105 Iowa L. Rev. 1475 (2020)
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Faith in whiteness is the affirmation that religion remains forceful in shaping race and racial division. It is also the observation, born from formative contestations of racial exclusion and today’s rising white populism, that central to the American experience is the conditioned belief that whiteness stands at the pinnacle of social citizenship. Whereby adhering to its tenets and conforming one’s identity to it, maximizes enjoyment of rights and protection from private animus. Most saliently, and per the focus of this Article, faith in whiteness is a form of strategic identity performance. It is a daily ritual whereby adherents of stigmatized religions outwardly perform their religious identities against negative racial meanings ascribed to their faiths and re-perform it in the image of whiteness.

Rising white populism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia have made this phenomenon particularly pervasive today, and raised its stakes for adherents of stigmatized religions. As illustrated by the murders of the three Muslim students in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in February of 2015, and more recently, the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018, Free Exercise of Muslim and Jewish identity clashes with populist conceptions of whiteness, and in an increasingly polarized nation, expose those who outwardly express their religious identity to suspicion, animus and violence. In turn, incentivizing adherents of stigmatized religions to outwardly underperform their faith in order to stave off stigma, and enhance perceptions that they are white—or proximate to white—in order to attain the presumptions and privileges ascribed to whiteness.

This Article examines the intimate interplay between race and religion during a moment of emergent white populism and religious intolerance. By building off foundational social psychology and legal literatures examining identity performance, this Article also contributes a new framework theorizing how religious identity is negotiated and performed against racism, religious animus, and threats that blur them together. It then applies this framework to six contemporary case studies, illustrating the Free Exercise tradeoffs and racial stakes of faith in whiteness in action.

Friday, May 15, 2020