White Privilege Means I Can Look the Other Way. It’s Got to Stop.

What do we do in the wake of Charlottesville?

What good are words on the Internet when hate, death, and violence are the order of the day? How does one white woman writer with a small platform engage issues of racism now — when videos show us how hate mushrooms, how the image of God in all people is maligned, what do we do or say?

How can we heal when we are not whole?

How can I focus on my own healing when one part of the human body isn’t close to whole?

I don’t know what to do other than pray, lament, and ask for eyes to see the ways I’ve been complicit in systems that elevate me. 

I’m laying it all out here. Here are just a handful of my fears about engaging racism, by uncovering America’s sins: 

–I’ll end up centering my own story (and who needs another story by another white person?)

–I’ll use “virtue signaling” or jump on a social justice bandwagon because that’s what all the cool kids are doing these days (and who needs another person profiting off the backs of victims?)

–I’ll do it wrong (and offend someone in the process)

–I’ll be more vocal in spaces where it doesn’t hurt me and quiet where it actually counts: on the ground (I’ll be a hypocrite).

You know what? I will do it wrong. I will offend in my ignorance. I will probably offend even in this blog post. I will step on toes, not because of the gospel but because of all the ways I’m complicit in the very systems that make it possible for me write about being white. I am part of the problem. We all are part of the problem. I will say the wrong things. I will be misunderstood. You will too.

But it’s time for white women and men to stop worrying about doing it wrong because we’re afraid. It’s time for us to denounce the ways white supremacy has told people of color they are not fully human. This isn’t a “social gospel” thing. This is a gospel thing. Jesus told us that we are to love God and love our neighbor. Christians, we can’t pretend to love God while we see our neighbors’ humanity demeaned and marred. This is how we work out the gospel on the ground. If you are a person who says you believe in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life, then you — then I — can’t sit idly by.

It’s a privilege of my whiteness to be able to look the other way — to Instagram my beach scenes and Target hauls because I’m white. I get to choose which are my pet projects, politics, and interests because I’m white. I do not deal with hate crimes or daily living out how history that says I’m not fully human, whether it’s racist hate crimes or micro-aggressions. Just this week I asked a person of color what I could do to help as a white woman. Inadvertently, I was making her do the work for me: that’s the legacy of privilege. 

I was born into privilege with two white parents who loved God and each other. I had the financial resources to get a ton of education and travel the world. I think I’ve felt guilty about my privilege, and so like most white people, I’ve ignored it. (The logic goes: if we don’t talk about it, we get to play the part of the nice, liberal white person who would never act like those people, whoever those people happen to be).

But when we ignore things like privilege, like racism, like class, we can never get the healing power of the gospel. We must drag our personal and collective sins out into the light so healing can come. Think of it like this: when we focus only on the parts of our body that are healthy, while ignoring that another part of our body is inflicted with a horrific wound, we only pretend we’re whole. When we ignore what is happening to another class or another race because we’re not black or white, or poor or rich, we’re just pretending to be okay. We lose our common humanity that way. That’s how hate grows. When we lose out on repentance (corporately and individually), we lose out on the healing, too. 

The gospel of Jesus (that brown-skinned, working class Savior of the world) isn’t shy about our sins. “The heart is deceitful above all things, who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9) Our motives are never pure. We will never work for justice perfectly.

If the gospel doesn’t shy away from the horrors of the human heart, it also doesn’t just give us a band-aid and tell us everything will be okay, either — just pull yourself up by your bootstraps. “Just be better.” When we see our sin (including racism) as a problem of the heart — and not just as a slight misstep of behavior — then we have the opportunity to really be healed by a God who can actually do something. When racism is simply poor behavior then we try to educate ourselves out of it, or up our self-control or use the correct words. These are important steps, but they will never heal the ways that deep down, we think we’re better than other people. 

No, the gospel says your sin is bigger than you think: Yes, you’re racist. You think only of yourself. You love your wealth more than image of God in other people. Yes, all of these things, yes. But also, you have a God who takes our sins upon his own body, who takes them to hell and, rather than condemning those sinners (and us) who jeered and taunted him on the cross, he forgave them.

Not because he’s just a nice guy. No: because Jesus loved the image of God in all of humanity. He loved us enough to die. He loved us enough to leave the riches of heaven and take on human flesh. Jesus gave up privilege for his people. And on the third day, Jesus shows us that suffering is never the end, even that death is never the end; death itself will be swallowed up in victory.

What do we do after Charlottesville? Sure, we can ignore the atrocities. We can distance ourselves from them not seeing covert racism in our own hearts and neighborhoods. We can shout on social media and do nothing on the ground. But that is privilege. It is not gospel. The gospel is good news for individuals and for systems, societies, nations, and classes. We start by repenting, not just as individuals, but for the ways we’re complicit in systems and nations where we do not fully recognize the image of God in all people. For all the ways we strip people of dignity. For all the ways that we get to stay silent because we worship American individualism more than God. 

We must talk about race. We must talk about class. It is my privilege that means I can skirt those conversations. What do we do with privilege? We give it away. That is the way of Jesus.

I’m trying to start now. And I’m starting by listening.

I’m repenting. I’m lamenting. I’m listening. I’m learning. And I invite you to do the same. I’d love for you to share those you are listening to in the comments.

 

Christian Resources on Race (articles, podcasts, reading lists) **(add yours in the comments):

Jemar Tisby, “After Charlottesville, will White Pastors Take Racism Seriously?Washington Post

Jemar Tisby, “10 Everyday Ways Charlottesville and White Supremacy are Allowed to Still Happen,” RAAN Network

Deidra Riggs’ list of Christian Authors of Color

D. L. Mayfield, “Facing the Legacy of our Lynching”, Christianity Today

Racism Scale (This is good to see all the ways we’re inadvertently racist)

Pass the Mic Podcast on Charlottesville

Truth’s Table Podcast 

Tim Keller, “Race, The Gospel, and The Moment,” The Gospel Coalition (this is one example of many leaders who are speaking out!)

Curriculum for White Americans to Educate Themselves on Race and Racism

Syllabus for White People to Educate Themselves 

 

 

Ashley Hales

Ashley Hales

Writer and Editor at aahales.com
Ashley Hales holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. But she spends most of her time chasing around her four children and helping her husband plant a church. She writes at AAHales.com and loves to make friends on Twitter.
Ashley Hales
  • Julie Anna Johnson

    No wise words, but YES, YES, YES. and amen!

  • Mia Jackson-Huskisson

    As an African American woman I am appreciative of your insights. Conversations about racism from varied vantage points are always the elephant in the room. God has called us to be light and not darkness regardless of our race, political views or socio-economic status.