Pastor's Pen

Whiteness

Posted on: Jul 2, 2020

Black Lives Matter.

I venture to say that each person who reads this column has a visceral response to seeing those three words. Minimal or extreme. Pro or con. No one’s gut demonstrates neutrality for the words Black Lives Matter. Why?

Consider Billy and Joey at pre-school. Billy decides he wants the truck Joey is playing with. There’s nothing rational about his decision. He just wants it.

As we grow up, we continue to make decisions without conscious intentions. We have learned how to do a bunch of stuff and hold certain attitudes and values without “thinking” about them.

In a conversation about Black Lives Matter, we might offer various reasons for our responses. Suggesting that we have “reasons” for what we feel, however, is essentially an effort to rationalize taking-for-granted aspects of who we are. We come up with “reasons” in an effort to help us feel better about our feelings.

This is how we function as white people. This is how our culture and institutions have conditioned us to live. The term we use for our living this way is “white privilege.”

Rev. John Dorhauer, general minister and president of the United Church of Christ, describes himself as one who has lived his life in a culture that presumes “whiteness as the norm.”

“As a white hetero male, [whiteness as the norm] is the hardest thing for me to see. In essence, I move with great ease through a world that is set up to advantage me—and I just don’t see the world that way.

“As far as getting the impact of privilege, this is, for me, where it has to start.

“When I look at the TV or go to the movies as a white man and see news anchors and lead actors who are white, I rarely note the fact that those who look like me are the given.

“When I go down the street and look for a barber, it never occurs to me that I know I won’t have any trouble finding a white guy there who knows how to cut the hair of another white man.

“When I shop at my grocery store, I never stop to think that another white man owns it and will stock the shelves with food he knows I like to eat.

“I don’t even bother to ask, so it may not occur to me that 96% of news media outlets are owned by white men, and therefore they are going to choose news stories that they know I will care about, told from a perspective that doesn’t threaten my worldview.

“When I apply for a job in the church, I assume my education and skills are the reasons I am considered for the job—and never does it cross my mind that being white had anything to do with being hired in a denomination that is still well over 90% white.

“When I run down the street in the evening, I routinely cross in the middle when traffic is light, never worrying about whether a police officer would stop me; or, if he did, that he would be anything but polite about reminding me that I shouldn’t do that. I almost never have to worry about whether or not one of the police that stops me will be white, or if not, will treat me badly because I am white.

“When I walk into a church, I never have to ask: ‘Why doesn’t Jesus look like me?’ And I don’t even consider the fact that Jesus being white is not reflective of his true racial identity as a Middle Eastern Jew. I grew up believing that he could, that he should, be white.

“I am unaffected by incarceration rates that see one in three black men arrested before their 30th birthday. It is not I nor my children who are impacted by that in a system where most police, attorneys, and judges are going to be white.

“Whiteness is part of the air I breathe.”*

We will not feel any different about racism until or unless we accept that, because we are Americans who are members of the white race, we were born on third base. Seventy-five percent of our getting to home plate is accomplished because we were born white. What did your “third base” look like?

–Pastor Fogal

*White Privilege: Let’s Talk, a curriculum resource published by the United Church of Christ.

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