Category Archives: Whiteness

Here’s a thought and a prayer

I went to bed thinking about the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas.  There was talk of a racist manifesto and the murderer writing about the “invasion of Hispanics.”  El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen told reporters, “(It has) a nexus to potential hate crime.”  #WhiteSupremacistTerrorism was trending on Twitter.  This morning, #TrumpsTerrorists has replaced it.  Not surprisingly, persons are linking the 250th mass shooting in America to Trump’s racist rhetoric and the racists chants that followed from the crowd at a North Carolina rally.

The investigation is only beginning.  We don’t even know the names of his victims.  In fact, we know more about the gun he used.  And of course, there are “thoughts and prayers” being offered to the victims and their families.  This word combination has become problematic for many, representing inaction and more of the same from political leaders regarding gun laws.  All talk and no action.

Before persons were finished formulating their responses, finishing up their interviews on local and national news outlets regarding the shooting in El Paso, I wake up to news of yet another in Dayton, Ohio.  It is mass shooting number 251 in 216 days.  We are killing more than days we are living.  And these murders are not the only thing that is on the rise.  Time magazine wrote that white supremacist attacks are increasing in March of this year after mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand where at least 50 people were murdered.

White supremacy.  George Frederickson wrote in his book White Supremacy: A Comparative Study in American and South African History, “White supremacy refers to the attitudes, ideologies and policies associated with the rise of blatant forms of white or European dominance over ‘nonwhite’ populations.  In other words, it involves making the invidious distinctions of a socially crucial kind that are based primarily, if not exclusively, on physical characteristics and ancestry. … It suggests systematic and self- conscious efforts to make race or color a qualification for membership in the civil community ” (Frederickson, xi).  Let me stop here and give you a few thoughts.

Ian Haney Lopez writes in White By Law: The Legal Construction of Race in an introduction titled “Notes on Whiteness, “Whiteness is contingent, changeable, partial, inconstant and ultimately social. … Whiteness (is) a complex, falsely homogenizing term” (Haney Lopez, xxi).  He writes later in a chapter titled “White Lines,” “Appearances and origins are not White or non- White in any natural or pre- social way.  Rather, White is a figure of speech, a social convention read from looks.  As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, ‘Who has seen a black or red person, a white, yellow or brown?  These terms are arbitrary constructs, not reports of reality'” (Haney Lopez, 12).

David Roediger writes in The Wages of Whiteness: Race and the Making of the American Working Class, “White labor does not just receive and resist racist ideas but embraces, adopts, and at times, murderously acts upon those ideas.  The problem is not just that the white working class is at critical junctures manipulated into racism, but that it comes to think of itself and its interests as white” (Roediger, 12).

Nell Painter writes in The History of White People, “Were there ‘whites’ in antiquity? … No, for neither the idea of race nor the idea of ‘white’ people had been invented, and people’s skin color did not carry useful meaning” (Painter, 1).

James Baldwin pointedly says, “As long as you think you’re white, there’s no hope for you.”   He also said this in The Price of a Ticket in 1985, “The reality, the depth, and the persistence of the delusion of white supremacy in this country causes any real concept of education to be as remote and as much to be feared, as change or freedom itself.”

Whatever is true and liberating, whatever is authentic and facilitates our wholeness, whatever makes peace and increases our fellowship, whatever keeps the lies of whiteness and race away, let us think on these things.  And then let us pray like Frederick Douglass who said: “I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

Keep it moving.  Amen.

The Lie of Race

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“White people have not always been ‘white,’ nor will they always be ‘white.’  It is a political alliance.  Things will change.”

 {Amoja Three Rivers}

I begin with whiteness because all of the other social colors define themselves by it.  In fact, the other social colors exist for it.  Whiteness depends on blackness, for example, for it is the existence of blackness, synonymous with evil and darkness, that calls for whiteness.  Whiteness is then needed to right the wrong and to stamp out the darkness.

In order for the socially constructed white identity to be the standard of good, there must be one or more identities that are the definition of bad.  Whiteness is then seen as a necessity and then divinized.  But, you can’t have one without the other.  We cannot have whiteness without the “other.”

Or, whiteness is defined as exclusively good, permitting no other social colors to join its group.  “If you’re white, you’re right.  If you’re black, stay back.”

James Baldwin called it “the lie of whiteness.”  And I would agree but I would push us just a little bit further.  I would call blackness and with it, all the other social colors a lie.  Consequently, I declare that the social construct of race is a lie, that there is no truth it, no redeeming characteristics or qualities.

I will never understand why we believed the lie to begin with or how we traded our humanity for hue.  I join with Charles Chestnut who asked in 1889, “What is a white man? ” No, really what is a white man?  Who is a white man?

Because God’s purpose for humanity is not color- coded: “If you’re white…” No, God’s purpose is eternal, not based on physical features tied to social contracts.  “If you’re black…”

Race is a lie; don’t try to make a believer out of God.

Before God Was White: The Rumblings of a Race-less Theology

Image result for Jesus White House“God is spirit and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

~ John 4.24, NRSV

Halloween is over and yet, it seems nearly impossible to remove the mask of whiteness from the face of God.  Now a spooky, to be avoided, death- wielding deity, this socially colored white God has it in for all oppressed people.  But, this is a trick of race.  God is not a white man.

The social construct of race remakes God in the image of whiteness.

Instead of the Church placing race under the scrutiny of sacred Scripture, she allowed Scripture to be scrutinized by and rewritten from the perspective of race.  Bad Church.  In most if not all cases, our personal theology does not inform our understanding of race but race determines our understanding of theology.  In our minds, the eternal, immortal and invisible God can be colored in.  In our minds, the omnipotent God can be told who to love and to hate according to our prejudices.  In our minds, the omnipresent God can be segregated, partitioned off, cornered by one community of “color.”

But, when did color become all- powerful?  Greater than God?  Greater than us?  Greater than God could ever be?

When did “the future of our race” become the historical narrative and present aim of the Church?   And what of our faith in a past filled with putrid, hateful relationships with ourselves, members of our family and those we would define as “the enemy” reflects the nature of our fellowship? When did the will of race become the will of God?  Why do we color- code our theology?  Why must God be socially colored beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white in order for us to believe that God is with us and for us?  And in turn, that God is with them and those people too?  When did we begin to worship race and to identify God as a colored human being?

I know that this may be hard to believe but there was  time when God was not socially colored white.  God existed (and still does) outside of the segregated categories of race.  God was (and still is) omnipresent and thus, unable to be confined to a community or culture of people.  “God so loved the world…” (John 3.16).  To color- code power, that is white power, black power and so on, is to limit God’s supremacy.  It implies that the Spirit of God can be restricted and somehow harnessed by human hands.  God’s identity wasn’t, isn’t and never will be the sum total of racial attributes.  To racialize God is an attempt to stereotype Mystery.

A theology that is racialized, that describes God as a beige, brown, black, red, yellow or white man, is not talking about the God of the Christian faith but the God of the American faith.  It is faith in skin, white skin mostly and not in the salvific work of Jesus Christ achieved on a cross more than 2,000 years ago.  God is not involved in a race war but is fighting for our salvation.  God is after souls not the social coloring of skin.

 

Reflect on the statements below and consider where you may have painted God white.  May they cause a rumbling in your theology as well.

God is not a white Person.

God’s goodness is not whiteness.

God’s power is not white supremacy.

God’s blessing is not expressed in white privilege.

God’s love is not based on the social coloring of skin or any other real or imagined physical attribute.

God is Spirit and consequently, cannot be segregated, redlined and thereby, captured by one socially colored group, particular community or culture.

God is not a member of a race.  It is a social construct and God is self- existent.

White Privileges Denied

Image result for deny privilegeI wonder what our lives would be like if those who are privileged by race would deny these social entitlements.  What change could be brought about if when persons are offered a pass, a perk, a protection or the benefit of doubt, they would reject it?  How might we be challenged if we did not accept what we did not earn, if we rejected those things that put others at a disadvantage?  What if we no longer feigned ignorance or blindness, if we stopped looking the other way for “us” and not “them”?

What kind of people could we be if when the privilege of whiteness was presented, we said, “Privileges denied”?  Because we provide its currency.  We are the medium of transaction.  We open the door, give the leg up, shake the hand and wink.  We give them more while paying less and less attention to who we become in the process.

We are cheaters, thieves even.  Robbing from “them” to pay for “us.”  Race is only a scapegoat used to cover up our greed and need for power.

I wonder if persons would be willing to post a sign on the doors of their businesses, schools, shared community spaces, government buildings, places of worship and homes that inform those who enter that we don’t accept white privileges here.  I imagine that persons would have to prove themselves and make their way without them.  Justifying their place in the world and their position of authority would get a whole lot harder.

Patting pockets, flipping through wallets or searching purses, what might we pull from them to cover our expenses, to explain our position in the world, to justify our preferential treatment.  If we take the socially colored white skin away and say, we refuse to privilege socially colored white skin here, what then?  What do we have then?

Tell us (because we all accept it) that the limit has been exceeded far too many times and for too long, that we can no longer afford its costs, that the card has expired and won’t be renewed.  We simply cannot afford to be people of any color any more.

Unmasking Whiteness

“However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: For the black man, there is only one destiny.  And it is white.”

~ Franz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks

“This contradictory longing to possess the reality of the Other, even though that reality is one that wounds and negates, is expressive of the desire to understand the mystery, to know intimately through imitation, as though such knowing worn like an amulet, a mask, will ward away the evil, the terror.”

bell hooks, “Representations of whiteness in the black imagination,” Black on white: Black Writers on What It Means to Be White

The Apostle James writes, “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (1.12).  When the Bible speaks of God’s plans for believers, God does not speak in terms of race as Fanon and hooks have written.  Thus, it is necessary to explain why we need not confuse the two.

While American society provides our perspective, it is important that we are reminded of the big picture or perhaps, the Biggest Picture.  We cannot forget that God’s eyes frame our lives very differently.  It is our senses and our temporal nature that confines us to such limited views of our humanity.  We cannot see more because our eyes are so small, so dim.

This, along with the fact, that we see as we are told.  We focus on what the group, what the majority, what a society, what the powerful tells us is worth looking at.  And even if we have to look away from ourselves, we will lean into the image that is being held up and prized for fear of being left out and consequently, being out of sight.

But, this is not a test or a trial.  This is not about acceptance, endurance or even survival.  This is assimilation.

Primarily, the testing that the oppressed endure due to the social construct of race is social.  It is a proving ground not ordained or created by God.  It is not a test that God is grading us on because we are not being judged according to the social coloring of skin.

Thus, whiteness is not the answer.  Whiteness will not get a pass.  Whiteness is not to be learned but unlearned.

This testing is also not rewarded by God.  Those who aspire to whiteness will be rewarded socially not divinely.  There is no crown for the whitest.  This is not the crowning achievement of our humanity.  There is no life for whiteness in eternity.

Secondly, the plans of whiteness and the plans of God are not synonymous.  The plans of whiteness and the plans of God are not in partnership.  There is no connection there.  They do not support each other.  Two kinds of righteousness, two saviors, to different sets of commandments, whiteness is an idol.  Only one can be right.  God.

The destiny of whiteness and the destiny that God has for us are not the same.  We will end up in two different places.  Thus, our relationships with race and God are about faith.  Which one do we believe in?  Which one is truly rewarding?  Which of these really matters?

Because you can possess whiteness and its privileges yet not know God.  Putting on whiteness and putting on Christ are not synonymous.  Only one can save you.

Thus, whiteness and all social colors are not tests but rather evidences of our lust.  And they are not new lusts: lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes and the pride of life (First John 2.16).  Race is about visibility, choosing who will be seen, valued and rewarded while God sees us all.

So, don’t put it on; instead, take it off.  It will make the value go down.

And let us stop being reproducers of these masks.  Let us stop providing, making concessions and excuses for them.  “I’m sorry.  You cannot wear that mask here.  We will need to see your real face.”

Let us no longer order or carry masks in our institutions and the marketplace, in our families and social circles.  Let’s not keep spare ones in the drawer, inherited ones in a safe deposit box or emergency ones under our mattress.  Let us no longer offer these masks, wrapped up and presented as gifts.  Let us not treat them as essential to our survival, tied to our destiny and who we must become no matter what of ourselves we lose.

No, let us prove that whiteness means nothing at all without us.  Reveal our true selves and demonstrate that we can understand ourselves without it, that we can see ourselves without it.  Move whiteness out of the way so that you can get a glimpse of the Biggest Picture.