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Posts Tagged ‘contrition’

This case is a perfect example of what’s wrong with our national discourse on race.  There are lot of problematic dynamics at work here.

There has been a firestorm of criticism over the administration’s handling of this situation, and rightly so; I’ll get to that point later in this post.  But I think the first thing to note is that edited clip was part of a campaign to prove the existence of anti-white “racism” in the NAACP.  As it turned out, what Breitbart framed as racist speech was actually a message against anti-white prejudice, and a story about a woman who learned through her faith and her work with the rural poor to overcome that prejudice in herself.  The woman we were supposed to condemn as a racist turned out to be someone who has dedicated her life to working with the poor of all races, a person whom the supposed victims of her racism immediately rushed to defend.  Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is the best Andrew Breitbart could do.  The fact that he had to go to such lengths to “find” an example of NAACP racism – that he had to concoct evidence of this by using a clip doctored to mean the opposite of what it actually meant – says volumes about the tenuous nature of Tea Partier criticisms of the NAACP as a “racist organization.”

Secondly, I’m struck by the false moral equivalence, again, between anti-white prejudice from blacks and anti-black prejudice from whites.  Many on the right insist on the fiction that our national history of state-enabled discrimination and terrorism against blacks has nothing to do with black prejudice against whites, and on the complementary fiction that white fears of and prejudices against blacks have any rational basis.  Sherrod talks in the video about how she grew up in a GA county where African Americans were murdered and lynched by whites with impunity, and got away with it.  Her own father was murdered by a white man in front of three eyewitnesses and was never indicted.  To use the same term and moral language to describe, on the one hand, Sherrod’s onetime suspicion of and antipathy towards white people, and on the other, the irrational fears and prejudices against black people of some members of the Tea Party (examples: calling Obama a witch doctor, or accusing him of wanting to institute white slavery), is a misleading and false moral equivalence.

This is also a story about the unproductive and misleading ways in which we frame having racist attitudes as a reflection on one’s character and moral state.  When doing or saying something racist, or being a racist, is equated with being a bad person, it makes it impossible for people to have honest conversations about their own racism, even if it’s past racism from 24 years ago.  It makes people believe that racist attitudes – no matter how far in the past, no matter if one is acknowledging them in an effort to move beyond them – are feelings they have to hide at all costs, and therefore makes it impossible to combat these attitudes.  This is something that both anti-racists and people who derail conversations about race can be guilty of.  The character assassination of Shirley Sherrod is only the latest volley in a battle between the NAACP and the Tea Party Movement about racist elements in the latter organization.  Supporters of the TPM have responded to the NAACP resolution calling on their organization to denounce racist elements and speech in its ranks as though it were an accusation that the TPM as a whole was a racist organization, and had as its mission to further racist ends – in other words, they have responded as though the TPM were being accused of being an evil organization, rather than organization that had some morally suspect elements (for example, Sarah Palin: “The only purpose of such an unfair accusation of racism is to dissuade good Americans from joining the Tea Party movement or listening to the common sense message of Tea Party Americans who simply want government to abide by our Constitution . . . All decent Americans abhor racism. No one wants to be associated with any organization that is in any way racist in sentiment or origin . . . Thankfully, the Tea Party movement is not racist or motivated by racism.” ht Racialicious)  Similarly, the NAACP responded to the edited clip of Sherrod as though she were a bad person whom they had to denounce and distance themselves from.

It’s very troubling that there’s no space in public discourse for people to admit to being wrong about having racist attitudes.   Think about it – our government is run at the highest levels by mostly white people in their 60s and 70s, people who grew up in a segregated America where open racism was the norm.  The odds that none of our elected officials have harbored or struggled with racist attitudes, now or in the past, completely beggars belief.  Yet it would be political suicide for a politician to admit to having such attitudes today, and inadvisable to even admit to having had them at some point in the past.  We have a basic inability to acknowledge as a country our history and its effects on how we relate to each other, and this has a a chilling effect on race relations.  Sherrod is another innocent casualty of – as Eric Holder has put it – our national cowardice and dishonesty on matters of race.

My friend Stacia pointed out that Sherrod is also a casualty of our sound bite society, where reputations are made or destroyed over clips and excerpts that are easily manipulated through editing and taking things out of context.  Breitbart and whoever sent him the clip have manufactured a national firestorm out of a doctored version of events.  Shirley Sherrod’s career of helping poor and disenfranchised farmers, and her story of how she overcame her prejudices, have been reduced to a 3 minute clip intended to assassinate her character and malign the work of the NAACP.

I’d add to this point that we need as anti-racists to think carefully about whether it’s always productive to call for someone’s firing or resignation when they say or do something racist.  It shouldn’t necessarily be the case that someone should lose their entire livelihood or reputation for that behavior; this should depend on the nature and severity of the behavior, and how the person responds to having their offensive behavior pointed out to them.  Otherwise we play right into the idea that racist speech or behavior is something that only “bad” people do, and that a person’s entire character can be accurately assessed by one moment in which they do or say something offensive.  (To be clear, this is a general point and less about Sherrod – if her out of context comments had in fact accurately described how she did her job at the USDA, her firing would have been completely justified).

To say that the initial responses of the NAACP, the USDA, and the White House were disappointing would be a massive understatement.  It was unspeakably unprofessional of USDA officials to pressure Sherrod without giving her so much as one day to explain herself or have the situation reviewed.  This treatment and the White House’s defense of it were acts of utter cowardice.  I’m left wondering why the Obama administration is so terrified of allegations of racism that it’s willing to throw all notions of due process or waiting to hear all the facts out the window.  Are they that afraid of conservative allegations of racism?  Do they have so little confidence in their ability to convince the public of their commitment to Americans of all races?

The NAACP has said that they were “snookered” by maliciously edited video.  Well, they were, as were the USDA and the White House.  But the question is, why were they so easy to snooker?  And why were they so quick to throw Shirley Sherrod under the bus?  The President and VP have been bending over backwards to defend the Tea Party Movement against charges of racism, despite a well documented history of problems with racist speech at the highest levels of the TPM; yet they were lightning quick to dismiss an individual black woman over unverified charges of racism.  This is no coincidence; this is a story about the privileges that whiteness, maleness, power, and status confer.  The TPM is an influential, well-connected, mostly white organization, backed by popular pols and associated with white disaffection with the direction of the country; the administration is terrified to touch them.  A lone black woman like Shirley Sherrod, though, is apparently an appropriate target of withering criticism and disenfranchisement by the NAACP, USDA, and White House.  Make no mistake, this is a story about the perceived expendability of black women.  In this case they made the serious error in judgment of assuming Sherrod would slink away quietly.

Even in the wake of the revelations that the video clip was misleading, many conservatives are still claiming that this incident shows that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – in other words, that Sherrod and other NAACP supporters can be racists just like TPM supporters. I keep coming back to the irony that supporters of the TPM are for the most part Christians, like Shirley Sherrod, who say they believe in the possibility of repentance and the hope of redemption.  The difference between Shirley Sherrod and her TPM critics is that Shirley Sherrod owned up to her sin of racial prejudice, and repented of it.  She gave a speech at an NAACP meeting calling her listeners to the same repentance, to forgiveness of a society and government that had deeply wounded them, and to embrace reconciliation with all people.  Meanwhile, the TPM’s response to allegations of racism has not been to examine themselves and repent as necessary, but to point fingers and call for the heads of people like Shirley Sherrod – a woman they could have seen as a example of the redemption they say they believe Christ offers.

Shirley Sherrod should be held up as an example and hero for us all.  She could have continued just “doing enough” for white people and feeling hatred for them, and felt justified in doing so, given all had been taken from her, her loved ones, and her community by white people, with the support of a mostly white government.  But she chose not to.  She chose to love.

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As mentioned in an update to our previous post on the Prescott Mural controversy, after local protests, the Prescott school district has withdrawn their request that the mural be lightened, and both the school’s principal and the Prescott district school superintendent have publicly apologized for asking that the faces of the children be lightened (video below).  I loved that their apologies were clear and to the point, and didn’t involve any excuses, blame-shifting, or minimizing – just simple statements of “We made a mistake” and “we’re sorry.”  How often do we hear apologies like that from public officials anymore, not least about racially charged issues?  Kudos to them for being to admit a mistake and taking steps to correct it.  And kudos to the residents of Prescott who stood up against racism in their city! (h/t Huffington Post)

Meanwhile, Steve Blair’s comments (transcript here) about the mural have led to significant public criticism, his ouster from his show on a local radio station, and calls for him to resign from his position as a city councilman.  Unfortunately, Councilman Blair has responded to the criticism of his comments not by taking some time to think about why they were offensive, but by repeating a number of his most problematic comments, taking the opportunity to make even more racist and privileged criticisms of the mural, and painting himself as a victim who was just trying to defend his city and “stand up for what’s right.”  Because, y’all, complaining about the prominent featuring of a child of color on a mural is a matter of moral integrity.  Take, for example, Blair’s defense of himself in an interview with the Prescott eNews (below, h/t Reappropriate), or his statement to the press on the controversy (video here).

Blair’s view is that he was fired simply for “asking a question.”  The closest he comes to making any apology for his comments is that “the question probably was poorly worded, and in retrospect, I also admit that it was probably offensive to some,” and that he “made assumptions and then . . . took an unfounded leap of logic” that the mural was supposed to be “factual, [functional, and] representative of the community here in Prescott, AZ.  And being a number cruncher in my business, I automatically assumed that the larger figure equated to the larger number of the demographics.”  Huh?  Not only is that a seriously weak sauce apology, it doesn’t even make sense.  Would Blair really have us believe that he thinks public art depicting people is necessarily some sort of statistical representation of a city’s population?

It gets stranger:

“The mural is a big change for a historic red brick building so many of enjoy [sic] over the years.  That, along with the scale of the boy central to the art, is startling at first blush.  That was my mistake.  Instead of jumping to conclusions, before I made the comments about the mural at all, I should have come down to speak with the artists, find out for myself what the mural meant, and what it was all about, because I still don’t believe the community knows what it was all about.  For the record, nobody has come to me once to say, “hey Steve, let us explain the mural to you, and what it means, what the designer and the artist intended.”  That might have helped educate me in what I obviously needed to know to help prevent such notoriety that we’ve had in this community.  Instead, others have made assumptions, and jumped to conclusions on their own.  They assume because they asked the question, that I was a racist and bigot.”

That right there is a mess of white privilege.  Blair assumes not only that his startled and confused reaction (to put it nicely) to the mural should be validated and taken seriously, but also that it’s the job of other people to educate him about what the mural means – including what it “means” to have a child of color prominently featured on the mural – and why he shouldn’t disapprove of it (“I want somebody to tell me why I should like that.  That’s what I want somebody to tell me.  Why should I like that?”).  He assumes that because he doesn’t know what the mural’s message is, neither does the “community,” and that because he wasn’t involved in the process of approving the mural design, neither was the “community.”  One has to wonder whether for him, the “community” means the white residents of Prescott who also “can’t stand” the word “diversity.”

As Reappropriate points out, as a city councilman, Blair should have been involved in, or at least aware of, council votes to approve other eco-themed mural designs by the same committee of artists, so his complaint that decisions were made without the approval or knowledge of the “community” rings hollow.  And if he was truly in the dark about the mission behind the murals, one would think a city councilman could at least pick up his local newspaper and educate himself about it.

The bottom line is, Blair and other residents of Prescott, objected to the presence of a child of color as the central figure in piece of public art, because of the (perceived) race of that child.  That’s racist.  And as for questioning why ethnic minorities should ever be depicted in public art?  That’s privilege.

Councilman Blair, you may not be a racist or a bigot.  But when you demand an explanation for why a person of color should be prominently featured in public art and and imply that depictions of POC should be completely absent from public art, what you say sounds racist.

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I should add, “from our governor” to the title of this post.  For those of you who live outside Virginia, you may or may not have heard, in a grand example of what we Southerners call “back-sliding,” Governor Bob McDonnell hath declared April is now Confederate History Month.

Now, some journalists are calling this move “insensitive,” and some scholars are calling it “obnoxious.”  Conservative pro-life pundit Ramesh Ponnuru wrote on the Washington Post blog:

I very much doubt it was Gov. McDonnell’s intention to cause any offense, and the proclamation mostly consists of platitudes about the importance of studying history. But the failure to mention slavery was a moral and historical mistake…

But this is more than an “oops.”  It’s a direct attempt to appeal to people who believe there is something worthy in the “cause” of the Confederacy.  Comments on Ponnuru’s post attest to those fallacious beliefs:

Yes, slavery existed. Yes ending it was a difficult task for our country. Yes some people fought to sustain that wicked institution. Given all of that I still think that America needs to work toward healing EVERYBODY. Right now white southerns are being marginalized by the folks on the left. I see repeated slurs and slanders hurled in their general direction. It is just plain wrong. Will a confederate history month solve that? Not by itself but it is long past time that we cleansed the wounds, bound them up and began this final phase of healing. so what about the much maligned white people living in the south? Are they not worthy of such healing? We’ve got an out and out reparations advocate about to be confirmed to the ninth circuit.
………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

During Black History Month who is recognized besides blacks?

Let me again state on this blog, I am a white Southern woman.  I have, at times, harbored bitterness in my heart about the politics of our day.  I have felt left out, ignored by our leaders, and downright angry about decisions made by policymakers at all levels of our government.  At no point in those times, would a Confederate History Month have done anything to alleviate my grievances.  It would have done as it does now, it inflames my grievances.

I would like to tell my governor (a professed brother in Christ, mind you), do not presume to pander to me or my kin by establishing a month-long celebration of everything that has ever been wrong with humanity.  The painful, shameful, and still-nagging history of slavery cannot be swept aside by an acknowledgment that “Yes, slavery existed.”  It did not exist.  It was perpetrated.  It was propped up, established in law, and defended in war by generations of people who directly and indirectly benefited from a labor force created by trading in flesh.

Gov. McDonnell wants to remember the Confederacy, but ignore slavery.  This is especially dangerous in an environment where discussions about slavery fall into the old trap of, “can’t we just let bygones be bygones.” We want to toss aside the atrocities of the period, but celebrate the romance of war, from the perspective of the people who rightly lost that war.  We want to leave slavery in the past, but declare the [old] South has risen again.

There is an insidious root to this week’s proclamation.  Some of my white brothers and sisters earnestly believe that they have been marginalized by some sort of  “reverse racism.”  They feel they have been robbed of dignity and respect.  And on that point, I would agree; they have been robbed.  Holding tightly to a moral evil will steal your civility.  It can hold your children hostage and ransom their righteous inheritance.  Honoring hatred and grasping for power will make you a slave to all manner of unholiness.

So tonight, I ask our readers and friends to consider taking two actions:

  1. Pray for our leaders.  In the midst of the tug-of-war between politics and ethics, many times our leaders fail.  While it’s particularly troubling when those leaders espouse our shared faith, I am reminded of the importance of prayer on their behalf.  The Holy Spirit has a more personal and more constant influence than I can have over a fellow believer, so I’m going to pull a Julia Sugarbaker and offer something like this up:

    One of the things that I pray for, Mr. Brickett, is that people with power will get good sense, and that people with good sense will get power… and that the rest of us will be blessed with the patience and the strength to survive the people like you in the meantime!

  2. Communicate with the governor’s office.  Let him know, politely and firmly, that this is a mistake and then encourage him to rescind the proclamation with a dignified apology to those who have been hurt by it.  (This may seem like a long shot, but if we all commit to both praying and confronting, who knows!)

***Update: Gov. McDonnell has issued this press release today in response to public opposition to his initial proclamation.  Judge for yourselves if this new addition goes far enough (I, personally don’t).  Resources for communicating with the governor’s office follow:

Statement of Governor Bob McDonnell

RICHMOND – Governor Bob McDonnell issued the following statement today regarding the proclamation of Confederate History Month in the Commonwealth:

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation. In 2007, the Virginia General Assembly approved a formal statement of “profound regret” for the Commonwealth’s history of slavery, which was the right thing to do.

When I signed the Proclamation designating February as Black History Month, and as I look out my window at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial, I am reminded that, even 150 years later, Virginia’s past is inextricably part of our present. The Confederate History Month proclamation issued was solely intended to promote the study of our history, encourage tourism in our state in advance of the 150th Anniversary of the beginning of the Civil War, and recognize Virginia’s unique role in the story of America. The Virginia General Assembly unanimously approved the establishment of a Sesquicentennial American Civil War Commission to prepare for and commemorate the 150th Anniversary of the War, in order to promote history and create recognition programs and activities.

As Virginians we carry with us both the burdens and the blessings of our history. Virginia history undeniably includes the fact that we were the Capitol of the Confederacy, the site of more battlefields than any other state, and the home of the signing of the peace agreement at Appomattox. Our history is perhaps best encapsulated in a fact I noted in my Inaugural Address in January: The state that served as the Capitol of the Confederacy was also the first in the nation to elect an African-American governor, my friend, L. Douglas Wilder. America’s history has been written in Virginia. We cannot avoid our past; instead we must demand that it be discussed with civility and responsibility. During the commemoration of the Civil War over the next four years, I intend to lead an effort to promote greater understanding and harmony in our state among our citizens.”

In addition the Governor announced that the following language will be added to the Proclamation:

WHEREAS, it is important for all Virginians to understand that the institution of slavery led to this war and was an evil and inhumane practice that deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights and all Virginians are thankful for its permanent eradication from our borders, and the study of this time period should reflect upon and learn from this painful part of our history…

**This section will be added between the 3rd and 4th Sections**

# # #

Office of the Governor

Mailing address:
P.O. Box 1475
Richmond, Virginia 23218

Street address:
Office of the Governor
Patrick Henry Building, 3rd Floor
1111 East Broad Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219

Phone Numbers:
(804) 786-2211
Fax: (804) 371-6351
TTY/TDD (For the Hearing Impaired):
1-800-828-1120, or 711

Email form

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In my earlier Kung Fu Publishing post I reported on the appropriation and exploitation of Asian culture in the marketing of the book Deadly Viper Character Assassins: A Kung Fu Survival Guide for Life and Leadership, published by the Christian publishing house Zondervan. I also posted the apologies of the authors. Now Zondervan has repented.

Zondervan Statement Regarding Concerns Voiced About “Deadly Viper: Character Assassins”

From Moe Girkins, President and CEO

Hello and thanks for your patience.

On behalf of Zondervan, I apologize for publishing Deadly Viper: Character Assassins.  It is our mission to offer products that glorify Jesus Christ.  This book’s characterizations and visual representations are offensive to many people despite its otherwise solid message.

There is no need for debate on this subject.  We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently.

We have taken the criticism and advice we have received to heart.  In order to avoid similar episodes in the future, last week I named Stan Gundry as our Editor-in-Chief of all Zondervan products.  He will be responsible for making the necessary changes at Zondervan to prevent editorial mistakes like this going forward.  We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Zondervan is committed to publishing Christian content and resources that uplift God and see humanity in its proper perspective in relation to God.  We take seriously our call to provide resources that encourage spiritual growth.  And, we know there is more to learn by always listening to our critics as well as our advocates.

It would be unfair to take these actions without expressing our love and support for the authors of this book, Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite.  Both gentlemen are gifted writers and passionate about their ministry. We do believe their message is valuable and plan to work with the authors to come up with a better presentation of that message.  We will jointly ensure we do our due diligence on the appropriateness of the creative side.  This will include reaching out to a broad spectrum of cultural experts.

Finally, I want to personally thank Professor Rah, Ken Fong, Eugene Cho and Kathy Khang for their input and prayers during this discussion.   We appreciate everyone’s concern and effort and look forward to working together for God’s kingdom.

Warmly,

Moe

Found at Professor Soong-Chan Rah’s blog. Prof. Rah writes:

It reflects a genunine repentant spirit and a deep willingness to hear and to act.  I am moved by Zondervan’s willingness to act in this decisive and dramatic manner.  Many thanks to the authors Mike Foster and Jud Wilhite and to Moe Girkins, Zondervan’s CEO and the team at Zondervan that have spoken in a decisive manner with a high level of integrity.

“We are pulling the book and the curriculum in their current forms from stores permanently…. We already have begun a dialogue with Christian colleagues in the Asian-American community to deepen our cultural awareness and sensitivity.” This exhibits true Christian contrition and repentance: Instead of wallowing in guilt, they are turning from wrongdoing, striving to put things right, and starting fresh. Good work! :)

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Kate did an excellent post last month called A Beginner’s Guide to Anti-racism for White People and from the looks of things, it’s getting a lot of reads.  It’s a terrific resource for learning more about the fundamental definitions of race, racism, white privilege and for discovering the vast amounts of reading material on the web and in print.  I would also remind our readers (especially those new to the blog) about our Reading List tab at the top of the page.  We’re constantly adding to that page, so if you have recommendations or want to find out more about what we’ve been reading, check it out.

Family business aside, I wanted to address a couple things I’ve been thinking about lately on the issue of white identity development.  So many of us white folks don’t really think much about race.  We know there are racial issues and tensions, but we can generally avoid most of that messiness because it is possible to live lives that are, at least at the conscious level, unhindered by societal racism. But once that veil of “colorblindness” has been lifted, we start to see and feel the pain that our own privilege has cost others, namely people of color.  And that awakening can be a painful prospect.

We’ve already talked a little about white guilt, but let it be said again that guilt is not the goal.  The goal is genuine repentance and contrition. Beverly Daniel Tatum puts it this way in her book, Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?

These feelings of guilt and shame are part of the hidden costs of racism. (p. 94)

Moving from a place of ignorance or indifference into a place of awareness and activism is a challenging process.  For me, it’s reminiscent of the call that all Christians are given, to join in suffering for the sake of the family-building work of the Gospel.  If we as believers plan to be a part of real racial reconciliation then there will be a cost.  And as white people, much of the cost will come in the form of unsettling, discomfort and an overturn of the status quo.  For people of color, the costs are still there (like having to trust white people’s efforts toward anti-racism), but many of those costs have already been imposed by society in one form or another.

For those of us white people making the journey into anti-racist activism, we have to honestly assess if we are prepared to take these steps.  For some it will be a no-brainer.  They have intimate relationships (friendships, spouses, parents, children) that depend on their willingness to endure racism alongside a person of color.  But for many of us, it has to be an act of the will.  We have to choose to engage and to step away from the dominant influence of our culture.  It is at this point that we may experience a deeper level of internal conflict.  Tatum again:

This new awareness is characterized by discomfort.  The uncomfortable emotions of guilt, shame, and anger are often related to a new awareness of one’s personal prejudices or the prejudices within one’s family. (p.97)

True repentance always requires some sense of grief over the wrongs committed.  This may be more intense if we realize we have been perpetrators of racism. But the way to move through this is to lean into it.  To seek forgiveness.  As Christians we hold tight to promises like that in 1 John 1:9:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

However, humans may be less open to imparting forgiveness.  People of color may be less trusting of well-intentioned white people because of past disappointments.  Lois Stalvey writes about these obstacles to forgiveness in her memoir:

I could never resent the tests [of trustworthiness] as some white people have told me they do…to me the longest tests indicate the deepest hurts…At times the most poignant part of the test is that black people have enough trust left to give it.  Testing implies that we might pass the test.  It is safer and easier for a black person to turn his back on us.  If he does not gamble on our sincerity, he cannot be hurt if we prove false.  Testing shows an optimism I doubt I could duplicate if I were black. (quoted in Tatum, p. 105)

Obtaining forgiveness will likely require time and commitment on our part in order to withstand the scrutiny of those who may be distrustful of our motives.  Nevertheless we must ask for forgiveness if we have insulted someone or otherwise inflicted pain.  The cleanest way to get through the discomfort of being wrong is to admit it, apologize, try to make right, and move on.

At any of these points, there will be temptation to turn back.  White privilege is called privilege in part because it makes life easier for white people.  Even if we are members of an alternatively oppressed group (women, etc.) we still enjoy the advantages of white privilege.  Paul Kivel states in his article entitled I’m Not White I’m Jewish

To some extent my gut-level response as a Jew is similar to the “I’m not white” response of other white people. When the subject is racism nobody wants to be white, because being white has been
labeled “bad” and brings up feelings of guilt, shame, complicity and hopelessness.

Yeah, who wants any of that?  Tatum illustrates the level of sacrifice white people may be asked to make and the pressure for anti-racist whites to regress and assimilate with a story from one of her students.  This young man is hopeful that he can make a difference but is also plagued by persecution (from close friends, peers, and family members) and fears he may not have what it takes to stick with his convictions in the long run:

It’s easy to see how the cycle [of racism] continues.  I don’t think I could ever justify within myself simply turning my back on the problem.  I finally realized that my position in all of these dominant groups gives me power to make change occur…It is an unfortunate result often though that I feel alienated from friends and family.  It’s often played off as a mere stage that I’m going through…By belittling me, they take the power out of my argument…I don’t want it to be a phase for me, but as obvious as this may sounds, I look at my environment and often wonder how it will not be. (p. 100-101)

It’s not hard for me to sympathize with this guy.  Bearing witness to injustice and working to rectify that is a high and difficult calling.  With every, “lighten up, we’re just playing” or “don’t be so sensitive,” we can be discouraged. And we should be realistic about our own potential for failure here.  There will be times when we wished we’d said something.  Or wished we hadn’t.  There will be times when we let ourselves or others down.  There may be times when we feel like we’re fighting a losing battle and the whole world is against us. So why not give up or just go back to the other team?

At those points in my life when my own fortitude has faltered, I am compelled to return to the strongest example of courage and love I’ve known:

[Jesus told them:] In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.  John 16:33

It’s also important to keep our struggle in perspective.  Most of us will never be martyrs over this (though there have been white folks who lost their lives in these battles, too).  Many times I’ve heard it said in a church or among friends that it would be easier to die for Christ than to live for Him.  I don’t know if that’s really true (I personally don’t have a death wish) but sometimes it can feel true.

There are white people who have gone before us.  And there are white people working with us now.  White people can join people of color in this good work.  Beverly Daniel Tatum encourages us again:

Though it can also be ‘complicated and lonely’ [for white people,] it is also liberating, opening doors to new communities, creating possibilities for more authentic connections with people of color, and in the process, strengthening the coalitions necessary for genuine social change. (p.113)

I would add that for those of us who are believers, there is also reward in knowing that we are participating in the invitational work of building God’s kingdom: a kingdom where, when all these struggle have come to fruition, great multitudes from every nation, people, and language will live peacefully together, accepting and loving one another and joyfully worshiping God.

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If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10

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We’re introducing a new concept on the blog today: Derailment Mondays!

derailment (n): a defensive argument, statement, or question that dismisses or seeks to undermine anti-racist arguments in an effort to preserve privilege or the status quo

Each week, in addition to our regular posting, we will feature a common derailment tactic and discuss (with the help of our readers, of course) how to address it.  So in honor of our first Derailment Monday, I would like us to look at this article from Human Events by Caroline Rushing entitled White Guilt Awareness Day. (Side effects warning: you may have to hold your nose while you read this, or have a bucket nearby because it may cause severe nausea.)

While Rushing’s essay is steeped in conspiracy theory, her main point about any degree of anti-racist education (especially in the form of diversity training) is : You’re just trying to make white people feel guilty.

My primary response to this as a person who has heard this comment many, many times is, “No, I’m not.” Guilt implies wrongdoing.  I think that most white people are not consciously doing wrong on this issue.  Most of us are unaware of racism because of the blindness that privilege imposes on us.  The wrongdoing occurs when, presented with the truth about racism in our society, we choose to ignore it or walk away and do nothing to change it.  In that sense, there are some of us who are guilty, and we should acknowledge that.  But guilt is not the end goal of conversations about race.

I can say for myself that any attempt I make to help white folks see their own privilege and the inherent racism that props it up is not an attempt to make them feel guilty, it’s an attempt to free them from a system that makes them unwitting pawns of oppression.  I don’t want people to “feel” guilty, I want them to “feel” engaged, empathetic, righteously indignant even, over the injustices in our society.

Guilt itself helps no one.  Most of us who have gone through experiences with white guilt know it to be a paralyzing force.  Guilt makes you feel horrible and helpless.  No one person can bear the weight of mistakes made by generations of prejudice and oppression and no one person can make up for all of that. Rushing feels pity on a man she claims was conned into feeling guilty at this diversity seminar:

A ‘privileged’ man in my group fed right into the liberal agenda of the activity and explained he has been ashamed of being a white man when he sees the terrible things that white men have done, the injustices in the world, and how he has so much while others have so little. This poor guy took the diversity day bait hook, line, and sinker.

Clearly this man was at a point of conviction.  He understood the ramifications of our system and he felt compassion and grief over what his privilege costs others.  There is nothing wrong with feeling bad about injustice.  In fact, we should feel that way.  Rushing laments this man’s despair yet at this moment, he is experiencing a revelation that she cannot understand because she entered this learning opportunity mocking it; protective of her own position and defensive toward any new information offered her.

I’m not sure what this man did with his newfound knowledge of privilege.  I hope he is doing something productive.  Rushing implies that he recognized the needs of others, so I hope he takes an interest in helping them meet their needs or advocating for their cause.  If not, it could be possible that he forgets what he has learned and reverts back to being a guardian of the status quo.  As for the author, she has confused guilt with conviction, and thus remained unchanged.

I feel less pity for this man who is experiencing a crisis of conscience than I do for Rushing who appears to have no conscience or consciousness at all.

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