New Monastics and White Privilege
Las Caras Lindas de mi Gente Negra,
Son un desfile de melaza en flor,
Que cuando pasan frente a mi se alegra,
De su negrura todo el corazón
-Tite Curet Alonso
I was delighted to be asked to participate in this conversation, even though I am not a leader or spokesperson for the New Monastic movement. I am using the term New Monasticism (as the group that is inspired by The School(s) for Conversion: 12 Marks of a New Monasticism) for the sake of common understanding because that is the concept that has been used in this conversation so far, even though I believe New Monasticism is varied and larger than just the 12 marks and the popular idea of what New Monasticism is.
Like Jason and Vonetta, my family is interracial and multiethnic. I am a Puerto Rican of brown skin. My wife is white, born and raised in the state of Washington. We have two kids and a third growing in "mamí's belly," as my daughter would say. My kids are growing as hyphenated people, with a rich racial and ethnic heritage as Irish, white, Taino/Arawakan, brown, African, Potowatomi, Welsh, Spanish, black, German,Puerto Rican, mestizo, and USA American. My children are growing also in one of the few countries that ignores and often violently negates the reality of people's multiple racial and ethnic identities. This does not happen only in the political/social services arena, but it is pervasive in all aspects of our lives -- including our churches and our "movements." En donde quiera se cuecen habas.
For me and mine (my family, community, friends) this conversation is not just another topic of the many we can choose from; this conversation is part of our core beings. Because of this I want to invest time and energy in conversations and relationships that will generate mutual transformation and growth. As a good friend told me recently, "blog conversations are a good start on a small front -- but the real work is ahead of us."
I am joyful to read Shane's and Jonathan's responses of how they are perceiving and working with the issue of racial reconciliation, healing, and full embrace in their private lives and in the life of their communities. I am also glad at their honesty in considering those points as only baby steps. Realizing that we are only crawling is a necessary action in order to see that we still have a lot of maturing to do. Andando, andando que la Virgen nos va ayudando.
What Vonetta and Jason have done with their provocative blog post is to help shed light on the homogeneous white and male expression in New Monasticism and beyond. By that I mean how "natural" it seems that most of the perceived leadership of this movement is white and male. I am certain there are women and men of color alongside. People of color are often considered strong companions and wise counselors, but often in hierarchies of power, people of color are behind the scenes -- not in the spotlight. Part of the luxury of oblivious white privilege is that it is normal to have people of color around, while for the most part being oblivious that they are systematically assigned a place on the sidelines. It is not by chance that it is hard to find people of color as prominent figures in spreading the vibes of New Monasticism through books, conferences, and new media. This also true of many other new emerging expressions of contemporary Christianity.
This predominantly white expression of New Monasticism is not a personal thing; it is part of a larger system of social categories, social identity and perception. New Monastics, white and of color, are not above or beyond the psychology that structures our racial and social identity and consciousness. Nor do we live in a vacuum where we are not affected -- positively or negatively -- by these structures. So this conversation is not about just individuals, but about bigger dominant systems of oppression. That said, it does get personal sometimes -- and not by choice. The unearned privilege that comes with being white may not be something people choose or take. The advantage is given by the system of social categorization, but the realization that some might benefit from a social construct while others are marginalized is a tough pill to swallow.
People in the spotlight and those who are socially perceived as leaders have lots of responsibility to speak out loud about these evil structures that thrive on silence. It is not enough to speak when asked and stay silent the rest of the time. To not speak of the issue is to give the perception that there is no issue.
If there is no challenge to the practices that -- intentionally or not -- support and preserve the marginalization of people of color, then we are accomplices in a self-perpetuating system of domination and oppression, while at the same time pulverizing efforts of racial healing, reconciliation, and full embrace. I am very glad Jason and Vonetta started making a loud enough noise about this subject that now it is part of a public open discussion.
Perhaps we need to work to a broader understanding of the formation of racial identity and systems of oppression and privilege. Perhaps we need to come to terms with the fact that while some have the option to move to the abandoned places of the empire, there are even more desolate places in hearts and minds and that are in dire need of liberation and redemption.
I do have some other things to say, but I was asked to write only a blog post, not a dissertation. Maybe there is more to come later.
Somos la melaza que ríe,
Somos la melaza que llora,
Somos la melaza que ama,
Y en cada beso,
-Titet Curet Alonso
Eliacín Rosario-Cruz serves as community catalyst and cultivator with Mustard Seed Associates. He and his family are part of The Mustard Seed House -- an intergenerational Christian intentional community in Seattle, where they eat, play, work, garden, pray, and conspire for a new reality.