Who Is Protected In A Dark Room?

This past month has been a roller coaster of exhaustion and anger for many reasons, but there are a few identity pieces that collided this month in such a way that I am still metaphorically brushing off the rubble they left in their wake. I was recently engaged in a conversation thread with a pastor from Texas. We were discussing creating safe space in church buildings, particularly with respect to lighting. At one point I asked, “Who is protected in a dark room?”

Who is protected in a dark room? This question stuck with me because, as I have tried to write this article over the last several weeks, it is painfully clear that the person who is protected in a dark room is almost always the person who controls the lights.

Last month, Humans of New York featured the story of Deetra Thomas, a singer who had been married to and abused by a pastor from Arkansas throughout her adult life. Her story was simultaneously extraordinary and ordinary. Ordinary in that her experience up until the moment she stepped into a stranger’s car could have been the story of anyone out of thousands of evangelical women across the Country. Her story was extraordinary because she made it out. She broke free from the dehumanizing abuse that she had endured for decades.

I recently stopped communicating with someone I had once considered a friend. Our conversations had changed, and I no longer felt safe. This person was becoming more hostile in their social media engagement. What had begun as a series of broadcasted conversations with his “best friend” evolved into an aggressive white nationalistic podcast that I hid from my feed with increasing expeditiousness each week. Over the months, I had begun to notice a heightened sense of anxiety and trauma signaling when I knew we would be talking. At first, I thought that I was frustrated because I could not resolve the white nationalistic messaging that I was hearing with his expressed theology or with his identity as a Black man.

When I learned that his wife had left him, it was glaringly apparent why I had been so triggered. Patriarchal Misogyny is at the heart of both White Nationalism and Christian Nationalism because nationalism requires an unquestioning belief in supremacy. For supremacy to exist, there must be a “greater than” and a “less than.” Supremacy demands that there must be an “other.”

The earliest race laws in America are rooted in the chauvinism of white landowning men and aggressively interwoven with the life of the early American expression of Christianity (Women & The American Story | New-York Historical Society Museum & Library). Laws passed in Virginia in 1691 particularly dehumanized both Black men and white women and were enforced by the local church. Free white women who gave birth to a mixed-race baby were to pay the Church “15 pounds sterling” (the equivalent of $4,603). If the woman defaulted, she was enslaved by the church for 5 years. Indentured white women who gave birth to a mixed-race baby had to complete their terms of servanthood and then were sold by the church for an additional 5-year term. In both cases, the child would be enslaved by the church for 30 years. Profits from fines and sales were split between the government, the church, and the person who reported the original “crime” of interracial pregnancy.

From this country’s conception, the convergence of race, religion, and politics has taken place in a woman’s womb. It is no small wonder that when attempts to re-segregate education through private Christian evangelical schools failed following the Civil Rights movement, the leaders of White, Christian Nationalists reunified over the issue of abortion (Pierce); and, that in the last year, as majority White, Christian Nationalists have once again organized to silence systemically marginalized voices in schools (Chappel), they have also turned once again to regulating women’s wombs (Feuer).

This is not an attempt to crack open a controversial and nuanced subject, but rather, to observe that, when White Nationalism and Christian Nationalism intersect, all the worse traits of male-dominated abuse are manifested. The physical expressions of abuse manifested in the misogyny of white nationalism are intermingled with the religious-laced psychological and spiritual abuse of patriarchal dominated Christian Nationalism. And, while it seems that women of all cultural backgrounds are the immediate victims of this collision, history has taught us that there is discrimination even in suffering, and, eventually the most vulnerable end up paying the highest price.

The room becomes very dark indeed.

By Naphtali Renshaw

Works Cited

Chappel, Bill. A Texas lawmaker is targeting 850 books that he says could make students feel uneasy. 28 October 2021. 9 June 2022. <https://www.npr.org/2021/10/28/1050013664/texas-lawmaker-matt-krause-launches-inquiry-into-850-books&gt;.

Feuer, Alan. The Texas Abortion Law Creates a Kind of Bounty Hunter. Here’s How It Works. 10 September 2021. 9 June 2022. <https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/10/us/politics/texas-abortion-law-facts.html&gt;.

Pierce, Charles P. The Christian Right Didn’t Mobilize Against Abortion. They First Mobilized Against School Desegregation. 30 June 2021. 9 June 2022. <https://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/a36889618/christian-right-segregation-academies/&gt;.

Women & The American Story | New-York Historical Society Museum & Library. Legislating Reproduction and Racial Difference. n.d. 7 June 2022. <https://wams.nyhistory.org/early-encounters/english-colonies/legislating-reproduction-and-racial-difference/#:~:text=The%201691%20law%20made%20interracial%20marriage%20illegal%2C%20and,the%20children%20of%20black%20men%20without%20being%20married.&gt;.

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