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.