The Death of Whiteness and the Five Stages of Grief
“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly . . . seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices, and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.” – Colossians 3:5
A year or so ago a Facebook friend asked me to relinquish my whiteness. What? Could I slip my skin, leave it by the roadside and be free of the blessings and burdens of white privilege forever?
God loves to shut down my snarky hypotheticals. Minutes after asking “How can I not be white anymore?” God answered my question with an insight: I was in denial, the first stage of grief. Here’s how my grief unfolded from there.
Denial: I can’t help it that I was born white, can I? I get that I drank the water and ate the food grown in the soil of a slave-owning country, but I’m not RACIST racist.
Anger: Those $%&! white supremacists with their torch parades and preppy haircuts! They are ruining it for everybody! What’s that, God? How am I part of the system? Why would You go there?
Bargaining: I grew up poor, God. Can’t I enjoy a couple of the fruits of middle-class white privilege before I’m done with them forever: the pristine beach filled with blindingly pale flesh, the well-funded public schools for my kids?
Depression: The blood, sweat and tears of systemic racism have poisoned every ordinary joy. I am heartbroken for what my siblings of color have suffered and continue to suffer (and, petty, I still feel sorry for myself). I am in mourning.
Acceptance I: I have new joys, of a different order, emerging. New friends. Pleasures and gifts not dependent on a permanent underclass or a racial scapegoat. Music and dance, sunshine, lighthearted hope that we can change, after all, and the gift of blessed dark comedy when hope flags.
[inevitable cycling back through the first four stages]
Acceptance II: Arriving someday, when we finally fulfill the scripture that destroys binaries, false constructions of race and every other shallow attribute, because Christ is “all in all.”
Lord, your son James Baldwin taught us that “learning to be white is an ethical choice, not a biological destiny.” Help me relinquish my whiteness, and come into the best joy you intend for me, and every one of your children. Amen.
Molly Baskette is Senior Minister of the First Church of Berkeley, California, and the author of the best-selling Real Good Church and Standing Naked Before God.