Thursday, May 17, 2007

white privilege

A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing my friend, Ed Gilbreath, speak on the subject of his latest book, Reconciliation Blues. If you ever have an opportunity to hear Ed speak, go. You won’t be disappointed.

One of the things that struck me were Ed’s remarks about “representing” black people. If he’s the only minority person in the room and a racial issue comes up that nobody else notices, he feels a burden of responsibility to speak up. I can only imagine how exhausting this role must feel at times. A part of me wants to tell my friend, “Just be you and don’t carry around this burden to be Everybody; to always represent the minority point of view is just too hard—just be Ed.”

I cannot relate to this burden because I’m not required to carry it. I’m white. If I’m at the park and my kids misbehave, nobody looks at me and says, “Look at that white woman who can’t control her kids,” and walks away thinking, “those white people. Can’t they get it together?”

White privilege, —the ability to go about the day, the week, even the year without once considering matters of race—is something many of us white folks remain blissfully unaware of. That’s part of the problem. We don't even realize that some of the privileges we enjoy are related to the fact that we're white. We judge and criticize without ever once stopping to consider that maybe our opportunities in life were different from the start. And when we stay blissfully unaware of racial issues, things just slip by. Like the dreadful VBS curriculum, Rickshaw Rally, and this skit, by Youth Specialties (who issued a public apology for the material and immediately pulled it).

We don’t think we’re racist. Really, we’re not. And yet this stuff keeps happening. (And when I say, “we,” I’m speaking collectively for all white people. It’s time we started taking responsibility for OUR own.)

So what’s the solution? In the church, what is the antidote to white privilege? I realize this is a big topic, and I fear I've grossly oversimplified the issue, but I'm interested in what others think on this topic.

15 comments:

Maria Dodson said...

I'm reading Ed's book right now. It's a good read! I'm going to think on your comments and question and I'll get back to you - I just need some time to write an coherent answer. :)

spaghettipie said...

Whoa, LM. I was wondering where you were today, and now I see you've been thinkin...

I'm with Maria; I need to get back with you on this one.

silty said...

Well, LM, this problem isn't specific to black and white. If you're the only American in a overseas tour group, you might get questions or comments as if you represented all of America. If you're the only woman in a room, you might get asked: 'what's the women's point of view on such-and such issue', when really there's no collective women's point of view, there's only individual women, each with her own point of view. It just seems to a fallacy that most people fall into sometimes, and we don't necessarily have to ascribe it to racism.

Anonymous said...

"what is the antidote to white privilege?" Well, for starters get to know people of different races. Not just the people at your church but the unbelieving people of different races. Live in mixed neighborhoods. Live life with people who are different from you. They are people. I live in a culturally diverse suburb. Many white people have moved on because of the influx of diversity. It has been very interesting getting to know the different cultures and how they work. I had a great conversation with a neighbor of mine (as a matter of fact we have many good conversations) about how the cultures do things differently. Because of these conversations I have more understanding of "who" this family is and "where" they are coming from culturally. One of the conversations was about how her kids have to work harder at who they are and who they become because they are black. Because of the responsibility to prove something. All in all I have to say that living in this culturally diverse suburb has shown me that people are people, color doesn't matter when you are just getting to know people. Unfortunately people of the church don't always reflect Christ's colorblindness. Unfortunately I know Christians who have moved from our neighborhood because of the influx of diversity. They home school their children or send them to private school because of the culturally diverse school. But in the pew on Sunday they are all about sending a missionary to Africa or Honduras. They will freely give to the poor. But live among them among the poor or culturally different, hmm? That's hard. I know at times it is hard for me. It is not the color I see but the cultural differences. But as I learn about the cultures it makes it easier to build relationships with people who are different from me.

D.

L.L. Barkat said...

I think this is a question best asked to those outside of "privilege." For those on the "inside" can rarely see what needs to be done, or envision a path to accomplishing it.

Maria Dodson said...

I wonder if, in the simplest way, the “antidote” is submission of power. My question becomes what does that look like? And in my heart I think that means submitting all those things that we fear losing. Submitting them to God and to others – especially those that need those things the most. I know I am being terribly abstract here, but I really think this is what I have to bring to this conversation right now. Hope it’s helpful.

Llama Momma said...

Thank you, all, for sharing your thoughts on this too-big-for-a-simple-blog-post subject.

I really like what Maria said about submitting the things we fear losing. This resonates with me.

And is LL right? Is this conversation best held within minority groups, or do white folks have something to bring to the table too?

Anonymous said...

LM _ I definitely think white folks have something to bring to the table. To say we don't is a cop-out. We need to understand the cultural differences. We need to understand when we are being offensive to non white people. We need to own our own racism, even passive racism. Keeping ourselves closed up in a white bubble is passive indifference to a cause that I believe is near and dear to God's heart. I believe that the only way to truly know the struggle of non-white people is to get to know them. Not just the people at your church but the non-white people in your neighborhoods. The unbelieving population. They will tell you like it is. Building a relationship and asking some hard questions and then acknowledging where you have had a part in being blatantly racist or passively racist. Take a step, go on a missions trip right in your own neighborhood and build a relationship with a non-believer from another culture, maybe a culture that you struggle with most. Not just a "share the gospel" relationship, or a "let me help you with your needs" relationship, but a real one. You might be surprised. Deep down we are just people, with very similar needs, a people that a color blind God loves.

D.

Jenn said...

I want to discuss! But I don't have time to read all the comments now and say anything intelligent (whether that will happen even after I DO have time remains to be seen). But I just want to say THANK YOU for saying this.

spaghettipie said...

I think we just have to be diligent to be observant in this area - by asking ourselves if what we're saying or doing could be misinterpreted or offensive or if we might be pulling away or frustrated over something that is about cultural differences, etc. We have to engage with people, building relationships with them that encourage them to speak up if they see us acting inappropriately or being insensitive. And then we have to have a humble heart and attitude, to admit that we are wrong if we are offensive (I really appreciated the apology by the writers of that skit).

I think it's important to be aware and diligent about this issue. At the same time, I don't think we should over-analyze our actions or be afraid to speak for fear of offending.

Just some thoughts...

Craver Vii said...

As a Puerto Rican this is kinda strange for me. To some, I’m too white to be brown, but for others, too brown to be white. I think I’m headed in the same direction with this, but not by being “color blind.” I love colors! I like to see how somebody can be similar one way and different in another.

Homeschooling was mentioned. I wish it wasn’t, because I don’t know anyone in my homeschool support group who is doing it to avoid ethnic diversity.

Anyway, here’s my two cents from someone who’s attempts at social integration are not always well received. Some people will falsely accuse you of putting on a show for their sake, or doing too little, too late (as if you were personally responsible for bad things somebody else did.) Loving your neighbor means you keep on trying. Sometimes it will not be received well, and that’s okay. Shake off the stigma of white privilege or ethnic representative. Be intentional and keep trying. :-)

Eve said...

I'm French Acadian. Our family often laugh about the way we talk and our cultural mannerisms.

Everyone has their own accent, their own cultural differences, and uniqueness. It should be celebrated.

I don't advocate mocking or being hurtful, but sometimes we are too quick to take offence as well.

Llama Momma said...

Thanks, all, for your thoughts. I don't think we serve a "color blind" God -- after all, He takes great delight in each of us. Diversity is His idea.

Ted Gossard said...

LM, We're not overtly racist, very well, perhaps. But racism is in us, at least most of us, even if we hate it.

I don't excuse it, and I think in Christ these things can be broken down in practice and in our hearts.

Glad you bring up this thought of white privilege. We little know, I'm sure....

Keri Wyatt Kent said...

Llama mama
I took a great class this summer at Breakthrough Urban Ministries (where Ed has sometimes been a speaker)
It was called BUILD (Breakthrough Urban Institue of Leadership Development--I think) and it was a seminar that took us all around the city (mostly west side) to talk and learn about issues of race, poverty, justice. You should check into taking the class, I think you'd like it.