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**this post was originally shared at Spice Tithers

Since I wrote a post on white supremacy over the weekend, I’ve been having a lot of conversations about whiteness. And I don’t like it. To talk about whiteness is to saddle up the angry elephant in the room and ride that sucker around.

In America, whiteness is our default. I catch myself in conversations with my husband where I’m describing a new acquaintance and I’ll describe everything about her BUT her race if she’s white. If she’s not, race is the first thing I usually mention. White is my default. Everyone else is other. I’m learning to see whiteness.

And what I’m seeing when I see whiteness isn’t just race. I’m seeing the lies behind the labels. I’m seeing my own fears and biases. (If you want to borrow my mirror on this, there are bias tests that can help you see your own ugly.) This week, I shared this comment on Facebook. It felt like a plea for help, like all confession does.

I don’t condone destruction or looting. I have to ask, though, why collectively we’re more concerned about storefronts and the destruction of property than we are about loss of human life? Why are we more afraid of a large group of unarmed angry black protestors than we are of armed angry white protestors? I’m asking these questions of myself as much as I’m asking any of you guys. When it comes to racism, there may be differing degrees of complicity and perpetration, but we’re all in recovery together. Let’s admit we have a problem…Hi, my name is Cayce and I’ve adopted racist constructs and fears.

Most of the conversations I’ve been having about whiteness go off the rails immediately. The biggest obstacle to productive discussions and reflection comes when a white person I’m talking to says, “Are you calling me a racist?” I’m immediately put on the defensive, and compelled to walk back what I’ve said, etc. because where we live, being called a racist is worse than actually being one. Now, there are a lot of fantastic resources on the web to deal with this particular derailment. (My favorite is this one.)

But the truth is, no matter what facts you give, no matter how you walk it back or try to explain it, the accusation that you’ve called a white person a racist just sticks. So from here on, I’m changing my strategy. If you ask me am I calling you a racist, I’m going there with you:

Yes. You are a racist. So am I. Let’s get some help.

If I’ve learned anything from my walk with Jesus, if someone is calling me out, I will want to fight it. But every confrontation with the truth goes easier for me if I surrender quickly. So, my reputation as a white person with racist attitudes is out there.

There is a fear in facing the whiteness and all the privilege it entails. We can’t seem to look it in the eye. There are a lot of reasons for that, but I think the most likely is this: we like the lie.

Bejamin Corey addresses this at Patheos:

If we admit to the existence of systemic racism in America, it will prove false the American narrative so many of us grew up believing…We can’t admit that systemic racism exists, because that will mean the narrative we were taught about America is a huge lie…If we admit to the existence of systemic racism in America, it makes us guiltyWe don’t want to admit it because we’d have to admit that we’ve been complicit in the sin by not addressing the sin…If we admit to the existence of systemic racism, it would demand costly change.

And Ta-Nehisi Coates nailed it this week in the context of conversations about what’s going down in Ferguson:


We are being told that Michael Brown attacked an armed man and tried to take his gun. The people who are telling us this hail from that universe where choke-holds are warm-fuzzies, where boys discard their skittles yelling, “You’re gonna die tonight,” and possess the power to summon and banish shotguns from the ether. These are the necessary myths of our country, and without them we are subject to the awful specter of history, and that is just too much for us to bear.

Taken all together, the body count that led us to our present tenuous democratic moment does not elevate us above the community of nations, but installs us uncomfortably within its ranks. And that is terrifying because it shows us to be neither providential nor exceptional, and only special in the subjective sense that our families are special—because they are ours.

As Coates points out, we have a distorted view of our history in America. We want the good old story so bad, so we will refuse to see the connections of the evils in our past and the evils in our present.

Squandering opportunities to do it better than we did before.

Squandering opportunities to do it better than we did before.

The Bible makes it clear that there’s nothing new under the sun. Perhaps it’s because despite our lip-service to the contrary, we don’t really want to learn our lesson. But God has given us everything we need for life and godliness. He’s given us the opportunity to start again. He died and brought Himself back so that we could know the liberation of confession, forgiveness, and contrition. He’s given us His Word to bring us hope and to teach us what to do. He’s calling us to stand with the oppressed.

Greg Ogden writes:

The symbol of justice in our society is a blindfolded woman, indicating that justice is blind. The fair judge is dispassionately objective, free from bias, who rationally decides what is right before an impersonal law. On the other hand, the role of the judge and justice in Israel was to actively and redemtively seek to protect the poor from the wiles of the rich and powerful. So strong was the skepticism toward the powerful that the poor in the courts were often viewed collectively as the innocent and the righteous…

Time and again we see God’s prophets rail against the abuses of the powerful. To those of us living under the illusion of “American justice” as it stands today, reading the Scriptures can be disconcerting. We want to explain this aspect of God’s character away with a hermeneutic, “Well, He meant poor in spirit. Well, He meant that for that time, and that culture only. He doesn’t do that to nations or expect that of us anymore.” We just ‘splain these texts away.

To us, Biblical justice feels unfair. It feels like partiality. Because it is.

God in His wisdom, has accounted for our propensity for sin and abuse of power. He has anticipated our behavior, both the individual and the collective, and He talks about it. A lot.

Again I looked and saw all the oppression that was taking place under the sun:

I saw the tears of the oppressed—
    and they have no comforter;
power was on the side of their oppressors—
    and they have no comforter…

He also gives us a solution for these problems in confession, repentance, and ultimately, solidarity:

Two are better than one,
    because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down,
    one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls
    and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
    But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered,
    two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

-Ecclesiastes 4

The privileged among us don’t just stand in solidarity just to be helpful. We are called to need the oppressed. The oppressed keep us accountable for our complicity in oppression. They remind us of the suffering servant Jesus. They give us the opportunity to participate with God in an act of restorative justice. They shatter our insulated, white-informed [un]consciousness with their prayers of lamentation:

We are touching the bibles handed down from our great-grandparents gnarled hands to our smooth, desk-working ones. We are reciting the promises inside them. Those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousnessBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 

You promised, we pray, as though we’ve been betrayed. You promised, we repeat, as though we may have been forsaken. But we’d forgotten that we are still walking and that the shadow of death may not look like a hospital bed at the end of a long, storied life, but instead like a city on lockdown, asphyxiating its citizens, imposing a curfew on all who seek justice, donning riot gear and rolling tanks simply to protect a police officer who murdered someone whose skin looked like our own.

(There is still time left, right, Lord? There’s still time, isn’t there, for You to redeem these dark times?)

 Please. Please. Just be patient. We are making our way. But you must understand that it is hard, when we are cordoned on all sides by toxic clouds. Surely, you can empathize with how difficult it is to be clear-eyed while gagging on these cannisters of cover-ups.

Stacia Brown

We’ve worked hard to build this American narrative: of founding fathers, hearth-tending mothers, courageous colonizers, forbearing minorities, and magnanimous white benefactors. But hard work does not a truth make. We have become like the blacksmith constructing an idol in Isaiah 44:

The blacksmith takes a tool
    and works with it in the coals;
he shapes an idol with hammers,
    he forges it with the might of his arm.
He gets hungry and loses his strength;
    he drinks no water and grows faint.
The carpenter measures with a line
    and makes an outline with a marker;
he roughs it out with chisels
    and marks it with compasses.
He shapes it in human form,
    human form in all its glory,
    that it may dwell in a shrine.
He cut down cedars,
    or perhaps took a cypress or oak.
He let it grow among the trees of the forest,
    or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.
It is used as fuel for burning;
    some of it he takes and warms himself,
    he kindles a fire and bakes bread.
But he also fashions a god and worships it;
    he makes an idol and bows down to it.
Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
    over it he prepares his meal,
    he roasts his meat and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
    “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest he makes a god, his idol;
    he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
    “Save me! You are my god!”
They know nothing, they understand nothing;
    their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see,
    and their minds closed so they cannot understand.
No one stops to think,
    no one has the knowledge or understanding to say,
“Half of it I used for fuel;
    I even baked bread over its coals,
    I roasted meat and I ate.
Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left?
    Shall I bow down to a block of wood?”
Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him;
    he cannot save himself, or say,
    “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

It’s time to acknowledge the singe story we’ve told ourselves, and admit we’ve bought into a system of oppression. We’ve believed it. We defended it. We’ve taught our children to love it. We have worshipped the idol and laid waste to the image of God that He set before us in the bodies of our black brothers and sisters.

policeAcknowledging the truth about America doesn’t mean I hate it. It doesn’t negate the sacrifice people before us have made with their lives. For the love of God, Christ died for sinners while they were still sinners. We’re no exception to that because we’re American or because we’re white. We’re full of error. And that is an amendable fact if we own up to it.

shirleyWe have to ask ourselves if we have biases that inconsistent with God’s justice. Who gets the benefit of the doubt? Who gets scrutiny? Who do we easily love? Who do we easily fear? These aren’t fun questions. The answers are often embarrassing. But they don’t have to be the last word because we have a remarkable capacity for change.

Am I racist? Yes, but I might not be racist tomorrow. It’s possible to do better. Rather than defending my reputation, I want to change my posture and seek to be saved from this. I have to hold out hope, despite the things I’m seeing to the contrary, that us white people can get it right.

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We’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but we’re still actively sharing resources and having discussions on Facebook. So while we’re away, you can find us there!

We hope to be back soon with fresh posts, including a conversational review by Kate and Cayce of Christena Cleveland’s new book, Disunity in Christ. Grab a copy and join us!

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Since Tuesday, most of my social media feeds have been full of laments claiming the end is nigh, God’s judgment is on its way. Thanks to this election, America will no longer be the hope of the world. Leaving aside that I believe there’s only one ultimate hope of the world, Jesus, I have to say I’ve been disappointed, near-distraught by the distress of my people over the President’s re-election.

Kate reminded me Tuesday (and Wednesday) of Psalm 146 and it’s command to put not our trust in princes. Yet my brothers and sisters in the white evangelical community are in literal mourning over this election. Yesterday I even heard a DJ on the local Christian radio station consoling her audience, saying “God wasn’t surprised by these results. He’s still on the throne.” (which, for those unfamiliar with our ways, is how we usually comfort those shocked by horrible tragedies. I first heard this comment after 9/11 for instance.)

What we’re missing in our grief over here is the large numbers of people of color who wanted President Obama to win:

Obama’s share of each of those blocs was overwhelming: 93 percent of African-Americans, 71 percent of Latinos, 73 percent of Asians, 55 percent of the ladies, and 60 percent of the kids. New York Magazine

There were lots of white Christians, too, voting for Obama, but in our white evangelical communities (78 percent voting for Romney), we’re completely ignorant of the fact that Christians of color went to the polls and made a different (not immoral, different) choice.

To me, this doesn’t say that we as a Church have an ideological divide to overcome. We have a racial one. And the longer we white Christians (evangelical, Catholic, and everywhere all over/in between) claim our political choices are the only ones Christ would approve of, the bigger that gap between us and people of color becomes.

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You have to watch this clip of Melissa Harris-Perry sounding off on poverty in America. Passionate and full of truth:

Check out the full segment on MSNBC.

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As best I can remember, it started in high school. Being told I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed. The form looked something like this:

RACE (choose one)

  • Caucasian (non-Hispanic)
  • African American
  • Asian American/Pacific Islander
  • Native American
  • Hispanic/Latino

I sat in my desk, puzzled. I had no idea what I was supposed to check. I approached the teacher and asked him what he thought I was supposed to check. He advised me to pick whichever option seemed right to me. The other kids in my predominantly white class didn’t seem to be having this problem. They were already filling out other sections of the form. I returned to my desk, still puzzled. I am white, I thought, looking at my absurdly pasty skin. But I am hispanic, I argued with myself. OK, but I’m not Latino, I countered. Yes, but the form means Hispanic and/or Latino. I cannot check “non-Hispanic,” that definitely wouldn’t be true. I checked “Hispanic/Latino.” I would not deny that dimension of my identity.

Obviously there were other problems with this form. There was, for example, no multiracial option to speak of. But the problem for me was that it confused race and ethnicity, requiring me to choose between being white or being hispanic. The form told me that I don’t exist, or at least that my understanding of myself either wasn’t possible or wasn’t allowed.

Hispanic is not a race. Hispanic people come in all human colors. The t-shirt I acquired at a hispanic multicultural festival in college, however simplistic, attempted to illustrate this: a black person, a yellow person, a white person, and a red person leaping into a bowl with the caption “Diverse ingredients make the best salsa.” We are descended from peoples of many nations and cultures from every populated continent. Many of us are multiracial.

Image

Hispanic. Not all of us like the term. Not all of us use the term. But it includes all these people and more.

Some of us are white. In 2010, the majority of American hispanics (53%) identified themselves as white to the U.S. Census Bureau (see Table 2 here). I am a white hispanic woman, even when forms don’t allow it. I’ve got the knapsack to prove it. But despite the high profiles of people such as Cameron Diaz, Martin Sheen, and Alexis Bledel, it seems that a lot of Americans still haven’t caught on. They think of “hispanic” as a race, a race that excludes us from being white and receiving white privilege.

So the denial of my existence continues. Almost a month after Trayvon Martin was fatally shot by George Zimmerman, I started seeing claims here and there that the media had “invented” the concept of a “white hispanic.”

“He’s only a ‘white Hispanic’,” said Bernard Goldberg, “because they need the word ‘white’ to further the storyline, which is ‘white, probably racist vigilante shoots unarmed black kid.’”

“The media then created a special rubric ‘white Hispanic,’” wrote Victor Davis Hanson, “when its narrative of white-on-black crime was endangered by new information that Mr. Zimmerman had a Latino mother, although it normally does not use such terminology for others of mixed ancestry — Barack Obama himself being a good example.”

A Real Clear Politics headline explicitly shouted, “The Media’s Latest Invention: ‘White Hispanic.’”

At least some of the sources of this narrative got the timeline right, as Hanson did, even if they got many other things wrong. Others, such as Goldberg, didn’t even seem to get the timeline correct. Here’s what really happened, chronologically speaking:

  1. The initial police report on February 26 identified Trayvon Martin’s shooter, George Michael Zimmerman, as a white male. This was the basis of the earlier media identification of George Zimmerman as a white male.
  1. On March 15, the Orlando Sentinel published a letter by Robert Zimmerman, the father of the shooter, which claimed: “George is a Spanish speaking minority with many black family members and friends. He would be the last to discriminate for any reason whatsoever.” This letter led many news outlets to update their previous use of “white” to “white hispanic.”

Looking at the chronology, it’s clear that the media didn’t add “white” to “hispanic” in order to fabricate a “white-on-black crime” story. George Zimmerman was already identified by police as a white man who shot an unarmed black teenager, and reporters later modified Zimmerman’s race with his ethnicity to accommodate his father’s elaboration.

Comments like Hanson’s frustrated me in more than one way. “White hispanic” is not some novel invention of the media. It’s me. Being hispanic doesn’t mean I’m not white and don’t receive white privilege. For the love of God, quit telling me I don’t exist!

But I am also pissed off that Hanson, among others, adopted Robert Zimmerman’s flawed reasoning. The shooter’s father has suggested that hispanics cannot participate in white privilege, are somehow immune to the prevailing racial prejudices of our culture, and cannot act on those prejudices in ways detrimental to people of color. In reality, however, we can and we often do. Because I do exist, I know this from personal experience, and I have something to say. Those of us who are white are often the recipients of white privilege, whether we want it or not, even if some of us contend with other prejudices and discrimination against us on the basis of ethnicity. Everyone imbibes the prevailing racial prejudices and stereotypes of our culture, even if we harbor other racial prejudices, even if we dislike and resist the prevailing prejudices, even if we have family members and friends mitigating their influence on our thinking and acting. Kenneth and Mamie Clark’s “doll tests” illustrated that even black people can internalize anti-black prejudices to their own detriment. Hispanic people like me and George Zimmerman are not any more immune.

When people raise the issue of Zimmerman being a “white Hispanic,” to me that does not erase the fact that an African American male was targeted and killed. You could be a Latino or white or Asian and still wrongly target an African American male. That’s the issue that we’re looking at…. Whether you’re a black or white Latino, indigenous or mestizo, once you step into the U.S., you begin to get racialized by the way the U.S. defines whiteness because of the way in which the country operates. Even a white Latino at some point gets racialized in the United States, some also get privileges because of the way they look. There is a dominant race framework that everyone is fitting into, that society is defining. That’s the world that we live in. I have a son who has a black mother and a Latino father. And culturally he may be raised with the traditions of Louisiana, Costa Rica and Mexico, but at the end of the day, he’s not gonna be judged by those cultural traditions, he’s going to be judged by what he looks like. (Alberto Retana)

See also: “Conservatives baffled at idea of white Hispanic people: A brief primer on race versus ethnicity” by Alex Pareene.

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