The legacy of slavery continues to ripple and reverberate across our national and global consciousness, as we grapple with identity, racism, and the meaning of belonging. Given the challenges and issues still faced by a large swarth of descendants of African slaves, it was important to take a moment to reflect on the impact and interconnection of race with the twin institutions of law and religion. The essays we offer as part of the Race, Religion, and Law series takes us on a journey across the ocean and across time.

Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente provide the foundational understanding of racism by reviewing the early history of Africans in the Virginia colony in 17th century, and detailing the blueprint for how Christianity and whiteness would signify privilege in the country. I continue a review of the history of Black people in colonial America and offer a definition of racism based on the law and religion of that time and the systematic degradation of Africans. This historical debasement of Africans and their religion is the core of what Danielle Boaz describes as “religious racism,” as she details the escalation of acts of intolerance and violence against Afro-Brazilian religions in Brazil in the past few years. A discussion on the current effects of racism continues as Brandon Paradise considers the role love and forgiveness play in the cause of racial justice, as he offers another perspective on the tragic death of Botham Jean (see Nathan Chapman’s companion piece about the Guyger case in February). Ari Colston ends the journey with a reflection on the meaning of the Black Church as a place of support and solace in the midst of Black oppression and whether this is threatened by a celebrity’s newfound (commercial) witness.

The essays in this Race, Religion, and Law series shed light on our slave past—a past from which we still owe a reckoning—and demonstrate that much work is still needed in the way we design and re-design our laws, and the way in which we tolerate and honor various religious practices. It is the hope of the Canopy Forum that the journey continues so that justice can be done.

— Dr. Audra L. Savage

“Religious Racism: An Overlooked Form of Anti-Black Prejudice”

Danielle Boaz
March 5th, 2020

“Last August, DECRADI (a specialized police force in Rio de Janeiro that handles crimes of religious and racial intolerance) announced that since the beginning of 2019, Evangelized drug traffickers had threatened, invaded, deprecated or completely destroyed at least 200 hundred Afro-Brazilian religious temples (“terreiros”)…”

“Becoming Black and Christian in Virginia”

Ariela Gross and Alejandro de la Fuente
March 12th, 2020

“By the time the English settled Virginia in the early seventeenth century, the enslavement of Africans had already spread across the New World. Yet the Virginia colonists lacked the direct cultural and legal references available to Spanish and French colonists, because they had no clear body of slave law to rely on…”

“Redemption and Justice in the Guyer Case”

Brandon Paradise
March 19th, 2020

“In September 6, 2018, a 26-year-old black accountant, Botham Jean, was murdered in his own apartment at the hands of a white, off-duty police officer, Amber Guyger. Mistaking Jean’s apartment for her own and believing Jean to be an intruder, Guyger fatally shot Jean in the peace and safety of his own living room…”

“Defining the True Meaning of Racism:
The Law & Religion of Colonial America

Part I”

Audra L. Savage
March 23rd, 2020

“‘Racism’ and ‘racist’ are common words in today’s vernacular; however, their meaning and use are often distorted, with each speaker attaching their own understanding to their significance…”

“Defining the True Meaning of Racism:
The Law & Religion of Colonial America
Part II”

Audra L. Savage
March 25th, 2020

“The idea of racism is fraught with misunderstandings and misapplications. By exploring the twin institutions of law and religion in the 17th and 18th centuries, the true definition of racism surfaces…”

“Defining the True Meaning of Racism:
The Law & Religion of Colonial America
Part III”

Audra L. Savage
March 30th, 2020

“The final aspect of racism is the use of Blacks as slaves without any respect for the personhood, humanity, or agency of Black people. The nature of slavery would seem to suggest the lack of respect for the individual and group involved…” 

“‘Sunday Service,’ the Black Church, and Prophetic Religion in the Public Sphere”

Ari Colston
March 30th, 2020

“In a chain of interrelated events, hip-hop artist Kanye West (referred to here as ‘Kanye’ to avoid confusion with scholar Cornel West) once again became a subject of public scrutiny when he met with and endorsed President Donald Trump, announced his liberation from “mental slavery,” and referred to Black Americans’ experiences in antebellum chattel slavery as a “choice”…”