Much to the dismay of conservative political pundits, bloggers, and the like, Google’s “doodle” for its homepage on March 31 in honor of Cesar Chávez’s 86th birthday also happened to appear on Easter Sunday, one of the most sacred days for Christians the world over.
Responses ranged from mild disappointment to vows to replace Google with search engines like Bing (which decorated its homepage with Easter eggs). But what underlies nearly all the comments is the assumption of the whiteness of U.S. Christianity alongside the pairing of brownness with particular political agendas. In this instance, brownness (represented by Chávez) is anti-American, anti-capitalism and, because of calendrical happenstance, anti-Christ.
To some conservative Christians, Google’s iconography is the latest in an ongoing attack on their faith. In a post on Townhall.com titled “Ponder Christian Soldiers Google’s Smirking War On You,” Colorado State Senator Shawn Mitchell decries the choice of a Chávez “doodle”:
“Sure, no Christian was mocked, defamed, arrested, or persecuted. And heaven forbid any believer needs internet graphics to help bolster their faith. But hundreds of millions of Christians received the clearly intended message that Google doesn’t deign to wish them well on their sacred day. It would rather honor a liberal labor icon.”
Fox News pundit Dana Perino tweeted:
I thought the Chavez-google thing was a hoax or an early April Fool’s Day prank…are they just going to leave that up there all day?
— Dana Perino (@DanaPerino) March 31, 2013
What responses like these reveal more than anything is the utter disregard for understanding civil rights movements as theologically relevant. In other words, the notion that an image of Chávez would “eye-poke Christians,” as Mitchell put it, is based on the assumption made by many white conservative Christians that a civil rights movement and Christian theology share no commonalities.
The erasure of any theological connection to Chávez’s work is indicative of the political right’s ongoing work in rhetorically constructing the Unites States as a Christian nation that looks very white. That same construction depicts otherness as politically liberal, brown, and—regardless of religious affiliation—non-Christian. What’s more, the amped up rhetoric of war promotes a rhetorical violence that of course easily and readily bleeds into material, bodily violence against non-white people.
I can’t help but wonder what was more troubling to the people who found Chávez’s image so offensive—the fact that Jesus Christ and Easter eggs were missing from Google’s homepage, or that a brown man was not?