The Common Good

A Convenient Truth: I Am White

Editor's Note: This column is part of a duo of posts commenting on racial reconciliation in light of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Read the accompanying piece, "An Inconvenient Truth: I Am Black."

I am white. It is quite convenient to be white. In fact, it has always been convenient to be white in the United States of America.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, I am more likely to be employed than someone who is not white, I am less likely to be incarcerated, I am more likely to be covered by health insurance, and I am more likely to enjoy a comfortable retirement and eventually die peacefully in my elder years. I am more likely have a college education than a non-white person, my (white) wife is more likely to receive excellent medical care, my (white) children are more likely to attend private schools with skilled teachers, and my (white) family is more likely to have a roof over our heads, a few cars in the garage, and more than enough food on our table.

While individual cases vary, to be white is – generally speaking – a convenient truth. 

There are countless factors one could cite for the current levels of race-based inequality in the U.S., and many opinions exist surrounding potential solutions, yet there are three points of emphasis that need to be addressed for the advancement of racial reconciliation. 

First, it is crucial (especially for white people like myself) to recognize that it is (and always has been) socially and economically convenient to be white. Second, we (especially white people) must eliminate the far too common racist theories surrounding racial inequality as being exclusively related to work ethic, intelligence, and/or discipline. Third, it is essential for people of all race groups to join together as one human community, engage in conversation, identify our issues with sincerity, and thus respond to the systemic sources and community consequences of our race-based inequalities.

If all people are born as equals, as the U.S. Declaration of Independence proclaims, then equal opportunity regardless of skin color should be an urgent priority. As racial reconciliation is incomplete without transformation and empowerment, those committed to equal opportunity are called to move past short-term charity toward an embrace of long-term justice. In other words, as my colleague and co-pastor Stephen Marsh reminds us, the historical threads of our national fabric are soaked in racial exploitation, and while try to move on without full confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation, we cannot progress as a unified society when the wounds of racism remain deeply ingrained and widely visible. 

While it is indeed possible for any person – regardless of racial identity – to enjoy the fullness of life, the shameful reality is that such outcomes remain more probable for those who are born white. While against-all-odds stories exist, those who beat the odds are not only rare, but they are also – by definition – people who faced difficult odds, and we cannot accept a society in which some have lesser odds than others. So as we prepare to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Monday, it is time to even out the odds of opportunity, renew our collective efforts at genuine racial reconciliation, and ensure that all people are born with a full array of life options. As people who share the dream to thrive through content of character rather than color of skin, we recognize the presence of God within our various racial identities, thus it is a foundational aspect of our faith journey to ensure life in its fullness for all people. The time is upon us to face the appalling past and present facts of racial inequality, and in response to our common connection as companions in the human community, promote a world in which all people in all places are given the opportunity to flourish. 

 

Brian E. Konkol is an ordained pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), serves as Co-Pastor of Lake Edge Lutheran Church (Madison, WI), and is a PhD candidate in Theology & Development with the University of KwaZulu-Natal (South Africa.).

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