Centuries of Complicity
Listen to the podcast
Read the transcript
Ending the scourge of white supremacy is not about whites doing a good thing for blacks and people of color.
“After centuries of complicity, the norms of white supremacy have become deeply and broadly integrated into white Christian identity, operating far below the level of consciousness.”
So writes Robert P. Jones in his book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.
Shortly after that quote appears in his book, Jones has a section entitled “The Challenge of Seeing Whiteness.” He goes on to say “For most Americans who have been raised to understand themselves as white, whiteness is… more difficult to see than white supremacy.”
When I taught a course on White Privilege studies at Eden Seminary, I required the students to begin class each day answering one question: what do you see?
It was an intentional act to compel students preparing for ministry in the church to identify privilege in a church and a culture that conditions whites not to even notice its existence, much less then take note of the impact it has on people of color.
One of the greatest obstacles to overcoming privilege and realizing equity is the unconscious perpetuation of privilege that well-intentioned and well-meaning whites practice every day with no ability whatsoever to identify it.
The act of asking white students to enter a classroom and talk openly about what they see when their eyes are opened is critical to ending the scourge of white supremacy. And ending the scourge of white supremacy is not about whites doing a good thing for blacks and people of color. It is about whites agreeing to no longer be the greatest impediment to equity and justice in America; and it is about healing a wound that all people, whites included, live with every day.
The white church has practiced and participated in ‘centuries of complicity.’
If you are white and you want to participate in the dismantling of white hegemony, white power, white supremacy, and white privilege; if you are white and you want to heal the wounds that whites inflict on others and upon themselves; if you are white and you want to see what the Holy Spirit can bring to bear with a church free of centuries of complicity with white supremacy then practice this simple discipline: ask yourself every day “what do I see?”.
What do you see?
What did you see when George Floyd was choked to death on the street?
What did you see when Black Lives Matter protestors gathered at the US Capital and what did you see when white supremacists waged war on our capitol?
What did you see when you entered the restaurant and the host greeted you, stepping past a black couple to seat you?
What did you see when the car sales representative jumped out of her chair to greet you before you were even halfway across the parking lot?
What did you see when the bank employee smiled as you filled out your loan application?
What did you see when Michael Brown stepped off the broken sidewalk in Canfield Green and a white police officer stopped his car?
What did you see today that reminded you that you are white in America? If you can’t answer that question, your complicity is showing. There is not a day in America where whiteness and our collective, conspiratorial preference for it cannot be seen. Jesus once wrote “let those who have eyes to see, see.”
It is time for whites in America to see, to not turn our face away from the manifestations and impact of our privilege. This is a work of healing long overdue.
May that seeing and that healing begin today. May centuries of complicity end a new era of justice and equity now begin on this, our journey Into the Mystic.