(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