Privilege is our weakness. We suffer from mental conflicts from which we look for escape by drowning our problems in excess. We try through feelings of superiority to push away from the realities of life. But privilege does not feed, privilege does not build, it only borrows from the future and it ultimately destroys. We try to drown our feelings in order to escape life’s realities, little realizing or caring that in continued accumulation we are only multiplying our problems. Have I got control over my unstable emotions?
This “Thought for the Day” from my grandfather’s little A.A. book was originally written about the weakness of alcohol. Like my previous post, I changed a few words to get at its meaning for us who live in privilege. I hope the original content shines through in spite of my editing, as it has proven to be spiritual gold for folks all over the place.
The next day’s entry (June 25th) goes on to say, “One of the most encouraging facts of life is that your weakness can become your greatest asset.” So true! If only we had this program and its resources for those of us who feel licked by an addiction to social advantages. Maybe it’s time to start one…
My now deceased grandpa Walsh gave me this little AA book back in January of 1998. Nowadays it’s held together by some duct tape and love; I treasure it and, in fact, read it daily. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day I was rapidly heading off the rails: substance abuse, petty crimes, as well as many other self-destructive things. I’ve been on a whole different trajectory for the last 20 years. In fact, it was in April of 1998 that I eventually came to my senses,only a few months after my grandpa handed me this book and told me to call him anytime I wanted help. Although I don’t currently drink or use drugs, I never really considered myself an alcoholic or even an addict. But I have found it fairly straight forward to apply the wisdom of the 12 steps to my own need for recovery from any number of things. If you just read between the lines (a little), the message is pretty darn clear no matter what idea of recovery might be appropriate. For example, take this passage here:
June 1–A.A. Thought for the Day
Some things I do not miss since becoming dry: that overall awful feeling physically, including the shakes, a splitting headache, pains in my arms and legs, bleary eyes, fluttering stomach, droopy shoulders, weak knees, a three-day beard, and a flushed complexion. Also, facing my loved one at breakfast. Also, composing the alibi and sticking to it. Also, trying to shave or put on make-up with a shaky hand. Also, opening up my wallet to find it empty. I don’t miss these things, do I?
I realized that the things a recovering alcoholic does not miss about getting wasted can easily be translated into the things I do not miss about seeking privilege. I now occasionally take some liberties to change a few words from these readings in order to adjust my focus to those powers. Here’s my own list of “things I do not miss” since letting go of the so-called American Dream:
I do not miss measuring myself with neighbors, friends, co-workers–all in secret–about who has the best possessions, job, social standing, etc.
I do not miss moving at the speed of machines and feeling dizzy with my anxiety, always trying to keep up.
I do not miss working harder and harder to plan for benefits, respect, and a future with more and more money.
I do not miss living in denial about all this and justifying it with words like “prudence” or “value.”
I do not miss churches and sermons that could only apply to people like me with way too much privilege in my hands.
I do not miss feeling ashamed–yet responsible for my choices–and apparently powerless to change.
I do not miss taking advantage of people’s labor who must work for low wages in order to survive.
Check out this video I edited about a new community library project in Lima, Peru that my family helped inaugurate this summer. Our wonderful friends at El Viñedo de Laderas de Chillón along with my wife, Julissa Winton, worked so hard to both host and organize this weekend-long event. We are so fortunate to have them in our lives and to actually witness them doing this great work in our communities. My love to you all!
Miren este video que edité sobre un proyecto de la nueva biblioteca comunitaria en Lima, Perú que mi familia ayudó a inaugurar este verano. Nuestros maravillosos amigos en El Viñedo de Laderas de Chillón junto con mi esposa, Julissa Winton, trabajaron arduamente tanto para crear el espacio como para organizar este evento de todo un fin de semana. Somos muy afortunados de tenerlos en nuestras vidas y de ser testigos del gran trabajo que hacen en nuestras comunidades. ¡Mi amor para todos ustedes!
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).
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 addiction to 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. 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. 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.” (35:57-37:46)
“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.” (42:18-46:16)
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.
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.