physical, biological makeup. This is why many of our founding fathers believed racist ideas about blacks. This view of race is why racist Nazis sought to exterminate the Jewish people, why the KKK has historically committed hate crimes against African-Americans and other ethnic minorities, and the above racist view of race explains why Dylann Roof, and other white supremacists like him, believe that blacks are evil and are inferior to whites: namely, because these racist groups embrace a white supremacist view of the world, a view which by definition requires them to classify groups based on perceived, illusory, fixed, immutable, and inferior physical, mental, and moral traits for the purpose of advancing a white supremacist ideology.

However, although the racism of white supremacy has often historically manifested itself by means of violence and terror—as we’ve seen with the Nazis, slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws, the KKK and the devastating Charleston shooting—the ideology of white supremacy is still present in America even when unaccompanied by violence. For example, when white parents refuse to let their kids date or marry African-Americans, they do so because of an inherited white supremacist worldview. White supremacist ideology is the reason why many make racist statements like “why do black people act that way” or “black people want to rape our women” without any evidence or scientific proof. A white supremacist worldview is present when teachers and professors make their students read only white authors or when they ignore black, brown, or African-American voices in history. A white supremacist worldview is present when whites naturally suspect blacks as being intellectually inferior because they are black. A white supremacist worldview is present when political leaders in Southern states, once divided by slavery and still affected by racism, refuse to take down the Confederate Flag—a symbol of white supremacist, racial hatred. A white supremacist worldview is present when the media reports crimes committed by blacks and people of color against whites as normal and crimes committed by whites against blacks or people of color as abnormal. A white supremacist worldview is present in churches when members refuse to pursue racial reconciliation or leave when their churches diversify or when the church’s leadership diversifies. A white supremacist worldview is present when people choose to isolate themselves from people of color because of race and associate themselves with their racial homogenous group.

Unfortunately, white supremacy showed its ugly face in Charleston, S.C., when Dylann Roof executed a premeditated and calculated massacre of nine African-American Christians at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. However, this methodical act of racist terror should remind every single American and every Christian that Dylann Roof’s racist actions were the result of his sin, and his personal and willful participation in and compliance with his choice to sin resulted in a massacre of nine innocent African-American Christians in a sacred place—a church that has been a symbol of African-American freedom in this country for decades. Sin continues to use the racist ideology of white supremacy in many different aspects of American culture, even though we are now living in a post-segregation age, for there are those Americans who consciously and subconsciously often assume that whites are superior to blacks and people of color. And neither new laws nor a resilient enforcement of old laws or government restrictions will change a white supremacist’s racist heart. Only the life giving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ will turn white supremacist hatred, and all racist hatred, into Christ-centered love.

The Church of Jesus Christ must in fact state loudly and clearly that God has provided redemption from the evil ideology of white supremacy and from all forms of racism. God’s provision is the bloody and resurrected gospel of Jesus Christ who died and resurrected to unify all things and all people in Christ (Eph. 2:11-3:8). And the only way white supremacy and all forms of racism will be overcome is by multi-racial partnerships of gospel believing Christians and churches scattered throughout the world faithfully proclaiming and obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ and pressing the claims of the gospel onto racist societies. Jesus’ ability to bring redemption and racial reconciliation through the gospel was so powerfully personified in the Charleston, SC court when the Christian families preached the gospel to Dylann Roof and offered him their forgiveness even as they expressed their grief. As the family has so beautifully demonstrated, Jesus Christ is God’s provision for racial reconciliation and the solution to racism. The gracious response of love from the beautiful African-American Christian family members directly affected by Dylann Roof’s racist actions, and the response of many African-American and white Christians in Charleston, also prove that the ideology of white supremacy is based on a racist lie. The gospel of Jesus Christ demands that Dylann Roof, and all racists in both church and society, must repent of the sins of racism, embrace Jesus by faith, and live in pursuit of racial reconciliation in the power of the Spirit.

This was originally published here.

Jarvis J. Williams

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Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24