What I Think about White Privilege

white privilege
photo by Soufiene Goucha/Pixabay

White and Unprivileged

I am white. Do I have white privilege? There is no black blood in me. I checked through Ancestry.com, and there’s none there. Would I mind if there were black blood in me? Not at all, yet I can only claim Germanic Europe, England and northwestern Europe, France, Norway, Scotland, and Ireland as my ancestry.

I grew up poor by today’s standards. We were poor, but we had enough. Compared to some people, anyhow. I paid my own way through college and received no farm, land, or estate from my parents.

Dave’s story is the same. From a financial standpoint, his family was also poor. The size of his family and where he was in line with so many younger siblings still at home benefitted him when he went to college. His grades in high school helped, too. So much so that he had a full ride to Virginia Tech (to the chagrin of some of his siblings). Dave doesn’t expect an inheritance from his parents’ estate. If there even were an inheritance, by the time it is divided among eight siblings, there’d not be much for taking, anyhow. What he has is what he obtained through hard work, perspiration, integrity, and due diligence.

After college, both of us found jobs that suited our education and interests. We did not have to go through extra loop-holes to obtain the jobs we had. You could say we were self-made. What we had, we earned fair and square through hard work and diligence. No one handed us a silver platter with or without a spoon.

I never concerned myself with white privilege, because I certainly didn’t have it. Dave wasn’t concerned, either. He certainly didn’t experience it. Or so we thought. What we had was earned fair and square. No white privilege for us!

Why white privilege is a bone of contention

Then, with the advent of summer 2020, my eyes have been opened. Because our church has taken decisive action to learn about racism in our community, our county, and our country, we’ve been on a learning curve. I’ll be the first to say that rioting, looting, cursing and swearing gets us nowhere. It doesn’t right the wrongs of the past, and it certainly does not endear oneself to others.

Yet, as one of my black friends told me, “Coming to the table hasn’t gotten us anywhere, so that’s why they’re rattling the cages.” She should know, because she’s seen white privilege and experienced its effects. I’m sad to say that some of it happened right under my nose where we worked together from 2004 until about four years ago.

white privilegeWhat I’m doing about white privilege

For starters, I’ve had to wrap my mind around the truth that abolition of slavery did not make black people free. They’re still enslaved, partly because of white man’s doings and partly because we’re never free until we move forward in forgiveness for the past. For the white race, not admitting what was so wrong imprisons us as well. The problem is that today, black people still suffer from white privilege. I’ve been given examples by black people in my community whose lack of promotions or loopholes to obtain a job were based solely on their skin color. Even in acquiring land, loans, or banking, the skin color made the difference. A well known father of eight in our county with good social standing shared with us his personal experiences that were due solely on the color of his skin. I’m sure the stories he told barely scratched the surface of his experiences, but he told us enough to make us aware that white privilege still exists where I live.

It’s true that my skin color has never denied me funding, land, education, or a job. That’s white privilege. Don't ask your white friends about white privilege. Ask your black friends. Click To Tweet And if you have no black friends, get some. Then learn from them.

Listening and Learning

I have read historical accounts (ones I’ve never heard before) that turned my stomach so badly I had to quit reading. The horror of things that truly happened burn in my mind today. Later, I went back and finished the stories. I’m still reading and learning. Why were we not taught these things as part of American history?! Is it because white people wrote the stories without input from black people? Or is it because white people aren’t ready to put it out there for people to see – the things that really happened to people of color who were innocent but judged to be guilty only because of their skin color? We’d think it horrible if Germany ignored the atrocities of Hitler, yet our country is guilty of trying to do the same.

I’ve listened. It’s one thing to listen with an intent to have a come back or to excuse what has happened. It’s another thing to listen to understand and care about the pain. I’m still learning how to listen. There are so many podcasts we can listen to that can enlighten us. But what really hits a person to the core is sitting down with a black friend. I wanted to learn  what it’s like to grow up in this county as a black person. It’s something else to ask them about white privilege and then listen to their stories. I’ve done that.

Growing and tuning

I’ve grown, but I still have more growth to do. I do not think I needed to go from prejudiced to unprejudiced, nor do I consider myself a racist. However, I’ve been blind to injustices that have taken place in my community. When it didn’t affect me or my kids, I didn’t know it was there, nor did I try to make my world a better place by staying tuned to this issue. For that, I’m sorry. There were times I could have – and should have – spoken up, but didn’t because I didn’t pay attention. If I could do it over, I’d pay more attention, and I’d speak up and ask questions of those showing prejudice.

I’m more in tune. I lunched with a realtor friend to ask her if redlining exists in this community. It is illegal, but there are still people in our county who try to instruct her not to sell property in their neighborhood to people of color. They don’t want black neighbors. She’s furious, and she keeps right on selling property no matter the neighborhood or skin color. My friend is on the same path I am – talking to people of color to learn about white privilege and trying to educate white folks who are so ignorant. She’s also asking questions of black friends.

Asking my black friends about privilege

I’ve come to wonder why it is more difficult for me to distinguish between a “good” or a “bad” person if their skin color is black, than it is to distinguish between a “good” or “bad” person if their skin color is white. Does that make me racist?

That’s why I have chatted with black friends and listened to black people share their stories. One afternoon I sat down with a friend – a former co-worker – who is black. (There are many more whose stories I plan to hear). I asked my friend about white privilege. She gave me instances of things that happened to her – in our high school in the early 2000s, at our place of work, and where she is working nowbecause of her color. I  didn’t know her in high school and I don’t work where she does now, so I can only take her word for it (which I do).

But the place we worked together for ten years? It happened. Oh, it was subtle, but it was there. I should have spoken up. I should have asked questions, but I didn’t, because I wasn’t really aware. It wasn’t on my radar, and I’m sorry. The instances she spoke of? Though I vaguely remember, I didn’t connect the dots. It didn’t affect me, and I was oblivious. That’s no excuse. I should have paid attention. I’m sorry.

white privilegeThe bottom line

We need to celebrate our differences and recognize color because God made us so. We must also recognize that every one of us, no matter our ethnicity, needs to find forgiveness for our own personal sins. Our blood runs the same types and the same color because we are truly one blood.

There is only one way to find restitution. That is through Jesus Christ. His blood covers our sins when we repent. His power breaks down walls and sets us free. If white and black people will come together at the cross, we will find that truly, the ground is level there. Reconciliation begins at the cross, where blood flows freely, bringing redemption for every single soul.

Because when we claim Jesus Christ as Savior, each one of us becomes a privileged child of God. The ground truly is level at the Cross.

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I’d love to hear what you are doing in your corner of the world to make a difference and bring healing to your community. Email me at mywindowsill6@gmail.com

4 thoughts on “What I Think about White Privilege”

  1. Hello Gert,
    My name is Greg….nice to meet you. First of all, I want to commend your church for doing the #1 thing that I’ve said many times over the years has been lacking. Learning about racism. I take my hat off to your church for being willing to approach this issue.

    Secondly, I’d like to thank you for posting from your heart about the racial climate we find ourselves in currently. I love open, honest conversation. Real conversation doesn’t have to be confrontational.

    I do believe racism is alive and well all over the world. In fact, I think racism will always exist. Don’t get me wrong, I’m far from being a negative person. I just believe that the root of racism is spiritual in nature. Racism is one the devils “trump cards” (no pun intended). Man will never eradicate something in the natural that is spiritual in nature.

    However, I do believe that the Christian can rise above racism and walk in a realm where the effect of racism can be minimized in our lives. My scriptural basis for my belief on this issue is Proverbs 16:7.

    I wrote a blog post on this topic, so rather than re-write the whole thing here, I’d like to refer you to the post titled “Driving While Black” at https://faithsmessenger.com/driving-while-black/

    I thank you once again for writing such an insightful post.
    Greg Winfield

  2. Greg,
    Thank you so much for sharing and for sharing your story. This is powerful! I am going to share it with other. Yes, we are on a journey!

  3. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I’ve been so frustrated with some mindsets that I’ve encountered. I appreciate this SO much! I’ve had the honor of participating in the Gracetalks which took on racism for several months (and can be found on fb). I also had the heavy privilege of offering an apology at the Racial Equity and Unity luncheon we held on behalf of the white church to those who were ostracized and mistreated (and still are) by racism.
    Following is what I read, I do not have Dr. Jones’ reply:

    An Open Letter to Begin the Conversation
    Joyce Enzor Maust

    Between 1525 and 1866, 12.5 million people were forcefully taken from Africa and sent to the Americas. Only 10.7 million survived the journey.

    The white Christian church as a religious institution has been involved with and intertwined with racial slavery since its inception. The start of the slave trade to the Americas in the 16th century saw the first slave-ship captain, Sir John Hawkins, insist that his crew ‘serve God daily’ and ‘love one another.’ And the name of his ship? ‘The good ship Jesus.’

    And so began the twisting of scripture and justification in what many felt was a biblical reasoning to enslave others that they failed to even see as humans.

    Have there always been voices of theological morality within the church by and large throughout the centuries? Yes, but these voices did not always affect change, nor did they succeed in righting the wrongs – for they were not the dominant cultural power. Since the inception of the United States, white Christianity has morally legitimized the value of white lives over those of our black brethren.

    Therefore, wounds exist that have never been healed. The voices of the oppressed are still not heard.

    So I stand before you as a representative of those who called themselves Christian, but did not have a Jesus heart to hear the cries for justice nor the generational pain that’s been a result from years where mostly white Christians were responsible for making the laws and enforcing them. And I stand in the gap to apologize for the hurt and injustice that was done and is still being done today.

    In the colonization of what would become the United States, many stood by and watched human beings be turned into property….and the established church did nothing.

    When the practice of racial-based slavery became the law of the land….the established church that was intertwined with the government – did nothing.

    When the intellectuals of the day espoused a new freedom, but excluded non-whites from those freedoms…the established church did nothing.

    When the non-whites were essentially declared sub-humans…the established church did nothing.

    The established church assuaged its guilt by stopping the active slave trade, but did not have the courage to stop slavery itself….
    and while slavery exponentially grew…the established church did nothing.

    They tried to stop the spread of slavery, but refused to stamp it out….
    and as it continued to grow…the established church did nothing.

    When slavery as a subject reached critical mass…the church finally did something
    where much blood was shed as a sin sacrifice for slavery.

    Yet that sacrifice was in vain.

    Once slaves were finally free, we left them at the mercy of those who had previously enslaved them. And the established church turned its back on them.

    Those same oppressors who could no longer be so bold and open, reasserted their control piece by piece. Those churches that did not participate in this oppression stayed silent.

    We then asked the people who had suffered for generations to sacrifice their lives for this nation that had marginalized them, yet even within the military they were still not treated as equals. And as the church witnessed the injustice, they did nothing.

    Some people within churches could honestly claim ignorance to some of this history, but with the Civil Rights Movement, the inequalities became clear for all to see as they were confronted with it daily. Yet, the majority of Christian churches continued to do nothing.

    To not recognize and acknowledge the cultural force that white Christianity played in setting up racial inequality, is to deny the fires that our African-American brothers and sisters have walked through for generations. And the fire doesn’t just burn still in southern evangelicalism, but the embers of casual racism still smolder.

    During His time on earth, Jesus broke through many cultural barriers to the chagrin of the established church at the time. He openly rebuked the religious organization on one hand, and other hand, healed and cared for those marginalized by the institution.

    So while I may not be personally responsible for other people’s actions nor the historical institutions, if I don’t speak out, stand up, and set myself affirmatively apart when I see wrong being done against my African-American brothers and sisters by those of my race and religion, then I become a part of the collective sin of racism and allow it to go unchecked.

    And while I am only just a single person, I apologize on behalf of my race and religion. I am sorry for the pain the white supremacist mindset has inflicted for generations upon your community. Of the heritage that was robbed from you.

    I am sorry for the abuse of scripture which brings its own spiritual pain. I am sorry that to this day in the year 2020, the extent of the damage done throughout generations has not been repented for nor acknowledged by our so-called Christian society.

    I am sorry that instead of listening to and acknowledging the hurt and pain caused by generations of injustice – that many white people tend to see racism as only a personal and individual thing without understanding nor acknowledging the institutional damages that have been done which have left gaping wounds. Sadly, too many white American Christians are too concerned with being white and right – rather than following Christ’s lead. For this sin of omission, I do so deeply apologize on behalf of my people.

    I am merely one lowly individual, but I pray that within these words, some healing may be found – for even just one person.
    To paraphrase Ephesians 4:4-6 ‘You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.
    Therefore, since we reside in Christ, your pain is my pain. Your suffering becomes my suffering. If there’s not justice for all, then there’s justice for none.

    We are admonished in 1 John 3:18 to not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. May my words today not ring hollow, but may my actions show a commitment to do whatever I can to heal the pain and harm done through years of systemic and casual racism. And may we, the church, be reconciled back to God through repentance and humility.

    So while standing here before you, looking into your eyes, on behalf of the white American historic church and those who still do not hear your pain, I apologize.

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