I guess you and I have some difficult things to talk about.
Sometimes, I say things that might make you squirm a little. And other times, they seem to make you downright angry. Yours is a story of dominance, of disrespecting and denying others’ rights and conquering those who are inconvenient to you. I know you well, and imagine that it can’t be easy to carry such a heavy load on your shoulders. You are not alone in your burden. Indeed, others from a variety of cultures and races and histories have told this story sometimes even more brutally than you.
But sadly, you have told it too. Even if others have their faults, this fact does not shift the blame from your shoulders to theirs.
However, this story alone is far too simple a tale. I would be grossly mistaken to suggest you are all the same. You are as varied as the whole world wide, and you have also been very good.
You have been my brother and my father and my grandfather, loving me fiercely and caring for those around you with wisdom and gentleness. You have been Dietrich Bonhofer, William Wilberforce, and Abraham Lincoln, advocates and defenders of justice, fighting to right the world’s wrongs. You have been Dr. Paul Brand, Graham Staines, and Shane Claiborne, offering your lives as a sacrifice to pursue healing for the world’s brokenness. You have been Henri Nouwen, Phillip Yancey, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and N.T. Wright, thinkers and writers who have blown new life into my faith and kept me from walking away when so many others in it looked so damn crazy. You have been countless friends and colleagues and mentors who simply do not fit the stereotype that is portrayed of you.
I am so deeply sorry that you must carry this burden simply due to the color of your skin. Perhaps this experience will help you better understand the feelings of many who have suffered at your hands simply because of the color of their skin.
I do not say this because I hate you, or because I’m angry or arrogant or have a chip on my shoulder that needs fixed.
I say it because I need you, because the world needs you.
These days, things are growing ever more complex and we need every voice available to speak for what is heals and restores and unites. Even with all your historical baggage and brokenness, we need you. Even with your current tales of greed and violence and corruption and misuse of power, we need you. All the people who fall under tales of your oppression – the women, the people with skin colors and cultures different than yours – we still need you.
You are not useless.
You are not throw-away.
Your scars, prominent as they may be, do not leave you without hope.
But we need you to be something different than what the broad strokes that both history and modern culture paint. We don’t need you to deny your burden, or to be angry when we notice its impact on our lives. We don’t need you to be defensive, and try to shift the blame onto someone else. We don’t need you to pretend we don’t exist because you don’t know any other way to respond to our voices asking you to change your ways.
What we need is your voice, not to speak for us, but to speak with us.
We need your minds, not to override our thoughts, but to listen and collaborate with us.
We need your hearts, to love us deeply, and to care about the pain of the burden we must carry.
We need your confidence, not to overpower us, but to care with us, to work for goodness and fight for justice.
We need your courage, not because we don’t have it or yours is stronger, but because great courage in the hands of power changes the course of history.
We need your respect, to view us as more than mere bodies to satisfy your desires and your lusts.
We need your legs to stand with us as we pursue a world that is better for our children, one that loves peace and prevents violence.
We need your ears to listen for and include the voices of everyone, not just your cronies or the people you most easily understand.
We need your vulnerability, to walk through the guilt that overwhelms and into the understanding that gives us all life.
We are human, too, equal in every way to you. We are capable and competent, eager and interested. We need you to acknowledge this, to humbly loosen your grip on the power you hold and actively create ways to share it with us, too.
Please, walk with us – not ahead or over top of us – but simply and humbly alongside us, as partners and companions. We need each other. These burden are much too heavy for any of us to carry alone.
When white people don’t know they’re being white
That time when white people talked about being white
What I do wrong with race: Confessions from a white woman
For further reading
American Idols: 3 false beliefs that can blind white men to their privilege by Jeff Heidkamp
White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack by Peggy McIntosh
When rich westerners don’t know they’re being rich westerners by Djibouti Jones
5 thoughts on “Dear white man:”
Reading stuff like this, I can’t help but think about psychology blogs I’ve read that say “Don’t take on other people’s burdens; they will hurt your own happiness”. After having white guilt being reinforced for 22 years everywhere you go, you start to just think “screw everyone’s opinion”. You’re asking us to take on the problems and burdens of 7 billion people. I try to be as understanding as I can, and every single other white person I know does the same, and it just never seems to be enough to satisfy others. We cannot spend our entire lives learning about every single culture in every single part of the world just so we can have the slightest possibility of not offending someone else. That is absolutely insane.
Whenever I read stuff like this, I think of white people in poverty and I feel even worse for them. They’re struggling to get by on bills, struggling to eat, struggling just to live, and yet somehow the “system was built so that they would be in power” and “it’s their fault that 7 billion other people are just as poor as they are”. At least focus your damn guilt trips to white people who are ACTUALLY in power. Stop blaming the ENTIRE race when it’s only the handful of them that have any actual say in who gets jobs, who gets connected to the best social networks to get rich, who actually has enough food to get by for more than a day. If you disagree, please explain how it’s THEIR fault for being privileged, and yet still somehow being so poor that they have to scavenge for every single meal praying that they have enough money saved to get them through another day.
While I can understand where you’re coming from, I must respectfully disagree. We lived among white rural poor for 8 years and while the prejudice looked different than it did from the privileged white class, it was still a significant issue. You are right in your suggestion that they lack privilege, but I’d push back on your assumption that they have nothing to learn about race. The problem does not lie only with privilege which often covers its racism with power and prestige, but also with blatant racism like we see in groups like the KKK and the Minutemen, both of which still had active branches where we lived and who prey on the ignorant and uneducated poor.
I certainly don’t disagree that white people in poverty face great challenges, but I also don’t think that this removes the stain of racism from their hands. It just makes it look different.
Finally, I’d challenge you to lean into your frustration with the race conversation by listening and learning more from those who do not share your experience. Your passion indicates that you clearly care about the issue, as well as about people who lack privilege. As such, I think you’d be greatly benefitted by more deeply examining why this issue raises your defenses. I’m not at all suggesting that you take on the burden of 7 billion people, just that you step back to consider where others are coming from and how the history of power in the hands of a white majority has impacted these stories.
It is a worldview shift that needs to happen. White men need to shift from their comfortable dominant worldview to something else. What’s the answer? There’s no modernist, reductionistic silver bullet, that’s the answer. I am thankful for the opportunity to think along and dialogue, perhaps, with Jody. I don’t find it necessary to explain to Jody that perhaps it is a worldview problem, I believe she is discussing that worldview problem in a succinct way in this blog.
Hi, interesting article here. Not bad but I wonder to some degree why the shift from the other two blogs? In those blogs, you utilized “people,” now you have moved to “men.” I am a guy, so maybe that’s why I noticed it. And I don’t mind the letter, initially, I just wonder about the shift.
I understand the dominance of men throughout history and the inequality that women have had to face and suffer from, and through, as a result of that history; however, there have been men and women (white) throughout history who have contributed to this issue of colonialism and domination.
So, a few questions. What about white men born into mixed, indigenous (read: not from settler ancestry) families? Do they need to apologize for their moms/dads who were non-Indigenous? If so, what about the white women who benefit from colonialism? What about the immigrant who benefits from colonialism? Should they, too, offer an apology?** Will you be writing a blog entitled “Dear everyone else who benefits from colonialism yet are not of ancestry who originally played a part?”
As I’ve read through these blogs, I wonder to some degree if you’re not going far enough in lifting the white veil (Jeff Hitchcock, 2002).
What if this isn’t a skin colour thing but a worldview thing? How might your critique look if you shifted the filtering lens from one of colour to the very way that those who colonized the world understood their world? Understood it primarily as a worldview developed on a Platonic dualism? And then, what if you brought that understanding of their worldview to the current, neo-Platonic dualism that informs our current world? The worldview that, ironically enough, informs or informed most of the authors you mentioned as those who have informed your faith journey about halfway through this blog.
For me, personally, I have been on this intercultural journey for the past eight years. I have been privileged to be a white guy in a large, varied, and wide indigenous family (First Nations, Maori, Native American, Filipino, Australian Aborigine). Although I have heard some of what you write here and the necessity for apology, reconciliation, etc, what I hear predominantly is a difference in worldview. The worldview of the west will only be healed and completed by the worldview(s) of the other and vice versa. Yet, if we continue to look to skin colour, we will not have ventured far enough into this issue to get at that which is causing the troubles from its roots. And that is worldview. Not skin colour.
And one last thing, although walking side by side is good, it will not, eventually, get us where we need to go. Jesus of Nazareth, the great equalizer in his philosophies, practices, and teachings “led” his disciples and followers. Although at times he may have walked alongside of them, the majority of the time he lead them like sheep. What I advocate for, and will continue to do so, is for white folks (yes, I use the colour thing, too…lol…) to step back and allow people from a more holistic worldview to lead, guided, shaped, and informed by their communities. This, I believe, is how we will move forward.
**My wife and I know a story of a Korean family who returned part, if not all, of an acreage in the U.S. to the Native people to whom it used to belong. It was their way of moving toward reconciliation and their understanding of how they benefited from colonialism. It’s one story; it is an option, but I’m not requesting a norm by sharing the story.
I shifted to men because they are often the most vocal and defensive in conversations about race. Additionally, when you look at history and statistics of the US, they have also had quite an imbalance of the share of power compared to women and people of color. That’s not to say that white women don’t share in the privilege/defensiveness, or even that all white men have known this power. My intent is to speak generally to the power that the position of ‘white male’ holds.
I also don’t think I’m asking anyone to apologize. My hope is to stir our collective imagination to get us thinking about ways that we can be more creative and equitable in our power structures, institutions, and organizations. You make excellent points regarding differing worldviews and not going far enough. Clearly you’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on this issue and this point sends us to a much deeper level than the surface issues of race! How about a follow up point expanding the discussion on your blog? I’d happily link to it 🙂
If I could be so meek as to remind, however, that this is just a blog post. Most studies show that people won’t read much more than 1000 words in an article, so as much as I’d like to, my ability to qualify and exceptionalize are limited if I have any hope in communicating a message. For this, I’m grateful for comments like yours where we can flesh it out further to see how it works and doesn’t work, and where we still need to grow and learn. The time you take to contribute adds much to the discussion. Thanks.