United Church of Christ

White Privilege

Recently, a white man claiming to be a missionary to Uganda was filmed hurling racial abuses and threatening physical harm to black hotel workers where he was staying. He used the most offensive language imaginable. At least 20 times in the four-minute video he attempted to strike one of the hotel staff. Not one of them raised their voice in protest or anger; nor did they attempt to strike back. They were, after all, in the hospitality business – and this was still a guest to whom they were attempting to remain hospitable as he spewed his bile.

In addition to the racial insults and physical assaults the white man hurled, he repeatedly berated them for hating Jesus. There was no context for such a statement. I inferred that he simply assumed they were not Christian based solely on the fact that they lived in Uganda.

There is so much to unpack in this episode. It was painful to watch, as a white man and as a Christian. But this is a spiritual reflection I’m doing here. It is in fact the spirit I want to observe here – and in particular whatever spiritual impulse persists that compels whites who purport to follow Jesus to spew this kind of race hate.

Let’s be clear – whatever that spiritual impulse is, it is poison. And the first person it infects isn’t the people to whom the racial calumny is directed. The person spewing it is the first one diseased by the poison.

It is a form of self-loathing borne of or fueled by massive insecurities that must find a target upon which those inadequacies can be projected. It is not, to be clear, the spirit of Jesus, or of any source of sacred or divine origin, that poisons the soul and spirit within a white human being that authors this kind of vitriol. Whatever a white person absorbs into them which calls into question their worth, their dignity, their humanity - it is that poison that issues forth from the mouth, the mind, and the body as race hate.

What we saw in the hotel lobby in Uganda last week, or on the streets of Birmingham 50 years ago, or the slave ships centuries ago – was white loathing self projected onto black bodies.

Black lives matter, and black leaders around the world continue to assemble the power of their voice and their minds and their bodies to heal the deep wounds racism has cost them.

But the simple truth is that the damage caused by white loathing of the self projected as black hatred isn’t going to end until the whites perpetrating this evil seek to end it. And they aren’t going to end it until they open their eyes to the spiritual wounding they inflict, yes on others, but first upon themselves.

Hatred of any kind that projects itself on some perceived enemy is a spiritual poison that has infected the body, the mind, and the soul. That white man is Uganda has swallowed poison. The most wounded soul in that room was his, and he doesn’t even know or see it.

If you are white and you want to end racism, heal your soul. It has been sickened by the poison of a spiritual agent active in the air we breathe. Learn to love yourself for who you are. Own your unexamined fears and feelings of inadequacy. Delve deeply into the spiritual wounds that your ancestors have dumped on you through generations of self-loathing expressed most often in hatred of the other.

Racism isn’t the only manifestation of white fear – but it is one of the most intractable and most evil. You can be an agent of change. Love your neighbor, but love yourself first. Know that you are loved by your Creator just as you are. Wrestle with the demons that cause you to doubt that, and let the peace that passes all understanding be your travel companion on this, your journey Into the Mystic.