Beyond White Privilege (Full text is at “Taking Jesus Seriously”

(Reminder: My blog home has moved. However, here is the first half of my recent post. The link to the full article can be found at the bottom of the post. Don’t forget to add my new blog home “Taking Jesus Seriously” to your RSS feed to keep up, which can easily be done from my new home page on Christian Century.)

Speaking about race and racism generically hasn’t done anyone any good. Though white men dominate and control an unjustly disproportionate part of the church’s leadership, face, and voice, many white men in the church and broader society also are the quickest to cry “reverse-racism” and at the slightest mention of racial inequities, many have dismissed concerns as merely “playing the race card”. I would be rich if I got a dollar for every time I had a white man quote Dr. King’s statement about the content of one’s character not the color of one’s skin as the basis for judgment, out of context to me in a way that went against the very logic of the “I Have A Dream” speech, which focused on righting the racial and economic injustices and disparities in America. It seems that the more one is squarely situated in the center of dominant culture, having gained advantage from it, the more likely one is to live in a state of denial in regards to the actual past 400 years, and the continuing white hegemony and racial oppression that pervades our society.

However, people’s beliefs and actions are not determined by race and gender in some fatalistic manner. I’ve known hundreds of white women and men that have opted out of aligning themselves with white dominance, and instead affirm the humanity of all people and have chosen to live lives that resist white hegemony while coming to struggle alongside those that have been most directly impacted by the ungodly racial systems, practices, and beliefs that have morphed and flourished in new and often mischievously subtle ways (though sometimes they have not been so subtle). Regardless, there is a tradition that goes back to slavery up to the present day, of white people challenging racism and oppression, and to not acknowledge those rich and beautiful stories as a parallel narrative to the black determination and struggle for justice and liberation would be a dishonest account of America’s troubled history.

One of the inherited terms that arose along the way that has gotten a lot of mileage in aiding white people to become aware of their own complicity and accommodation to racism is the language of “white privilege”. Basically, through various means of sharing, talking about invisible knapsacks, and confession times, white folks have wrestled with the various ways that the current racial order offers white people in general, and them in particular, certain advantages and privileges as a white person. For some people, this has created a moment of awakening for them. They suddenly looked at their life, built on generations of white advantage. They considered G.I. Bills and Homestead Acts by their ancestors, loans received, opportunities to live where they wanted to, access to social networks that included people of means, and on, and on, it went. White privilege has been the banner and primary rhetoric for engaging white people about racism in America.

However, there have been a lot of challenges to this language, especially highlighting its weaknesses and limitations. I noticed that this issue was revived in the midst of Christians discussing the Michael Brown execution and the protests and demonstrations that followed in Ferguson and around the country. Not only in response to this moment, but in general, I have witnessed the deployment of white privilege ideology in ways that I found not helpful, and at times simply disturbing.

It shouldn’t be surprising though. The idea that telling white people that they have privilege as the solution to fix our racial woes was short sighted and bound to fall short of the radical creative transformation that Christians articulate when we speak of God’s reign breaking into our world. I actually don’t blame white people for messing up. If I were white, and someone told me I had “white privilege”, I don’t think I would necessarily know what to do with that. For some people, they find themselves in a perpetual state of guilt and shame, but never finding a new mode of being. They are mentally stuck within a state of awareness of their white privilege, without a new path forward. Another response that could leave someone stagnant in white privilege is to think about it as a positive. I mean, in America, most citizens want all the privileges they can get. It gets confusing for a culture with such individualistic values, to actually decide that the privileges one has, whether the result of racial inequities or not, is a negative thing. Some might think “good, I’m going to take full advantage of my privileges”!

Read the end of the post here: http://www.christiancentury.org/blogs/archive/2014-09/beyond-white-privilege-modelnbsp

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

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