Governor Haley and the Changing Face of Fundamentalist America

Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina has a new book out.  The cutely titled Can’t Is Not an Option may be a bald-faced bid for the 2012 Republican vice-presidential nomination, but it can also tell us something about the ways Fundamentalist America is changing.  The book itself sounds sugary, but Haley’s personal story is compelling.

Haley is an Indian-American child of immigrants.  The fact that a dark-skinned female politician whose father wears a turban can succeed as a conservative Republican politician in a state known for racism and evangelical Protestantism means a lot. 

Haley joins a small but growing list of non-white conservative heavy hitters: businessman/politician Herman Cainwriter Dinesh D’Souza, politicians Bobby Jindall and Allen West, and jurist Clarence Thomas, among others.  Such a showing, especially among African Americans, makes a good deal of sense from a fundamentalist perspective.

Conservative intellectuals, notably those at the Heritage Foundation, have made a concerted strategic effort to overcome fundamentalism’s traditional connection to white supremacist ideology.

But although it may make strategic sense, it is a tall order politically.  African Americans have been tightly linked to the Democratic Party since the 1930s.  Before that, African American voters stuck just as close to the Republican Party, the Party of Lincoln.  For most of American history, the vortex of race and race consciousness has overwhelmed all other identity issues, pushing most African Americans to vote first as African Americans, and only second as conservatives, liberals, secularists, religious, etc.

But beyond party politics, African Americans tend toward a deep fundamentalism.  Gallup polls consistently demonstrate this.  For example, one 2005 poll showed that about seven in ten African Americans called themselves “evangelical” or “born again” Christians.  African Americans, according to a 1999 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll are significantly more likely (85%) to support school prayer than are whites (69%).  This conservative religiosity among African Americans has influenced cultural attitudes among African American young people as well.  A 2002 poll found that only 8% of African American teens say they drink alcohol, compared to 25% of white teens, likely due to higher rates of conservative religiosity.  Among non-whites in general, according to a 2003 poll, only 52% think that premarital sex is morally acceptable, compared to 59% of whites.

Race is a tough issue for fundamentalists.  There are plenty of fundamentalist whites who seem to cling to traditionalism in their white supremacist ideology, just as they cling to traditionalism in religion, education, and culture.  But non-whites, in large majorities, are fundamentalists in everything except party politics.  If more non-whites like Nikki Haley continue to emphasize their cultural conservatism, and if they tie that cultural conservatism to political conservatism, then more and more non-whites may continue to embrace all the meanings of Fundamentalism.

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3 Comments

  1. IN THE NEWS: Faith and Race « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  2. The SBC and Fundamentalist America « I Love You but You're Going to Hell
  3. School Politics Cracks the Race Wall | I Love You but You're Going to Hell

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