"Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ." - Jerome

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

A Note Regarding Rejecting "White Privilege" in the Church Race Conversation

To follow up with more detail about my particular problem with the idea of “white privilege” being used in the ecclesiastical conversation.

My particular problem with the term "white privilege" is not its complete falsehood in every aspect that it entails. Rather, it is the way it takes a reality and frames it in political and unhelpful ways. Let me count the ways the term is unhelpful

1) “White Privilege” trivializes the weigh of the issue of racism and justice:

Yes, there are aspects of society where blacks (and other minorities, depending on the area of societal life) are treated differently. This reality is not a “white privilege” but a human right issue – a human justice issue. It is not a privilege to no be pulled over for the color of your skin, it is a violation of your right to be judged on the basis of your merits and character rather than appearances. White privilege frames such a problem as more trivial than it is (again, what is at issue is rights, not privileges), it turns the issue on another ethnicity in particular and feeds into the politics of resentment, and simplifies the issue of race relations into a monochromatic frame. As such, it is unhelpful in this second way:

2) “White Privilege” uses the politics of resentment

Now, you may object that privilege merely means the privilege of being unaware or lacking that experience of being the subject of racism. Are whites (or Asians or Latinos) lacking in the experience of being treated differently based on race? Certainly in some areas. But not in others. And in fact, all ethnicities have their unique set of experiences that are tied to the mere fact of their heritage and appearance. To what degree it is reality or perception, African Americans, Latinos, Asians and Whites all believe they have been disadvantaged in different areas based on their race.

Think of the similarities of when “White privilege” is declared, as the mirror image of the effect of labeling someone an “Affirmative Action” exception. Over the past 7 years, I have heard a term used for our President: The Affirmative Action President. The appellation was used for the same reason that it was first applied to Justice Clarence Thomas. To declare that those individuals were not evaluated on their merits, but were allowed in by a lowered bar based on race. This is a declaration of resentment, a feeling that certain jobs and educational institutions discriminate against whites (again, this is perception, I don't necessarily speak to reality). And it is used for a particular effect:

3) “White Privilege” is used to silence voices.

The reason this term “Affirmative Action _____” is thrown around is to silence certain voices in a conversation, or delegitimize them. If you call Obama an Affirmative Action President, you reject his positions without having to engage the conversation. Its a shout of “shut up!” The term “white privilege” has been used, with its roots in the political conversation where it is borrowed from, to do the same thing. “Check your privilege” is to say “you don't know what you are talking about, so shut up.” This is wrong whether using the politics of resentment on the right (in regards to affirmative action labels) or the politics of resentment of the left (using the labels of white privilege). The example of Joseph and his brothers should be a warning about the danger of letting a resentment based on perception of favoritism stew and boil in our hearts.

One may protest and say that is not what is meant in this context. Yet, when a term is borrowed from another sphere, it carries the baggage of that sphere into the conversation. So is it true:

1) African Americans face discrimination in certain areas that certain other ethnicities do not, even still today? Yes
2) Are many other ethnicities unaware of some these injustices? Yes
3) Should this be part of what the gospel declaration addresses? Absolutely

Each of these truths can be communicated without

1) Lessening the sin of racism by lowing the vocabulary of the conversation from rights to privileges.
2) Engaging in the politics of resentment.
3) Implicitly or Explicitly seeking to silences voices in the conversation.

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