What’s the point of having a voice if you remain silent?
Where does one begin. This week has been particularly poignant and challenging for me as a white American. In light of the recent events leading to Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd’s tragic deaths, I’m devastated by the hate, discrimination, and disrespect that our country is displaying for all the world to see. I can’t help but feel a sense of guilt surrounding my own ‘white privilege’ as senseless acts of racial injustice continue to happen against POC (people of color). I can honestly say that for a very long time, I thought that as long as I didn’t participate in racist comments or promote racist practices, I was making a difference. But that unfortunately is not the case. It’s not enough to sit silently anymore and wait for change to happen. We have to be the change, educate ourselves, and engage in the difficult conversations.
I’m a white female who was raised in a middle-class, American household. I graduated from a Christian high school that was mostly white. I went to a Christian college in Birmingham, AL that was mostly white. I married a white man. Admittedly, most of my friends are white. And I’ve never had to fear for my safety while jogging (#AhmaudArbery), walking home (#TrayvonMartin), or even birdwatching (#ChristianCooper). I have however become accustomed to turning a blind eye to the hate around me. I’ve allowed myself to believe this lie: if I’m not actively participating in racism then I’m doing my part. However, that belief is naïve and unsympathetic to all people of color and it cannot continue. When an injustice is happening, I have a human responsibility to act even if I’m not the one fueling the fire. In the past, it’s been easy for me to rally around the injustice of global poverty or unreached people groups. Yet the racial injustice happening in my own country, I watch dumbstruck without taking any action. Why? Why doesn’t racial discrimination propel me to take more initiative? My privilege.
I’ve grown too comfortable in my stagnancy.
I’ve become too complacent over racial unjustness.
What is ‘white privilege’?
Well, let’s unpack this phrase. Francis E. Kendall, the author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race, defines it as, “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” The term ‘white privilege’ is often misunderstood, and for good reason. It doesn’t mean that all white/Caucasian people have never struggled, or that all they’ve accomplished was unearned. It means that whites have historically had a built-in advantage over people of color, separate from their effort, affluence, or income. White privilege is not only the latent comfort of living in a world that’s catered to my fellow race, but it’s also yielding the power to weigh the need for confrontation against the inconvenience of speaking boldly. As a white person, I’ve been given the opportunity to choose whether or not racism is my battle to fight, and I’m uncomfortable sitting idly. Just because white privilege has perpetuated for generations as a societal norm does not mean that it should continue.
In our world, white privilege has been both unintentionally appreciated and intentionally preserved. It’s seen in children’s books that favor white characters, the wealth gap between white people and POC, first aid kits with band-aids that only match the skin tone of white people, media outlets that blatantly humanize white killers and dehumanize victims of color, and the segregation of “ethnic hair products” and “hair care” at your local CVS. Some examples are more discrete than others, but they’re still present and pervasive within our society.
So how do we stop it?
How can we fight against the inequality?
How can we become difference makers?
Listen. Amplify. Educate. Act.
Listening is one of the most under-utilized tools we have in our toolbox. Too often I think that action is the only way to make a difference, however listening and asking thoughtful questions can lead to enlightening conversations. People want to be seen and heard, and listening does just that. Listen to the stories of those who’ve been oppressed. Choose to follow people on social media that challenge your biases, worldviews, and societal norms. And when you hear something that resonates with you, amplify it by educating those around you. Our own prejudices and biases come from lack of knowledge and understanding, so what better way to uproot injustice than by planting seeds of truth. And finally after lots of listening and educating, we act! Use your unearned benefits to benefit the POC around you. Stand up for your co-worker, neighbor, or friend whose being treated differently based on their racial identity. Advocate for them when you can. Commit yourself to allyship and intentionally seek out opportunities in your community to create change.
You’re shaped by the company you keep. So by joining forces with other people who are forging to seek justice and equality, you’re bettering one another as iron sharpens iron. When I think of modern-day difference makers, my sister comes to mind. She’s an inspiration to me in more ways than one. She teaches high school English in an underserved community in Tennessee and daily inspires her students to have deeper faith in their abilities. She’s an active advocate for social justice in her city and is always listening to NPR or reading the newest book concerning racial injustice. She’s not sitting idle. She’s listening and leaning into the uncomfortable. As should we!
To help jump-start my understanding of racial inequality and possibly yours too, I asked her to share a few books and resources she’s been challenged by recently. Here are her picks!
Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Shalom Sisters by Osheta Moore
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
And if you’re looking for some social media accounts to follow, here are a few that will broaden your worldview and break your biases:
Accounts to Follow
But something I haven’t really touched on yet is how my faith is playing a unique role in this journey. I’ve been a follower of Christ for as long as I can remember. And at the heart of Christianity is this truth: we are all created equal in God’s eyes! God very clearly doesn’t qualify our worth by our outward appearance, lineage, or pedigree. And thank God for that! As it says in Galatians 3:26-29,
“For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Our race, gender, socioeconomic status, occupation, and nationality all fade into the background when we enter into the body of Christ. Our new and true identity is as a CHILD OF GOD. No longer are we defined by the things of this world. We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17)! And the Lord doesn’t simply ask us to BE children of God, he calls us to be DOERS of the word (James 1:22). He calls us into action! In Matthew 22:36-40, the Pharisees ask Jesus what is the greatest commandment in all the Law in an attempt to stump him. This is Jesus’ response:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
First and foremost, we are called to love God with all of our body, soul, and strength. And after that, we are called to love our neighbor as ourself. We are called to put our neighbor above ourselves! And if we are being honest with ourselves, we typically take pretty good care of #1. Humans are pretty great at the selfishness thing, so when asked to love our neighbor as ourself that means sharing a deep, concerning love for those around us. But what does loving your neighbor mean in the context of racial injustice? Loving your neighbor looks like putting their needs above your own, seeking justice on their behalf, listening when necessary, and standing up for equality.
You may hear people say that this is a political issue, but it’s not. This is a social issue and my spiritual beliefs prompt me to take action. I’m tired of watching senseless acts happen again and again. God is at work in all of our hearts and minds as we lean into the uncomfortable conversations and fight for the equality of all races. All God’s children are precious in his sight. And God isn’t color-blind. No, he revels in the diversity of his creation, because it is a foretaste of the splendor awaiting us in heaven.
Let me leave you with this call to action:
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice” (Proverbs 31:8-9 NLT).