My white and privileged racial piety

28 06 2018

Love   I’ve asked the question on two different occasions.  After listening to two different Black sisters speak about the effects of racism and white supremacy upon their lives, I was so incredibly saddened that all I could say was “How do you keep from hating people like me?”

At the time, it was a very sincere question; and in both instances, after asking the question, I went on to say “If I were you, and you were me, I don’t think I’d want anything to do with you.  I’d hate you and would not want to be in the same room with you.”

And yet, at least when it came to these particular women, as well as to countless other people of color who are in my life, this is not their response to ‘America’s original sin.’ Countless friends, neighbors, and colleagues have shown me nothing but kindness, love, and respect, in spite of my Whiteness. Hatred is simply not part of their M.O.

The first time I posed the question, the older woman with whom I was speaking responded by graciously saying “That’s just not the way I want to live my life: hating someone!  I’m a Christian, and Christ teaches me to forgive.”

The second time I asked the question, the woman responded a little more forcefully.  She looked at me, almost with disgust, and said, “Now don’t you think I’ve got far more important things to do with my life than go around hating you?”

I smiled, awkwardly, and then nodded as if to say ‘of course you do.’

I continue to reflect on these experiences, and have only recently begun to realize what was going on when I asked that question.  At first, I think it was a veiled compliment; a way for me to say to these remarkable women, “Wow, you are far bigger than I am, and your capacity for gracious forgiveness is admirable.”

But if that’s what I was really trying to communicate, then why didn’t I just say that?  I didn’t, because I was likely only thinking about how they would perceive my minor act of contrition.  I wanted to appear humble, and remorseful, and contrite; and in some ways I think I was, and am.  But there was much more going on with my question.  And upon reflection, I think I was seeking to put some of my racial piety on display for those present to see.

As I look back on those pivotal moments and conversations, involving an issue that has become extremely important to me, I’m discovering that there was a good bit of white privilege and supremacy in my question.  It was as if I was saying to those two women, “If I were you, I’d hate White people.  If I were you, I wouldn’t respond the way you have chosen to respond, I’d respond with hatred, and anger.  If I were you, I would give control of your emotions, and your response to all that is going on in the world, to me.  If I were you, I’d let ME, dictate what should be in your heart!”

Call it unconscious or implicit bias, but what I think I was really saying, was “let me, the privileged, White guy here, determine how you are going to live your life.  Let me make those decisions for you, for then I can continue to have control over you, and stay in charge, and maintain all the power in this conversation and relationship!”

Lord, forgive me.  Friends, forgive me!

It’s a scary thing — this thing I’ve come to call colorism.  I truly believe that there is only one race — the human race; and I am not going to continue to buy into the faulty language of a false social reality that needs to be changed.  The differences that have shaped so much of our nation’s prejudice is not about race, it is about the mere color of one’s skin.  And it has subtly, and far too often not so subtly, tainted my thoughts and ideas, in ways that I’ve still yet to to discover.

No, I’m not ‘woke’ . . . at least not completely.  But I am rubbing my eyes, and slowly, beginning to focus on what is buried deep in my heart and soul. And in time, I have to believe that love will reign there, and that it will be a love that is willing to reject the harmful privilege that life has been afforded me, simply because of the color of my skin.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: