I’ve seen many people debate racism, social problems, and political divisions in the United States. The conversations tend to be framed around those in power and the terms they use. But the real enemy isn’t the war of certain races or nationalities against one another, with collateral damage on each side. It is the domination of human lives by people who believe in the moral righteousness of their strength. It is the scapegoating of the few by the many. It is, among other names, an unclean spirit in our midst called white supremacy.
Today, as I write, over 2000 Latino families have been separated and detained into concentration camp-style facilities simply because their full humanity is obscured under the label “illegal immigrant.”
Scapegoating in the U.S. will justify everything from the shooting of an unarmed child (Tamir Rice) to the execution of a man as he runs for his life (Walter Scott). It defines certain people as expendable and subhuman, while at the same time claiming the so-called virtue of the “good guys.”
White Christians like myself need to open ourselves to the wisdom of Jesus’ scapegoated community: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)! This testimony, in reality, is not mine to share, but is alive in the lived experience of all marginalized people who turn to God for safety.
As we recognize our own complicity and biases, may God give us the grace to repent, seek justice, and find renewal with our brothers and sisters. May we do this in solidarity with the One who refused to wield power over others but instead delighted in becoming like a child. This is the Christ we need!
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” (Lk 17.20-21). Church community may seem to be a sign of “the kingdom of God,” but I think in pointing to it we’re reaching for an idol of our own making. Jesus encountered brothers and sisters among those who heard and kept the word of God. That’s the promise of church today as well, not a bureaucracy like evangelicalism or even a local expression of “we, the people” in Christian fellowship. Jesus’ body is secured and monitored by the Holy Spirit (often in the midst of church community).
Note: Here’s another attempt I made at translating my grandfather’s little A.A. book into a message for people who have too much privilege (this time about whiteness). See my previous posts for more examples …
FEB. 27–A.A. Thought for the Day
When we came into recovery, the first thing we did was to admit that we couldn’t do anything about our whiteness. We admitted that this racist system had us licked and that we were helpless against it. We never could decide whether or not to accept its privilege. We always took the advantages conferred. And since we couldn’t do anything about it ourselves, we put our whole whiteness problem into the hands of God. We turned the whole thing over to that Power greater than ourselves. And we have nothing more to do about it, except to trust God to take care of the problem for us. Have I done this honestly and fully?
Meditation for the Day
This is the time for my spirit to touch the spirit of God. I know that the feeling of the spirit-touch is more important than all the sensations of material things. I must seek a silence of spirit-touching with God. Just a moment’s contact and all the fever of life leaves me. Then I am well, whole, calm, and able to rise and minister to others. God’s touch is a potent healer. I must feel that touch and sense God’s presence.
Prayer for the Day
I pray that the fever of resentment, worry, and fear may melt into nothingness. I pray that health, joy, peace, and serenity may take its place.
This lecture is so good: https://youtu.be/9wRvaG9j53g?t=8m33s. It’s about 45 min long (though the video continues with some question and answer). As I reflect, I’m reminded that Jesus said, “repent and believe the good news” (Mark 1:15). Sometimes we need to take a look at the dis-ease we suffer from (repent) in order to be healed. Some of us still need to acknowledge the demonic strategy of “whiteness” before we can truly experience and be blessed by God’s gift of love in beloved community.
My favorite quotes:
“So if you’re not following this, let me state it clearly. No one is born white. Do not tell children that. No one is born white. There is no white biology. But whiteness is real. Whiteness is a working, a forming toward a maturity that destroys. Whiteness is an invitation to a form of agency and a subjectivity that imagines life progressing toward what is in fact a diseased understanding of maturity. A maturity that invites us to evaluate the entire world by how far along it is toward this goal. White agency and subjectivity–whiteness–forms as people imagine themselves being transformed and moving toward maturity in three fundamental ways. 1) Moving from being owned to being an owner, 2) from being a stranger to a citizen, and 3) from being identified with darkness to being seen as white. Now it should be clear at this point that anyone can enter white agency and white subjectivity, that is, anyone can be white friends! Anyone can be white! Anybody can step on the path, the trajectory toward whiteness. Whiteness is not exclusive, it is inclusive! Come one, come all. We can all be white.”
“As I close, what we need at this moment is a Christian faith that can start to break our deep connection to whiteness by resisting it’s vision of maturity. In the time I have left, all I can do is suggest the first step. That’s all I can do, but the first step is the most important. The paths that have been formed by whiteness, carved on the earth and in bodies, these paths cannot be undone but they can be redirected. Drawn into new paths that lead away from death and into life. You see, it all begins with the land. I said it before, it all begins with dirt. It begins with air, water, cities, towns, neighborhoods, and homes. It all begins with new kinds of intentional communities that challenge where people live and how people live in places.”
My response to a friend’s question:
I’ll weigh in on why I follow Jesus (and not another faith), though I need to slightly modify the question because monotheism seems way too abstract. Yes, I’m trying to “do the will of God” as presented through Jesus, but the realness of that trust is only proven as God’s spirit blows in it and through me. Like many others who have walked with Jesus, I feel his warmth: “Were not our hearts burning within us as he walked us on the road?”
I wonder if the evidence you’re asking about is something that might better emerge from actual experiences rather than Big T truth. Another way to say it, learning from Jesus seems to require human weakness, solidarity, and suffering. Not to say that certain kinds of feelings or experiences will by themselves reveal the truth. It’s just that we need more than data points or even a person to see the integrity of Jesus.
Of course, I’ve also tried following other “gods” who are conferred with a lot of power in the USA. Idols like white privilege and neoliberalism (sometimes called “capitalism on steroids”). These demonic ideologies promise peace and blessings to all those who will sacrifice and show their devotion, but I have never been satisfied with fear-based religion. Their promises are empty.
I follow Jesus because he’s inspired me into action and taken my life in whole new directions (on so many occasions). Jesus filled me up and set my face toward God in a new way. This came as a real surprise to me. Even after so many back-and-forths, ups-and-downs, rounds and rounds of joy, confusion, disgrace, shame. I never would have expected what Jesus did to make that “salvation” possible.
Could other faiths have produced this in me? Maybe. But my love for Jesus is not really about my own salvation project. It’s about who Jesus is. No self-reference is truly necessary.
I’ve been reflecting a lot recently — When you start down the road of anti-racist, anti-white-supremacist work as a white person, you think (or at least I did) that it’s about learning the correct lingo (political correctness) or making more black and brown friends (tokenism) or voting for a certain party (liberalism/Democratism). BUT the more I walk this road, the more I learn that the main work of dismantling white supremacy in my life lies in recognizing the ways that I bring whiteness with me, even when I’m trying to be aware or “woke”.
It’s not enough to say or do the “right things” if I say and do them in a way that reinforces white supremacy. It’s not enough to share all the ways I’ve “leveled up” as an activist or ally — and in fact, that’s really not even helpful to bring up at all. It’s definitely not enough (and definitely not helpful) to point my fingers at other folks and say, “But at least I didn’t say THAT.”
What fighting white supremacy is really about is being wrong. Often. Sometimes when I most think I’m right. And fighting the impulse in my heart that says when I’m wrong that I’m bad, or that I’ll never get it “right”, or that now my relationships are over because I messed them up by saying the wrong thing.
The true antidote to white supremacy in my life is white humility and white vulnerability — the humility and vulnerability to trust that my friends and elders of color aren’t lying to me when they tell me that the systems of our country hurt them, and sometimes I hurt them, but that they love me anyway, and that they want me with them as we fight this fight and walk this walk of life together.
–Rebekah Schulz-Jackson (facebook post from 11/25/17)
When you’re feeling defensive, it is pretty common to adamantly declare “I’m not being defensive.” Which is why so many folks don’t believe white fragility is a real thing.
I get it. When someone challenges your views by suggesting that your wrong perspective is tied up in you being white, it seems ridiculous. I mean, if you concede to that, then pretty much any person of color is automatically right and you’re automatically wrong.
But that isn’t how it works. Nobody is saying you can’t have an opinion or that you’re always wrong simply because you’re white. But if you get agitated anytime someone suggests that your being wrong about something is tied up in your white bias, then you are demonstrating white fragility…a deeply emotional response to the faintest possibility that you are tied up in some sort of racist framework.
Do you honestly expect that centuries of race-based oppression has been, for the most part, cleared up in the 50 years since MLK was assassinated? I mean, we’re still stuck in Plato’s ideas that the immaterial is truer than the material and that dude has been dead for 2400 years. We think it only takes 50 years for the attitudes, beliefs, and structures of white supremacy to become undone?
Isn’t it even worth considering that if you grew up white in this society that you might lack the perspective to understand just how racist our system is? Isn’t it worth considering that this racist system has left its impression on you?
This isn’t about fault or blame. It is about understanding our world and recognizing the responsibility we all have to push back oppression, particularly when it rests within the nooks and crannies of our own minds.
White fragility is the inability to consider this real possibility as one reacts with anger or condescension or anxiety or disgust.
Once we accept that things in our society can influence us more than we know, we have taken our first step to liberation.
–Mark Van Steenwyk (facebook post from 12/10/16)
Our nation’s origin in religious Utopianism, coupled with the myth of American Exceptionalism, the Manifest Destiny–that we were warring Europeans but now we are supreme White people in America–all of that mythology leads White Americans to have this permanent fetish for innocence. So they don’t really want to know–and I call it a fetish for innocence–it’s just rampant, it’s pervasive, and I would say it’s almost without exception. I hardly know a White person that doesn’t have this driving need to be personally innocent. And it’s a very strange thing because that’s not in my culture. I mean we are a collective people and we collectively sin and we collectively do well. But White people are individualistic and then they have to be pure in God’s sight. So they have to be personally innocent. And the only way in the midst of an incredibly oppressive society–with our foundation of land theft, genocide, and slavery–is basically to not know. So ignorance becomes the primary tool to maintain innocence. And because it is so insisted upon, despite all evidence to the contrary, it can be nothing more than a fetish, right? And so how to cure White people of the fetish for innocence is truly a monumental challenge. And we’re actually trying to do that at Church of All Nations–cure our people of that fetish.
That fetish, by the way, destroys marriage because married couples that I’ve noticed can’t confess and repent because they need to insist that they had good motives. However much I’ve hurt you, I meant well. That’s the primary thing that White people are obsessed with. That they have good intentions. It’s crazy, you know, why that would be so important?!? But through our background, that’s the kind of people we have. And it leads people not to be honest and real and get to the bottom of things. So we’re constantly covering over real problems, and covering it over with ideology and propaganda and marketing on top of marketing. We just can’t seem to really solve our problems because the average American isn’t really interested in solving the problem. They’re interested in their personal innocence project. Mic drop! Somebody close us in prayer, doggone it!
Jin S. Kim (transcribed from audio–2:08:00-2:10:30–in “The American Century: Neoliberal Stirrings (1914-1945)”)
Here are two passages on the subject from The Divine Conspiracy:
I know that, as far as forgiveness alone is concerned, the tenderness of God is far greater than we will ever understand on earth or perhaps elsewhere. That is surely what it means to say that he gave his unique Son to die on our behalf. I am thoroughly convinced that God will let everyone into heaven who, in his considered opinion, can stand it. But “standing it” may prove to be a more difficult matter than those who take their view of heaven from popular movies or popular preaching may think. The fires in heaven may be hotter than those in the other place.
It might prove helpful to think occasionally of how, exactly, I would be glad to be in heaven should I “make it.” Will it be like a nice, air-conditioned luxury hotel with unlimited room service and spectacular amenities for eternity? I often wonder how happy and useful some of the fearful, bitter, lust-ridden, hate-filled Christians I have seen involved in church or family or neighborhood or political battles would be if they were forced to live forever in the unrestrained fullness of the reality of God…and with multitudes of beings really like him. (pages 301-302)
Perhaps, by contrast, we must say that those who do not now enter the eternal life of God through confidence in Jesus will experience separation, isolation, and the end of their hopes. Perhaps this will be permitted in their case because they have chosen to be God themselves, to be their own ultimate point of reference. God permits it, but that posture obviously can only be sustained at a distance from God. The fires of heaven, we might suspect, are hotter than the fires of hell. Still, there is room in the universe for them. (page 398)
“If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.”
― Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow