So my humble little post When white people don’t know they’re being white apparently hit quite a nerve. It had roughly 14,000 hits in 24 hours and became a space of rich discussion on a usually very-quiet-blog. At the publishing of this post, it’s had close to 40,000 views and almost 100 comments. What hit me by the post’s high response was the need that people have to discuss this issue, and the thirst many have to understand it better. (Well, there were a few trolls whose comments never saw the light of day who made me question this, but the vast majority of the comments were genuine, thoughtful and honest).
Emotions expressed in the comment section ranged from gratefulness to relief to anger to hopelessness. In my experience, there aren’t many safe places to discuss race and privilege for white people, especially if we’re in a place of feeling wounded, scared or threatened. Already in a protection mode, we tend to say things from this space that can be hurtful to others who may or may not have it any more figured out than us. Regardless of the emotion, what I heard echoing most strongly behind many people’s responses was an unnerving, hesitant question, “Can white people do anything right?”
I hear this, and I know it is a hard question to ask. We shuffle our collective guilt from blame to anger to defensiveness to silence. No one likes failure and our collective history of domination is a painful one for everyone – not just the people we have dominated. But it certainly is not the only picture in history. Sadly, the stories that often get the most airtime aren’t the ones of what actually works. We are far more intrigued to ooh and ahh as things fall apart than to cheer them on as they are being built.
Whenever I enter a cemetery in a Sri Lankan church, I am struck by how many British people are buried there – missionaries from the turn of the 20th century who gave up everything – even their own lives and the lives of their own families – for a call greater than their own. My father-in-law, a doctor, speaks gratefully for the many Christians who established hospitals and built schools in South Asia. Did these very missionaries impart colonial ideas upon the Sri Lankan peoples? Probably, but this was not their only story. My husband’s family speaks fondly of Reverend Good (his real name, I promise), an Irishman who pastored their church for many years. The first word they use to describe him is always humble, the second, appropriately, is good. They speak of how he listened when there was conflict, how he cared for others, and how he didn’t think more highly of himself than anyone else.
Where are more stories about such good people who come from majority backgrounds? How do we find them? How do tell them? How do we make them our own stories? Where do we look when we need hope and examples of people who have led the way toward a genuine posture of humility toward and respect for others?
Given that the focus of my initial post was on what white people do that doesn’t create positive race relations, I thought it may also be helpful to create a space for others to share what does work in race relations – from all sides. The Bible calls us, after all, to be rooted first in the good news of reconciliation, not division.
I urge people of all backgrounds to comment here – the more perspectives that contribute, the more we learn from each other. Please include descriptions of and/or links to projects you know of, historical role models, suggestions of books or movies, websites, TedTalks or even YouTube videos that offer insight to this conversation. Perhaps your stories are double edged – one side that worked, one side that failed. That’s reality too. I’d love to hear more hard-but-good kind of stories that show how we grow and learn together.
Comment policy: 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. And, please stick to the topic of this post. If you have general comments about race, feel free to share them on this post instead.