Jehovah's Witnesses and racial prejudice by Werner Cohn

by slimboyfat 24 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • slimboyfat

    Race is asserting itself as a problematic issue United States once more. I always thought JWs had a relatively good track record on race. They preach a world without prejudice after all.

    I found this interesting article from 1956 that makes a number of serious factual claims as well as analytical comments in relation to JWs and racial prejudice.

    1. Cohn claims that half of Jehovah's Witnesses in the United States were black, but that the leadership was all white. I find it hard to believe African Americans comprised 50% of JWs in 1956. In 2014 it was 27% according to the Pew Survey. So the article is off to a bumpy start. But it gets more interesting.

    2. At the time the article was written the Catholic Church promoted racial integration in the South but JWs rigidly maintained segregation.

    3. JWs had separate congregations for black members in the south and in border states as far north as New Jersey.

    4. Black congregations were also grouped into black circuits. There were also White and Hispanic circuits.

    5. "Until recent years" black Witnesses were not invited to national conventions, "being furnished instead with Jim Crow gatherings". (I am not clear what this means)

    6. The author visited the headquarters in 1952 and was told there were only two black JWs in the whole staff, one in the mail room and the other as a linotypist.

    7. In the 1953 convention report, from the pictures, the leadership of JWs is exclusively white and black JWs are pictured cleaning up the kitchen or as African delegates in traditional costume.

    8. "It is difficult indeed to escape the impression that the role which the Negro plays in the Witness organisation is very similar to that traditionally assigned him by the least enlightened sections of white society: he is regarded as best kept separate and not quite equal; often he is merely 'cleaning up the kitchen' while his white brother does the important theologising."

    9. The society's literature counselled strongly against interracial marriage.

    10. WT literature described races being kept separate in Africa as a natural state of affairs, despite more enlightened religions groups promoting integration at that time.

    11. They described the South African apartheid regime as white people defending the civilisation they had introduced to Africa.

    12. Cohn argues that this view of defending "civilisation" is ironic considering Watchtower literature had argued it didn't matter who won WW2, Hitler or the Allies, because they were both being used by Satan.

    13. Cohn says that he personally found most white JWs friendly to black people and less prejudiced than the worst of the Watchtower literature and policies would suggest.

    14. Interracial marriage was unheard among JWs in this period, was commonly disavowed in speech, as it was said it would bring "discredit" upon Jehovah's organisation.

    15. JWs may appear to be non-conformists but in reality they lack the intellectual effort it would take to disavow the racial prejudice of society at large.

    16. "Their non-conformity is merely mechanical and learned by rote from the dictatorial leaders of their organisation: it represents little more than a cantankerous eccentricity on religious and political matters. Culturally, Witnesses are strictly pedestrian. One is reminded of a mediocre writer who in straining for originality has to fall back on some such purely mechanical device such as eccentricity in punctuation and spelling." (What a fantastic analysis!)

    17. JWs in the period constructed themselves as a protest group at odds with society, and this helost explain their appeal to black Americans as an oppressed group.

    18. But JWs don't just reject the way the world is currently organised. They reject the very idea that humans are capable or that they should even attempt to achieve better.

    19. A belief system that teaches that it made no difference whether Hitler or the Allies won the war, and that black people shouldn't fight discrimination is ethically deficient.

    20. "Witnesses have given up all hope in the potentialities of the human race... No results of ours, of course, can be as spectacular as the Armageddon of Witnesses' fantasies; but unspectacular results that happen are ultimately more satisfying than the spectacular ones that don't."

  • sparrowdown

    Wow. Interesting read. Many JWs I know are extremely and insultingly condascending towards non-white people.

    For instance, in a neighbouring territory there were many african refugees that were targeted by the JWs and studies were started. At the CAs the sisters would take the children and "look after them" for the day and actually refer to the babies as chocolate babies! Not kidding, it was painful to witness the level of patronizing white condascension that occurred.

    In my cong there was a Japanese sister that moved in who didn't speak much english and the Japanese/geisha girl stereotyping language that came from the brothers was just embarrassing for them and her.

    Yeah, there are different types of racism, and JWs qualify.

  • rebelfighter

    Great topic. Never a JW, I have always wondered how and when the JWS made this transition? I grew up in the US during the transition my high school years were 1. 10th grade all white 2. 11th grade you had a choice of school so bussing started on a limited basis 3.12th grade mandatory bussing so they achieved a 50/50 ratio.

    So this switch in attitude toward the separation of the black/white/Hispanic congregations and thus a merging should have taken place sometime around the 60's or maybe into the 70's?

    Which then leads to my next question if the WT eventually caved into societies view of equality of racial differences then why have they stood so firm on women being the under dog and staying in submission to men?

    Along the way many other churches have recognized the value of women in the church and have made them Elders or Ministers, they basically are reading the same Bible.

  • rebelfighter


    Is this type of attitude still going on today?

  • BluesBrother

    Growing up ,I was always proud to say that I belonged to an organization that was totally free of racism and prejudice.......

    Lately ,however, I have seen examples time and again that betray an underlying prejudice in the minds of individual dubs of my acquaintance and extended family. It saddens ,and at times angers me. They would never wish to say it openly but unguarded comments betray what they think.

    Sparrowdown said an interesting comment (above) .Sometimes I think some are just insensitive to others feelings or behind the times . A reference to "chocolate babies" may have been meant as a term of affection by someone too ignorant of the way it would be taken?

    Incidentally, did not the black Mayor of New Orleans say that it would again be a "chocolate city " a while back?

  • TD

    Interesting. My memory of JW's only goes back to the early 60's. (A few meetings attended with grandparents.) I remember JW's on the Eastern seaboard in the U.S. being extremely integrated.

  • rebelfighter


    North or south

  • TD

    Baltimore & D.C.

  • slimboyfat

    I did wonder if the information was entirely accurate. I'd like to see some corroborating evidence. It's easy to get carried away because Cohn's style is easy to follow and his viewpoints are easy to agree with, especially his concluding comments about the disadvantages of the Witness dreamland approach to life.

  • Magnum

    I can state with absolutely certainty that at least some of the U.S. southeast was segregated probably until the 1970's. I know for a fact that there were white congregations and black congregations. I remember when visiting the area observing that some of the black elders started going to white congregations to give talks; it seemed special.

    I also heard counsel against interracial marriage. I don't know whether it was in print, but I heard it coming from at least one elder. I know of a specific case of a black male who wanted to date a white female and was counseled against it.

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