This past weekend, I attended the White Privilege Symposium presented by the Racial Climate Taskforce at Brock University. Myself, and fellow First Mennonite attendee, Janet Moore, participated in several workshops and listened to keynote addresses that dealt with topics around race including indigenous populations, African-American populations, and more.
One particular workshop that we attended revolved around How to Address White Privilege to Skeptics. Sounds interesting, right? Our first exercise in this workshop was to delineate and list all of the multiple combinations that we can use to express and describe identity (ie. race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, etc.).
After that was completed, we were invited to observe how rights, resources, representation, and respect are then attained in Canadian society. Which races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, etc. have never had to fight for access to these four things?
Once we completed the exercise, the whiteboard at the front looked something like this:
Incredible, right? Three things struck me as we went through this exercise:
- People really need to get past the point of saying “there is no such thing as white privilege.” You literally put together a room of diverse people, and white privilege quickly becomes apparent.
- Diversity and difference creates an amazing kaleidoscope in humanity, but how do we possibly find unity as a species? How do we possibly come together when there are just so many infinite ways to divide us? Even those of us with sexual orientations other than heterosexuality are divided from one another by the increasing plethora of ways to describe sexual orientation.
- How can I possibly take seriously Paul’s words in Gal. 3: 28 that there “is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians – you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3: 28, NLT). We actually look like anything but “one!”
Perhaps the key is in Gal. 4: 8-12? Here, Paul says that before “you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws” (Gal. 4: 8-12, NLT).
Here, of course, Paul is specifically discussing how he doesn’t want the Christians of Galatia to believe that they have to observe racial/cultural rules like the practice of circumcision in order to get right with God. Paul spends a huge chunk of this letter protesting that Christians are called to be free from these “so-called gods” or these “weak and useless spiritual principles.” He suggests that when we try to get people to conform to culture as opposed to Christ, this is actually anti-Gospel.
It’s almost as if Paul says that we must embrace the freedom that faith can now take place in multiple racial/cultural diversities and yet somehow unite us; as long as we choose to reject other “gods.”
Is it possible that we have so many different ways to divide ourselves as a species and we have so many different ways to describe ourselves that they sometimes no longer reflect healthy diversity, but they are actually gods unto themselves that we worship?
For example, during our conference, Associate Professor of Sociology at Brock, Tamari Kitossa described how black people often have to perform as white in order to function and receive recognition in a predominantly white society. If I demand that someone from a different part of the world perform “whiteness” in their faith as I perform “whiteness”, am I guilty of creating a “white god” that I now make people worship as opposed to the God of the Bible that Paul refers to? I think that’s absolutely possible and that it is a sad hallmark of Christian history!
Perhaps another key then resides in Gal. 5: 6 where Paul says “there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (Gal. 5:6, NLT). Perhaps another way to read this is that there is no benefit in “whiteness;” what is important is faith expressing itself in love.
But how does love express itself in faith? In Phil. 2:7, Paul describes “kenosis” or “self-emptying” as one of the key attitudes that Christians are called to emulate. Christ makes himself “nothing.” He even takes the position of a slave.
Is the path to unity as a species a willingness to empty ourselves of privilege, recognize how we construct racial narratives, abandon the “gods” that divide us, and find our unity in the love that a Palestinian Jewish rabbi displayed 2000 years ago? Maybe so, but that’s for you to decide.