To be socially colored “white” is to enter a world where one is perceived to be godlike in appearance and ability. Before opening one’s mouth, it is believed that one has the answers and is the solution. “You are the right person. You are just the person that we’ve been looking for.” Before one has done anything, one inherits the thought that her or his people or at least people who you are said to resemble have done everything. “The world is yours. You made it what it is. You own it. You rule it.”
This expectation can have several effects and one can either accept the position or reject it. Accept it and she or he will be believed to be powerful, whether the strength is possessed or not. This having but not having, being but not being is internally dislocating as one struggles to find a place between the social ideal and her and his reality. Reject it and finding another place in American society can prove problemmatic. We just don’t seem to have a place for and cannot consider a world wherein socially colored “white” people are on equal footing with others. It seems to go against what the color white represents.
The socially colored “white” body is a vision of perfection; we point to it and say, “This is what beauty looks like.” And there is no other example, no one to be compared to except to point out why they have been chosen. “They deserve it. Just look at them.”
Part of the reason why we associate all things good and pure with socially colored “white” people is because of the meanings that we associate with the word white: good, pure (i.e. morally and spiritually), immaculate, spotless, clean, transparent, heavenly even. Likewise, our protagonists are dressed in white. Our heroes, our angels and our God is socially colored “white” because all other skin is dark and therefore, bad. The sacred scriptures use of the word white has also been included in our understanding of whiteness (Job 9.30; Psalm 51.7; Isaiah 1.18; Lamentations 4.7; Daniel 7.9; Matthew 28.3; Mark 9.3; Revelation 1.14). Thus, white is good by association. White is comparable to light and dark is comparable to night. This is why we, as believers, are sons and daughters of light: “Walk as children of light– the fruit of the light results in all goodness, righteousness and truth” (Ephesians 5.8-9). White is good, pure, immaculate, heavenly so God must be white, right?
The color white is good. White teeth are good as it is a sign of health. White socks are good as it is a signal that they are clean. White picket fences are good and represent the American Dream. But socially colored “white” people are not always good and we should not expect them to be because they are human beings not divine. When such meanings are transferred to a cultural group, they come to represent moral purity, social perfection, honesty, goodness and even God. The problem is that we have located a color and all of its social meanings inside of a particular people group, socially recreating some persons as good and others bad– based solely on appearance. We have invested our identity in color and you either have the right one or you don’t. There is no grace in this racial faith.
Socially colored “white” people become the way that we are to look and not long after that, the way that all of humanity should be. “White is right” and to be white is to be in right- standing with God. It is a faith that is based on the works of appearance. They, these socially colored “white” people that we have created, become the single expression of God’s creative genius in humanity. We want to be like them, like the socially defined “white” people. They have something we don’t have and we will spend our lives trying to attain it while rejecting it, attempting to be accepted into it while denying it, loving while hating its ability to at least appear good. Socially “defined” white people become successful having done nothing save being born. In American society, it is the silver spoon skin.
This desire to be like them, in turn, brings power and with it, control. “White” people, their goodness and purity then represents trustworthiness, power and authority. The social color “white” begins to equal power and if you are not “white,” then you begin to view yourself as powerless. Power then becomes about a color. White people are then believed to have all power and in our minds, are all- powerful. The socially defined “white” man becomes the Man, the physical symbol of the establishment, the government or George Orwell’s “Big Brother.” He is perceived as one to whom we must remain connected as he is the source of our social health, community vitality and personal liberties. The Man is the oppressor, the boss, a police officer or anyone in a supervisory role who has an authority that appears to be overarching. We don’t want to live with him but we can’t live without him.
The Man is not affected by the “conditions on the ground” and appears to be above it all. He is up and his sole objective is to keep others down. This socially colored “white” man is “free from color,” not tied to its struggles, not bound to any people. Though human, socially constructed “white” skin is somehow different. In the capitalization of the letter “m,” the socially constructed “white” man becomes divine. He is the Man of all men and consequently, the ruler of all men. There is but one problem: There is no people group but only one person who was both human and divine– Jesus Christ and the social construct of race had nothing to do with Him being chosen.