White Privilege

Star Wars: Racism—and White Fragility—Awakens

Screenshot via 'Star Wars'/YouTube

I’ve noticed that when many white liberals are confronted with these numbers, and the racism that undergirds our privilege, we start feeling guilty. We generally have two choices in how we respond to our feelings of guilt: First, we can choose to become defensive. We start concealing our own racism by projecting it onto the overt racists who start Twitter campaigns that boycott Star Wars. In other words, we’d much rather take the easy way out of scapegoating. We’d rather blame the racists out there than do the difficult work of examining the racism that infects in each one of us.

But the more vehemently white liberals deny that we are racists, the more evidence we provide that that’s exactly what we are.

The second choice is to move beyond white fragility, by doing the difficult work of examining the racism within ourselves and our society. We can acknowledge that the racist structures that infect our country also infects us. We can choose to openly acknowledge the benefits we gain from racist societal structures. We can choose to work for political, economic, and educational reform that will lead toward greater racial justice.

Jim Wallis Discusses His New Book, 'America's Original Sin,' on NPR

Image via Brazos Press.

“When Trayvon Martin was shot and killed, I felt - you might call it the lament of a white father. I knew and the whole country knew that my son Luke — six-foot-tall baseball athlete, going to college next year — had been walking and doing the same thing, same time that Trayvon was doing in Sanford, Fla., everyone knows he would've come back. But Trayvon didn't come back, and so it was a parable. Jesus talked about parables. They teach us things. Michael Brown — Ferguson — was a parable. Charleston was a parable. The parable about where we are as a nation — we have to see our original sin and how it still lingers in our criminal justice system.”

Privileged to Be Here

Image via  /Shutterstock

There are two sides to privilege. One involves getting special treatment — that part’s pretty obvious. The other part involves avoiding the many obstacles that others face in order to have the same chance as us.
To use an analogy: If you get to start the race way ahead of the other runners, then you are privileged. But by the same measure, if you start at the same place but others have hurdles in their lane while yours is clear, then you are privileged as well.

Returning Home: A Reflection on Power and Privilege upon Being in Charleston

Image via Globe Turner/Shutterstock

Image via /Shutterstock

For the past thirty years my family has vacationed in Charleston, S.C. I spent eight years living, going to school, and working in Charleston; I met my wife there, got married there, and it is still a place we count as home when people ask.

The shootings at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston let loose a flood of memories long shoved into the recesses of my mind. One of these was when I was the youth director for a large white affluent congregation, and the youth groups at Mother Emanuel and my church performed a joint Youth Sunday service in the late 90s.

Driving from Asheville, N.C, to Charleston shortly after the shootings, my heart grew heavy as I wondered what to do when we arrived. Nothing I envisioned captured the heaviness I felt; the need to be useful. I decided to sleep on it.

A Frat Guy Reflects on the Greek System’s White Privilege Problem

Fraternity related scandals reached a fever pitch earlier this year over the viral footage of two Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) students at the University of Oklahoma chanting an appalling, racially insensitive song. There was a certain visceral, shocking quality to the story that drew me in, along with the rest of the country. Students marched. The University President swiftly shut down the SAE house. And Danny Duncan Collum wrote “Epic Bad Behavior,” (Sojourners, June 2015), an article advocating for the abolishment of more fraternities. While Collum’s position is extreme, I find it challenging to disagree — even as an alumnus of the University of Oklahoma and its fraternity system.

The OU fraternity members’ behavior seemed to be unanimously condemned by the faculty and student body, including those in fraternities and sororities. Still, as I read social media comments from both current and former members of the OU Greek system, I felt a sense of disappointment that a valuable, albeit painful, lesson was generally missed. Instead of seeing the incident as an opportunity for serious self-reflection, most preferred to frame it as an isolated mistake of two bad apples.

While in a fraternity, I found it peculiar how defensive many in Greek life were to even the slightest criticisms. When classmates playfully joked that fraternities were “centers of conformity” or “places to buy friends,” fraternity members had the usual rebuttals ready: Fraternity members have higher overall GPAs; so much good is done through fraternity philanthropy; most Congressmen were in fraternities (I never found that one too compelling).

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I Am an Activist Do-Gooder in Recovery

Insulated superhero. Vector concept courtesy artenot/shutterstock.comm

Insulated superhero. Vector concept courtesy artenot/shutterstock.comm

I went to college thinking political activism was sexy. Living in a large city gave me unparalleled access to protests for countless good causes. Chanting at anti-war marches and getting arrested on behalf of climate change legislation would make interesting party stories, I thought. I quickly hopped on the Occupy Chicago bandwagon, a movement which calls for a more equitable wealth distribution, but whose leaders and participants were largely white college graduates. None of my organizing work focused on racial inequalities, but stayed in the realm of money in politics, equitable banking practices, and climate change.

My journey took a profound turn at an organizing training where I proudly stated I was there because my faith called me to advocate for the least of these. In response, a powerful, albeit brash, leader in Chicago’s movements angrily characterized me as an “activist do-gooder” who was fueled by the need to be a good white person. This label devastated me. I’m outspoken, passionate and willing to lead, I thought, so why can’t people see me as a resource? I took a break from the organizing world feeling disillusioned and miffed.

This attitude forced me to ask myself, why was I drawn to political activism in the first place? What was it that drew me to the movements in which I involved myself? And why was I so offended that someone had questioned my motives?



'Dear White People:' A Satire of Injustice

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy dearwhitepeoplemovie.com.

A poster for 'Dear White People.' Image courtesy dearwhitepeoplemovie.com.

It might be tempting for some viewers to see Dear White People as over-the-top. To see some of its characters as caricatures, or the offensive party that makes up its climax — with white students dressed in blackface — as unrealistic. But it’s not. For evidence, you only need to look as far as the credits, which show photos from similar events at other schools across the country. And when the president of Winchester claims that “racism is over in America,” it doesn’t sound too different from Bill O’Reilly’s similar claim on The Daily Show just last week.

Dear White People is clever, loving, angry satire. It’s a multi-faceted exploration of race in a time when such portrayals are needed, like peroxide on a deep cut. The film sometimes falters in its process, but delivers the goods when it matters most. The fact that it comes so stingingly close to reality is stunning. It’s funny. It’s sad.

Not As Helpless As We Think: 3 Ways to Stand In Solidarity With Ferguson

Photo by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography / Flickr.com

Justice for Michael Brown rally in Washington, D.C., Aug. 14. Photo by Elvert Barnes Protest Photography / Flickr.com

I’ve been calling it the Summer of Helplessness.

From the conflict in Gaza that has left more than 1,000 civilians dead, to the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over the skies of Ukraine, to the Ebola breakout getting worse by the day, to the shooting of yet another unarmed black teenager here in the U.S., the news of late is enough to make a person feel paralyzed with helplessness and despair. My prayers these days are of the tired, desperate sort: How long, O Lord? Will you hide your face from us forever?

But when it comes to violence and oppression, we are rarely as helpless as we think, and this is especially true as the events unfolding in Ferguson force Americans to take a long, hard look at the ongoing, systemic racism that inspired so many citizens to protest in cities across the country this week.

I’ve heard from many of my white friends and readers who say they aren’t sure how to respond to the anger and grief they are watching on TV or hearing from their black friends. They want to be part of the solution but don’t know where start. They may even feel a little defensive when they hear people talking about white privilege or inaction on the part of white Christian leaders. I’m in the process of learning too, but as I’ve listened to people of color whose opinions I trust, I’ve heard them issue several calls to action we can all heed.

Deep In My Heart

By Federal Bureau of Investigation Workers (Federal Bureau of Investigation) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Saturday marked the 50th anniversary of the senseless slaughter and lynching of civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner during Freedom Summer in Mississippi. They gave their lives to insure that every person in Mississippi would have the right to vote and be a full citizen of this nation. This interracial trio believed with all their hearts that it was worth it to put their bodies on the line for racial justice and dignity, and they paid the ultimate price.

We have come a long way in the last 50 years, but the recent deaths of Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida remind us that much work remains, and that white supremacy may have taken different forms, but it is alive and well. And today, white supremacy operates most powerfully at the subconscious level. And it has to do with an innate feeling of superiority.