#charlottesville & #whiteprivilege
by Lindsey Painter
When I was asked to write this article I hesitated. I have never publicly written something so political before. America is divided. Perhaps never more so than since the Civil War. Many of my family and friends are on a different side of the political divide than I am. And when we discuss politics in an online setting, such as Facebook, we have a tendency to forget that the person behind the profile is beloved of God. I believe in relationships, and politics can be the destroyer of relationships. For that reason I avoid discussing politics with others, and I especially avoid discussing politics online, preferring to use my online spaces to share funny stories about my family and pictures of my cat.
I tell you this so you know that when I decide to engage with an issue it is not done flippantly. I am writing this article because staying silent is no longer an option. Politics has forced itself upon us. We are no longer dealing with reasonable people on both sides who simply hold different worldviews. We are talking about evil. Evil that must be faced. Evil that must be named. White Supremacy.
Have you ever wondered what you would have done if you had lived during the time of slavery, the holocaust or the civil rights movement? What are you doing now? Now you know what you would have done then. It’s whatever you’re doing now.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few days, you’ve heard about the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend during which, among other things, a woman was killed.
As Christians it is important for us to think critically about events like these and formulate some kind of response, if not institutionally then at least personally.
I’ll start with something simple. White supremacy is evil.
As a white person myself, it would be so easy to shake my head in dismay at the blatant racism displayed, comforting myself with distance. At least I’m not racist like those people! Because of my whiteness, I don’t feel like it’s my right to give advice to any people of color in these tense times. So this one goes out to all my white friends.
It is time for us white people to recognize the ways in which racism plays a role in our lives. The subtle ways we benefit from racism, ways we may not even be aware of. It is time for us to recognize that we benefit from the same privilege that those racists do. And that the same systems that give us benefits, gives those racists power. We cannot shake our heads and say, “We aren’t like those people.” Those are our people. They are white like we are. And their anger stems from a belief that their power is being threatened by women and non-white people’s refusal to acknowledge their superiority.
As the saying goes, when you’ve become accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.
Every time there is a terrorist attack I hear people asking, “Where are the Muslims condemning their actions?” I’ll tell you where they are: everywhere. They are condemning terrorists as loudly as they can. Maybe we should be asking ourselves why we can’t hear them. Every time America begins to discuss violence against Black people, I hear about so-called “Black on black crime” and “black people need to clean up their own communities.” I think saying those things is damaging, and deflecting from the real issue. But if we are to follow the logic it means white people must also clean up our own communities.
And let’s face it. These Nazi clowns are our community. Isn’t it about time we took an inward look at white people as a whole and try to clean up our own mess?
I’ve been hearing a lot about “both sides” in the online discourse I’ve seen on this issue. I find it both fascinating and horrifying that a moral equivalence has been drawn between those fighting to oppress people, and those fighting to stop the oppression of people. They are not the same. Let’s please just all agree that there is no comparing the two. I repeat: white supremacy is evil. Nothing the “other side” has done is even close to as morally repugnant as that. It’s not even in the same ballpark. It’s not even in the same universe. It’s a logical fallacy. Never forget that when you draw those comparisons you are defending white supremacists. Think about that for a second. And stop it.
Let’s talk about Jesus. Jesus’ message was a radical one. He said the weak should become strong. The poor should become rich. The meek shall inherit the earth and the peacemakers are called children of God. Just think about those words in today’s political context. It makes me uncomfortable. Aren’t there any… caveats, Jesus?
And it should make me uncomfortable. It’s a message designed to make people uncomfortable. In that context we must take a look at our white community and acknowledge that the whole thing, from top to bottom, is soaked in privilege. And that Jesus’ message is one of power reversal, a message in direct opposition to the unfair institutional power we hold. Can we listen to the sermon on the mount and remain silent as our brothers surround a black church bearing torches screaming, “White lives matter!” How about when they beat a black man nearly to death? What about when they kill a woman in the streets in broad daylight?
No. We cannot remain silent. We must call out evil. We should be the first to stand up and say “I rebuke you in the name of Jesus! I will not stand by while my people march in the name of violence and hate.”
This is our moment. When our grandchildren and great grandchildren read about this time in history, can we tell them we stood up for what’s right? Let’s resolve to do what’s necessary so we can tell them we saw the face of evil and we refused to let it stand. We’ll tell them we recognized how our privilege was harming those around us, so we did the difficult work of dismantling it. Let’s show our children that we are all beloved of God. That means white people and black people and immigrants and Muslims and gay people and, yes, even those holding torches yelling words of hate.
Publicly disavowing white supremacy is the most simple of human decencies. How has it become a politically defiant thing to do? Our country deserves more. Our friends and family deserve more. Our churches deserve more. Our world deserves more.
Here are some ideas we as white people can do right now in response to the events in Charlottesville.
- Educate ourselves. There are numerous resources online for learning about the small ways we benefit unfairly from our skin color. Please don’t just go ask a black friend to educate you. If you want to hear what black people have to say about racism go check out some black voices on twitter. You might start with Ijeoma Oluo, an author and speaker who has made it her life’s work to educate people about racism and privilege.
- Talk to our white family and friends about racism and privilege. This is one of the hardest things to do. It means having some uncomfortable conversations. But it is one of the most effective ways to end racism in America. If you have children, teach them about racism. Tell them what’s happening in America and teach them to be better.
- Support one of the many organizations fighting against white supremacy. The Southern Poverty Law Center is one good resource, among others. There are some organizations set up specifically in response to Charlottesville also if you’d rather go that route.
- Pray. Prayer is best combined with action but it is a valuable exercise at all times. God is a God of love and I believe his heart breaks to see such hate and evil exercised so openly in the world.
When Jesus walked the earth he taught us to stand against hate. And he taught us how to do it, with love and sacrifice. Even as he hung dying on the cross he spoke words both of truth and love. How can we not, at the very least, do the same?
Lindsey Painter is a writer and mother of two. She’s married to Jimmy Painter, a pastor in Northern California.