We have a record in the past of building out a nation with the presumed intention of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Or so we were told in our civics classes in our schools, classes that were designed to make us good citizens who believed in these United States as a shining city on a hill.
However, this bold statement from the Founders in the Declaration of Independence was a guarantee for only a select group of people – white male landowners. The Constitution was constructed not only to give only them the right to vote, but to enable the continuation of their power to control the politics of the United States. The Electoral College, the Senate, and the enshrinement of enslavement in the Constitution are the three legs of this Constitutional empowerment of white men. For some 230 years now the promises of the Constitution guaranteeing the full civil and human rights to all have continued to be a paper promise easily voided when “it’s important to restore order and ensure domestic tranquility.”
Thus, we have the largest prison system on the planet and in all history. Black American males—citizens—comprise a prison population in the United States of around 2.3 million souls, about the same number of people as who live in the capital city of the Republic of the Congo, or Somalia, or Haiti. Black poverty and unemployment rates are far higher than for white people. It is no accident that this is how we are in these United States, because this is the expected outcome for the system that has been built up to promote and ensure white dominance. For reasons beyond understanding, a nation inhabited by Indigenous Americans is now considered as a “white” nation for white people, a bizarre erasure of the past that is hotly defended in the halls of Congress as the “real” history of America of glorious conquest and development, with little to no mention of the stolen lives, labor, and land of both the Indigenous and the kidnapped, enslaved Black African.
Unspoken in this is also the nature of this nation’s most popular religious sentiment. The words of the Good Book have comforted many, but they have been used, along with “visions,” to turn the American continent into the fiefdom of white Christians who took everything they could see and made it theirs. The theme of the “Doctrine of Discovery,” granting possession of lands to the discoverer of a river outlet, relied upon the words of European popes declaring that any land not populated by Roman Catholics was “empty” and up for grabs to any and all who found them. (If you’ve ever wondered why there was such a race to find the mouth of the Columbia River, this is what drove Lewis and Clark—not as Catholics, but in the same desire to take something for free because the land and the assets weren’t owned or occupied by “real Christians.”
This is also tied in with “Manifest Destiny,” the belief that the Christian God ordained that white Christians take possession of the continent “from sea to shining sea.” Yes, that’s where that lyric comes from.) To read the popular children’s book series Little House on the Prairie is to see this idea of legalized theft romanticized through the eyes of a young girl as Ma and Pa work so hard to homestead in dark woods and wide prairies, all the while the presence of the Indigenous is woven through the stories as if they are silent wardens of spirituality and wisdom, and not the former owners of the stolen land. We read these books and watch these movies and TV shows, and it makes it all seem normal.
And so here we are in 2022, where the same passions that moved white Christians to invade a land that was not theirs to make it their own, that moved white Christians to dominate politics, economics, religion, and ownership of the land and people, driving white Christians still to demand that our country, inhabited by a rich diversity of people with their cultures and values and religious beliefs and origins, be made into a “Christian nation” where white Christians are formally declared as the owners and inheritors of God’s blessings.
It is no accident that we got here. The cards have been played, face-up ever since the 1500s when the first of the explorers née colonizers pushed their flags into the beaches of the Caribbean and the East Coast.
The question now is: what do we do with this knowledge? Do we accept it as the “truth on the ground,” as something that cannot be changed?
Or do we do what the earliest Americans could not do, and what many Americans will not do?
We cannot become a “more perfect Union,” as the Constitution says, if we will not address our past and will not work to correct its sins and its excesses. We must openly acknowledge the threat that white nationalism (the desire to make America a white nation) and Christian nationalism (the desire to make America a religious nation that follows an extremely narrow & peculiar interpretation of Jesus’ words) as an existential battle for the soul of America.
Our past instructs us that absent a strong resistance to white hubris and white demands for continued power, even as white people become the “majority-minority” in America, we will not be able to change the dead hand of the past. It is not enough to see that white people become a minority and thus learn to live with the rest of the people of the United States. As we see this opportunity for change, we must organize to resist any attempt to further impose the vision of white Christian America. We must vociferously deny the claims that America is for white people only or for white people as perpetual owners.
After all, it is literally not white people who built and managed and made America. It is all the people who were enslaved by white Americans and whose lands were taken by white Americans that made America wealthy and secure.
It is past time for those whose work truly made America an economic powerhouse to realize their power and wrest control before we see the permanent entrenchment of a minority determined to hang on to all that they have gained through theft.
The way to make America great is to break the power of white Christian nationalism once and for all, and to remake an America that fulfills the most unreachable dreams of the Founders—forming that more perfect Union for everyone.
By Stephen Matlock