Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Gerardo Martí's "American Blindspot"

Gerardo Martí is L. Richardson King Professor of Sociology at Davidson College. Active in several research collaborations, he publishes broadly on religion and social change. His book, The Deconstructed Church: Understanding Emerging Christianity, was awarded the 2015 Distinguished Book Award from the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion.

Martí applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency, and reported the following:
The Page 99 Test on American Blindspot does not encapsulate its broader message, a narrative that traces the long trajectory of profound sociological support for the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Yet the chapter where the page is found, titled “A ‘True American’ Identity”, recounts the crucial history of restrictive immigration policies in the United States, and how nativist assumptions have always guided the criteria by which only certain ethnoracial groups would forever be favored as qualifying to become truly American. Indeed, among the many enthusiastic supporters of the Trump presidency lies a profound conviction that America needs to be protected from dangerous foreign invaders who threaten “our” way of life, “our” religion, and, perhaps most essentially, “our” safety.

The last line of page 99 says, “The implications of granting legitimacy to persons as white, and therefore more truly American, has always translated into various programs for employment, ownership of property, eligibility for loans, access to business capital, and other economic opportunities.” The evidence for allocating privilege to those deemed as “white” is overwhelming. Not only were Africans in America, whether during enslavement or later after becoming freed persons, continually excluded and oppressed, but also the many other groups like indigenous Indian nations whose lands were taken, indigenous Mexican Americans who occupied lands after the Mexican-American War, Asian migrants from China, Japan, and other countries denied citizenship and actively deported, the Irish Catholics demonized, and the Southern and Eastern Europeans who, migrating in large waves toward the turn of the Twentieth century, ultimately provoked the most sweeping immigration restriction acts in American history.

From the very beginnings of the American republic, there arose a belief that Americans were a type of new race, a new people that combined the best qualities of the initial European countries that colonized the land, including British, Dutch, French, and German settlers. The prosperity of America would rest on the land being populated with this strong emerging race of civilized and hard-working people, and they would most assuredly be white people. So while this new race—what one famous writer called “the new man”—was ambiguously defined, it always assumed that this new American race was “white.” This racialized assumption of what constituted a “true American” reverberated through the rest of the country’s history, with economic opportunities and political power being allotted along racial lines.

In the broader narrative, American Blindspot reveals the existence, development, and consequences in the United States of racialized and religiously inflected economic and political power. By providing a longer historic context for the Trump presidency, the book draws together race, class, and religious dynamics because they are critical—yet often misunderstood—dynamics implicit to our current political climate.
Learn more about American Blindspot at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue