“Being white means never having to think about it.” — James Baldwin
Let those with eyes to see and ears to hear acknowledge this sin without excuse or defensiveness and commit ourselves to changing our culture until every child of God is treated with respect and dignity, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, class, sexual orientation, age, ability, or any of the other “isms” we are so good at using to divide and discriminate.
We spend a lot of time talking about the injustice of racism, #blacklivesmatter, the New Jim Crow, and other issues that every person of faith should be actively working to dismantle. For those in the dominant culture, one primary focus needs to be on the issue of privilege, primarily because so many do not recognize its extent and are, therefore, powerless to change it. Until we recognize our privilege and are willing to actively work to give it up, very little will actually change. Let me say this very clearly: Racism is a white problem. It will not change until a critical mass of members of the dominant culture recognize their privilege and actively work to give up their privilege and challenge it in every way possible.
This is a difficult subject for many well-meaning white people to talk about. But it is, nonetheless, absolutely essential that we facilitate conversations about this everywhere we can if we ever expect anything to change.
Sunday mornings are still the most segregated hour of the week in this country. I would love to recruit 100 congregations throughout California (to start) who would be willing to commit to actively engaging in study, self-reflection, respectful conversations, and direct action to challenge white privilege and racism. We have justice-seeking churches in every corner of the state. Churches are in a unique and powerful position to lead the way in this effort from a place of trust and respect in their communities. Any movement for justice requires the participation of the faith community to succeed.
I also recommend to you a pastoral letter from the United Church of Christ: A Pastoral Letter On Racism: A New Awakening.
You can download a PDF of the entire resource here.
The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.
White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level.
Are you interested and ready to help make a difference? Following is a listing of a very few articles and books to help you get started. There are so many more wonderful resources available and I will include a short list of resources in Justice Seekers on a regular basis.
What are you doing to end white privilege? How are you living out the gospel truth that #blacklivesmatter? What is your community of faith doing in your community? Is your congregation willing to join us in a statewide effort to dismantle white privilege and racism? I would love to include your suggested resources, your success stories and challenges, and anything else you are willing to share with others with others throughout California, so please send any and all feedback, resources, stories, suggestions, questions, and challenges to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Kathleen Saadat
Here is a very short list of articles and books to help your congregation discuss white privilege and racism. Please send your suggestions to email@example.com so they can be included in future issues of Justice Seekers.
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack by Peggy McIntosh
See further: White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies by Peggy McIntosh
The Undergirding Factor is POWER: Toward an Understanding of Prejudice and Racism by Caleb Rosado, Department of Urban Studies, Eastern University, Philadelphia
Reflections on My White Privilege and Understanding It: Thoughts from a Teacher Educator by Todd S. Cherner, Coastal Carolina University
Young White Men: Scared, Entitled, and Cynical-A Deadly Combination by Paul Kivel
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by Michelle Alexander
Called “stunning” by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Levering Lewis, “invaluable” by the Daily Kos, “explosive” by Kirkus, and “profoundly necessary” by the Miami Herald, this updated and revised paperback edition of The New Jim Crow, now with a foreword by Cornel West, is a must-read for all people of conscience.
The Cross and the Lynching Tree
by James H Cone
“They put him to death by hanging him on a tree.” Acts 10:39
in the history of the African American community. In this powerful new work, theologian James H. Cone explores these symbols and their interconnection in the history and souls of black folk. Both the cross and the lynching tree represent the worst in human beings and at the same time a thirst for life that refuses to let the worst determine our final meaning. While the lynching tree symbolized white power and black death, the cross symbolizes divine power and black life, God overcoming the power of sin and death. For African Americans, the image of Jesus, hung on a tree to die, powerfully grounded their faith that God was with them, even in the suffering of the lynching era.
In a work that spans social history, theology, and cultural studies, Cone explores the message of the spirituals and the power of the blues; the passion and the engaged vision of Martin Luther King, Jr.; he invokes the spirits of Billie Holiday and Langston Hughes, Fannie Lou Hamer and Ida B. Wells, and the witness of black artists, writers, preachers, and fighters for justice. And he remembers the victims, especially the 5,000 who perished during the lynching period. Through their witness he contemplates the greatest challenge of any Christian theology to explain how life can be made meaningful in the face of death and injustice.
Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race
by Frances E. Kendall
London: Routledge, 2006.
This much-anticipated revised edition includes two full new chapters, one on white women and another extending the discussion on race. It continues the important work of the first, deepening our knowledge of the recurring history on which cross-race relationships issues exist. Kendall's book provides readers with a more meaningful understanding of white privilege and equips them with strategies for making personal and organizational changes.
What makes talking race even harder is that so few of us actually know each other in the fullness of our stories. A recent Reuters poll found 40% of White people have no friends of other races, and 25% of people of color only have friends of the same race.
Sandhya Jha addresses the hot topic in a way that is grounded in real people's stories and that offers solid biblical grounding for thinking about race relations in America, reminding us that God calls us to build Beloved Community.
Discussion questions at the end of each chapter provide starting points for reading groups.
Hardcover edition available through smile.amazon.com (be sure to designate the California Council of Churches!). Electronic versions are available from chalicepress.com
Sandhya Rani Jha is the director of the Oakland Peace Center, the East Bay Housing Organization, a former member of the California Council of Churches Board of Directors, and so much more!