Public discourse affects who Americans imagine as part of their melting pot. // bernardbodo

Who’s a True American?

Ethno-nationalist movements have gained traction globally, with consequences as far-reaching as the modern detainment of Uygher peoples in China. But while we know that ethno-nationalist beliefs are inherently racialized, we know little about how such sentiments may vary across different racial/ethnic groups within a single national context. A new article by Sam Perry and colleagues in The Sociological Quarterly addresses this question through the lens of Christian Nationalism in the United States, asking how the relationship between Christian Nationalism and attitudes about ethno-racial exclusion or assimilation operates for ethno-racial minorities.  

Analyzing data from the 2014 wave of the General Social Survey, the research team looked at 1,130 respondents’ perceptions of how Christianity was linked to being “Truly American,” focusing on prompted scenarios in which out-group members (i.e., minorities and immigrants) would be drawn into the American mainstream. The scholars focused on the responses of three racialized groups that make up nearly 90% of the U.S. population: Non-Hispanic Black, Non-Hispanic White, and Hispanic Americans. Their findings reveal how merging religious and national identities implies ethno-racial belonging, but is attenuated by the ways public discourse relates minority group members to the majority. For example, when the suggested out-group member was a domestic ethno-racial minority, Black Americans rejected assimilation in favor of maintaining unique minority groupings. Hispanic respondents, in contrast, endorsed White Christian Nationalistic ideals regarding the assimilation of domestic minority populations. When, instead, the suggested out-group members were immigrants or cultural outsiders, Hispanic Americans favored including these individuals into the majority, while Black Americans exhibited views that paralleled White Christian Nationalism.

Taken together, these findings suggest political figures can gain support from racialized populations by varying their discourses related to religious, racial, or ethnic outgroup members. Christian Nationalism functions as a system that stirs the American Melting Pot through inclusive and multiculturalist or exclusive and assimilationist frames among ethno-racial minority populations, while simultaneously preserving White cultural dominance in America. By reading the room, so to speak, U.S. politicians, like Donald Trump, can maintain power by either aligning or misaligning outgroup members with their base.