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
Do you think Donald Trump got elected because liberals ignored white working class voters? I did to some extent too, but now I see my own blind spots reflected back. Read this essay for yourself. It’s long but…WOW. Ta-Nehisi Coates interrogates an emotional post-election appeal about the forgotten white working class and rather easily pokes holes at both the liberal and conservative explanations. More importantly, he demonstrates that this way of framing things is nothing new. It is a story that white folks have proposed many times in a largely successful effort to dismiss the charge of racism and reenact white America’s “bloody heirloom.”
Our whole lives seem soaked with fear in 2017, but I thank Mr. Coates for making plain America’s original sin. It’s not too late to see our hidden wound. The truth will set us free, my beloved white brothers and sisters.
“Certainly not every Trump voter is a white supremacist, just as not every white person in the Jim Crow South was a white supremacist. But every Trump voter felt it acceptable to hand the fate of the country over to one.”
–Ta-Nehisi Coates in The First White President
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. I have found it fairly straight forward to apply the wisdom of the 12 steps to folks in need of sobriety/recovery from social privileges. See my previous posts for more examples…
August 7–A.A. Thoughts for the Day
We in [recovery] are offering an intangible thing, a psychological and spiritual program. It’s a wonderful program. When we learn to turn to a Higher Power, with faith that that Power can give us the strength we need, we find peace of mind. When we reeducate our minds by learning to think differently, we find new interests that make life worthwhile. We who have achieved [total acceptance] through faith in God and mental reeducation are modern miracles. It is the function of our [Privilege Recovery Anonymous] program to produce modern miracles. Do I consider the change in my life a modern miracle?
Meditation for the Day
You should never doubt that God’s spirit is always with you, wherever you are, to keep you on the right path. God’s keeping power is never at fault, only your realization of it. You must try to believe in God’s nearness and the availability of His grace. It is not a question of whether God can provide a shelter from the storm, but of whether or not you seek the security of that shelter. Every fear, worry or doubt is disloyalty to God. You must endeavor to trust God wholly. Practice saying, “All is going to be well.” Say it to yourself until you feel it deeply.
Prayer for the Day
I pray that I may feel deeply that all is well. I pray that nothing will be able to move me from that deep conviction.
A dramatic retelling by Greg Shafer
Then Yeshua and the disciples were in Capernaum. Peter was outside alone when a group of tax collectors came. “Peter,” they said, “Does that Rabbi of yours pay the temple tax like everybody else?”
Peter was afraid of the tax collectors, and couldn’t imagine the Christ doing anything wrong, so he spoke without knowledge.
“Yes, yes of course he does…” he answered.
He went inside the house, hoping that they would just go away.
But when he came inside, Yeshua spoke with him, “Answer me something, Peter. Do the Kings of the earth tax their own sons? Or just the other people?”
Peter was alarmed because he knew Christ knew about the tax collectors outside, but he didn’t know where Christ was going with this.
“From others only,” Peter replied.
“That’s right. Their sons are exempt,” said Yeshua. “Look Peter, we don’t have to do this. We don’t have to play this silly game of theirs. They demand from us dirt when God gives us gold. But so we don’t hurt their feelings, let’s play along. Go and catch a fish, inside will be a coin. That coin will pay your taxes and mine. Go head, it’ll be great.”