It’s been an interesting week in the realm of race relations, with many Asians Americans challenging Rick Warren on an offensive Facebook post featuring a picture of the Chinese Red Guard. (You can read even more detail on Kathy Khang’s blog). The aftermath of comments reflected confusion from some, wondering how people could be ‘so easily offended’, suggesting they needed thicker skin or more forgiving hearts.
Inside, I ached.
This is no new conversation to me – the ignorant assumptions, the christian-stifling-language-that-really-just-wants-you-to-shut-up-and-let-them-stay-uninformed. This is nothing new to my ears. Over the years, I have sat with many hearts aching – even those of my own family – over the ignorantly belittling comments of others.
Something must change. This ever familiar sentiment sunk to the pit of my stomach as I watched the week’s events unfold. While I was grateful to hear Rick’s eventual apology, the whole situation highlighted a common occurrence between the majority and minority experience that, in my observation, most white people don’t understand.
In case you’re white and starting to feel defensive, please know that I’m white, too. I’m hoping this detail lowers defenses, for the concern I’m addressing in this post is to “my people”, more specifically to white Christians in the American church. I’m concerned because I know firsthand how good-hearted and well-intentioned their actions often are, and how often they do not understand the impact of their intent. I speak first as someone who has been there, who has made the ignorant comment, asked the stupid question, made the racist assumption and feared offending by opening my mouth. I speak second as the only white person in my household for well over a decade now who has had the great fortune to see through others’ eyes on a daily basis.
When the Rick Warren news came around, I was already chewing on the power dynamics of both race and gender represented in this video that was making the rounds on my FB feed:
It left me conflicted, for I could clearly see the surface intent of the creators to rightly showcase the beauty of the world God has created, but I was also deeply distraught by what it left unsaid. This opening shot* can communicate two quite contradictory messages:
God cares for the poor, and so do Christians.
Hipster white guys have more going for them than slum dwellers.
This is sometimes called the “white savior” mentality; and it is far too prevalent and accepted in the American evangelical church. Without words, it communicates that the white people are better, smarter, more capable to hold the power strings. It is one of the tragedies built by the empire of colonialism that none of us want to face.
We didn’t do it, right?
That’s not our story.
My family didn’t own slaves.
But we still benefit. The system is set up for us, and gives us power without us even having to ask for it.
We can be white without even knowing we’re white.
To be fair, the church is not alone in it’s message-giving. Hollywood also loves to tell white savior stories rather than those stories from within cultures that represent strength unattached to the people group in power. And don’t even get me started on the news media’s portrayal of race…
I could give example after example of ignorant cultural and racial blunders in the church, but for the white hands who hold the historical and institutional power, it basically boils down to this: We want to say that everything that happens in church is about Jesus, but it’s simply not. There’s a whole lot of culture and power and history and social structure in there as well. Until we acknowledge how these realities shape our thinking, we’re going nowhere.
We say we want to be a ‘church of many nations’, and cheer on videos like the ones above, but sometimes our arrogance, ignorance, and unwillingness to listen communicate that we really view ‘the nations’ as our minions, not our partners. In other words, they exist to make us look good.
- Put the black guy on stage to read the MLK Day prayer = I care about civil rights.
- Take pictures of all 6 minorities in our institution to display prominently in our publications = We support diversity, but may or may not support you, especially if you say things contradictory to what we already know we know.
- Sing white hipster music in Spanish = you, too, can be just like me, even in your language!
- Host an international event with yummy food and cool ethnic clothing = awesome, but this is only the top layer of who people are. Do we want to know the complex depths of people’s realities or are we satisfied to simply skim the surface that looks all happy-happy-joy-joy?
- Send brochures with hungry-looking poor children = Give us your money. We know you feel guilty.
I know, I know. It all sounds a little harsh, right? I’ve been right there with you, defending myself, confident that my intentions are pure. However, regardless of our intentions in these endeavors, the fact stands that the impact of our actions can be isolating and downright hurtful to people of color. White people – especially the leaders of the church – need to start acknowledging this and listening to it with utmost seriousness. This conversation cannot be one-way. If we do not listen to the voices that courageously share their truth with us, we are breaking the very body we so sincerely wish to build.
“Cultural competency” is a popular term these days, and while I appreciate the sentiment of the phrase, I’ve been feeling terribly inept culturally. When it comes to race relations, failure is simply inevitable. I recently mistook an Iranian student for an Egyptian and suspected immediately that I’d offended him. I hadn’t meant to – I’d really just confused him with another student – but I couldn’t take my words back either, and didn’t know enough about Middle Eastern culture to know how offensive my assumption truly was. After stumbling a little trying to retract my words, I fell back not on competence, but humility, “I’m sorry,” I admitted. “I didn’t know. Please forgive my mistake.”
A colleague recently introduced me to the term “Cultural humility” and I instantly connected to it, for even with all my practice being married cross-culturally, earning a degree in multicultural education, speaking several languages, traveling on 4 continents, and spending my days with immigrants from around the world, I often feel culturally incompetent. I only speak two languages fluently, not six like some of my students. I grew up in a monocultural cornfield and have had to work to learn anything I know about the rest of the world, which is still not really enough. I have always lived in my country of birth, and don’t have near the depth of experience or insight about cultural adjustment that the world’s resilient immigrants know.
Culturally, I am far from competent.
But cultural humility? This makes sense to me.
Instead of “Get over it”, cultural humility responds, “I don’t understand. Can you help me understand more deeply?”
Instead of some variation of “quit whining”, cultural humility responds, “I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this?”
Instead of reading only the white megachurch types, cultural humility also seeks wisdom from the pages of leaders from a wide variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
Instead of “Why do you keep causing problems?”, cultural humility responds, “I’m sorry I keep hurting you. It seems like I’m missing something big. How would you recommend I start to better understand your experience?”
Instead of keeping quiet because you don’t know, cultural humility clumsily admits, “I’m a little embarrassed I don’t know much about your background. I don’t even know how to ask you questions about it, but I really would love to learn more.” (God bless the dear man who actually said this to my husband.)
While all of this might sound a lot like an us-vs-them scenario, I want you, my white brothers and sisters, to know that it does not have to be. While I have never lived in a different skin, I fiercely love those who do – their very DNA runs through my veins. I share my perspective here from a bridge between worlds, longing to see those on both sides listen to and love each other so much better than we currently do.
When white people don’t recognize how our position of cultural dominance influences us – when we don’t know that we’re being white – we can be like bulls in a china shop, throwing everything in our wake askew without even realizing what we’ve done. For us, this understanding begins with learning a perspective of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment. May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.
(And just for the record, I kinda like white hipster music.)
Some readers have rightfully informed me that the man in screenshot I posted is actually Indian. I promise I didn’t purposely provide my own example of how to make assumptions and cultural mistakes, but it does allow me to practice what I already preached: we all make mistakes in this dialogue. Please forgive me for mine.
I could replace the picture with plenty of others with the same sentiment, but I’ll leave it for a few reasons. First, I think it’s a valuable example of fallibility in this conversation (even if it is at my own expense). In addition, I still maintain that the problem this video highlights is one we need to address at large. I also question other subtle messages in the video and would like to continue dialoging about the messages it communicates to have a white man leading the song of the world, once again.
An amended version of this post was published on The Washington Institute for Faith, Vocation, & Culture this afternoon. It corrects the erroneous assumption regarding the picture in this post.
Ranting, rude, or ridiculous posts will be deleted, so don’t bother wasting your time here. Please proceed to someone else’s site, or better yet, take some time to think about what you want to express and how to say it in a respectful way. If you need it spelled out even more plainly, here you go: Don’t be an ass. This is a place for thoughtful, productive discussion, not hotheadedness and knee jerk reactions. While I will not filter out disagreement, I do insist that we offer it with respect for one another’s God-given humanity.
Race Matters by Cornel West
The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the church from western cultural captivity by Soong Chan Rah
Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the hidden forces that keep us apart by Christena Cleveland
When rich westerners don’t know they’re being rich westerners by Djibouti Jones
Hidden Assumptions and Minorities’ Burdens by Sam Tsang
Blind spots by Kathy Khang
On Cultural Competence and Cultural Humility by Marilyn Gardner
Orientalization is an objective offense: Answering our objectors by Chinglican at Table
162 thoughts on “When white people don’t know they’re being white”
The article was too long for me to read, but I got the point. Here is the problem. As a believer …. we are all racists. Why? Because racism is a sin and believers still have a sin nature.
Jesus did not come to earth to start a political party, to change the laws, to liberate us from oppressive govts, to cause us just to be moral people …. He came to show us The Way, to die for us … to make us holy. You don’t change hearts just by pointing to the problem and saying it needs to be changed. You can clean up a pig on the outside, but …… There has to be an inward change that results in an outward action or attitude. We have to “be” before we can “do”. Get the cart before the horse and his yoke will become a burden. And …. we are to focus on Jesus and glance at problems ….. not focus on the problems and glance at Him.
There is no such thing as races, only the human race[singular]; races is a false concept derived from faulty science of evolution. Just as there is no such thing as a sin nature, only a human nature; this comes from faulty exegesis and a faulty Anthropology. Until these false ideas are challenged the Deceiver will keep us all locked in this destructive debate with us all divided and not united against the real Enemy.
I’d agree with you that race is not a biological concept, but it is a valid historical one that needs addressed. Ignoring this reality or suggesting that it’s wrong doesn’t make the past hurts go away.
I don’t think you do get the point. Might be a good idea to actually read the whole article before you comment.
This video on this topic (just like your story) touched my heart.
Too bad this still goes on in the church in America. To some extent I believe we in India are also responsible for what is happening. We tend to treat white missionaries and their families different from our own..not in the context of Indiana or somewhere in America, but as someone superior. Superiority is sometimes conferred and that is the reality. I saw this growing up in North India during the 1970s and I now also see it down in South India as well.
Thanks for this. I came across it looking for resources on how to attract and keep white members in our church. One of our few white members said to me the other day that she does not feel free to bring her white friends because they say its a black church, or they feel more comfortable in a white majority church. What’s up with that? I know many of these people are good people and would not call themselves racist but there is something that needs to be addressed when you can’t stay at a church not because of the theology or the worship or because it doesn’t have children’s church but because it’s a ‘black church’. True the majority of our demographic is black (and we as lead pastors are black) but we have a number of white members. Very generally speaking when black folks go to majority white churches they just get on with it.
Speaking to this member I let her know that the biggest problem the US has right now is that of race and as children of God we are saved to turn and pull down constructs that are based on division and destruction of people through the power that lives in us. It is not natural so we have to harness the power of God to do it as such we cannot succumb to what we feel or what we see but we have to be led by the word.
I just found your blog and this article. As a black woman who feels caught between worlds, His and ours, I thank you for admitting something that breaks my heart, especially among Christians. Awareness, thought and common sense are crucial in our conversations and actions towards all people. We all make mistakes and we are all sinners, but God, by His power and grace, can transform us into the likeness of His Son if and when we let go and let Him.
May you continue to grow and may God continue to open your eyes, ears and heart to His truths of who we are and how we are to be for His glory.
Good article. As you mentioned before, choosing another video would have probably been better, as I think this video does as good a job of any of representing the global church. Is this worship really white hipster music? Maybe its culturally arrogant to think that powerful acapella worship with acoustic guitar is just from white people? I’m against the top-level cultural engagement and the usage of poor child photos to ‘sell poverty’, but I think there’s an angle you are missing here. White people are actually less influential than you make us out to be. People don’t view America as the center of the world anymore, and we have less to give and more to learn. Your article makes it seem like humility is a practice we need to learn, when its actually a reality we need to take-in. The church in basically every region of the globe other than US/Europe is exploding. Our cultural influence is less significant. Its not humility realizing this, its reality. Its just not a reality as easily excepted as the one where humility is a choice (portraying our Christian virtue).
Yes, that’s why I stated I was conflicted regarding the video. I wasn’t entirely sure, just wondering. When I ran it by several friends of color, they hit the roof and were quite frustrated with it, so I thought it was at least worth thinking about because there are so many other good examples of this kind of cultural imperialism out there in Christian media and beyond.
I’m not sure I’d agree completely regarding the lack of cultural influence of the American church. We have a huge Christian publishing and music industry which is distributed far and wide. I don’t suggest this is inherently bad, just that we need to be far more culturally aware than we currently are because of this influence. The Saddleback incident is just one very good example of this.
Okay, I must be one of those clueless people you are talking about. I watched the video, and my take-away was the gospel is international, not limited to a particular language, etc. Except for that one picture, I didn’t perceive a “white savior mentality.” Maybe they should have shown the children without the man? I understand the point you want to make, but I don’t see it in that particular video. I guess this is a good example of how two people can watch the same thing and come to very different conclusions.
I don’t think you’re necessarily clueless, Susan. I really wasn’t sure if the video actually had a negative impact or not, but it didn’t sit well with me (or a variety of others I consulted) either, and I thought it was a question worth exploring given the larger context of race relations in the American church. Even if my gut reaction to the video is inaccurate, the bigger questions are still ones we need to ponder.
I feel frustrated that I somehow inherited qualities based on what my race did or didn’t do, and that I have “responsibilities” to be a certain way to other races therefore. I feel people want me to feel guilty for who I am based solely on my race.
I’m tired of being the bad guy, the boring guy, the rich guy, whatever. I’m tired of being told I have no right to feel that way because others have it worse. I’m tired of being singled out, having to be taught how to be “culturally sensitive” as if I’m the only one who isn’t–which incidentally reinforces privilege. I’m tired of being told I can’t have a voice, an opinion.
I understand what I’m feeling is similar to what other people have been feeling for a lot longer. But that just means more pain is being spread around. The pain, the guilt, the seclusion, the ignorance–it isn’t solving anything. It’s pettiness and vengeance and worldly justice, and it’s all very misguided.
I’m not blaming my race or other races, I’m blaming sin and selfishness. The whole reason I’m frustrated at this is because I’m so selfish in the first place. I have to turn my “I” to “we” and think about my life for Christ in tandem with the body of believers.
For God’s sake we are to be servants to one another, loving each other as Christ loved us. Of course this means special consideration to each and every child of God, and celebrating their culture and heritage is part of that.
I just feel like we do more strategizing and scheming–trying to solve our problems on human grounds, in human terms–than truly loving.
We have Jesus, we’ll be alright.
Thanks for sharing. You might be interested in a follow up post I wrote addressing some of these feelings.
While I agree that Jesus brings us peace, I also have seen this phrase used like a band-aid to cover up the problem and avoid dealing with the deeper wounds. It’s my hope that we’ll lean in hard to the feelings this topic brings up and allow Jesus to use them to change us deeply, not just mask the problem even further.
The part of this that cracks me up the most is the parts where you’re trying to be so gentle breaking this news to white people. “I know you think this is harsh….” and I think, Good Lord, white folks are so easily bruised – but always tough enough to never quite see the damage they inflict.
Then again, Malcolm X once said, “Don’t be in a hurry to condemn someone because he doesn’t do what you do or think as you think or as fast. There was a time when you didn’t know what you know today.” And he was right. Even being black, I’ve had to do a lot of research, reading, sharing, talking, blogging, writing and then starting all over again just to understand why the world is the racist, misogynistic cesspool that it is.
But honestly I don’t have the wisdom, patience or kindness that Brother Malcolm had. As a 40-something black woman, I just plain get pissed when white people dismiss me and treat me in the ways that they think they hide so well (ya’ll don’t, I’m just saying).
What I suggest for any white person reading this and thinking it’s “harsh”, I suggest you listen to this blogger. Because honestly, one day you are going to come across the “angry black woman” like me who isn’t going to put up with your ignorance and bullshit. Yeah, you know. “That Black Woman.” The one who will loud talk you and make you cringe and think of every black stereotype you’ve ever heard of and live it out live and in living color. Yeah. I am “that” woman. You need to educate yourself before you come across her. I mean me. I mean yeah, you’ll have the police and the judge on your side, and you might even retreat to your bubble and say, “I can’t believe that Black woman treated me, a nice fine upstanding white person like that,” but just know that the her anger, my anger, is more than justified.
To put it in the whitest of white terms: It’s like the difference between dealing with Walter White or Jesse. You definitely want to deal with Jesse. Because when Heisenberg shows up, that’s pretty much your ass. All of us black folks aren’t out here singing kumbayah and waiting for your white asses to wake up.
I am Martin and I am Malcolm. There is a dichotomy in me – I am patient, kind, loving and willing to spend a few days in jail and write some letters to prove a point. There’s also the “By Any Means Necessary” Black American Patriot who expects white folks to live up to the best of American ideals- liberty, justice, freedom- and won’t accept anything less.
Ya’ll ain’t ready for me so you need to listen to her. Seriously.
Background: I am a white woman; I am 22 years old; and I am well-educated. I grew up in white suburbia even though the town I lived in had a hispanic majority. I am aware that I grew up with a misconstrued view of the way the world works. Please, call me on anything I say that is ignorant or bigoted. I assure you, it is not intentional. I just want to open up the conversation.
After graduating from high school in Texas, I moved to NYC. The culture shock was immense. For the first time in my life I was being called “white girl” and “snow bunny.” I could not walk the block from my apartment to school (in midtown) without getting “hollered at” at least 3 times. It did not bother me at first. I was 17, and loved the attention. But, then I moved to Harlem.
In the 3 months I lived in Harlem (how long it took me to break and move back to Texas), I experienced “reverse racism” (which is really just the worlds way of saying it’s only racism if it’s coming from white people) and racial profiling against me because I was a white girl in the “wrong neighborhood.” It didn’t matter if it was 7am or 11pm, every time I walked down the street I heard “snow bunny, hey snoooooow bunny, over here.” Every time I walked by a cop he would flirt with me a little, just to see if I would take the bait so he could book me for being a prostitute. And I would have creeps on the bus look so angry about me “being in their neighborhood” or so thirsty for a white girl that others would approach me and offer to walk me home or to the nearest cop (there was always one close by the bus stop) because they were concerned about the actions of their own people towards me.
As a white girl in Texas, I was taught that you don’t use racial terms to define someone. Not only black people, but Mexicans, Arabs, and any other people as well. I was taught that racism and bigotry are evil, and you don’t use language that promotes either of them. People are people, and everyone is equal. And yet, in NYC it was ok for black men and women to call me racist names. And when I moved back to Texas and worked downtown, the hispanic girls at work called me “wetta” and “white girl” like my color defined me.
I have a problem with posts like this because they continue to blame racism on white people and their ignorance. Responsibility lies with those who are blamed. The “white savior” mentality comes from telling white people it is their job not to be racist, while other people are allowed to say whatever they want. Ending racism does not involve a two-way street. It involves a one-way street on which everyone is going the same direction. Otherwise someone is traveling away from the goal.
My question to you is: Why do you feel “justified” to treat me any different than you would one of “your own people” when I don’t feel justified to treat you any different than the human being that you are? If your answer is because I am white and you are black then maybe it is time to re-visit the definition of racism, because last time I checked it isn’t “white people treating black people poorly,” it’s “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race.”
The ignorance of white people is often unacceptable, but so is the ignorance of black people, and hispanic people, and any other nationality that thinks that it is ok to judge someone by the color of their skin. I am so sick and tired of everyone making us out to be the bad guys. The playing field has evened out and we are all responsible for educating our youth on how to play nicely with others. White people cannot save the world from racism. We have to do it together – something that can only truly happen if EVERYONE is color blind.
My son once made a comment in school about “black racism” and someone told him “black people can’t be racist.” Such a blatant example of the double standard on this topic.
Although your experience sounds uncomfortable, it is not the same as the experience of a non-white person. You were living in a black neighborhood, where you were singled out because you were different. It sounds like the people in that neighborhood were trying to push you out. You’re right, that’s awful, that’s not fair, and that should not happen.
But that only happens to you when you move to an all-black neighborhood. In most of the rest of the world, you are legitimate and respected. The experience of a black person living outside of a black neighborhood more closely approximates your experience of that one neighborhood. That’s why racism is only really an issue for people of color, in the same way that men can be raped, but rape is primarily an issue of violence against women and children.
Most white people may not overtly say racist things out loud, but black people know when they are singled out, excluded, pushed out. And that’s not just in one neighborhood, that’s practically everywhere they go. The black people in Harlem are abusive because they feel that this is the one neighborhood they can’t get pushed out of. Then they turn around and treat others the way they are treated. Again, this is wrong, but they would not be doing this if there was not such a strong history of racism in this country. It’s a sort of revenge against racism, or maybe a kind of jealousy, but it’s not racism or reverse racism.
If you had empathy for the situation of these marginalized people, you would understand that their rage comes from being treated poorly by white people for hundreds of years and you should not take it personally. The problem you had also sounds like more of a socio-economic problem than anything else. What do expect from ignorant street thugs? And why would you use the behavior of street thugs as a reflection on the rest of black society? I’m not black, but when I go to a poor neighborhood full of prostitutes and crack dealers, I’m not really judging their behavior as being race-related, even if they mention race. I’m seeing it as poverty-related (which is also, unfortunately, a black issue).
Also: maybe your experience should cause you to have more empathy for the plight of people of color. Imagine getting that treatment everywhere in the world! All you had to do was move out of Harlem. For black people, it’s not so easy.
Reblogged this on Generation Scapegoat and commented:
This isn’t necessarily a generational article, but I thought it was very well written and worth sharing. It’s from a faith perspective, but I feel these truths apply regardless of your faith. If you found my last post offensive, I think the words of this post are worth considering.
Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been trying to communicate some of these same ideas myself, but I think you’ve done a better job of it here than I’ve ever done myself. I’ll be sharing this…
Thanks, goatmeal! I appreciate it. I also think you have the best screen name I’ve seen in a while 🙂
I am chewing over this post. First off: thank you so much for sharing your mind, your heart. This is so beautifully written! This is a breath of fresh air! There is a lot of anger within all of the races, from what I can see in the media (which I try not to follow too much anymore) and it feels more and more skewed towards sensationalism. It’s difficult to get along with others if there is something violent going on in the news all the time.
I only have my story to share, not really an opinion. I try to follow Jesus’ way of life (how he asked his people to live), and I also use the teachings of the Buddha. I’m a musician in several churches, and the people I have met there fall into ALL of these situations you have described….on several sides. I try like hell to meet each person where they are, and as who they are, with their culture, their language, whatever. Even within whites, there is a huge difference between my boyfriend’s family, who are trades people/working class, and my University students, many of whom are quite educated. Sometimes, they stand speechless, because they have no idea what to say. Interesting, huh? Ok….
My father is white in race, but multi-cultural in religion, and has lived as a bridge between the disabled and the “normal” (he had polio as a child, and pushed himself physically to be as normal as possible, while still facing his limitations daily). He is still this way. My mother, who has since died, was a Creole woman from New Orleans, and her mother was bi-racial: Chitimacha Indian and African American. My mother was raised as black, and her stories of segregated New Orleans, and then her move to Chicago, still influence me. My parents both love music, and as a result, I have found myself using music as a “bridge” between people, as much as I can. I play piano with a Latino church group, play pipe organ for my “white” congregations, and I love music from all over the world, so I’m currently learning about the Gamelan instruments of Java and Bali. My mother was my primary music coach (she was a music teacher for a black Chicago middle school), and my father also supported me very much in my pursuit of using music to tell stories, and to help people understand each other (he was a social worker for the very poor in Chicago).
I look mixed. I also look white. My friends fondly call me the “chameleon”. When I was in Europe, I was considered either an American, or I looked like everyone else. When in Tokyo, I was a white girl. 🙂 When I was in Mexican and Puerto Rican neighborhoods in NYC, I was considered one of them (I had simply curiously forgotten how to speak Spanish). My sister, on the other hand, has been a white girl her whole life, and it was hard for her. She is red-headed and freckled, and looks like my father, and she was the one who marched on the shoulders of a Black Panther friend of my mother’s during a march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Talk about a tough experience! She had bricks thrown at her, because of who she was, and who she was with. It scared my mother, so she moved my sister off of her friend’s shoulders, but neither one of them ever forgot.
I have many stories like this, within my family. I love both sides of my family, equally, and fiercely. I love my boyfriend, and we are learning each other’s cultures, which are different, and not only because I am mixed and he is not. I have good friends who are Christian missionaries, but not in an insipid way….theses folks are strong in their beliefs, and want the best for those around them, and work hard at that. And they are Republican, and will help anyone. My other good friends are Democrats and Pagan, but they too, help anyone and also work hard. I consider myself lucky to have found some really fantastic people, white, black, Mexican, Bhutanese, Japanese, Chinese, Puerto Rican, Filipino…..I could go on…….and these people have taught me so much by being themselves, and embracing their heritage, as I have embraced mine. Strangely enough, because we trust each other, we are now beyond our race, our religion, and even our culture. We’re simply friends.
Your article just brought this all to mind, especially since I have several white friends who are publishing it on Facebook, and want to discuss it with those of us who have not had the “white” mindset. My niece and nephew are multi-racial (their father is black), and we fondly remember laughing over the book “Things white people like”, because we loved all of it! My nephew said, “well heck, I’m a quote black kid who enjoys NPR and eating breakfast out. Guess that makes me a white kid…” (cue the giggles)
Thank you, again! Blessings….
I am not entirely sure that I agree with you. Your premise is based on racial differences and yes, race plays a big factor in how we all conduct our everyday lives but I do not agree with the idea that white people are set-up better culturally because of skin color. Cultural differences go far beyond skin color-language, education, earning potential, age and so on all play major roles in how we set expectations and how those around us set expectations. You mentioned the cultural humility you felt when you confused an Iranian for an Egyptian. They looked the same to you because of skin color but are vastly different in every other way of life. So why do you assume that “white” people are the ones with the cultural malfeasance simply for being white? Your assumptions are that white, christian, hipsters are well-intentioned but with the wrong view or motivation. I am tired of this guilty conscience mentality that people are trying to push onto “white” people.
I hear you, Joseph. I’m tired too.
I’m tired of people dismissing this issue by focusing on the tiny details of who-said-what-when and missing the big picture.
I’m tired of the shallowness with which people read and think and interact that causes them to come to equally shallow conclusions.
I’m tired of defensive accusations flying every which way.
I’m tired of seeing the sagging shoulders of those who carry this burden the heaviest.
I’m tired of people who refuse to listen because they don’t want to push through the guilt to find the freedom and unity on the other side.
If you’re interested in learning more, I wrote you a letter. I hope you’ll read it.
I appreciate your interest in the furthering of my education. I think you are right on point in assuming that my whiteness and dissenting opinion categorically defines me as a culturally aloof “white” person. I see no point in diving into my experiences to justify my stance as a progressive white. It is clear, however, that many people reading this blog define themselves as cultural warriors and have the “black” circle of friends or “white” circle of friends to prove it. The problem with race relations is that we get caught up in using our self-defined experiences to offset our negative contributions while pointing out all of the other problems that keep a tremendous gap between our cultures. Many of us even use the gospel to graciously dismiss ourselves from the problem.
All that to say that assuming someone’s whiteness or blackness marks their cultural makeup and place in society does not further the discussion nor lead to constructive debate. The issue in claiming that white people should burden the responsibility is that we again draw swords for the wrong reasons. We entrench ourselves in our values and take sides to eliminate the burden of guilt and point to a symbol, which has no clear identity, as the root of the problem. Respect, faith and personal responsibility should be a driving force in how people conduct themselves with any and every person regardless of race. We should not be subject to some noble obligation for the sake of cultural semblance. I challenge your presumption that being white requires some intangible burden to be carried. You assume that my whiteness defines me simply because I am white. It does not.
I can appreciate this to some extent. Warren was totally naive in not knowing about the Red Guard and the apology should have been public. But, looking at the example of confusing a person from Iran with someone from Egypt as acting white is not representative of what you are saying. The safest thing a white person can do is not to speak to someone from another culture. In a business setting, a white person could easily be in trouble with HR.
A years ago, our local paper had a black journalist whose job was to give the black perception. Our daughter was just finishing up Teach for America in Baltimore and told us to see the movie “The Boys of Baraka”. It is a documentary type film about taking some black kids from their neighborhood in Baltimore to a school in Africa so they would be safe to study. The people who organized this were white and from an organization wanting to try to help these kids. This black journalist wrote an article kind of angry at the whites for doing this as blacks should be there. But the blacks were not there. Should the whole project have been killed over color representation?
BETWEEN WORLDS – AHHHH!!!!!!
Can I just say, as a second generation Nigerian-American:
1.) I love you for writing this.
2.) I’m so grateful that people like you exist who GET IT! Can you introduce me to others?
3.) Thank you so much for writing this. At times I feel crazy for getting hurt by comments like “get over it” or “there is only one race: the human race.” Thank you for validating my experience as a minority and speaking out about it as a member of the majority. I printed out this article because you so perfectly articulated my frustrations in grace and truth.
1). Thanks. I love you for saying that.
2). I’d love to, and maybe we should have coffee too. I don’t think we live very far apart?
3). You are not crazy.
(I’ll start by saying that at this late hour, I didn’t read through EVERY comment above…)
Part of the problem, I think (in America, at least), is the willingness of the minorities to KEEP themselves segregated. I will admit that it may well be a knee-jerk reaction to overbearing “dominance” by us white folks, but honestly, it feels more like lack of desire to integrate FULLY because of some perceived continued slight. Why is it a trivia fact that Daniel Hale Williams was the first BLACK man to perform open heart surgery? He was THE FIRST PERSON EVER to do it! REGARDLESS of his “blackness.” Why is the incidental fact that he was the first person to do it, rather than the color of his skin being the incidental?
Why do we maintain HBCs? We don’t have any HWCs….
And not to pick on black folks- Why can a woman play in the PGA Tour, but a man can’t compete in the LPGA Tour? Women, as a minority, exercise the same willingness to remain segregated as minority races. Why are women still trying to close the gender gap in Corporate America? Because they want to be PAYED like men (the Majority) but TREATED like women (as if they need to hit with kid gloves and patronized).
The only ACTUAL difference I’ve ever encountered in the groups I’ve mentioned is women can have babies, men can’t, and white people like to dunk grilled cheese sandwiches in tomato soup and black folks don’t (this is a highly scientific experiment carried out by a black friend during a 7 month deployment whilst I was in the Navy). That’s it. Skin color and gender don’t matter, people. We’re all the same race, and it’s HUMAN. Get over all the petty crap.
The fact that you, author, even bring up the fact that your husband is “of a different color” is further proof of the constant segregation that we “all” buy in to on a daily basis. Why does it matter your husband was of a certain color? He was picked on in his neighborhood because the other people were assholes, not because of his skin color. Because of THEIR REACTION to it. It wasn’t HIS fault they acted/believed in that manner. It was THEIRS. The issue is not in his difference, but in their non-acceptance/non-understanding.
Now we’re getting somewhere! I know there are a whole lot of others sitting out their with the very same questions you pose. In fact, I just wrote you a letter yesterday. I hope you’ll read it.
I’m not going to respond directly to your comments just yet. Instead, let me tell you a story.
When my daughter was one, she came down with a very serious staph infection. Before it was diagnosed, we had no clue what it was and faced discussions of potentially terminal or chronic diseases. We were scared. My poor little daughter was, too, with all those needles and strangers poking and prodding at her. She developed a coping mechanism whenever a medical professional entered the room of squeezing her eyes tightly shut and turning her head in the opposite direction as far as she could strain. In her mind, if she couldn’t see the doctors, they couldn’t hurt her.
This is what I see in perspectives like the one you shared above. “If I just squeeze my eyes shut really tight and don’t look, it won’t exist, because I can’t see it.”
But what if others do? Does your own perspective negate theirs? What do you do with the large body of literature and research on race, the continued news stories about racial hate crimes, institutionally structured racism, statistics about the disproportionate incarceration of men of color?
Before you share your opinions further, I’m curious first about who you love. Do you have close friends of color on whom you base your assumptions? If you do, have you ever listened to them without first spouting your own ideas and assuming you were right? If you don’t, I’d challenge you to watch some movies or read some books outside of your perspective (I’ve listed several in my posts here), and then I’d be happy to talk more about the issues at hand.
We need you, brother. We need your passionate response in this conversation, but we need you first to listen and learn, not to squeeze your eyes shut and turn your head the other way because it hurts too much to look reality in the eye.
Why should “minorities” try to assimilate? That’s ridiculous. Why don’t you try to assimilate into black culture, Indian culture, or Hispanic culture? You’re trying to whitewash the issue, sweep it under the rug, we’re NOT one race, and trying to say that we are is offensive. It makes light of the struggle, and implies that “minorities” (who are really only minorities in America, not the world) aren’t TRYING hard enough? Ugh.
I just thought I add a few answers to your questions.
Why don’t blacks integrate?
I do think that there are some black people who prefer to integrate, usually the older generation that grew up in the segregated south. Historically it was white people not black people that created this voluntary segregation (look up White Flight). I myself grew up in a neighborhood which in the late 70s was a white area but when I was growing up in the 90s was black. The segregation was caused by whites moving out in the 80s as blacks moved in, and it has continued to be a black area. A lot of blacks move into my neighborhood as its the cheapest out of the DC suburbs, and many whites prefer to pay more to live in more white areas. Personally, I sadly think this is still the racist mentality that whites are good and blacks are bad, so for a black family that moves to a white neighborhood they see as moving up but for a white family to move to a black neighborhood means that there downgrading. Then when more than one black family moved into the neighborhood, the neighborhood is going down all white people move out.
Why do we maintain HBCs? We don’t have any HWCs…
We do have HWCs we just don’t call them that, in fact that was why HBCs were created so that Blacks would be able to go college. Now if you’re next question is about the lack of diversity of HBCs, its just a common myth that you have to be black to attend one, its open to all races. I believe there are about 2 HBCs that have a predominantly white enrollment and even at the most famous HBCs (Howard, Hampton) they do have some non-black enrollment (mostly international, though).
Also Daniel Hale Williams was not the first person to perform open heart surgery but he was one of the first to perform it. I actually agree that when we (I’m a black woman) make an accomplishment, we should be treated the same as if a white person accomplish it.
One more thing…
I didn’t intend to “reply” with such a short response. I’m sorry about that.
I do appreciate your desire to draw attention to this very real subject and help inform “us” as an American, particularly white, culture.
Having grown up in the Midwest and now married to an Indian woman, born in the Middle East – I’m learning A LOT 🙂
No problem at all. I really hated making this mistake, but thought it illustrated my example so well that it was worth leaving up. There’s always something to learn, even when we live this stuff day in and day out.
As a white person I am offended—but not by your thesis or by your examples, which have a lot of truth in them.
I’m offended by your title, for several reasons.
First, what else are white people supposed to be, if not white? Should white people be black, or brown, or red, or yellow (plenty of white people get criticized for trying to act like they are)? Maybe white people need to be different, but that does not mean they have to stop being white, any more than other people need to start being white (a demand white people often make unconsciously, if not consciously).
Second, how offensive is it to talk of “black people being black” or “brown people being brown” or “red people being red” or “yellow people being yellow”? If any of those is offensive, then why is it OK to talk about “white people being white”?
(I’m also curious as to how you would define “black people being black”, “yellow people being yellow”, etc.)
Third, you note that you have addressed your essay (primarily) to “‘my people’, more specifically to white Christians in the American church.” By that I’m guessing (perhaps wrongly) you mean “middle class” (i.e., relatively affluent and well-educated). That makes me curious about the extent to which “your people” encompasses “poor white trash” (a horribly offensive term itself, but I use it deliberately to make a point), Germans, Scots, Ukrainians, Germans, Albanians, New Zealanders, and others. Do “your people” have the same experience of “being white” as an oil rig worker in Scotland, or a farmer in Ukraine, or an executive in Germany, or a Muslim cab driver in Albania, or a civil servant in New Zealand, or even a white American who has not had the same educational and socio-economic blessings? All of them are white. Do all of them have “white power”? If so, do they all have the same kind of “white power”?
Maybe what you meant to say is that relatively affluent, well-educated white Americans—and ESPECIALLY Christians—need to emerge from their monocultural bubble and stop assuming that their culture is superior to everyone else’s (which they often do without even realizing it). If so, your critique is sound, and you stand with much good company. It is even more relevant for those who pride themselves on being “culturally aware” but who are really more aware of the existence of other cultures than of what the people who live in them think and feel.
Of course, not everyone who offends means to do so. I hope people who are offended would have the grace to try to determine whether offense was meant and to treat those who didn’t mean it with dignity (gently educating them on why they are offending and bearing with them if they don’t get it at first—how exactly are they SUPPOSED to “get it” if they have never encountered “it” before, or even been educated on what encountering “it” should be like?). And YES, YES, YES!—white people who have offended someone need to act with grace and humility in admitting the offenses and seeking to understand the other person. And white people need to be made aware of all this so that they can try to ensure they don’t offend on the first place. As for people who are offensive and know it, I think you can be harder and harsher on them. (That goes for people of any color who are deliberately being offensive, by the way. And a white person WOULD say that, right?)
I don’t mean to minimize the hurt that even well-intentioned white people have caused and continue to cause. Frankly, I don’t think I can begin to imagine that hurt. But I do mean to remind all of us that when people hurt us—or someone we love— inadvertently, they probably are unaware not just of the injury they caused but of the fact that theirs is not the first hurt. We shouldn’t be surprised if what seems obvious to us befuddles them.
Finally, give yourself some credit. Although you might struggle with aspects of interacting with people of other cultures and/or with living in a culture other than the one in which you were raised, I imagine you are “culturally competent” in your home culture. And let’s face it—the United States is a big place, and white Americans are, on some levels, fairly ignorant of the cultures (and especially the cultural nuances) of their fellow white Americans from other parts of the country (and on other levels holders of rather tidy stereotypes of those cultures). That doesn’t excuse anyone from anything, of course, but if white Americans don’t even “get” one another, is it any surprise that they are clueless about people of other cultures?
Thanks for telling it like it is, Kamalaasaa 🙂 I’m not saying that white people should be something different, just that they need to be aware of how their choices and actions impact others. Members of majority groups (not just white people) are not often very good at thinking of anyone except themselves.
In my experience, I often hear people of color discussing what it’s like to live as themselves in the larger majority (perhaps what you call ‘black people being black’?). I don’t speak to this because I don’t belong to any of those groups and don’t need to speak for them. They have strong voices in their own right and can share their perspectives and experiences quite well for themselves.
You highlight some important distinctions among white people, and your rephrase is an accurate description of who I am speaking to. To add some context for my perspective, while I am educated, I have also lived on welfare as an adult. My father grew up poor in the hills of Southern Indiana, with no running water until he was 10. My parents were both first-generation college graduates. My husband and I lived for eight years in a rural, high-poverty area of the midwest where the KKK was still active, the minuteman organized to run the immigrants out of town (if they ever showed up), and the last public lynching in the US occurred. Living in this context that was nearly 100% white, most of whom were from a lower economic status, we did not go out much because the stares bore holes in our heads or we simply weren’t served. We received threatening phone calls in the middle of the night, didn’t feel safe sending our kids to the local schools, and second guessed ourselves if we needed to call the police because we didn’t know if they’d actually help us. My husband has been chased around town and had vegetables thrown at him, and we were run off the road and shouted at one day while taking a walk. Even though it was supposedly a “peaceful little town”, we never felt safe for him to run alone at night. And we had it easy compared to the handful of other people of color who lived in our small town.
While poor white folks don’t have the same kind of power as the rich ones, there are still some difficult issues there rooted in the racially broken history of our country. I’m not even touching those in this post.
Thank you for opening up this conversation. So needed, some healing happening already just from racism (some from ignorance, some from a position of self-comfort preservation) being brought into the light. I thank and applaud anyone (whatever race) committed to the ardous task of reconciliation and hoping to add to the voices that plead to be heard.
Please stop referring to US population/citizens as “Americans.” All people belonging to the Continent of America are Americans, including those from Canada, Mexico, Central and South America. US monopolization of the term is one example of the “louder White voice” that diminishes all others. We shall need lots of courage, grace, patience and perseverence.
Are you serious? The U.S. has always referred to it’s citizens as Americans. What else are we supposed to call ourselves? United States-ians? African United States-ians? Asian U.S.-ians? While the first paragraph in your statement was a beautiful confirmation of understanding, the second is rather insulting.
Yes, I do believe she’s quite serious. This is not a unique or uncommon sentiment, but is unknown to many people in the US. It makes quite a lot of sense – all of us in North, Central & South America share the term – why does the US get to be the only Americans? I do think U.S.ian’s is odd though, and can’t think of another that makes sense either…
I knew about this phenomenon prior to her comment. I read an article about how many South Americans feel that they too are American (and yet they can identify as Brazilian, or whatever other nationality they have) and I have no problem with that – being that the continent is America. That being said, it seemed that she was insisting that we don’t identify ourselves nationally as “American” and I think that that is ludicrous. If a Canadian wants to call themselves American, no worries. But to insist that we don’t use the term is absurd. I have dual citizenship but for some reason, I feel very strongly about this.
GREAT article 😉 I noticed something was missing, though, and it’s something important… when humility does bring up statements such as “I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this?”, one thing that needs to be considered is that humility also prepares you for when those folks asked that question dont want to answer or dont want you present… THEY have that agency, so we’ve gotta prepare ourselves to be OK with them trying to tell us we may not be welcome in their space/they may not feel like educating us/we may be perceived by them as intruders, and that it’s OK for them to feel that way.
You give a fantastic sense of hope in this article, but without that key piece MUCH good work could be undone if people were to reach out and not understand why they may feel rebuffed at times, or if they were to react poorly should their question be answered in an unexpected way. We need to remember that while we can strive to understand, we dont have an inherent right to understand their sense of agency nor override their agency or voice in our own struggle to know where it comes from.
Appreciate that reflection. Perhaps all these issues are to strive to obey Micah 6:8 and 1 Cor 13
I’m a little confused by this comment…it’s okay for minorities (I’m assuming that’s what you mean) to tell us we are unwelcome in their space, but not for us to do the same? I must be missing something.
I thought this was a very useful comment. Susan, my interpretation (plz correct me if I am wrong) is that the space Bozanfe is referring to is an emotional space or a personal space. Sometimes offers of help/friendship/suggestions are simply not welcome or useful. And that is OK. I have found myself on both sides at times — being offered unwanted “help” and being rebuffed. Both sides have felt painful, but necessary in learning to react with grace and compassion.
Here’s some food for thought. Many people actually do not like to be framed as a “minority” as it creates a dynamic of less than. While it usually intended to mean “not the majority” population wise, I feel my sister who brought this to my attention had a very valid point. She said she would prefer to be named by her specific people group verses being called a minority.
Yes! I would agree with that. If you notice, I usually try to say ‘people of color’ rather than minority for this very reason. Every so often the world may slip in if I am referring to actual numbers in a specific context, though. It’s quite ironic, because, globally speaking, white people are the minority.
Lizzy, thank you for mentioning socio-economic prejudices. I am grateful for blogs like this one that highlight white privilege and applaud the importance of cultural humility. But we need to extend this humility to the poor. There remains a strong cultural bias (in the US at least) that one who is poor is morally suspect – lazy, unmotivated, and so on. This bias infects more than just whites. The poor experience rejection and disapproval relentlessly. Yet those who listen and understand enter into mutually transforming relationships.
Such a great point, Dennis & Lizzy! I actually think our socioeconomic divides can be even more challenging and complex than our racial ones. Thanks for bringing this up.
Thank you so much for going after this difficult subject. Racial reconciliation is so very complex for many reasons and legitimate ignorance and fear of offending(which can turn into frustration) plays a big part there. I work at a large church with predominantly affluent white young professionals. I yearn for the day that our congregation and staff begin to better reflect the diversity of the communities that surround us.
As an Asian-American woman, I often feel isolated. Many sweet folks say indirectly hurtful things or make assumptions that are just not correct. Another manifestation can be this idea that Asian Americans aren’t minorities the way black and latino folks are. I was in a conversation once where I had given my opinion on scholarships for minorities and a response was, “But Asians aren’t like Blacks and Hispanics.” It was so heartbreaking to hear model minority brainwash coming out of the mouth of a person I respect. Choosing the battles I’ll fight are very hard.
There have been some really wonderful people who have approached me with questions that show their curiosity in the way you have outlined here, full of humility and in a posture to learn. Each of those moments have been life-giving moments of genuine community. I hope more and more people, especially those who are leaders in churches and communities begin to model cultural humility so that those of us who live in the margins, whether it is racial or socio-economic (this too influences culture so much!), are not pushed away or isolated when God calls us to draw others in, towards community, towards Him.
When I see people caring for others, their skin color is completely irrelevant, just like the skin color of those being loved and helped. And as for who benefited from slavery, who knows how to figure that one out? Does mere skin color answer the question 150 years later? In the South, before the Civil War, just the richest 3 to 5% of whites had slaves. Meanwhile, poverty and isolation among whites was as horrendous as slavery was evil. The dead have been dead far too long to keep score on such distant evils and suffering. Those keeping score should be out working to care for other human beings still alive, regardless of skin color.
Being a hipster white male in his late twenties, I can totally relate to this article. It is well put. Thank you for raising the flag.
I was born in a small, white – yet culturally diverse – country in Europe where I had the privilege of being exposed to a lot of different cultures around me, so at first I was inclined to just discard the points in your article as a ‘typical American’ problem. But then you went in a little deeper when you started to raise the issue of cultural humility and all these little examples of how we think we have it all figured out for ourselves. That got me thinking though. Thanks for that.
In the Netherlands, we have a lot of black and Asian immigrants from previous colonies which we used to exploit (both the colonies and the (ancestors of the) immigrants). As a teenager, I never understood the innate anger towards me from some of these immigrants until I found out later – in the history books and from personal stories – that my people had been a bunch of douchebags in the not too recent past. Whether it was in Suriname, the Antilles or in Indonesia, we always managed to feel superior to the local folks and make their lives more miserable. Although that this sense of superiority had grown less obvious in modern-day society, there is still a presence in the Dutch minds that may be hard to notice for us white folks, but which implicitly triggers or rekindles generations-old feelings of implied inferiority and the subsequent resistance against it. Most of us white folks don’t get that and feel that ‘the others’ should stop complaining. We have it with the people from the Moluccas that feel abandoned and betrayed by our government in the fifties and we have it with the Surinamese that do not like the word ‘neger’ because it reminds them of a dark time in history where we would make some of their ancestors’ lives a living hell.
That revelation came later. In my youthful days though, I had concluded in my White-Christian mind that all those (passive-) aggressive Indonesians and blacks needed to repent from their anger and that me quietly ‘forgiving’ them was the way to balance out the evil in the world. I would look at my WWJD bracelet and smile, all self-indulged.
It has been not too long ago that I feel that I need to take ownership of this white heritage and your article inspired me again. Thanks.
I agree with Nin about the whole “white bashing” bandwagon. I skimmed through some of the other posts on the blog and seems like the author often (whether intentional or not) seems to be striving to prove that she’s not racist or has some kind of higher level of understand that many of other “whites” don’t have.
I’ve traveled to many countries around the world, worked abroad, and studied abroad and while Americans in general may have a certain degree in lacking cultural awareness outside of the US, they certainly don’t have the sole claim on it. Many Asian countries have a sense of racism, discrimination, stereotyping, cultural insensitivity and ignorance that would put a Southern redneck to shame (Not all people of course, as the younger generations have gained a certain eye for it as their countries too are becoming a little more diverse…but to a large degree it still persists).
If you go to different countries you will also find people who are visiting or working there from abroad from just about any ethnicity making the same mistakes this article says “whites” do. Most countries logically cater their media, savior roles, and leadership roles to their own races/nationalities, which is only logical. The US was started by many “whites” and thus many things have been catered towards that group. As the numbers shift, supposedly by 2040-2050 whites will no longer be the majority, I’m sure the media and various other things will shift again for the majority audience.
I think a more appropriate title would be “When ignorant people don’t know they’re being ignorant” instead of tauting around race categories even more furthering divisions and arguments. We’re all people, we’re all “racist” to a degree, and we are all ignorant to a degree regardless of where we come from or what the color of our skin is. Criticize the ignorant act of a person, not his race.
My only solace in all this is that at least the focus was more on White American Christians. Being American may have a base layer of ignorance, but throwing in the belief in Christianity makes that layer even thicker (statistically speaking at least; intelligence is in an inverse relationship with religion…don’t hurt me =p)
Yeah, Descartes, Newton, Mendel, Pasteur, Kelvin, Fleming….big group of dumb-asses. 😉
My intent is not at all to “white bash” as you suggest. It is to start a productive conversation that is not happening amongst ourselves. I agree that this trait is not solely restricted to white people, but since it is an issue that does relate specific to them, it still applies. It’s only skirting the issue to suggest otherwise.
From the place where I and many others – both white and non-white – stand, it’s clear that we have some skeletons lurking in our closet, and I’m suggesting that it might be helpful if we talk about it frankly. I am weary of hearing this issue repeatedly swept under the rug because white people don’t know how to talk about it. People of color talk about it all the time (if you don’t believe me, visit a black church) and white people keep on pretending that nothing’s wrong. This is the problem at hand, not my ego.
And you do make a true, but unfortunate point regarding the lack of Christian thought prevalent in the church today. If you look, I can assure you that you’ll find many of us who value intellect quite highly, we just don’t get the airtime that some of the crazies do. Some of the greatest thinkers and scientists throughout history have been Christian, and I share your disappointment in the lack of such thoughtfulness among us today.
Mending broken relationships is a spiritual issue. We’re not talking about physical bodies. Science is irrelevant when it comes to spiritual matters. Jesus addressed broken relationships directly—both broken relationships with God and with other humans. After over 20 years of thinking about it, I’ll gladly bet my two degrees from M.I.T. and my life that Christianity is true, and the atheistic mythology that passes for Science (but is not) is false.
I can’t speak for all white men (not all white men are the same 🙂 )—just for myself. I grew up as a missionary kid in the Amazon rainforest of Ecuador, South America. We lived among the Shuar people. Going into fourth grade we moved to a small farming town in southwest Minnesota where everyone was white. In the middle of sixth grade, we moved to south Texas where my school was 90-95% Hispanic. Then, I went off to college where I met people from all over the world. After college, I was off to southern California and my first job with a big tech company. Then, I moved to Atlanta when I got married to an Asian-American woman.
I owe a lot to persons of color. When I was being bullied in seventh and eighth grades, a Hispanic boy (who happened to be very popular) became my friend because we were both Christians. The bullying stopped instantly. Through college and many years thereafter I struggled a lot with my faith (Science vs. Bible, etc.). An Asian-American man told me something like “sometimes I am afraid that Jesus will tell me ‘I never knew you’ on Judgment Day, but you just have to trust that Jesus’ death was enough to pay for your sins.” I needed to hear that at the time. Finally, my African-American pastor in Atlanta counseled me through some of the lowest times of my life and came to visit me when I was in the hospital.
So why do I still struggle with racism and have difficulty relating to people of color? I believe it is because whenever I see them I remember all the horrible things that were done in the past. My sense of justice says that I ought to experience what they experienced for the score to be”even”. When they angrily call for justice, all I hear is a veiled desire for revenge. I don’t trust them with power because of what they might do to me. Deep down I know that they are just as human as I am. So I don’t trust them.
My choice seems to be either to stay with the oppressors and lead a comfortable life on this earth or to speak up for the oppressed and be oppressed myself. And it is unlikely that the oppressed will accept me as one of their own, so then I end up all by myself (except that God is always there).
The only solution I can see is Jesus. He paid with His own blood for all the horrible stuff that happened and happens to people of color. So justice has been served completely. So I don’t need to have a guilty conscience about it anymore. At the same time, I need to stop being oppressive in any way since Jesus takes what I do to His brothers and sisters personally. And I should stand up for the oppressed regardless of what happens. Does anybody have some extra backbone I can borrow?
Backbone comes from love and understanding. That is all you need to stand up for people and do the right thing. The world is one place, and we are all God’s children, so you need to stop looking at the world literally in terms of black and white. Once you do that you will be rid of guilt and fear. And if you think that Jesus has paid so that people can comfortably be racist, you have misunderstood the scriptures.
Thank you for this deeply touching article. I empathize with those who are saying they are tired of apologizing for their race because of one person’s insensitivity, or feeling paralyzed with fear at the thought of saying the wrong thing. I wanted to share a bit about my own experience.
As an Asian, I have received my share of hurtful remarks over the years. But you know what? I’ve had some wonderful discussions with co-workers, friends and even the occasional stranger who sincerely wants to know what’s so offensive about what they’ve just said or done. We’ve not always agreed on each other’s view, but most of the time we’ve respected each other that little bit more afterwards. Why? Because we’ve offered each other a certain measure of grace to come together and talk about it openly without arm-wrestling each other into submission.
The main thing that is hard for some of my white friends and co-workers to understand about me is that I’m not simply a product of my racial heritage. I don’t have a ‘Made in China’ tattoo on my arm! 🙂 To me, my culture isn’t just where my parents come from. My culture is also made up of my schooling, my friendships, my co-workers, my faith and a whole lot of other influences. I think someone here was describing themselves as white and monocultural, but I believe we’re all multi-faceted, complex and unique individuals. Surely we are each the product of many cultures and sub-cultures?
What truly blows my mind is when I think about how Adam’s blood runs through ALL our veins – every human being on this planet! My white friends and I share the same ancestry and, as Christ-followers, we share the same destiny. Hallelujah! Now THAT’s something that puts it into persepctive for me. Knowing that we’re family makes me want to stand alongside you, not behind you in your shadow or in front to block you out of sight.
I believe white privilege exists, but do white people need to apologise for their current position of power? Jesus often used rich people as examples of how NOT to approach things, but I don’t believe he was condemning their wealth or power. He was condemning their abuse and misuse of it. My white friends may have certain privileges that I may not, but we are equally sinful, equally fallen and equally in need of each other’s grace.
I truly thank God there have been people out there humble enough to share with me about their uncertainties on how to talk to me or perceived cultural differences. Their courage and humility shows me that I am worth understanding, worth getting to know better, even if that requires hard work on their part. To me, their humility is love in action. It spurs me on to work hard on my own misunderstandings and mistakes.
Such a great contribution to this discussion! Thanks!
Interesting article and comments. It’s humerus to see that if one states their ethnicity, education, relationships, or where they’ve lived that makes them an “expert” in the area and everyone should listen and agree with everything they have to say. Score one for that whole humility idea.
I know that “white bashing” is pretty popular now in the US and this article jumps on that bandwagon. But I really don’t see that’s helpful and is really just as racist and insensitive as anything that was condemned in the article. How does it help the body of Christ come together in love when a predominately white church is condemned for not changing their traditions so people of other ethnicities will be more comfortable there. But if a white person goes to another church of a predominately different ethnicity that church should maintain their traditions.
There seems to be a pretty big double standard. I think that the PC movement has gone way overboard and quite honestly is being used by the devil into terrifying people into inaction and the belief that they shouldn’t talk to anyone about Christ because it will be offensive. Well, the Bible states itself that it is offensive, so maybe we should be a little less worried about it and just spread the love of God.
Hi Nin, Thanks for sharing so honestly. This is a great first step. It would be helpful for me to know what your background is with regards to the situations you mentioned above. Have you participated in cross-cultural settings where you’ve seen this happen?
To clarify, I don’t think any of us share the details of who we are to be ‘experts’, more to give a context for how we see the world and why we think the way we do. I’d also disagree that the Bible encourages us to be offensive to others, it says its message may be offensive to the world that does not follow Christ. What it does encourage us to do, like you said, is love. Listening to, acknowledging the hurts of, and learning to be respectful toward our brothers and sisters from different backgrounds is not PC, it is one very practical way for us to follow Christ’s command to love one another.
A few times here, I’ve seen you post about how you were discontent with a white man leading the singing in the video posted above. I, personally, have no problem with it for two reasons: the first is that he is the man who wrote the song, and the second is that “white males” have, as you’ve specifically mentioned, been in a dominant cultural position in the United States. Therefore, by being a white male and also the man who is currently singing the song, he is representing our own dominant cultural group, as everyone else who is singing is also doing. (I also have a feeling that they’re not looking only for males, but I can’t say more than that on the male/female matter) Plus, if he weren’t leading the song, I have a feeling that a majority of the people listening to the song wouldn’t be able to connect with what was being said due to a language barrier. (I wouldn’t want them to make the individuals present speak in English, because that would exert cultural dominance over them.) I, personally, think this great video is a good example of “white humility”, because it acknowledges that other cultures are out there, interesting, important to us, and that we are concerned for their well-being.
Thanks for sharing! You articulate your perspective well, and I find it helpful to hear from a variety of opinions. Did you have any thoughts on the ideas present in the post separate from the video?
are we making too much of this video. I realize that there are many other examples of insensitivities such as Rick Warren’s photo but honestly. A white guy is leading the singing because a white guy wrote the song and has been performing it up till now. He invited other races to participate for an illustration of the phase “and all will sing how great is our God” from the song…he…a white person…wrote. Is it any wonder white people are scared to say anything for fear of offending and a few, like me, are a little sick of people trying to make us feel guilty because we are white.
Derrick, I know many people who, like you, feel guilty when this topic comes up. This is an early stage in the process of white racial identity. The problem is that people don’t like to feel guilty, so they stop at this stage and run away, not pushing through to a deeper understanding of themselves and the issues. As a result, they never learn what helps and what hurts. I’d encourage you to keep pushing through and exploring these issues. You are not a bad person because you are white, and you have incredible potential to be an advocate in this area if you care enough to listen and learn more.
Really the sacrosanct self loathing artificial humility has got to stop. Just go out and enjoy what we got. We try, we blow it, we go back to the drawing board. The accusations are as phony as your photo premise.
I was tempted to delete this, because I don’t find it any more sincere than you suggest that I am being. However, as much as I find it unhelpful, it too is a common response. I’m curious what you’ve learned as you’ve tried, blown it, and returned to the drawing board. How have you formed this perspective and how have you found authentic ways of dealing with race?
If you have one, I’d challenge you to take this post to a friend who is a person of color. Ask them what their perspective is. Do they agree? disagree? And then listen. Don’t dismiss. Keep your anger and defensiveness quiet even it is there. Just listen to the voices that are not like yours and try to hear what they are saying.
I am an Mk (Missionary Kid) who grew up in Asia. Being a White son of a White family and being born/growing up immersed in an Asian culture, I believe, gives me a unique perspective (trying to live in and with both cultures but not being of either). I think some of what you said was harsh but harsh is not always bad. The church in America has become stuck in their structured way of thinking on many many many different points (not just race) and often harsh honesty is what it will take to awaken people. I do agree with your message especially your conclusion. The American culture has a predominant and powerful influence on the world and most Americans aren’t afraid to use it (which is not always bad). Similarly, every culture has its issues. The culture I grew up in tends to apologize profusely but not change.
As Christians, regardless of our race, we need to be aware of the subtle differences not just the obvious ones and recognize constantly our failings and inadequacies as the body of Christ. Also we must remember that we are His image to a world that does not know him and constantly reflect on what picture others see of Him when they look at us. I think that your message doesn’t just apply to the race issue but the way we deal with people. Following Christ has its own culture that comes from attempting ( and I mean attempting) to live as Christ did and those that do not follow Christ don’t usually understand this.
I think your message hits the tip of the ice berg that is the American Church in all of its amazing blessings and failures. And I can tell that it barely touches the blessings and hurts in your own life. Awareness of our failings, a humility to apologize for them, and a willingness to learn from others are what we should strive to have.
I love your post and your replies! Makes me love white people again! LOL
This is a great article. What should be done, and talked about more so than it is, is implementing diversity in the school system starting in kindergarten. I believe the US is one of the few in the Western world who does not have any sort of diversity, difference in people, sex, religion, etc. implemented at an early age in schools. If we keep addressing these issues in graduate schools, or later in life when most people’s opinions and experiences are already formed it might always be a little too late. Perhaps starting to change the education system as a whole and implementing these much needed advances for our children might make a big difference for the future, in how our children see the world and the people around them, including themselves.
I feel for you. Attempting to be culturally humble within a tradition which claims to be THE Truth, THE Way, and THE Light can be very difficult. While unacknowledged whiteness and the living legacy of racism are hard to address in any context, I think are particularly hard within a Christian context. The history of the church’s support of and complicity in the worst aspects of colonialism is also a living legacy. In counties all over the world, practitioners of indigenous religions are persecuted as witches or devil worshippers by Christians. It is hard to imagine how you could stay within the Christian Church and actually achieve any sense of cultural humility, but I wish you luck. It is nice to know that some people within the tradition are trying.
Wholeheartedly agreed… It has indeed been a journey for me, Steve, one that has nearly pushed me out at times. I have written a little more about it in a post called Why I Still Believe if you’re interested to hear more…
My comments on “getting it” were not intended as a dig at Irene whose input was posted since I submitted my tome. I share her appreciation for what has been shared here. I guess that’s an example of how our most candid efforts risk offense, and are in constant need of the glue of grace?
Wow! What a great, honest discussion. So much to resonate with and respond to. And so rare that there could be this much collaboration of hearts and minds without a cynic breaking up the party . . . online, no less! I’m anxious to read other stuff on this blog.
Just a few thoughts in response. Confession is HUGE, and a grossly underestimated part of Christian discipleship, I believe. It’s not the same as living in guilt, or one apology after another, but I think it is a recognition that I am, always, deeply steeped in my sin and the sin of my communities, and in need of grace, maybe especially when I’m doing my best to do the right thing only to find it’s fallen and broken.
After my own years of work, life and study in this area, as a white guy, I have a pet peeve and a theory. Have you been in discussions where good, well meaning white folks, discussing racism, distinguish between those (white folks) who “just don’t get it” and themselves who, by implication, presume to “get it.” Get what? White non-racist enlightenment, I suppose. But one of these days maybe I’ll have the boldness to ask them to clarify. The theory? This is a (mostly unconscious?) strategy to maintain privilege; “I’m not racist!” I suspect that race, culture, power (might as well add self-righteousness, judgment, and hypocrisy) are much more complex and problematic than any of us can “get.” The gospel is that we’re all pretty screwed up and in need of something we can’t do for ourselves or fix, especially in our relationships with the Creator and fellow creatures. That, of course, includes me with my indictment of those who think they “get it” because (surprise!), I am one of them too. Who wants to throw the first stone?
As you say, our best response is “cultural humility”. I like that terminology too (I first heard it from Derek McNeil, to attribute source, as a counterpoint to Brenda Salter-McNeil’s “cultural competence” construct – they’re married; beautiful). I know it’s well intended, but “cultural competency,” especially as held by those with privilege, strikes me as just so much more “I get it.” Competent in which culture that is not my own? Every culture? Really? We can confess inadequacy, I suppose, lack of infinite ability to “be all things to all people” (I don’t think Paul was making a positivist universal ethnographic affirmation by the statement), but what’s the point of counting myself “competent” anyway? We must be referring to something like a humble and respectful stance toward other cultures because I simply cannot master someone else’s culture, let alone every culture. Unfortunately, many of us monocultural white folks are so privileged, colonial, and unaware of the challenges that such a project implies that we do what’s been described above, all the time. So we confess, forgive, and extend grace . . . and live paralyzed, fearful of making more mistakes? No, we correct and exhort each other to live like disciples, spending our privilege to challenge the powers, and confessing as we go. I’d like to think this is what Luther meant by “Sin boldly” – risk making mistakes! Love covers a multitude of sins.
Finally, I think part of my fallen culture as a white privileged male person is to use my power to control and fix things, and people. It’s quite likely that that’s a bigger part of my draw to working with people from other cultures than I’d care to admit. But I need to confess this, continually, and claim my call as faithfulness, not fixing. I fail. Maybe we need a WPA (white privilege anonymous: “Hi, I’m Kevin, and I’m privileged”). Actually, doing my own “white work,” and engaging privilege directly, is much harder for me than “serving” folks from other cultures. Hmmm.
Thanks, “Between Worlds,” for being a touchstone.
I’ve been to many concerts like this in the past, and now I avoid them at all costs. While worshiping together with other believers is Biblical and necessary, I find I’m easily turned off to large gatherings such as this. It wasn’t so much the video that made my skin crawl as it was the young chorus of children that came out in the background. Dressed in traditional clothing of what one would assume to be tribal, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not these kids were told that if they raised their hands and closed their eyes, the effect would be more worshipful… or do they really have a heart for the Savior? And would it have the same effect if they replaced the African children with African American children and the tribal costumes with sagging jeans, oversized tshirts, and Jordans?
Forgive me for jumping in the middle of the conversation. i did not read all the above posts so maybe I missed something but the whole tenor of this seems to be very harsh and unforgiving. Chris Tomlin and Co put together a multinational video reflecting that great scene in heaven when all tongues and ethnic groups will praise God, and we are bothered by the fact that some African kids were dressed in traditional dress. To be honest if I were a singer I think I would be afraid to perform at all lest something I do offends someone . Yes white Americans (I am one) make cultural blunders but I think we are getting a little nit-picky. I think we need to remember that love covers a multitude of sins. By the way, I have been a missionary in the Philippines for 27 years and have made my share of mistakes and heard other whiteys say stuff that has made me cringe. I try to think first how Filipinos will perceive what I am saying. I am sure I still have failed often. Of course here we are the minority and Filipinos have said and done stuff to me and my wife (unwittingly) that has made us feel like 2 cents. Our reaction? Feel crappy for a few minutes and then forgive. They weren’t trying to make me feel like an idiot even though they did. I am behind the basic gist of the blog: cultural sensitivity and cultural humility. I’m working on it and we need lots more of it in America. But let’s be careful we don’t become so critical we paralyze ourselves. I hope you don’t think I’m a jerk or something; I’m not and I don’t think anyone else here is; I’m just sharing my thoughts. I hope I didn’t say anything disrespectful. I didn’t mean to. Sometimes we New Englanders are just so blunt and crass. Lord bless.
No worries! I have a particular fondness for crass New Englanders, and see your honest perspective as a valuable part of the conversation. Am I nitpicking? Is this really important? I ask myself this question all the time, and I’m still not sure. But I’m constantly bombarded with living in the context of the American church and sometimes don’t know where to go with the mixed messages I see it send.
hi between worlds. i don’t think your basic point is nitpicking, not at all. Just maybe some of the examples, although i know little things can be like a pebble in your shoe. But let me backtrack a bit. most of you are living in the context of the American church and I am not. i am over here in asia so i really am speaking out of context a bit and maybe don’t really know what i’m talking about. anyway, thanks for your gracious spirit. tom
I completely understand where you are coming from, and maybe I am nitpicking (betweenworlds, I think he was referring to me…). I am a single white girl living in a predominantly African American neighborhood which most people write-off as one of “those” neighborhoods which will never change because its self-destructive. I admit, this is a sensitive topic for me and I may not be the best to interpret a blog like this, or even a video like this. I have seen on countless occasions how well-intending, predominantly white congregations, worship leaders, pastors, etc. come in to help people and communities and end up doing more harm than good. Yes, I suppose I am cynical and maybe biased against my own race. But I find very little desire within the church to truly understand poverty, and so to see a worship video with a famous worship leader surrounded by children in the slums or a chorus of African children dressed in traditional attire seems more about show than worship. This is just my perspective. As one who grew up in the south in a white, legalistic, well-meaning but rarely well-doing congregation, I am cynical. I am jaded. I’m the first to admit it.
I completely understand the intention behind the video. It just turns me off rather than draw me into worship, which is why I no longer attend such services. These are my own issues I continue to work through, so maybe I shouldn’t have posted anything at all. (But I do stand by my question, and I think here in the south it is a valid question. Subconsciously, I think its easier and ‘prettier’ for people to think of well-groomed African children singing in a chorus than those living in the hoods right outside our backdoor.)
It’s incredibly easy to give too much importance to videos like this, but the only way I’ll become less jaded and cynical is to engage in honest conversations like this with people like you. So I appreciate your honest feedback! 🙂
hi gccave. good points you make. thanks for your honesty and your graciousness. as i said above to between worlds, i am not actually living in the american church setting like you are so. i am on the other side of the ocean, so maybe i don’t really know what i’m talking about nor precisely what you all are saying. Lord bless. tom
Rick Warren and Saddleback has done more to eliminate racism than all of you combined.
I’d love to hear some examples. Can you share?
Well, considering Rick Warren’s international platform and megachurch, I sure hope he has done some stuff to eliminate racism. But what is your point? What does what some megachurch pastor and his church have to do with you and what you stand for?
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS! The knot in my stomach from wanting to shout just loosened a bit to know that there are certainly some that “get it”. I’m thankful for people like you and a few other white friends of mine who have the humility to listen, ask, learn, and respect. Seriously, THANK YOU.
I understand what you are saying, but I feel like the tone of your article brings things backwards rather than forwards. It’s important for white people to understand that white-privilege is real, but at the same time it doesn’t really help anyone to take a stance where white people aren’t allowed to have a cultural identity or are for some reason labeled as being more culturally insensitive as a whole than most other races.
The truth is that most races and cultures are insensitive to cultures/races that are different than their own. No one has a monopoly on racist, inside or outside of the United States. You make some good points, but in the end all it comes off as is one white person thinking that they are better or “more racially sensitive” than another by acknowledging these problems and belittling their own cultural identity.
Yes, racism is real in the United States, as is privilege, but I think there has to be a way to deal with that problem without constantly having to take the posture of being apologetic so that everyone knows you’re not like those “other” culturally insensitive people.
Jon, I appreciate you sharing what this post brought up for you. I’m white and I’m not sure I found where this post propagated that white folks aren’t allowed to have a cultural identity. If anything, it raises the issue that our (real and tangible, with positive and negative qualities) cultural identity (both as “white americans” AND honoring the deeply diverse countries white americans represent, which brings about a wide variety of differences within our white identities) may have seeped into our understanding of theology in a way that hinders us from being able to minister alongside people in a cross-cultural environment. The “bull in the china shop” provides an example: the bull is a massive, beautiful animal with it’s own identity and purpose. Given it’s attitude or context, it could be used for great things or it could run around aimlessly and break valuable items.
It is true that all cultures carry long-standing biases against other cultures that need to be reconciled by the love of Jesus, but not all cultures have the same privilege in their society — which is why the blind “get over it” mentality that white folks can tend to have when they make a cross-cultural mistake requires a specific correction… because they Are of privilege. They Do have the strongest voice at the table, and they Do have the most access to power.
I’m also not sure I follow your last sentence. Do you have an issue with having to apologize? I don’t mean that in a negative tone, but I’m curious how else we may be able to reconcile cross-cultural mistakes without a posture of humility that might breed an apology. I feel as though you’ve made the author to think they are “superior” because they have “cultural competency,” but I’m not sure that was their stance. The author mentioned a need for “cultural humility” in which they honestly pointed out a legitimate mistake. The issue isn’t necessarily who is more “culturally sensitive,” rather calling out white people in their lack of “cultural competency” as a legitimate problem and stumbling block in their global reach, and pushing them towards the “cultural humility” that truly breeds cultural competency.
I appreciate the “white savior” image this post brings to the surface, as I’ve heard too many times the story of a well-meaning white Christian or new ministry ran by white Christians that ran into an issue, people group or country in a different cultural context and assumed that their way of doing things was the way to “fix” a deeply ingrained, complicated, systemic, indigenous issue. They made promises that they weren’t able to keep, tried to “theologically colonize” a group of honest Christ-followers with a certain style of music, prayer or preaching, and left the scene having left more damage than provided any of the help they had sought out to do.
I pray that I grow in my own cultural humility: willing to step out and sometimes fail, but move towards growth by humbly admitting when I’ve made a mistake. With that said, I’d humbly admit I’m wrong if I’ve made any incorrect assumptions about your post. If so, I apologize in advance. 🙂
Thank you for the time you put into that response. You clearly approached your response very well. Let clarify a few things about what I have said.
First off, if you made a list about most of the things that the author said and presented them as independent statements, I would probably agree with most of them. My reaction to the overall tone of the article is from the perspective of someone who has had more of these types of conversations than I can count. I understand that many of the things that the author says are important things for many people to learn, but I maintain that the manner in which they are presented creates a picture for me that is incomplete at best.
Simply put, I feel like it perpetuates a mindset rooted in guilt. My statement in regards to an “apologetic posture” is based on my observation that many white people react to white guilt (feeling bad about what other white people have done in the past/are currently doing) by trying to separate themselves from “less sensitive” by taking a posture where they feel like they have no right to take a stance on any racial issue other than to apologize. The guilt motivates them to live in fear of what they say that might be deemed as insensitive.
I do believe in recognizing racial disparity, but I don’t believe that I need to apologize for it. I can recognize that privilege exists, and that racism from the past still has an impact on the social atmosphere of the present. This knowledge should motivate me to rectify those things, the first step being to recognize that they exist, but at the end of the day i am not responsible for the actions of other people just because I share a race with them. I do not need to apologize for Rick Warren. Perhaps it is beneficial for me to make a public statement acknowledging that what he did was wrong, but it’s not my place to make an apology. In minds of some that might be just an issue of semantics, but I think it’s significant.
There are valid points made about the people in the video. There are a lot of valid points in this article. It’s just that in my opinion meeting equally has a different tone (sorry if that’s vague). Perhaps my reading of the article is colored by my own life events.
Hopefully that clarifies some. I appreciate the thought that you put into your post.
Ben, that was an excellent response! And Jon, I get where you are coming from. Feeling guilty is natural and often times subjective. But if we transform this guilt feeling to humility, we get what Jesus is saying to “treat others above” your own. No doubt, other countries and races have looked at white folks with unfair prejudice as well. I will be the first one to confess. But based on the context of the author’s discourse, which I applaud tremendously, she has poignantly addressed the current issue at hand. I think we all agree that race and humility are a universal matter, whoever the “privileged” people are, they must soberly embrace racial and cultural humility. For God so loved the WORLD…
I’m curious to learn more about your background, Jon. What kind of experiences do you have with cross-cultural and/or interracial relationships? I’d love to hear ways that you’ve found to dialog about this issue that you find beneficial and forward moving for this conversation.
First off, after reading some of what I said I regret that I’m unable to edit my posts. I wrote them in somewhat of a rush, and I think they have a bit harsher of a tone than I intended. After reading some of what other people said, I think I’ve found a better way to express my perspective.
I feel like articles like this are a good first step, but that a lot of people end up getting caught up on pointing out racial slip ups in others (or more frequently in themselves) to such an extent that it can be paralyzing. This behavior perpetuates guilt to such a point that Christian racial discussions do not occur on as a dialogue of equals, but as white people feeling the need to take an inferior position in order to atone for the historical shortcomings of their race. I don’t find this particularly useful because anyone with a mild sense of global and historical awareness can cite enough racial atrocities to clearly prove that it is a universal issue imbedded in the history of all people groups, and frequently something that is perpetuated by people, against people who look just like them.
Even so, I find myself somewhat corrected because when I spoke to a friend about some of these issues last night she responded by saying, “what do you mean by privilege?” Clearly these issues need to be brought up, since a lot of people have yet to consider them.
Really I think my only problem with your article is that it carries the underlying implication that white people are the ones who need to catch up to the rest of the class and learn cultural humility. I understand if you feel that you only have the right to call out your own race on their b.s., but ultimately racial humility is something that everyone needs to practice. That’s my point I guess, and I apologize for the confusing things that I’ve previously said prior to arriving there.
You asked about my background in cross-cultural relationships. Here goes: I have lived in parts of the US where I have been in the minority, and I have lived abroad where I am most certainly the minority. I’ve spent a lot of time with white people who have discussed these issues. Sometimes it has been good, but most of the white people that I know walk away from the realizations that you posted above walking on egg-shells and living in fear of offending other people. Others have reacted by trying to distance themselves from other white people by constantly calling out others who are doing things “wrong”.
Perhaps having so much exposure to people who reacted to their own guilt by pointing out the sin in others has made me overly cynical and primed me to read through jaded glasses. I apologize for that. I maintain though that these types of messages are palatable to the people who need to hear them when it is admitted that racial reconciliation is something that requires action from all ends, and that all people, regardless of their race, need to practice racial humility (a term that you used that I think fits especially well).
It’s a beautiful place where you are, Jon.
Thanks for the vulnerability to let us all see what’s going on inside your head. I know it can be hard to share like this. I think many of us have similar responses of defensiveness or guilt which is why we often stay quiet. I know I’ve responded regrettably on far more than one occasion.
I’m curious if you’re ever been able to have these discussions with people who aren’t white. Sometimes I find that when white people (or, as you very accurately articulate, any dominant group with power) talk about this with each other alone, we can feel even more frustrated and defensive. I think this is a natural reaction – I see it happen when parents commiserate with each other over issues with their kids or coworkers complain about their boss. We thrive on a sense of belonging, so it’s easier to talk about these things with people like us. However, I’ve found a hope, an endurance, a mercy in listening to and dialoging over these issues with my friends of color. I’ve learned humility from them. They are often my models for how not to lose hope, and how to keep having this conversation.
In my college years, I shared with an older African American woman how much I cared about these issues. Her response to me was that I didn’t have to. Surprised, I insisted that I did because I cared about it so deeply. I’ll never forget her explanation to me, “I can’t take off my skin, but you don’t have to think about yours. You can walk into a gas station and never once wonder if the way people are looking at you is because of your skin. You don’t have to think about race. I have no choice.” It was the first moment I realized the privilege my skin color gives me.
You are very right. We all need cultural humility, not just white people. However, this post is written specifically to my white brothers and sisters because frankly, we have some dirty laundry that needs aired, and we need to have a serious family conversation. I’m not excluding other groups who do the same things; I’m just not speaking to them.
Your comment reflects a deep insensitivity to what the real issues are facing people of color. It’s white people who make such a big deal about race, not people of color. People of color think of themselves as just “people,” and white people are always making them feel self-conscious and making a freak show out of their “difference.” Guilt is absolutely the wrong response unless you really do secretly feel that these others are freaks. It has nothing to do with what anyone did before or with the history of slavery, but with the bizarre behavior from white people that people of color deal with on a daily basis.
I am of mixed race, and I’ve had good friends of mine suddenly out of the blue bring up race and make a big issue out of it. The other day a white friend of mine suddenly said, “I always think about the fact that you are of mixed race.” I said, “That’s funny, I never think about it.” And then he just smiled smugly at me, as if he knew something I didn’t (that I am inferior to him). Another time a girlfriend suddenly blurted out, “You have Chinese eyes!” and laughed. I told her that her comment was racist, and she launched into an aggressive tirade about how there is no such thing as racism, and that people treat me differently because I am imagining racism because I am oversensitive. But the truth is that I never think about race unless white people are screaming at me about it, which is often. I was once leaving an Asian American Film Festival, and the white girl I attended with kept saying she wished she had dressed like a geisha. Then her ride afterwards, watching the Asian filmmakers filing out, snickered, “THEY’RE all out tonight!” And I have countless other examples. People are always bringing up race around me, and it is always white people. Why are white people so obsessed with race? It’s a sort of uncomfortable abuse that crops up regularly, like having an alcoholic father who beats you from time to time. And it’s not abuse because I feel inferior – it’s abuse because others WANT me to feel inferior. So it’s like any other dig or barb or nastiness that people inflict on one another, and it’s noted. I have very few white friends who have not pulled something like this at one time or another.
What you need to grasp is that if you treated people as just people the “problem” would go away. Don’t feel guilty, don’t fetishize, don’t keep crowing about your privilege (when white people talk about privilege it usually comes out horribly wrong – it’s like a beautiful woman saying she feels sorry for ugly women – it’s just offensive – white people who talk about privilege somehow make it come out sounding like they mean superiority). Just be colorblind, and the problem will go away. Trust me on this. Guilt is a racist attitude, but humility isn’t. Humility is what all people of color have, and what all oppressed people have, and what more white people need to have.
And it’s not true that most races and cultures have this insensitivity. It’s specifically a problem with white imperialistic cultures.
You are right that I am insensitive to the issues that people of color experience. Even so, I feel like I have some ideas to contribute to the discussion. After reading your response, I feel like there have been some areas of miscommunication. Let me address your concerns as best I can.
I wasn’t saying that I feel guilty, or that people should feel guilty. In fact, I was saying the opposite. My point was that guilt is not a useful reaction to racial tension, and that I felt like this article perpetuated that response. I’m not trying to make a spectacle of racial differences in the United States, but there is a wealth of objective evidence that shows that racism is real, and that it still exists. It’s not necessarily something that will just go away if it is ignored.
This leads into the the idea of “privilege.” After reading your response, I can see why it bothers you, and I apologize for how I used it. I was just using a vocabulary that I felt was clear in the context of the conversation. Even so, your perspective brings up some problems with using that word. What I meant by “privilege” was this: Even if racism disappeared today, there would still be lingering effects left from past wrongs. There is a long history in the United States of racism motivating city planning which in turn still affects people today. Studies have shown that many employers are more willing to hire a white man with a criminal records than a black man with the same qualifications. In short, the effects of racism are still real, and I feel like it irresponsible to pretend like they are not. This, in part, is why I support affirmative action. Research indicates that the playing-field is not even, so it makes sense that the law attempts to remedy that. In actuality, socioeconomic status is steadily becoming a greater indicator of prejudice than race in the United States, but we would be remiss to discount the systemic racism that has historically impacted someone’s earning potential.
In regards to your examples of friends being culturally insensitive: I’m not exactly sure what you are using these examples to say. At first you suggest that everyone should ignore race, and then you give an example of how you were frustrated with a friend who denied that her comment was racist and said that you were “imagining racism.” I’m not advocating that white people make a huge deal about race, but I do think that many white people should try grow in understanding. I think the problem with being “colorblind” is that sometimes that leads you to assume that everyone does things in exactly the same way that you do. I think that is why your friends said what they said. It is possible that they didn’t intend to hurt you, but that they were ignorant of the effect that their words would have on you.
In conclusion I need to respond to your statement, “And it’s not true that most races and cultures have this insensitivity. It’s specifically a problem with white imperialistic cultures.”
This couldn’t be farther from the truth. You don’t have to take my word for it, just do a Google search on genocide and see try to find one race that is inculpable. The conflict in Darfur, the Holocaust, the Japanese occupation of Korea and China during WWII–racism is not a problem that is exclusive to white people, or something that always occurs between people of a different color. I’ve traveled to many different countries, and racism is an issue in ALL of them.
You are right that “privilege” is a word that probably shouldn’t be used. It’s frequently used to express historic inequalities that exist in the present due to racism, but you make a good point that it can come off in a pretty nasty way. I will be more careful in choosing my words in the future.
I can understand why you are frustrated by how you have been treated by white friends. In my own experience I have some friends with whom race never comes up, and others with whom it does. Those who have brought it up to me have more frequently told me that they are frustrated with how white people try to pretend like race does not exist. My own opinions have been shaped by my life experiences, which cause me to believe that being “colorblind” is not the solution. I don’t bring up race very frequently, but when it does come up I don’t pretend like it doesn’t exist.
I hope that cleared up what I was trying to say. It’s frustrating to say something, and then to have someone interpret it in a way very different from how you meant it to be interpreted, but I suppose that is how things frequently go in written communication. Let me know what you think.
I appreciate your thoughtful response. I agree with you that people who have not done anything wrong should not be made to feel guilty, and that being born with a certain skin color is not enough to warrant guilt. However, I took your comments to mean that you feel that somehow whites have been picked on and marginalized by being made to feel guilty. If that ever happens, it is in response to deep hurt that people of color experience on a daily basis from nearly all of the white people they come in contact with. So it is understandable that they should have some reservations when they meet someone white, and suspect that they may internally be like the other white people they have met who harbor unconscious racism. In that case also, you may encounter that attitude once in a blue moon when you are forced to interact with people of color, whereas they encounter racism every day.
I have no problem with the term white privilege and I think it can be useful in certain contexts. But I think the term is useful for white people only insofar as it can help them to understand what people color go though. The fact that it is so often used in an offensive sense shows that most white people, even the best-intentioned ones, have no clue what it’s like to be marginalized and are phenomenally insensitive. I’ve seen comments on message boards to the tone of, “Because I’m white, I know I can go into a restaurant and not have people stare at me, and I know that that makes me especially privileged and I feel bad about that.” The truth is that in this day and age, most people of color can be seated in a restaurant without hostile stares, except in especially racist pockets as in the American South. So what this person was doing in his comment was exaggerating the racism that people of color experience in order to feel superior, in the guise of having empathy. What this person was doing was making it all about him, when it’s the voices of people of color that need to be heard on this issue.
I never said people should ignore RACISM, I said they should ignore RACE, as in, be less aware of race and don’t act weird around people that are not white and try to marginalize them. The fact that you could conflate “race” with “racism” is just so unbelievably surreal to me. You have entirely missed the point of my stories! This friend of mine said, totally out of the blue, in a mocking way, “You have Chinese eyes!” knowing full well that I am not Chinese but part Japanese. She said this in the teasing and hostile way that school kids mock other kids in the yard, but this is an adult woman. So she was making an issue of my race out of context. This is RACISM. It was her using my race to make me uncomfortable, to one-up me, or because she herself was uncomfortable about my eyes. But you see, these are HER issues, not mine. She tried to make them my issues, by saying that I’m oversensitive, and she tried to pick a fight. So here I am having to defend myself against someone who is mocking me for the shape of my eyes, then saying I’m oversensitive, then telling me racism doesn’t exist and that it’s all in my head. The level of her ignorance and bullying was amazing. She said something racist in order to provoke me, and in order to tell me I’m imagining things about racism, but I never brought up racism and it wasn’t even on my radar until she brought it up. How can you possibly say she was not intending to hurt? Race shaming is no different than any other power play, and ignoring it is to deny the experiences of people of color. The fact is that I don’t feel inferior to any white person, but some of them want me to, and that’s why they bring it up. It’s like, “know your place, n—-r.”
The other friend of mine who kept saying she wanted to dress as a geisha was also incredibly hostile. She felt so threatened and intimidated by being at a party with mostly Asians that all she could do was talk about it: “Can I go to the screening dressed as a geisha?” So again she was making it all about her. Her solution to feeling marginalized in the room as a different race (an experience I’m sure she’d never had before) was to talk about wearing Asian drag. She did this very incessantly and obtrusively, when the party was about honoring the Asian filmmakers who had made films for the festival. Why did she feel the need to talk about her own costume she was going to wear, imitating Asians in a fetish exoticized way, when she could have been learning about the filmmakers and hearing their stories? Why did she talk through the whole thing? Why did she mention that she was white to every person she met, although they themselves could clearly see her blonde hair and blue eyes? And why did she feel so unashamed at her rude and outrageous behavior? Did the Asians at the festival kick her out of the party, did they call her out on her rudeness, did they mock her? No, everyone was very polite, although some blushed and were ashamed for her. Did she “intend to hurt?” I think not, but her behavior was woefully ignorant, and you would never see people of color behaving in such a way. This is why if one of those Asian Americans would have disliked her, it would not have been racist, it would have been a human response to being insulted. But as I said, they were all very nice to her. Why? BECAUSE THEY ARE USED TO IT.
I didn’t watch the video above, but my feeling is that if people are including people of color in a situation only in order to assuage their white guilt then that is racist. If they are making a minstrel show out of people of color as exotic entertainment then that is racist. If they include them because they see them as human beings and part of the community then that is not racist. Why is race so complicated for white people?
The most baffling statement you made in your response to me was this:
I think the problem with being “colorblind” is that sometimes that leads you to assume that everyone does things in exactly the same way that you do. I think that is why your friends said what they said.
So you are saying that me being colorblind is why my friends felt the need to point out my race to me ENTIRELY OUT OF THE BLUE? Do you see what you have just done here? You have blamed the racist comments of other people on me. You have accused me of making assumptions and of somehow eliciting hostile responses because of those assumptions. Well perhaps that’s true in a sense, but if I made any assumptions at all they would have been along the lines of, we’re both people and we have an equal right to exist on this planet and breathe the air. So yes, you are right, not everyone “does things in exactly the same way” as I do. I treat all people with respect, regardless of their skin color, age, gender, nationality, educational status, etc., and I assume others will extend the same politeness to me as I do to them. But being colorblind does not mean ignoring differences. It means celebrating differences. It means treating each individual as an individual, the way you yourself would like to be treated. It’s really that simple.
I think we’ve had a few more miscommunications. I really did not mean to imply many of the things that you seem to have gotten from my statement. First off let me say that I was not in any way trying to say that you brought things upon yourself. Those things were clearly the faults of your friends. Below I have cited some parts of your response and have tried to clarify myself.
“I think the problem with being “colorblind” is that sometimes that leads you to assume that everyone does things in exactly the same way that you do. I think that is why your friends said what they said.”
This is my error. The “you” that I used in this statement should be replaced with “one”. It was not a statement that was directed towards you specifically. I did not expect you to read it and to think that it was directed at you and I apologize for that. I was saying that your friends (not you) said things because they were unable to think about people doing things differently than they did. I’ll use a story to illustrate the point that I was making. I was on an international service trip which was composed of a team of mostly white people, and one Korean guy (who I will refer to as Joe). At the end of the trip Joe came forward and told us about how he had a lot of difficulty being the only Korean. He said that he didn’t bring anything up because he comes from an indirect cultural background and that made things even more difficult. In this story the problem was that the white people were being too colorblind. We forgot to think about how it was probably pretty hard for him to be the only Korean, and if we would have taken that into consideration then maybe we could have checked up on him more and made some changes to make him feel more comfortable. Later on you say that I “conflate Race with Racism”, but that’s not the case. I feel like it is important to celebrate and acknowledge differences rather than to ignore them, which is why I have a problem with the statement that we should be “colorblind,” which seems to suggest that we should just pretend like racial differences don’t exist.
“I took your comments to mean that you feel that somehow whites have been picked on and marginalized by being made to feel guilty”
This article is written by a white woman directed towards other white people. I was responding to white people pointing out one another’s racial missteps in order to exculpate themselves. I’m not referring to instances in which people of color have brought up concerns to me about something I have said or done. Later on you talk about whether or not the video was racist. It turns out that it really wasn’t and that the author made some assumptions about the people in it that were very inaccurate. THAT is what I am was referring to. The countless instances of white people calling each other out as a way to make themselves seem more racially sensitive.
“In that case also, you may encounter that attitude once in a blue moon when you are forced to interact with people of color”
You don’t know a thing about me. Why do you make the assumption that I “once in a blue moon” am “forced” to interact with people of color? I have friends of many different races who I value a lot, and I don’t appreciate the assumptions that are being made here.
“The fact that you could conflate “race” with “racism” is just so unbelievably surreal to me.”
That is not what I did at all. I made a point that one cannot be truly “colorblind” without discounting a lot of history. Ignoring the fact that there are racial differences is akin to pretending that racism never existed. Acknowledging the past and how it affects the present is PART of being any race. Later on you ream me out for not knowing the details of your story about your friends. Perhaps I assumed that someone for whom you would use the title of “friend” would be someone who would not intentionally say racist and hurtful things to you. At no point did you say that you were part Japanese, so I had no way of knowing the context of your stories. They were vague, and I wasn’t really sure what you were trying to use them to illustrate which is why I asked.
I look forward to your responses and I hope that we can move towards a more accurate understanding of one another’s perspectives.
A good thoughtful conversation to have.
At the end of the day we have a difficult time being introspective of what we’re saying or doing that could be offensive. Cultural insensitivity goes right across the board with all races because well… we know that within our own racial circles racism is worse.
That being said, as an American of Asian decent, there is a place for racial boldness… but that is not of the color of our skin, but rather that which should be recognized as our greater citizenship in the gospel. Hopefully, in our search to be less racially offensive toward our skins we will find a sharper and bolder voice for the gospel.
Excellent article! I am also White, and my family is multi-racial, with a Guatemalan son and an African American daughter. My husband and I have lived in South Central Los Angeles for over 20 years.
Thank you for saying so many things I have been trying to explain to my friends in the suburbs and small, monocultural towns.
I love the term “cultural humility!”
Fun! One of my best friends lives in South Central with her family…wonder if you know her? Glad you found it helpful!
Good food for thought. Just to amplify on the music video, there are LOTS of other Christian music traditions around the world. We don’t have to translate our white American songs into Language X for them to have wonderful and meaningful worship. In the past, well-meaning, devout missionaries have basically translated “Amazing Grace” and others into local languages. Not only did this practice automatically label Christianity as foreign, but our beloved songs often didn’t scratch the itch of what local Christians wanted to sing to God about. The good news is that local Christians (in languages you’ve never heard of) are now composing their own music. Some of it sounds beautiful to Western ears; some of it would make you cringe. Some of it is spontaneous, like in the remote village in Ghana I lived in for some years. Some of it is kick-started by Christian ethnomusicologists, and the locals run with it. But if people from every tribe and tongue and nation will be in heaven, I just suspect there will be a lot of kinds of music there too!
This is the second thing I’ve read/heard on this topic this week and as a white American Christian I have felt very uncomfortable. That’s not a bad thing! I think one of the largest stumbling blocks to reaching a greater understanding of how to proceed is this idea that intentions don’t matter. How I can I change to become more sensitive and understanding if I’m being told that almost any response I might make is wrong? It’s paralyzing! Perhaps rather than just pointing out where responses or action miss the mark, we could also point to ways to connect that ARE helpful. Honestly, as I write this comment I’m analyzing every word in fear that it’s offensive to someone. When the writer describes all the things she has done in her life to connect to other cultures and that she still feels it isn’t enough I just feel a tremendous sense of heaviness and hopelessness. If she can’t do it how can anyone?
Welcome to race relations. It’s messy and hard, and sometimes hopeless. There have been times when I have walked away completely with sentiments similar to yours. But I can’t ever fully walk away because it’s an issue my family has no choice but to deal with. They can’t take off their skin or blend into the crowd like I can if I so choose.
I think my bigger point is that none of us are enough. It’s simply not possible. What we need to be is humble and teachable. This is what troubles me in what I see in white Christian culture at large…
As Christians, we’ve been so focused on ‘being right’ all the time, that it’s quite uncomfortable for us to confront an area where we might be wrong. Of course we’re defensive and nervous – who likes to be wrong?!? Not me, for sure. I have made my share of dumb comments and encountered both gracious and ungracious replies. Both teach me.
Thanks for this. It’s something I think about a lot, having spent the last two years overseas, and the last three years in majority-non-white cultures. Now I’m back in the very white suburbs, working at a megachurch, and continually thinking about how we can do this better. (“This” being cross-cultural ministry.)
I work in missions, particularly local missions, but last week I got to spend a few days in a slum in South America. I lived in a slum for two years before that, so it felt like home to me. The kids were really excited to see white folks and their moms wanted to take pictures with us non-stop. Part of me revolts that I would get so much attention for being white, but most of me just enjoyed the pure bliss that it is to have a fan club of kids who don’t want anything else but for you to play with them and give them some loving attention.
My church is hugely focused on empowering local leaders, domestically and internationally. That’s our passion. And every Sunday a group of kids from the inner city come and sit in the front row, right behind the pastor. We send teams to visit ministry sites all over the world to do skills transfer with locals. But I read your post, and I second-guess EVERYTHING. I think I’m a pretty racially-conscious person (opposed to those who think we’re “past all that” and need to be “colorblind”), but I really don’t know what to do with what you say. How do we do cross-cultural ministry at all if you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t? I would love to have more of a conversation about this with you, because honestly, as much as I appreciate what you say here (and I really, really do), I can’t help but be more confused. Tell me more.
It’s never any easy answer, and I ask myself these questions on a regular basis. A few people have posted here in the comments about positive models for cross-cultural ministry. I’d love to hear more from people actually doing it. I know plenty of humble people doing great things, but they don’t get near the spotlight that some do. I didn’t highlight this because it just wasn’t the purpose of this post. Sometimes, to get anywhere, we need to pull the skeletons out of the closet first. When white people want to pretend we’re all happy-happy-joy-joy, they’re ignoring the broken part of our past. What I’d love to see is a productive dialog where white people are actively involved, not just leading, defending, dismissing, denying, or blaming.
Too bad you are anonymous….those are great points. I, too, am not sure anyone white can do anything right, except send money and smile (not too big though …it may appear prideful.) Perhaps those who are white are not the only one’s in need of some “cross-cultural understanding and humility.”
Really great discussion.. I am a white person (Australian) currently working in a local non-profit in southeast Asia. It is a constant struggle, wanting to promote the local staff as they do the work of community development, whilst feeling the tug from Western donors who want it done their way (and money talks!) and yeah.. it’s tiring and confusing sometimes. When I am at my best, I am merely the translator back to others about how great the work is. When I’m not at my best, I am tempted to “take over” and just do it my way, because you know, “we” do it more efficiently.. and other such BS thoughts. Then there’s the argument that even just being here and being a part of promoting a Westernised, enlightenment idea of “progress” or “development” is severely neo-colonial. This sometimes makes me anxious in the middle of the night.
I somehow think that white people wanting to help doesn’t have to be condescending.. there is a way to do this. It has something to do with empowering, so that white people aren’t doing the saving, merely facilitating improvement. But this is not a very straight forward path, in my limited experience..
I like the idea of cultural humility too. Thankyou for having this discussion.
“I somehow think that white people wanting to help doesn’t have to be condescending.. there is a way to do this. It has something to do with empowering, so that white people aren’t doing the saving, merely facilitating improvement. But this is not a very straight forward path, in my limited experience.. ”
I could not agree more. I cringe at the image of the white savior swooping in to create change and then swooping back out. I think a lot of this, however, is simply because we do not know any other way to do it. It works for us, so why shouldn’t it work for them, too? I don’t think most people stop to consider, though, that there are cultures within cultures and what works for one group of whites, African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, etc. may not work for another. It’s the classic tale of Eastside vs. Westside, Cryps vs. Bloods, Protestant vs. Catholic, etc etc. Being culturally aware is one thing, culturally humble is another (LOVE that phrase!). Being willing to admit that because I have white skin and not brown or black, I may not be the best person to do such and such. We’re kidding ourselves to think those barriers don’t still exist. It doesn’t mean don’t try or don’t be involved, it may just mean don’t be the leader. It especially means be very willing and open to learning from those of other cultures and ethnicities.
Good article; good points. However, I don’t think you necessarily needed to apologize to the Iranian student for your mistake…or, maybe, after apologizing, helping him walk through his own biases/grudges/etc against Egyptians.
Yes – great idea, though I teach a beginning level ESL, so the language is a barrier to these kind of spur of the moment conversations. My biggest concern with all new immigrants – regardless of their bias toward other countries – is that they feel welcomed and heard in my classroom. Defaulting to humility helps this a lot. Plus, I really don’t know anything about relations between Egypt and Iran, so I wouldn’t even know where to start with this conversation except to listen.
Totally. I mistakenly assumed you worked in campus ministry and mentored said student. My bad! Carry on 😛
Thanks for this. Lots to think about here. You mention cultural humility and how we can easily offend people from other cultures when we make mistakes. Can you say more about what your own culture is? What kind of ignorance of your own culture from other people would it take for you to be offended by other other people’s mistakes?
Wow – great questions! I’d love to hear what others think about this as well. As for me, I’m from a small rural town in the Midwestern part of the US, though I currently live in Southern California. In contrast to many American cities, the majority where I come from is usually white. It seems to me that people from places like my home can be offended when others simply live out their cultures (i.e. speak their language, sell their food, listen to their music, etc.) and are different than they are. They have grown so accustomed to a homogenous culture that nearly anything different ‘offends’ (though it often comes across as anger and condemnation rather than hurt and offense). While other white people are not actively racist, they don’t know what to say, and may even try to not show offense by just staying silent when they don’t understand. This doesn’t do much to increase their understanding, but it’s hard to share honestly if people are angry with you for saying the wrong thing as well.
Your offer one perspective. I would add another and that is that the Western world (Christian or non-Christian) have the most resources to help those less fortunate in this world. If one looks at where the bulk of giving/philanthropy comes from it’s White America. So, I commend Christian artists like the ones in the video who highlight other cultures and who want to be involved with others other than “their own”. I think it opens our eyes and makes us aware in a way that would be missed if we remained in our homogenous communities.
Yes! I agree wholeheartedly that we need to share our resources. What I’m speaking to is the attitude with which we do it and how we portray our actions. Here’s an interesting video that illustrates this idea well about South Africans ‘rescuing’ the poor freezing people in Norway…. There’s also a more in depth TED talk here. The problem isn’t at all that we’re helping it’s other, it’s about how we portray and speak about those relationships.
Solid post. I think it’s very difficult to be firm in truth and yet speak humbly about this topic. In my opinion your post did just that – which I really appreciate!
Also, the ‘white hipster’ and ‘slum dwellers’ in the opening scene both look to be south asian to me. Not sure if that changes your feelings on the video 🙂
see my response above…maybe you’re right?
I’m pretty sure the “hipster white guy” in the video is an Indian man standing in the middle of Indian children….still, good points
You know, my daughter thought the same thing. This may be true – I assumed it was Chris Tomlin, the lead singer, but maybe it’s not? Does anyone know for sure?? (Speaking of cultural ignorance…see, it’s always part of the story!) This would certain help my impression of the shot I post… but I’d probably still have a similar reaction to the video.
Definitely not Chris Tomlin. Could be someone from the Western world, but if you play it in HD it’s pretty clear it’s not white
Your daughter and t are correct. The first singer is an indian musician. Although I agree with the majority of your article (which I will explain later), you in a sense did the same thing you are concerned with others do – made some wrong assumptions and judged. Actually the video (and song) in question was recorded all over the world by artists in their own countries. They were not flown to America. They recorded their takes on the popular song in their own studios, and sent the files to Chris who combined them together. The most moving combination to me was that of Portuguese and Spanish, singing together, and sounding like the perfect mix, but recorded in different countries without hearing the others part. The result was a very touching music and video which shows God’s heart for the nations. (Unless you do not know the story of the song, kind of like not knowing the story of internationals)
Having served for fifteen years in international work in the Middle East, I have made many of mistakes in this area. Eventually it led to a complete re-imagining of our ministry to change it to a service to the local church in the Middle East. We chose to serve and empower them to do what they were called to do, as opposed to offer who we though they needed. The result was an amazing picture of cross-cultural ministry. We moved back to the US a few years ago, hoping to serve the church to reach internationals in the South, where there is much understanding. Needless to say it has been the toughest few years, as of yet not having been able to move the American church to change to serve the world God brought here in our own communities
You’re right – I seem to have provided my own example! Like I said, we all fail. This stuff is not easy precisely because we assume, don’t know, don’t look into things enough. I’ll leave it as posted, but add a note of correction. While this picture may not show exactly what I was intending to show, there are plenty that do, so I do think the intent of the message is still meaningful, just not the particular shot I chose.
As I’ve reflected on it, one of my bigger disturbances that came out of the video was the story of a white man leading the world singing. I recognize that this wasn’t the message the video intended to communicate, it just triggers old stories for me, I guess.
I am curious as to who you would say should lead the world singing? What group or individual? I seems to me that Chris Tomlin was leading because he wrote the song at age fourteen out of his love for God. I so believe that all of us need to be sensitive to the feelings of others, loving as we are loved. Although I understand many points made by you and by those who took the time to comment, I am confused by the lack of solutions offered. The Bible says that we are to neither give nor take offense. It would not say it if we could not do it with His help….Lord we need your help!
Yes, this is certainly one (very true) side. I don’t have a specific problem with Chris Tomlin – the problem I’m addressing is that it’s almost always the white man leading when we see things like this. What does it communicate that only men are singing? Did anyone else wonder where the women are? When do we ever see lauded videos like this without a white man at the forefront? We know Chris Tomlin, but have no clue who anyone else is except for their ethnicity and language. Why is this, and how does it hurt us to not be listening to these voices as leaders too?
I didn’t write this post to offer solutions. Sometimes we need to first spend some time finding the holes if we want to fix them effectively. In my experience, many white cultures don’t like conflict and do everything to shut down conflict (including throwing the Bible at it). Not all cultures approach conflict like this. However – I agree completely with you – I do see the need to discuss solutions, but want to give us all some time to squirm a bit more. White American Christians feel far too comfortable and this is good for us. Stay tuned, though. More conversation is coming 🙂
Regarding giving or taking offense in the Bible, could you offer some references for this? I’m not familiar with that idea and am wondering if it’s from a different version…
Hello between worlds. I thought the post was thought provoking, filled with grace for most cultures with a little bit left over for white people (but mostly apologizing for white people). Of all the comments I would echo Adam Simpson’s and Patti Spencer’s the most. The video above is a beautiful worship song intended to bring glory to God, not drudge up imperialism, or colonialism, or racism. Chris Tomlin is leading the song because he is the songwriter, not because he is white. You hear men leading the song instead of women because the arrangement of the song is for a male tenor voice, not because of sexism. Though I resonate with your admonition for “cultural humility” it seems harmful to the body of Christ to basically tell white people that they should apologize for their skin tone and to quit trying to help anyone because they do more harm than good, because that is what the post comes across as to me. My last name is Gonzalez, but I do not speak Spanish, and I identify with a Southern American culture. Your post leaves me with little else to say then, as I would not want to offend anyone with my White American voice. I yearn for the day that we are together with Jesus and not making our differences the focal point instead of Jesus.
I have to comment – because I have attended the conference this video was filmed at 8 different times, and was present in the audience when this video was shot. I agree with those above that talk about the purpose of the video, the heart behind it, and the reason for it being “led” by a white guy. I must add that what you don’t see in this video is the next song being led by Christy Knockels (a woman with amazing heart and talent), followed by Lacrae (an African America Christian Rapper), following by a girl from China who is called up on stage to pray over the nations in her native language.
You are quick to say it is always white guys leading in these settings: ever heard of Kirk Franklin, Michael Tait (of DC talk), or Israel Houghton…. all known for leading crowds of 10,000+ in worship all over the world. You also say we know nothing of the others in the video – did you ever consider they are famous worship leaders in their own countries? I have to wonder how often you listen to worship music in Spanish… Chinese… etc. Of course we, as English speaking American’s, don’t know who they are.
I say all of that to say I agree with you that it is always good to be aware. I myself have spent more than two years of my life serving in economically deprived parts of the world (and I am use to being the only “white girl” in the room). I also have a Master’s degree in international development and human rights (with a focus on race-based violence). I understand that my work and planning is worthless if I fail to account for the fact that I am an outsider, with not only a very visual difference from those I work with… but also socio-economic, language, and often religious difference. I choose to value that Jesus has blessed me with the ability to get an education and the financial means to conduct research in remote areas of the globe, rather than feeling guilty for being born white.
Thanks, Adam for the thoughtful explanation. This explanation is viable, one that makes a lot of sense to my rational side. My emotional side still reacts however, because of the many times I have seen messages like this in the dominant Christian culture. Perhaps I’m wrong on my take on this video. Like I stated in my post, I was conflicted about my feelings regarding the video because I know it can be interpreted several ways and that the creators’ intent most certainly was not a demeaning one.
I would disagree, however, that I’m asking white people to apologize for their skin tone and to quit trying to help. There’s nothing wrong with our skin tone and withdrawing our help is the last thing we should do. What I’m asserting is the need to dialog thoughtfully about what our role is when we interact with other cultures and races and to listen carefully to the response of those around us before we jump in and go all white-savior. From the repeated conversations I have with various members of the body of Christ who are not white (many of the other comments you see here reflect this), the vast majority of us are not doing this well. As a result, we end up wounding are own without even knowing it.
Thanks for sharing this, Abba’s Song! It’s helpful to learn more about the context of this concert. I do know many of the musicians of color you mentioned who are involved in Christian music and am glad for this. (I’d be quite curious how they would speak to these issues.)
To clarify, it was already my assumption that the other leaders were quite famous worship leaders in their own countries. My question was more out of concern about why American Christians only know who Chris Tomlin is. It’s quite likely the rest of the world knows him, but why do we (I include myself in this category) not know who the others are? I would assert it’s because everyone looks at us, but we don’t look at anyone else. We are quite happy being the center of attention and this drives the church in ways that may not be helpful within other cultural contexts. I’d suggest that it’s not good for our souls either, for it leaves us a bit too comfortable and self-centered, missing out on opportunities to learn from people who may understand God in ways differently than we do.
I don’t ever advocate feeling guilty about being white, but I do think we need to be in the practice of asking ourselves some hard questions to make sure we’re not missing the mark. I don’t feel guilt for my skin color, but I do feel a deep sorrow for the racial brokenness that wounds so many in the church.
I’m glad someone pointed this out. The man at the beginning is my wife’s cousin. He’s from India, married to an Indian woman. His name is Dilip Kurian.
Now we know for sure! Thanks, for the info, Jon, and please accept my apologies for my error… small world, eh?
You truly have a way with words – thank you for opening my eyes a bit, no, I am not wide eyed yet, but you are helping me at least opening them.
Add to the record that I think the Asian guy at 5:30 looks pretty hipster.
As a white man, I have experienced worship concerts similar to this, and I guarantee you that the last thing on my mind was wondering if I had more going for me than anyone else in the world. We definitely need to avoid any type of us-vs-them scenarios or even a us-and-them mentality; certainly this type of thinking is what leads “good” people to do evil things. I have never lived in anyone else’s skin before, and the only Person I know that truly understands what people are thinking or feeling is Jesus Christ (interesting to me that He is the Word who became flesh). Don’t get me wrong, your article brings up great points, but I just want to say this should be an “us-and-Him” scenario.
While I don’t at all doubt the intent of what such concerts promote or the experience of those who attend them, your response is a great example of what I’m talking about. You’re addressing this issue solely theologically when it’s also a sociological problem. The problem that also concerns me is that many white leaders respond defensively, not humbly, to criticism of how their intended message might be perceived through a different lens. They (and their supporters) often respond by scolding the people who bring up the ‘issues’ not to cause problems, question power structures, bring up potential pitfalls or create an us-vs-them attitude.
Where I would disagree with your response (which is a great illustration of the typical white response I’m referring to) is that to view it solely as an ‘us-and-Him’ problem over-spiritualizes the issues and dismisses the true hurt. This is a problem between us humans, a mess that we have made for ourselves, and it is a brokenness for which we all need to pursue healing through Him, which, as you suggest, is certainly an us-and-Him scenario. However, this pursuing doesn’t just happen in a prayer closet, bible study, or concert hall. It happens on the street, with our neighborhoods, in the pews, in our brochures and even in our programming and policies. It shows up in our words, the books we read, and the voices we listen to.
This is really interesting. I totally agree with your post – it was wonderful! But maybe there was a missed opportunity to say to those reading this who are minorities that us white people need a lot of grace. I think that the defensiveness that white people have when these claims of being offensive are put in front of them is because white people don’t like to be misunderstood just as much as minorities don’t like to be misunderstood. If I was someone in the public eye who had an embarrassing moment of forgetting my whiteness, I would feel defensive if someone took offense because I would feel like, “Hey, you know me. You know I’m not racist. You know my heart. You know my good intentions.” I think that’s where the defensiveness comes from – not them wanting to defend the social constructs that put whites ahead of minorities.
This is a similar experience that many of my friends of color have experienced with white people – the need for grace goes both ways. While we do all need to offer each other grace (and yes, I think white people need a lot of it, and am grateful for the many who have shown me that very grace), as people in a positiion of social power, I would suggest we have a responsibility to learn how not to abuse that power by using ‘grace’ as an excuse to dismiss our ignorance, but by listening attentively and learning as much as we can. Sometimes this happens, sometimes it doesn’t.
Agreed! It’s not an excuse to remain ignorant. But also we will never know fully how the minority feels, so we are constantly learning and constantly needing grace. I love the discussion going on here and I’m learning a lot. =)
I am a white guy honestly concerned about the possibility of mistreating my brothers and sisters in Christ on the basis of their skin color. I can’t point to anything in my heart or actions that brings such concern to mind, but I do read articles like this one every so often and in humility wonder if it applies to me. Am I guilty of the charges listed in the article? I totally enjoyed the video-would never have called it racist.
But when it seems that the catalyst of the article (Chris Tomlin’s video) was innocent of all charges (Not a white guy with the Indian kids, did have other people groups represented in concert, etc), what is apparent is that the author wrongly judged Chris Tomlin, and by extension, those (like me) whose conscience was not pricked the video. Not only this, when the author sees an Indian artist singing with Indian kids and interprets it as “Hipster white guys have more going for them than slum dwellers”, it seems the error is in oversensitivity on her part. Which is exactly what one of the very conclusions the author decries and is often my conclusion.
This being the case, I can’t help but see more of an agenda being the operating principle behind the article. It becomes useless as a tool with which to examine my heart. I am not saying the author is bad or offensive or anything like that–none of us are perfect and we all have various biases that no doubt evidence themselves in everything we do. But this article would have far more traction and application to the church and my heart if the author offered an official apology to Chris Tomlin et al for her accusations of racism and chose an accurate example as the catalyst for discussion of where the church needs to work on this issue.
I’m an honest guy, totally willing to be guilty of racism if indeed I am (as I know I am of so many other failures to love God’s people well). I have mixed marriages in my family, and am a tiny minority in my community (7%); I am really sensitive to treating people poorly or differently–so much so that I probably do exactly that. In articles like this one I hope to evaluate my heart and bring correction, which is I think the goal of the piece. But more often than not, I end up with the same conclusion I did with this one.
I appreciate what you say here, and if you go back and reread my post, you will find that I apologized almost immediately for my mistake and made a more in depth explanation at the end of the article. A link to an amended article that was published yesterday was also posted.
Your mistake illustrates the very same point mine did – we all overlook details sometimes, or don’t know, or speak too quickly, and for this we need to be quick to apologize and own our mistakes, not blame it on others or use it as a way to ignore the real issues at hand.
It sounds like you have a sensitive heart and humble attitude to begin with, given that you’re even asking these questions at all. I wouldn’t be surprised if being a minority in your community already gives you a depth of insight into this that many who live in the majority may not have opportunity to develop.
Thanks for your response. You did issue an apology, and I am sorry I did not give you credit for that. Thanks for your kind response. I have enjoyed being a minority, its a chance to learn about this conversation, a chance to love well. But I still find I am often confused. At times it seems like I must be missing something huge and at other times it seems like I have missed nothing at all. I wish I knew the realities of my heart. I guess its just one more reason for humility.
“I wish I knew the realities of my heart.” *sigh* I think we all feel like this sometimes.
Thanks for your comment! Please don’t take these words in a harsh tone, they are intended to be gentle and spoken with candor: I think for most minorities in the church, it’s true to say we already understand that people in privilege need grace. Every time something does (or doesn’t do) something which manifests in painful pressure and ignorance, most times I will bite my tongue. This is often a two-fold conclusion due to the knowledge that few to nobody in the majority will make relevant efforts to understand and it will only cause more grief to express the offense, and also because I truly love my white brothers and sisters and I think that not saying anything is to display grace in a quiet way.
As an Asian male, my culture is one that tells me to try to never offend anyone, and only speak up for myself if somebody attacked me physically or something like that. Something where my display of defense would be universally grasped. I experience micro-aggressions on a weekly if not daily basis, and most times, even my friends have never heard me say anything. Part of this is because usually it doesn’t go well: white people tend to get defensive, and then I’m suddenly in a room getting life advice that is completely off the mark from my situation from people who don’t want to listen and bear the pain with me. But I still remain friends with them, I still need to tell myself time and time again that there are reasons why it’s difficult for them to understand, I remain in community with them, and continue to love them. But it’s tiring, some days exhausting, some days maddening, knowing that this process is almost always one-sided. And I say this knowing I’m an Asian male, meaning while I’m still a minority, I’m privileged in a lot of ways that other groups are not. It’s heartbreaking to think about what others go through who are even less privileged than I am when I already know my own unacknowledged realities.
But as a member of a group, I also realize that people who don’t understand something about me also are likely to make similar mistakes with others who look like me or who I represent, and that I actually may have missed an opportunity to educate for the betterment of others if I don’t call someone’s ignorance out. If someone who is a minority calls you out to educate, it’s kind of an act of love, even if it’s in angry tones, because they are taking a risk that you might be an agent of change. I hope you can continue making an effort to listen and learn, because those in privilege can, unlike me, choose to check out of this conversation. I pray that you don’t and that you make this conversation an intentional element that you consider in your relationships. We all need each other to reconcile, and I thank God that he has grace on us all, regardless of circumstance.
shivers. tears. thank you for sharing this in such a gentle way. it is very articulate and in the end, helps us all.
Jordan, thanks so much for spelling this out so clearly and graciously. I have a feeling I will be referring back to your comment many times in the future.
“Us vs Him” or “Us vs them” can be the same scenario. There is no need to change it. For Jesus associated himself to those who are poor, persecuted and downgraded. I am an asian and I have experience worst not just with white people but also with different cultures even to my own. it is a common attitudes of those who have political influence, power and wealth. Supremacy is mainly common for cultures who taught “Honor and Pride first before Humility” instead of “Humility against pride and honor”. But, I can not point my pointing finger to any Cultures because 3 of my fingers pointing at me. I believed the only way to have a working relationship is to be humble and be sensitive. Have the capacity to admit and learn from previous mistakes.
I hear ya, but the message of this article can once again be found in your solution of the Us-and-Him scenario. All I see when Jesus is depicted as a blond haired, blue eyed Saviour (which is historically inaccurate being from the Middle East) is a Us -vs- them scenario again!
Simply love it. Thank you.
this means the world to me. thanks.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. It has been an interesting week watching both the beauty and the brokenness of the church explode over Warren’s gaffe and conditional apology. I’ve often been asked why I choose to essentially air out our Christian dirty laundry by writing about racism and White privilege in the Church instead of the equally appalling incidents in pop culture. Thank you for creating another safe space to have this difficult conversation about the very place we should find the most healing, justice and understanding – the Church. Blessings.
Thanks, Kathy, for offering your voice. I can only imagine how tiring it must get sometimes. Your courage teaches us all a lot.
I’ve gone over to your blog to read more of your thoughts. At the moment, I’m just sort of hit by the absolutely amazingness and TRUTH of both this post and yours, Kathy. I hope to have more to say, even just to say more articulately, thank you.
this is a hard topic, and it’s one i think deserves more discussion.. (props for leading the discussion on it!)
coming from a minority perspective, when i attend predominantly white churches, i have seen and witnessed all the things you mentioned. just because a church hosts a cultural night to raise money for whichever NGO or church, doesn’t mean they are ‘loving our neighbors’. (in fact, our church has been invited to those events a few times, but after the night is over, i always feel disappointed because that’s the extent of the partnership- we are asked to showcase the culture, but then those larger churches don’t intrinsically want to learn or understand more about the plight of christians being persecuted or living in a non christian community.) Or as you mentioned, showcasing photos of people from different cultures without actually having any longterm relationships with people in those communities.
On the flipside, there are a few churches out there that are doing things right. for example we have a partnership with one large (predominately white) church, and they are truly invested in our small church in a refugee community. they send short term missions teams to help us out every few months, they send us workers when we need help with our big projects and events, and they invite us to their church events also, for student trainings, community outreach events, etc, to host us and be a blessing to our community, etc.. it is through these things that demonstrate we are truly one family in christ, despite our difference in cultural backgrounds.
Thanks for sharing…this is definitely a hard conversation, and one that doesn’t really ever get easier. I love to hear of the good examples like you shared – what a great way they are helping. It’s hard to see these sort of things from a mass perspective because they’re truly culturally humble – no one is advertising them because they’re too busy actually doing them.
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