We invite you to join us in rediscovering racism & how to become more aware of its dynamics in our world.
We will be doing a 10-week class on this topic Tuesday’s @ 6:30pm & Wednesday’s @ 9:30am. Ending Septemeber 22, 2020.
This resource is designed as a yearlong process, following the seasons of the church year. In this process, participants will have the opportunity to study, learn, and dialogue as a group, to reflect individually and to take action together as a group.
Covering 18 sessions over the course of a year reinforces the concept that this work is a lifelong journey.
It also allows time to apply & test new learnings within one’s own life and within the congregation & community. Journaling & assignments help to guide participants in reflection & action.
Click the button below to download the workbook for this study or you may follow section by section in the accordion below. Links to the classes & class times are at the bottom of the page.
Session 4: Listening & Learning
During the group session, we will share our learnings and insights from conversations with people of color, readings or viewing. We will work to continue to stretch our comfort zones and to hear new voices in the remaining weeks.
Explore the many books, fiction and nonfiction, that are written by people of color. Browse the bookshelves of your local library or bookstore. Find works that appeal to you and may bring you a different perspective. Listen to the voices of James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Lalita Tademy, and many, many others. Also, read adolescent literature such as Mildred Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
The following books focus on history, sociology, and implications of race in the United States:
Anderson, Margaret L., and Patricia Hill Collins, eds. Race, Class and Gender. 4th ed. Belmont: Wadsworth Thompson Learning, 2001.
Bell, Derrick. Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism. New York: Basic Books, 1992.
Bennett Jr., Lerone. Before The Mayflower. New York: Penguin Books. Fifth revised edition, 1984.
Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971.
Castuera, Ignacio, ed. Dreams on Fire, Embers of Hope. St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 1992.
Coleman, Jonathan. Long Way to Go: Black & White in America. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1997.
DuBois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.
Giddings, Paula. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. New York: Bantam Books, 1984.
Hacker, Andrew. Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal. New York: Ballantine Books, 1995.
hooks, bell. Sisters of the Yam. Boston, MA: South End Press, 1993.
Isasi-Diaz, Ada Maria and Yolanda Tarango. Hispanic Women: Prophetic Voice in the Church. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
Moraga, Cherrie and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds. This Bridge Called My Back. New York: Kitchen Table Press/ Women of Color. Second edition, 1984.
Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks. New York: Washington Square Press, 1959.
Sondoval, Moisés. On the Move, A History of the Hispanic Church in the USA. Orbis Books, 1990.
Takaki, Ronald. A Different Mirror. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1994.
Takaki, Ronald. Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. Boston: Little Brown and Co., 1989.
Weatherford, Jack. Indian Givers: How the Indians of the Americas Transformed the World. New York: Ballantine Books, 1988.
West, Cornel. Race Matters. New York: Vintage Books, 1994.
Wyer, Thomas. Hispanic USA, Breaking the Melting Pot. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.
Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Antwone Fisher (2002), directed by Denzel Washington.
Bamboozled (2002) and Get On the Bus (1996), directed by Spike Lee.
La Familia Pérez (1995), directed by Mira Nair.
Once Upon a Time. . .When We Were Colored (1996), directed by Tim Reid. Selena (1997), directed by Gregory Nava.
Soul Food (1997), directed by George Tillman Jr.
Session 5: Searching for what is Lost
In this session we will explore the loss for White people living in a racist society. We will engage in the sto- ries of the lost sheep and the lost coin from Luke 15 and will explore the meaning of the texts through the lens of racism. We will examine the concept of individualism as a White cultural value and will explore the resulting loss of human community.
Reading from The Hidden Wound by Wendell Berry
“. . . I have been unwilling until now to open in myself what I have known all along to be a wound—a his- torical wound, prepared centuries ago to come alive in me at my birth like a hereditary disease, and to be augmented and deepened by my life. If I had thought it was only the black people who have suffered from the years of slavery and racism, then I could have dealt fully with the matter long ago: I could have filled myself with pity for them, and would no doubt have enjoyed it a great deal and thought highly of myself. But I am sure it is not so simple as that. If white people have suffered less obviously from racism than black people, they have nevertheless suffered greatly; the cost has been greater perhaps than we can yet know. If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself. As the master, or as a member of the dominant race, he has felt little compulsion to acknowledge it or speak of it; the more painful it has grown the more deeply he has hidden it within himself. But the wound is there, and it is a profound disorder, as great a damage in his mind as it is in his society.
This wound is in me, as complex and deep in my flesh as blood and nerves. I have borne it all my life, with varying degrees of consciousness, but always carefully, always with the most delicate consideration for the pain I would feel if I were somehow forced to acknowledge it. But now I am increasingly aware of the opposite compulsion. I want to know, as fully and exactly as I can, what the wound is and how much I am suffering from it. And I want to be cured; I want to be free of the wound myself, and I do not want to pass it on to my children.
Excerpt from The Hidden Wound, by Wendell Berry. Copyright © 1989 by Wendell Berry. Reprinted by per- mission of North Point Press, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. LLC.
Discussion on Luke 15:1-10 Parables of the Lost Sheep and Lost Coin
• How did you experience and feel the sense of loss in these parables?
- With whom or what have you normally identified in this text? Did you identify any differently in this reading today?
- Who do you see as being lost from the larger community and at what consequence to the community?
- What would it mean to you if White people are the ones who are lost?
- The “Freed in Christ: Race, Ethnicity, and Culture” Social Statement identifies effects— and losses—on White people because of racism. What have you lost because of racism?
- In the parables, and in life, what does it take for discovery and restoration to occur?
Discussion on Whiteness Exercise
- What was it like to be asked the question, “When are you White?” Was it easy or difficult to respond? What feelings did you have?
- What did you notice or learn?
Reflection on Being White
Most of us have spent little time thinking of ourselves as being White. As Robert Terry has said, “Being White in America is never having to think about it.” For the most part, we grow up in the United States surrounded by images of Whiteness, reading about history from a White perspective, reading White authors, dealing with White people as the people in authority, and functioning with cultural norms that are based in western, European heritage. Our life is seen as normal and we generally do not wake up everyday looking at the col- or of our skin and having to prepare ourselves for how we will be treated because of our skin color. Peggy McIntosh speaks of our ability to be oblivious to our skin color—and all of the other advantages we receive as White privilege. She talks about an invisible knapsack that we walk around with constantly. We did not ask for and we may not want it, but we have it. It is unearned and is simply given to us at birth. We may have other factors that work against us by virtue of gender, economic class, age, physical ability, or sexual orientation, but in our daily lives, the institutional systems that govern our lives are led by White people and are set up with White people in mind.
We tend, as White people, to see ourselves as individuals, rather than as members of a group. We de- P31 scribe ourselves as members of the human race, rather than as members of the White race. We see others
as racial beings, and describe them as such, but we do not see ourselves or describe ourselves as White
racial beings. We tend to group people of American Indian and Alaskan Native, African, Asian, Latin and Arab/Middle Eastern heritages as “multicultural,” but do not include ourselves as White people as one equal part of that multicultural mix. Our temptation is to define others and assign group characteristics, but to see and define ourselves as individuals.
Discussion on White Racial Identity
Reflect again on the question, “When are you White?”
How important was identification of yourself as a part of a race of people in your growing up?
Is race a usual part of your self-identification and introduction to others? Why or why not?
Share your feelings about being identified as a part of “White people.”
As you write in your journal this week, reflect on what it means to be part of a White group and the loss you experience because of being White.
Read and reflect on the article “White Spaces” by Tobin Miller Shearer before the next session.
By Tobin Miller Shearer
“If we would build a beloved community across racial lines, we must confront the ways that racism shapes and wounds not only persons of color, but also those who are white.”
For most of my adult life, I have been involved in work to overcome racism. For me as a white male, this has meant confronting not only the effects of racism on people of color, but also the ways racism and white privilege have shaped my own life and spirituality.
As I consider racism’s effect on my life, I often think of the unnamed scribe in Mark’s Gospel who asks Jesus which commandment is the greatest.
Jesus surprises the scribe with a twofold response:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. After the scribe affirms Jesus by adding that love of God and neighbor is “much more important than all whole burnt offer- ings and sacrifices,” Jesus tells him: “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (12:28-34).
These words of Jesus ring in my ears, for I think that this scribe’s situation parallels the identity of white people who struggle with racism today. Like the scribes of Jesus’ time, we are the beneficia- ries, the privileged ones in a stratified society that oppresses the poor and defines many as unclean. We are the ones who get “greeted with respect in the marketplace” and have “the best seats in syn- agogues and places of honor at banquets.” By the virtue of our skin color, we end up profiting at the expense of the poor and oppressed.
It is difficult to honestly acknowledge the power and privilege we receive because of our whiteness. Once we do, we may wonder if that is not enough: “Are we really that far from the kingdom?” we ask. “Is something keeping us from entering in?”
We would do well to listen to Jesus’ words to
the scribe. Even though this exchange is mostly positive —in fact it’s the only place in Mark’s Gospel where Jesus’ interactions with a scribe are not en- tirely negative—Jesus still does not invite the scribe into the kingdom. He is near, but he is not yet in.
Jesus knows what holds us back from the kingdom. He invites us to enter in.
To be healthy, all of us need to know who
we are. For white people, part of that knowledge comes from recognizing how our whiteness hurts us, how it holds us back. In considering how we might enter the kingdom, I believe there are four “white spaces” we must confront.
The first of these spaces is isolation. Most white people have a difficult time understanding themselves as part of a group. Our first—almost instinctual—response is to think of ourselves as individuals. While this heightened sense of individ- ualism is true of all members of Western society,
I believe this impulse tends to be amplified and warped among white people. Many of us have lost any sense of our group identity as white persons.
As I consider the way this dynamic shapes my own life, I see that I sometimes isolate myself from other whites by conveying the impression that I am a well-read, irreproachable antiracist expert. I rational- ize that the amount of energy I’ve devoted to anti- racism efforts has earned me the right to no longer acknowledge the effects and reality of racism in my life. I function as if my efforts have somehow sepa- rated me from any collective white identity.
Having recognized this tendency, I’ve begun to try to identify more with the resistance I sometimes experience from other whites in discussions of racism. When I say, “Racism makes all white people into racists,” I try to put myself in the place of some- one who might be hearing those words for the first time. I remember the resistance I felt when I first heard those words.
It is the same resistance I feel when a col- league of color challenges me about something
I have said. It is the same resistance I feel when I realize that I respond differently to the young Lati- no man who walks past me than I did to the young white man who passed me on the same sidewalk a block earlier.
Long-time antiracism organizer and author Dody Matthias once reminded me, “We have to remember the pain and discomfort we all go through as white people when we first become aware of racism’s effects on us. It is like remembering the pain of coming out of the birth canal to look around at a new world.”
When I am able to connect with how difficult it is for all of us who are white to name our racism, how difficult it is for each of us to come through that birth canal, I am better able to respond to the resistance
I might encounter in a workshop or conversation. I
am better able to talk without shame about working against racism in my majority white congregation. And I am ready to stop protecting white people—including myself—from the pain of facing our complicity in this racist system.
In the space of isolation, the task for us is connecting. We who are white are not autonomous individuals. We must learn to understand together that we are a group of people who have all been shaped into being white.
A second white space is control. For many of us, this may be the most difficult space to visit. We do not want to acknowledge how accustomed we are to being in control. Even when dealing with rac- ism, we want to define the problem and then find the solution, the correct response, to this social evil. We are reluctant to acknowledge the spiritual effects of racism on our lives and our inability to free ourselves completely from its influence.
In institutional settings, the desire for control sometimes takes the form of maintaining and pro- moting programs that benefit white people at the expense of people of color. Many of the short-term service ventures prevalent in church mission agen- cies are a prime example of the unspoken desire of white-led institutions to remain in control.
Typically, such programs take privileged and resourced people (most of them white) into impov-
erished settings for short-term service. In the Septem- ber 1995 issue of A Common Place, James Logan spoke of his experience as a young African Amer- ican recipient of such short-term service: “I call them ‘get-to-know-the-ghetto tours.’” Logan points out that such projects contribute to the communi- ty’s destabilization, rather than increasing its health. “Short-term service is, I think, very much like crack cocaine and alcoholism; it gives a false sense of security. But it does not build a coherent, intergener- ational community that empowers its members.”
Even in the face of such concerns, short-term service endeavors remain popular. While the effects of such projects are admittedly complex and amorphous, the vast amounts of funding and
participation that allow such programs to continue with such vigor seem to indicate that something else is going on. The fact that such service continues to be so prevalent, when that service may in fact be harmful, speaks powerfully of the need for the sponsoring institutions to set the agenda, rather than taking their lead from those in the communities that they seek to serve.
The principal task I’ve identified in this white space of control is that of letting go. One concrete expression of this is an emphasis on accountability to communities of color. Such accountability can put us in a place of not being able to rely on white privilege.
In our work as an antiracism training team, my colleagues and I try to ensure that people of color get veto power. For example, if one of our work- shops includes an uncooperative participant, and we cannot agree whether to confront this person directly or let the behavior go for the time being, we give the people of color the final say. In dis- agreements over training in potentially volatile set- tings, again the final word goes to people of color.
I resist strongly being put in situations where I cannot depend on my white control and privilege. Yet I know how powerfully God can act when I allow myself to be grounded in the space of letting go.
Racism also situates whites in a place of loss. Yet we who are white seldom recognize what we have lost because of racism, nor are we given permission to grieve this loss.
In the process of becoming white, European Americans lost much of their culture and history. We disowned an intimate understanding of where we came from and how we came to be. We lost our own stories. Just as the people of the Hebrew Scriptures had to remind themselves again and again how they came to be the children of Israel, so do we as white people need to recover our own stories of foundation.
As we begin to confront our own racism, we may be tempted to keep our exploration of these issues on an intellectual level. Confronting issues of race on an emotional and spiritual level can be painful. But if we are open to grieving, we may be able to hear what we have previously ignored.
Author Lillian Roybal Rose has pointed out the need for whites to move beyond a purely intel- lectual struggling with racism. Yet she recognizes how difficult it will be for most of us: “The move- ment to a global, ethnic point of view requires tremendous grieving. I encourage white people not to shrink from the emotional content of this process. . . . When the process is emotional as well as cognitive, the state of being an ally becomes a matter of reclaiming one’s own humanity.”
I suspect that beneath much of our hesitancy to grieve is an emotional response that begs to be expressed—perhaps at first in anger or denial, possibly even in weeping. All these are expressions of grieving the loss of critical, life-giving parts of our humanity. Such grieving takes great courage and commitment. And the importance of a caring and nurturing community to surround us as we grieve cannot be overstated.
I once witnessed a video of a worldwide gathering of Christian indigenous people. It was filled with imag- es of worship, but it was worship unlike any I had ever experienced. Group after group sang, danced, walked, chanted, and moved in their indigenous dress, language, and style of worship. I saw Mao-
ri, Choctaw, Filipino, Finn, and Zulu worship styles explode with Christ-centered jubilation.
In one scene a middle-aged Indonesian man danced slowly across the screen with a power and grace I have rarely witnessed. As I watched him act out a battle with Satan, his face filled with dignity and strength, I began to cry.
I cried for joy that this fully human, profoundly fleshy experience of worship was still with us. But I also cried out of grief that somewhere in the history of becoming white my own indigenous roots and identity had been left behind. I cried that my mother had been taught that dancing was profound sin. I cried that in my own church congregation we seem to barely register that we even have bodies. And I cried because I knew that as we have called ourselves white and declared ourselves superior, we have also become poorer.
If we are willing to be honest with our grief, to confront what we have lost, we can move forward into reclaiming who we are. We can begin to con- front our own personal journeys in “becoming white,” as well as our family and collective histories. When these tasks of reclamation are undertaken with full knowledge of how the dominant society tries con- stantly to shape white people into racists, the journey of reclamation can be joyful and life-giving. It can also become a profound act of resistance to racism.
Finally, one of the most curious spaces that rac- ism creates for white people is a space of loathing: both a self-loathing and an active distaste for and mistrust of other white people. I have known some ardently antiracist whites who seem unable to sit down and simply enjoy the company of other white people. It does us no good if, in the midst of working to dismantle racism, we end up hating one another.
Sometimes white people who work to end racism try to express their deep commitment to this cause by lashing out at other white people—or even at themselves. Such attacks are not healthy for us, nor do they help to confront racism. This final white space of loathing must be countered with the difficult task of learning to love ourselves and others.
I was confronted with the difficulty of this at a family reunion one summer. Two of my relatives presented a skit that was introduced as an encoun- ter between a pastor and a “colored” man. The skit proceeded to show a racist stereotype of a con- fused, illiterate “colored man,” complete with Southern drawl.
After getting over our initial shock, my wife Cheryl and I left the room. Amid tears and em- barrassment, we talked about how we should respond. We decided that we had to return and say something. Although it was a moment of utter dread and sheer terror, we both felt we could not live with integrity if we did not speak up.
So we went back into that gathering of about one hundred relatives, and spoke about the pain the skit had caused us. I told them how much I want to be proud of my family and described how disappointed and hurt I’d been by our collective silence in the face of the skit. I spoke about how saddened I was by the messages this skit might have taught my young sons. Yet I felt glad that my sons were there to see at least one small way in which we were trying to love each other in spite of this racism.
After we spoke, all I wanted to do was leave. Yet several relatives came up and told me how much they appreciated what Cheryl and I had done. Their presence and support gave me the courage to stay in the room and to continue to be with folks whom I didn’t even want to see in those moments.
It may seem strange to conclude a systemic analysis of the effects of racism on whites by fo- cusing on the interpersonal principle of loving one
another. Yet the systemic and the personal are not, in fact, contradictory.
The work of dismantling systemic racism and building new institutions that are not based on white power and privilege needs to be infused with a deep love for and among all of us who are work- ing together. Antiracism work can quickly become warped if it involves white people who fundamen- tally do not love themselves.
Underlying each of these white spaces — iso- lation, control, loss, and loathing — is the pattern of internalized superiority that racism has taught all white persons. We have believed that we have the answers. It can shake our very foundations to discover that these lessons of superiority and our ensuing dependence on privilege may inhibit our complete and unlimited entrance to the kingdom.
I believe that our inability to confront and pass through these four white spaces may keep us from completely entering the kingdom. It is my hope that a deeper focus on connection, grounding, reclaim- ing, and loving might help remove those barriers to living out God’s reign that are particular struggles for white people.
Jesus words to the unnamed scribe serve as both a caution and an invitation. “You are not there yet,” he seems to say to us, “but keep working together, so that one day you might all enter the kingdom rejoicing.”
Reprinted by permission from The Other Side Online, © 2002 The Other Side, March-April 2002, Vol. 38, No. 2.
Session 6:Entering the Story of the United States
Reading from Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States
When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory in- habited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a “vacuum.” The Indians, he said, had not “subdued” the land, and therefore had only a “natural” right to it, but not a “civil right.” A “natural right” did not have legal standing.
The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalm 2:8: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” And to justify their use of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (pp. 13-14).
From A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn, © 1995, 1999, 2003 Howard Zinn. Published by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of the author.
Shaping the United States Timeline
Divide into four small groups:
1. 1607-1787 2. 1788-1864 3. 1865-1920 4. 1921-Present
Review the preliminary list of dates.
Brainstorm additional dates and events in your section of time.
Read the sections from A People’s History of the United States that apply to your section of years.
Discuss the relationships of people of American Indian/Alaskan Native, European, African, Asian, Latino, and Arab/Middle Eastern heritages during this period of time.
Choose one event on the timeline and talk about that event using three questions that are
helpful in reading an historical account: 1) Who is telling the story? 2) Who is actor and who is acted upon? 3) How is the story different from other stories about the same event, especially those stories told by people who “lost”?
Put your dates and events on the timeline or draw a symbol or symbols on the timeline that depict this period of time.
Discussion on Timeline
What have you lost in the traditional telling of United States history?
Where is your own story lost in this telling of United States history?
What has been the benefit of being White in the United States?
How does the telling of the story shape and influence your understanding of the world and your place in it?
In your journal this week, reflect on the experience of building the timeline. Record your thoughts and feel- ings as you reflect on the meaning and impact of the timeline in your own life.
Read the article “Understanding White Privilege” by Frances E. Kendall before the next session. As you read, record your thoughts, feelings, reactions, and questions. What makes you uncomfortable? On what points would you challenge the author? In what ways does the author challenge you to see things different- ly? Note the parts of the article you want to talk about at the next session.
United States Timeline
Note: The information provided below is general knowledge to the public and may be accessed through history books, census data, or the internet.
1492 – Columbus’ arrival
Ten million people in North America. The number would ultimately be reduced to less than a million. When Columbus landed, 250,000 people were living in Haiti. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half were dead. By the year 1515, 50,000 Indians were left. By 1550, there were only 500. In 1650, a report shows none of the original Arawaks or their descendants were left on the island. (Zinn, pp. 4-5)
1607 – Colony of Jamestown, Virginia, founded
1610 – Santa Fe, New Mexico, founded (in Mexico)
1619 – Twenty Africans arrive in Jamestown and are sold
1664 – New York and New Jersey recognize legality of slavery
1688 – Quakers sign first official written protest against slavery in North America
1718 – San Antonio, Texas, founded (in Mexico)
1721 – South Carolina limits the vote to free White Christian men
1752 – Future President George Washington acquires Mount Vernon estate and its 18 slaves. Eventually he owns 200 slaves
1763 – 170,000 slaves in Virginia—about half the population
1787 – U.S. Constitution Adopted—by whom and for whom? For purposes of representation,
Indians were not counted, and slaves were counted as 3/5 of a person
1790 – U.S. Census lists number of slaves (17.8 percent of population), number of English, Scotch, Irish, Dutch, French, German, Hebrew and other; number of slave holding and non-slave- holding families; American Indian people are not listed
1793 – Eli Whitney invents the cotton gin
1793-1818 – U.S. Capitol built by slave labor—Rotunda paintings of whom?
1800 – U.S. Census lists people as 1) Free Whites, 2) All Other Free Persons except Indians, and 3) Slaves
1803 – Louisiana Purchase: U.S. buys vast lands west of Mississippi from Napoleon
1804-1806 – Lewis and Clark expedition, U.S.
1830 – Indian Removal Act passes Congress, calling for relocation of eastern Indians to an Indian territory west of the Mississippi River. The Cherokee “Trail of Tears” takes place in 1838-39
1835 – Texas declares independence from Mexico
1853-56 – United States acquires 174 million acres of Indian lands through 52 treaties, all of which are subsequently broken by Whites
1846 1854 1861 1862 1866 1869
1876 & 1890 1887
1896 1904 1915 1924 1942 1945 1954
1955 1964 1992
U.S. declares war on Mexico
People v. Hall rules that Chinese cannot give testimony in court against Whites
Civil War begins
Homestead Act opens up Indian land in Kansas and Nebraska to White homesteaders
KKK begins Campaign of Terror
Completion of first transcontinental railroad —4,000 workers, 2/3 of whom were Chinese had built the transcontinental railroad over the Sierras and into the interior plains
Chinese Exclusion Law — Preamble. Whereas, in the opinion of the Government of the United States the coming of Chinese laborers to this country endangers the good order of certain localities within the territory thereof: . . . the coming of Chinese laborers
be suspended . . .
Sioux Indian Wars with the 7th Calvary
Congress passes the General Allotment Act (the Dawes Act) in which reservation lands are given to individual Indians in parcels. Indians lose millions of acres of land.
U.S. Supreme Court rules “separate but equal” facilities are constitutional Chinese exclusion made indefinite and applicable to U.S. insular possessions D.W. Griffith produces film “Birth of a Nation”
Immigration Act denies entry to virtually all Asians
Internment of Japanese Americans
Atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, ushering in nuclear age
Brown v. Board of Education: U.S. Supreme Court rules that segregation in public schools is unconstitutional
Murder in Mississippi of Emmitt Till
The Civil Rights Act passed by Congress
Los Angeles police accused of beating African-American motorist Rodney King found not guilty
Dragging death of James Byrd in Jasper, Texas
Patriot Act passes in response to World Trade Center destruction
Readings on the history of the United States By Howard Zinn
When the Pilgrims came to New England they too were coming not to vacant land but to territory inhabited by tribes of Indians. The governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, John Winthrop, created the excuse to take Indian land by declaring the area legally a “vacuum.” The Indians, he said, had not “subdued” the land, and therefore had only a “natural” right to it, but not a “civil right.” A “natural right” did not have legal standing.
The Puritans also appealed to the Bible, Psalms 2:8: “Ask of me, and I shall give thee, the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.” And to justify their use
of force to take the land, they cited Romans 13:2: “Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation.” (Zinn, pp. 13-14)
By 1800, 10 to 15 million blacks had been transport- ed as slaves to the Americas, representing per- haps one-third of those originally seized in Africa. It
is roughly estimated that Africa lost 50 million human beings to death and slavery in those centuries we call the beginnings of modern Western civilization, at the hands of slave traders and plantation own- ers in Western Europe and America, the countries deemed the most advanced in the world.
In the year 1610, a Catholic priest in the Ameri- cas named Father Sandoval wrote back to a church functionary in Europe to ask if the capture, trans- port, and enslavement of African blacks was legal by church doctrine. A letter dated March 12, 1610, from Brother Luis Brandaon to Father Sandoval gives the answer: Your Reverence writes me that you would like to know whether the Negroes who are sent to your parts have been legally captured. To this I reply that I think your Reverence should have no scruples on this point, because this is a matter which has been questioned by the Board of Conscience in Lisbon, and all its members are learned and conscientious men. Nor did the bishops who were in Sao Thome, Cape Verde, and here in Loando—all learned and virtuous men—find fault with it. We have been here ourselves for forty years and there have been among us very learned Fathers . . . never did they consider the trade as illicit. Therefore we and the Fathers of Brazil buy these slaves for our service without any scruple. . . . (Zinn, p. 29)
Slavery grew as the plantation system grew. The reason is easily traceable to something other than natural racial repugnance: the number of arriving whites, whether free or indentured servants (under four to seven years contract), was not enough to meet the need of the plantations. By 1700, in Virginia, there were 6,000 slaves, one-twelfth of the population. By 1763, there were 170,000 slaves, about half of the population. (Zinn, p. 32)
In the Carolinas, however, whites were outnum- bered by black slaves and nearby Indian tribes; in the 1750s, 25,000 whites faced 40,000 black slaves, with 60,000 Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Indians in the area. Gary Nash writes: “Indian uprisings that punctuated the colo- nial period and a succession of slave uprisings and insurrectionary plots that were nipped in the bud kept South Carolinians sickeningly aware that only through the greatest vigilance and through policies designed to keep their enemies divided could they hope to remain in control of the situation.”
The white rulers of the Carolinas seemed to be conscious of the need for a policy, as one of them put it, “to make Indians & Negros a checque upon each other lest by their Vastly Superior Numbers we should be crushed by one or the other.” And so laws were passed prohibiting free blacks from traveling in Indian country. Treaties with Indian tribes contained clauses requiring the return of fu- gitive slaves. Governor Lyttletown of South Carolina wrote in 1738: “It has always been the policy of this government to create an aversion in them [Indians] to Negroes.” (Zinn, pp. 54-55)
In the 1720s, with fear of slave rebellion growing, white servants were allowed in Virginia to join the militia as substitutes for white freemen. At the same time, slave patrols were established in Virginia to deal with the “great dangers that may . . . happen by the insurrections of negroes. . . .” Poor white men would make up the rank and file of these patrols, and get the monetary reward.
Racism was becoming more and more prac- tical. Edmund Morgan, on the basis of his careful study of slavery in Virginia, sees racism not as “nat- ural” to black-white difference, but something coming out of class scorn, a realistic device for control. “If freemen with disappointed hopes should make common cause with slaves of desperate hope, the results might be worse than anything Bacon had done. The answer to the problem, obvious if unspo- ken and only gradually recognized, was racism, to separate dangerous free whites from dangerous black slaves by a screen of racial contempt.”
There was still another control which became handy as the colonies grew, and which had crucial consequences for the continue rule of the elite throughout American history. Along with the very rich and very poor, there developed a white middle class of small planters, independent farmers, city artisans, who, given small rewards for joining forces with merchants and planters, would be a solid buf- fer against black slaves, frontier Indians, and very poor whites. (Zinn, pp. 56-57)
Some Cherokees had apparently given up on nonviolence: three chiefs who signed the Removal Treaty were found dead. But the seventeen thousand Cherokees were soon round- ed up and crowded into stockades. On October 1, 1838, the first detachment set out in what was to be known as the Trail of Tears. As they moved west- ward, they began to die of sickness, of drought, of the heat, of exposure. There were 645 wagons, and people marching alongside. Survivors, years later, told of halting at the edge of the Mississippi in the middle of winter, the river running full of ice, “hundreds of sick and dying penned up in wagons or stretched upon the ground.” Grant Foreman, the leading authority on Indian removal, estimates that during confinement in the stockade or on the march west- ward four thousand Cherokees died.
In December 1838, President Van Buren spoke to Congress:
“It affords sincere pleasure to apprise the Congress of the entire removal of the Cherokee Nation of Indians to their new homes west of the Mississippi. The measures authorized by Congress at its last session have had the happiest effects.” (Zinn, p. 146)
After agitation, and aid from the United States, Texas broke off from Mexico in 1836 and declared itself the “Lone Star Republic.” In 1845, the U.S. Congress brought it into the Union as a state.
In the White House now was James Polk, a Democrat, an expansionist, who, on the night of his inauguration, confided to his Secretary of the Navy that one of his main objectives was the acquisition of California. . . .
The Washington Union, a newspaper ex- pressing the position of President Polk and the Democratic party, had spoken early in 1845 on the meaning of Texas annexation:
“Let the great measure of annexation be ac- complished, and with it the questions of boundary and claims. For who can arrest the torrent that will pour onward to the West? The road to California will be open to us. Who will stay the march of our western people?”
They could have meant a peaceful march west- ward, except for other words, in the same newspaper: “A corps of properly organized volunteers . . . would invade, overrun, and occupy Mexico. They would enable us not only to take California, but to keep it.” It was shortly after that, in the summer of 1845, that John O’Sullivan, editor of the Democrat- ic Review, used the phrase that became famous, saying it was “Our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” Yes, manifest destiny. . . .
Accompanying all this aggressiveness was the idea that the United States would be giving the blessings of liberty and democracy to more people. This was intermingled with ideas of racial superior- ity, longings for the beautiful lands of New Mexico and California, and thoughts of commercial enter- prise across the Pacific.
The American Review talked of Mexicans yield- ing to “a superior population, insensibly oozing into her territories, changing her customs, and out-liv- ing, out-trading, exterminating her weaker blood.
. . .” The New York Herald was saying, by 1847:
“The universal Yankee nation can regenerate and disenthrall the people of Mexico in a few years; and we believe it is a part of our destiny to civilize that beautiful country.”
A letter appeared in the New York Journal of Commerce introducing God into the situation: “The supreme Ruler of the universe seems to interpose, and aid the energy of man towards benefiting mankind. His interposition . . . seems to me to be identified with the success of our arms. . . . That the redemption of 7,000,000 of souls from all the vices that infest the human race, is the ostensible object . . . appears manifest.”
The Congressional Globe of February 11, 1847, reported:
“Mr. Giles, of Maryland — I take it for granted, that we shall gain territory, and must gain territory, before we shut the gates of the temple of Janus.
. . . We must march from ocean to ocean. . . . We must march from Texas straight to the Pacific ocean, and be bounded only by its roaring wave. . . . It is the destiny of the white race, it is the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race. . . .” (Zinn, pp. 147-149, 152-153)
From A People’s History of the United States: 1492-Present, by Howard Zinn, © 1995, 1999, 2003 Howard Zinn. Publish-ed by HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Used by permission of the author.
Understanding White Privilege By Francis E. Kendall
We need to be clear that there is no such thing as giving up one’s privilege to be “outside” the system. One is always in the system. The only question is whether one is part of the system in a way that challeng- es or strengthens the status quo. Privilege is not something I take and which I therefore have the option of not taking. It is something that society gives me, and unless I change the institutions which give it to me, they will continue to give it, and I will continue to have it, however noble and egalitarian my intentions.
Harry Brod, “Work Clothes and Leisure Suits: The Class Basis and Bias of the Men’s Movement,” in Men’s Lives, ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael Messner (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 280.
What Is White Privilege?
Privilege, particularly white or male privilege, is hard to see for those of us who were born with access to power and resources. It is very visible for those to whom privilege was not granted. Furthermore, the subject is extremely difficult to talk about because many white people don’t feel powerful or as if they have privileges that others do not. It is sort of like asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air. For those who have privileges based on race or gender or class or physical ability or sexual orientation or age, it just is — it’s normal. The Random House Dic- tionary (1993) defines privilege as “a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.” In her article, “White Privilege and Male Privilege,” Peggy McIntosh (1995) reminds us that those of us who are white usually believe that privileges are “conditions of daily experience… [that are] universally available to everybody.” Further, she says that what we are really talking about is “un- earned power conferred systematically” (pp. 82-83).
For those of us who are white, one of our priv- ileges is that we see ourselves as individuals, “just people,” part of the human race. Most of us are clear, however, that people whose skin is not white are members of a race. The surprising thing for us is that, even though we don’t see ourselves as part of a racial group, people of color generally do see us that way.
So, given that we want to work to create a better world in which all of us can live, what can we do? The first step, of course, is to become clear about the basics of white privilege, what it is and how it works. The second step is to explore ways in which we can work against the racism of which white privilege is a cornerstone.
White privilege is an institutional (rather than personal) set of benefits granted to those of us who, by race, resemble the people who dominate the powerful positions in our institutions. One of the primary privileges is that of having greater access to power and resources than people of color do; in other words, purely on the basis of our skin color doors are open to us that are not open to other people. For example, given the exact same financial history, white people in the United States are two to ten times more likely to get a housing loan than people of color — access to resources. Those of us who are white can count on the fact that the na- tion’s history books will reflect our experience of history. American Indian parents, on the other hand, know that their children will not learn in school about the contributions of their people.
All of us who are white, by race, have white privileges, although the extent to which we have them varies depending on our gender, sexual ori- entation, socioeconomic status, age, physical ability, size and weight, and so on. For example, looking at race and gender, we find that white men have greater access to power and resources than white women do. The statistics from the 1995 Glass Ceil- ing Commission show that while white men consti- tute about 43% of the work force, they hold 95% of senior management positions in American industry. Looking purely at white privilege, white women hold about 40% of the middle management positions, while Black women hold 5% and Black men hold 4%. Unless we believe that white women or African American men and women are inherently less capable, we have to acknowledge that our systems are treating us unequally.
White privilege has nothing to do with whether or not we are “good” people. We who are white can be absolute jerks and still have white privileges; people of color can be the most wonderful individuals in the world and not have them. Privileges are bestowed on us by the institutions with which we interact solely because of our race, not because we are deserving as individuals.
While each of us is always a member of a race or races, we are sometimes granted opportunities because we, as individuals, deserve them; often we are granted them because we, as individuals, belong to one or more of the more favored groups in our society. At some colleges and universities,
for example, sons and daughters of alumnae and alumni might have lower grades and test scores than other applicants; they are accepted, however, because their parents graduated from the institution. That is a privilege that the sons and daughters
did nothing to earn; they were put ahead of other possible applicants who may well have had higher test scores and grades because of where their parents had gone to school.
The Purposeful Construction of White Privilege:
Often it is not our intent, as individual white people, to make use of the unearned benefits we have received on the basis of our skin color. Most of us go through our days unaware that we are white or that it matters. On the other hand, the creation of a system in which race plays a central part — one that codifies the superiority of the white race over all others — has been in no way accidental or hap- hazard. Throughout American history white pow- er-holders, acting on behalf of our entire race, have made decisions that have affected white people as a group very differently than groups of people of color. History is filled with examples of the purpose- ful construction of a systemic structure that grants privileges to white people and withholds them from others.
• The writing of the U.S. constitution which, in ten articles, very intentionally confirmed the holding of Black people as slaves, as property.
• White people’s believing that our desti- ny was to “own” the land on which we all currently live, even though that required forcibly removing the native people who had lived here for centuries.
• Our breaking apart of Black families during slavery, sending mothers one place, fa- thers another, and babies and children yet another.
• Choosing to withhold from African Ameri- cans the ability to read so that they could not reproduce any of their culture or func- tion well enough in our literate society to change their status.
• The removing of American Indian children from their homes, taking them as far as pos- sible from anything they knew, and punish- ing them if they tried to speak in their own languages.
• The passing of laws that were created to maintain the legal separation and inequality of whites and African Americans (Plessy v. Ferguson).
• The making of “politically expedient” deci- sions by many (if not most) white suffragists to align themselves with white Southern men, reassuring them that by giving the vote to women (read “white women” since at that time about 90% of the Black women lived in the South and were not, by law, able to hold property and thus to vote) the con- tinuation of white supremacy was insured.
• The manipulating of immigration laws so that peop1e of color, particularly Chinese and Mexican as well as European Jews, were less free to immigrate to the U.S. than Western and Eastern Europeans.
• The removing of American citizens of Japanese ancestry from their homes and taking their land and their businesses as our own during World War II.
• The using of affirmative action to promote opportunities for white women rather than for people of color.
It is important to know and remember this
side of American history, even though it makes us extremely uncomfortable. For me, the confusion and pain of this knowledge is somewhat eased by reminding myself that this system is not based on each individual white person’s intention to harm but on our racial group’s determination to preserve what we believe is rightly ours. This distinction is, on one hand, important, and, on the other hand, not important at all because, regardless of our personal intent, the impact is the same.
Here are a couple of examples.
For many years, it was illegal in Texas for Spanish-speak- ing children to speak Spanish at school. This meant that every individual teacher and principal was required by law to send any child home for speaking her or his own language whether the teachers and/or principals believed in the law or not. Based on the belief that people who live in the United States should speak English, mixed with racial bigotry against Mexicans, the law was passed by a group of individual white legislators who had the institutional power to codify their and their constituents’ viewpoints. Once a particular perspective is built into the law, it becomes part of “the way things are.” Rather than actively refusing to comply with the law, as individuals we usually go along, particularly if we think the law doesn’t affect us personally. We participate, intentionally or not, in the purposeful construction of a system that deflates the value of one people’s culture while inflating the value of another’s. More recently, this same kind of thing occurred in a county in Georgia that was experiencing a large influx of Mexican im- migrants. By saying that firefighters might not speak Spanish and would therefore not be able to find the grocery store that was on fire if the sign outside said “Tienda de Comida,” the county officials made it illegal to have store names in languages other than English. However, the bakery, Au Bon Pain, was not asked to change its sign. Presumably, the firefighters speak French better than they speak Spanish.
As we see from these two examples, the pat- terns set in history are continued today. Not only in the on-going pervasive and systematic discrim- ination against people of color in housing, health care, education, and the judicial systems, but also in the less obvious ways in which people of color are excluded from many white people’s day-to-day consciousness. Think, for example, of how regular- ly you see a positive story about an American Indi- an or a Latina/o on the front page of the newspa- per you read. How long would it take you to name ten white heroes? Could you name ten women of color, other than people in sports and music, who have made major contributions to our society? The freedom not to notice our lack of knowledge about people of color is another privilege that is afforded only to white people. All of us, including students of color, study the history of white, Western Euro- peans every day in our schools unless we take an ethnic studies course or a course consciously designed to present the many other threads of the “American experience.”
Privilege from Conception
White people’s privileges are bestowed parentally. We can’t not get them and we cannot give them away, no matter how much we do not want them. For example, if I walk into any drug store in the country that carries hair products, I can be sure that I will find something that was designed for my hair. Black hair products are much harder to find; often African Americans have to drive for miles to buy what they need. Further, I know that when a Band-Aids box says “flesh color,” it means my skin color, not those of my Asian or Latina friends. If, in an attempt to “give back” my privileges, I said to the drug store clerk, “I don’t want the privilege of always being able to get shampoo for my hair when my Black friend can’t,” the clerk would think I was nuts. Even if he agreed with me, it wouldn’t change the availability of Black hair products. What we can and must do is work daily to combat our privilege by bringing to consciousness, others’ and our own, the system in which we are living.
White People: Taking Racism Seriously
Far too many of us who are white erroneously believe that we do not have to take the issues of racism seriously. While people of color understand the necessity of being able to read the white sys- tem, those of us who are white are able to live out our lives knowing very little of the experiences of people of color. Understanding racism or whiteness is often an intellectual exercise for us, something we can work at for a period of time and then move on, rather than its being central to our survival. Fur- ther, we have the luxury of not having to have the tools to deal with racial situations without looking incompetent.
I was working with a college at which senior administrators were trying to decide how to move forward with a diversity initiative. One of the vice presidents said, “There are many people who want diversity to fail.” The conversation seemed theoret- ical and removed to me. What an odd thing to say: “There are so many people who want diversity to fail,” with the attitude of, “Well, we tried, it was an interesting experiment, now let’s send all of ‘them’ back to the countries they came from. Too bad — it was an exciting thought.” If, instead, someone had said, “There are so many people who want this university to fail. I’m afraid we won’t succeed,” an action plan would be drawn up in a heartbeat and monitored daily to get the school back on track. Or would that be the response? Is there a sense that, at the root, “We don’t need to worry; we will always be here?”
I think the underlying sense is there: for some eliminating racism is life and death, a question of survival, being seen as opposed to being invisible. For others, this is an interesting intellectual exer- cise from which we can be basically removed.
Making Decisions for Everyone
White privilege is the ability to make decisions that affect everyone without taking others into account. This occurs at every level, from international to in- dividual. The following story could look simply like an oversight: “Oops, I forgot to ask other people what they thought.” However, it is typical behavior for white women who want women of color to join them in their endeavors.
During a visit with an out-of-town friend — another white woman and a librarian — we began to plan a conference for librarians on racism that we named “Librarians as Colleagues: Working Together Across Racial Lines.” We talked and talked, making notes of good exercises to include, videos to use, materials that might prove helpful. It was absolutely clear that we needed a diverse committee to work with me, the facilitator, and we created one that would include all voices: two white women (one Jewish), a Latina, a Chinese American woman, straight women and lesbians, and several African Americans. By the end of our conversation, I was extremely excited and couldn’t wait to contact the women on the “planning committee.”
At the first meeting with these women, during the introductions, I talked about my twenty-five year history of working on issues of racism and particularly my own work on what it means to be white and Southern. Then I presented what my friend and I had thought up as the plan for the conference and all of us talked about the particulars. (In other words, I presented my credentials as a “good white person” and then proceeded to create a conference that was exactly what my friend and I had planned without any input from people of color.) A couple of weeks later, at our second meeting, the women of color pointed out that I had fallen into the classic trap of white women: the come-be-part-of-what-we’re-doing syndrome.
“If you truly want us to work with you to create a conference, we will. But it means starting over and building a plan together. If you want us to enter the planning process in the middle and add our ideas to yours, we’re not interested.”
White People Don’t Have to Listen
Being white enables me to decide whether I am going to listen to others, to hear them, or neither. As one of those in what Lisa Delpit calls “the culture of power,” I also silence others without intending to or even being aware of it. For example, a colleague
of mine, an African American woman, attended a conference on the process of dialogue. Of the forty-five people there, she was one of four who were not white. The whites were of the intellectual elite: highly educated, bright, and, for the most part, liberal people. As the meeting unfolded, it became increasingly clear that, if the women
of color didn’t mention race, no one would.
The white people were not conscious enough of the fact that race — their race — was an integral aspect of every conversation they were having. When the women of color did insert the issue into the dialogue, the white people felt accused of being “racist.” In this instance, “silencing” took place when the planners were not clear that race was present at the conference even if no people of color attended; the white participants didn’t include the reality of others in their plan; and, when the issue was raised by my colleague, she was made to feel that she was the one who was “causing trouble.”
In her article “The Silenced Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other People’s Children” (Harvard Education Review, Vol. 58, Number 3, August 1988), Delpit includes the profoundly disturbing comments of an African American teacher that illustrate how we silence dialogue without being aware of doing it or meaning to.
When you’re talking to White people they still want it to be their way. You can try to talk to them and give them examples, but they’re so headstrong, they think they know what’s best for everybody, for everybody’s children. They won’t listen. White folks are going to do what they want to do anyway.
It’s really hard. They just don’t listen well. No, they listen, but they don’t hear — you know how your mama used to say you listen to the radio, but you hear your mother? Well, they don’t hear me.
So I just try to shut them out so I can hold my temper. You can only beat your head against a brick wall for so long before you draw blood.
If I try to stop arguing with them I can’t help myself from getting angry. Then I end up walking around praying all day “Please Lord, remove the bile I feel for these people so I can sleep tonight.” It’s funny, but it can become a cancer, a sore. (pp. 280-281)
As Delpit says, these are not the sentiments of one isolated person who teaches in a particularly racist school. The feelings are representative of a vast number of people of color as they interact with white people on a daily basis.
The saddest element is that the individuals that the Black and American Indian educators speak of . . . are seldom aware that the dialogue has been silenced. Most likely the white educators believe that their colleagues of color did, in
the end, agree with their logic. After all, they stopped disagreeing, didn’t they? (p. 281)
White privilege allows us not to see race in ourselves and to be angry at those who do. I was asked to address a meeting of white women and women of color called together to create strate- gies for addressing social justice issues. Each of the women had been working for years in her own community on a range of issues from health care to school reform. As I spoke about the work that is required for white women and women of color to collaborate authentically, the white women became nervous and then resistant. Why was race always such an issue for women of color? What did I mean when I said it was essential for white women to be conscious of how being of their race affects every hour of their lives, just as women of color are? They were all professionals, some said, why did it matter what color they were? The silencing of dialogue here occurred because the white women didn’t see the race of the women in the room as an issue. It did not occur to them that their daily experience was different from that of the African Americans, Latinas, and Asian Americans in the room. Had I not been asked to raise the issue, the responsibility
of doing so would have been left to the women of color, as it usually is.
Believing that race is “N.M.I.” — Not My Issue” — and being members of one or more groups that also experience systemic discrimination, we use the privilege of emotionally and psychologically removing ourselves from the “white” group, which we see as composed either of demonically rac-
ist people who spout epithets and wear Ku Klux Klan robes or of white, straight, healthy males. For those of us who are white, and are also disabled, gay, lesbian or straight women, our experience of being excluded from the mainstream hides from us the fact that we still benefit from our skin color. By seeing ourselves as removed in some way from the privileged group, we may be all the more deaf to our silencing of people of color.
Discounting People of Color
As white people, we have the privilege and ability to discount the worth of an individual of color, her or his comments and behavior, and to alter her or his future, based on our assessments. One of the most frightening aspects of this privilege is that we are able to do enormous damage with a glib or off-hand comment such as “I just don’t think she’s a good fit for our organization.” Promotions have been denied on the basis of such comments. There are many ways in which our comments are given inflated worth because of the privilege we hold. For example:
• Seeing those most affected by racism as wounded or victims and somehow, then, as defective. Identifying a member of an oppressed group as wounded is patron- izing, particularly when done by someone with privilege
• “Mis-hearing” the comments of people of color so that their words are less important, not understood or fully appreciated, and thereby heightening our sense of superiority
• Rephrasing or translating for others, as if they cannot speak for themselves, without appearing rude to others like us
• Being allowed, by others like us, to take up most of the airtime without saying much of substance
• Suggesting that people of color need to “lighten up,” not to take things so seriously
• Saying or implying that, as a woman (or a gay person or a working class person, and so on), you know what the person of color
is going through. “I know just how you feel. When the children in the playground made fun of me because I was fat…” (I am not sug- gesting that race is the only cause of pain and discrimination. I am pointing out one of the ways in which white people suggest that someone else’s experience can’t be any worse than that we ourselves have experi- enced or can understand)
• Asking why people of color always focus on the negative, as if life can’t be that bad. A similar way of discounting someone’s expe- rience is to say, “You always focus on race. I remember at two meetings last year. . . ”
Commenting, “I know we have a way to go, but things have gotten better.” (Read, “Stop whining. What do you want from me, anyway? Didn’t we fix everything in the 60s?” Or “I know what your reality is better than you do.”)
Seeing and keeping ourselves central, never marginal. For some years now, writers of color have been discussing the experience of living in the margins while white people are living in the center. In one of her early books, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center (Boston: South End Press, 1984), bell hooks defines it:
To be in the margin is to be part of the whole but outside the main body. . . . Living as we did—on the edge—we developed a particular way of see- ing reality. We looked both from the outside in and from the inside out. We focused our attention on the center as well as on the margin. (p. ix)
Seeing White as “Normal”
Another element of this privilege is the ability to see white people as normal and all others as different-from-normal. In describing heterosexuals’ privilege, Allan G. Johnson also identifies a white privilege.
They have the privilege of being able to assume acceptance as “normal” members of society. . . living in a world full of cultural imag- es that confer a sense of legitimacy and social desirability. . . . (The Gender Knot: Unraveling Our Patriarchal Legacy, Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997, p. 149.)
White people express this privilege in many ways:
• We use ourselves and our experiences as the referent for everyone. “I’m not followed around in the store by a guard. What makes you think you are?”
• We reinsert ourselves into the conversation if we feel it has drifted to focus on a person of color or an issue of others’ race. “I don’t really think the issue is race as much as it is class.”
• We bring a critical mass with us wherever we go. Even if I am the only white person in a room of university administrators of color, I know that most of the other administrators in the nation’s schools look, relatively speak- ing, like me.
• We believe that we have an automatic right to be heard when we speak because most leaders in most organizations look like us. (Obviously, this privilege in particular is significantly altered, though not eliminated, by the intersections of socioeconomic class, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.)
• We have, as a racial group, the privilege not to have to think before we speak. If what we say is upsetting to others, our thought- lessness, rudeness, anger, and so on, are attributed to us as individuals rather than as members of our race, as is the case for others. “I can’t believe Bill was such a jerk in the meeting today” as opposed to “Lati- nos are so passionate; they just don’t think before they speak.”
• We use the pain and experience of being deprived in our lives to keep us central and lessen our responsibility for the privileges we receive as white people. The pain and sense of being less-than, often based on reality, may emanate both from our per- sonal life experiences — my father died when I was four — and our membership in groups from which privileges are sys- temically withheld — being poor or Jewish or gay or deaf. In our minds, this sense of struggling somehow lessens or removes our responsibility for our receiving or colluding in systemic white privilege. For example, I often hear, “I don’t have white privilege because I’m working class.” White working class people do not have the same socio-economic privileges as white upper-middle class people. But, while class privileges are being withheld from them, they are given the same skin color privileges. •
We shift the focus back to us, even when the conversation is not about us. A clas- sic example of this is white women crying during conversations about racism and women of color having to put their pain aside to help the white women who are crying. (African Americans and gays and lesbians, in particular, are expected to take responsibility for other people’s responses to and discomfort with them.)
We use our white privilege to define the parameters of “appropriate” conversation and communication, keeping our culture, manners, and language central. We do this by: •
Requesting a “safe” place to talk
about race and racism. This is often translated as being “safe” from
hearing the anger and pain of peo-
ple of color as well as being able
to say “racist” things without being
held accountable for them. •
Establishing the rules for “stan- dard” English and holding others to our rules.
Setting up informal rules for com- municating in the organization and then failing to share those rules with people who are different from us.
Creating institutions that run by our culture’s rules but acting as if the rules are universally held, such as what time meetings start, how people address one another, the “appropriate” language to use.
If History is White
The privilege of writing and teaching history only from the perspective of the colonizer has such profound implications that they are difficult to fathom. As white people we carry the stories we were
We are able to live in the absence of histor- ical context. It is as if we are not forgetting our history, but acting as if it never hap- pened. Or, if it did, it has nothing to do with us today. For most of us who are white, our picture of the United States, both past and present, is sanitized to leave out or down- play any atrocities we might have commit- ted. Our Disneyland version of history is that our white ancestors came here, had a hard time traveling west finally conquered those terrible savages and settled our country, just as we were supposed to do — Manifest Destiny.
We are taught that we are the only ones
in the picture. If there were others, they obviously weren’t worth mentioning. An example of this is the white crosses at the Little Bighorn Battlefield indicating where white men died, as if no indigenous people had been killed there.
We are able to grow up without our racial supremacy’s being questioned. It is so tak- en for granted, such a foundation of all that we know, that we are able to be uncon- scious of it even though it permeates every aspect of our lives. Charles W. Mills de- scribes this phenomenon in his book The Racial Contract (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1997): . . . white misunderstanding, misrepresentation, evasion, and self-de- ception on matters related to race are. . . psychically required for conquest, coloniza- tion, and enslavement. And these phenomena are in no way accidental, but prescribed by the terms of the Racial Contract, which requires a certain schedule of structured blindnesses and opacities in order to establish and maintain the white polity. (p. 19, italics his)
While we are deprived of the skills of critical thinking by being given such a rudimentary view of our heritage, our ignorance is not held against us. We are taught little complicated history to have to sort through, think about, question, and so we have few opportunities to learn to grapple with complexities. We end up with simplistic sentiments like “America — love it or leave it” because we have only been taught fragments of information. We’re told that George Washington couldn’t tell a lie, but we aren’t told that he owned African people who were enslaved or that he most likely has descendents by those slaves.
We don’t often have to wrestle with the fact that one of the biggest fights in framing the Constitution was over maintaining slavery.
We have the privilege of determining how and if historical characters and events will be remembered. From the Alamo to the Filipino-American War to the Japanese internment to Viet Nam to training the assassins at Fort Benning, GA, who killed nuns and priests in EI Salvador: we retain an extremely tight hold on what is and is not admitted and how information is pre- sented. We do this as a culture and we do it as individuals.
We control what others know about their own histories by presenting only parts of a story. Because we all go to the same schools, if you will, everyone, regardless of color, is told the “white” story. Japanese Americans are told that their families’ internment was purely a safety precaution, just as white children are. American Indian students see Walt Disney’s “Davy Crockett” alongside their white schoolmates, learn- ing that their great grandmothers were “squaws,” that their ancestors were “sav- ages.” We all learn the “tomahawk chop” during baseball season. None of us sees a whole picture of our nation that includes the vast contributions of those who are not white. All of us are given a skewed picture of reality. This is part of what Charles Mills is writing about in The Racial Contract.
• We are able, almost always, to forget that everything that happens in our lives occurs in the context of the supremacy of white- ness. We are admitted to college, hired for jobs, given or denied loans, cared for by the medical profession, and we walk down the street as white people, always in the context of white dominance. In other words, part of the reason that doors open for us is our unearned racial privilege. But we act and often believe that we have earned everything we get. We then generalize from our perceived experience of deserving the opportunities we receive to thinking that, if a person of color doesn’t get a job or a loan, it’s because she or he didn’t earn it.
• We are able to delude ourselves into thinking that people of all colors come to the table having been dealt the same hand of cards. We act as if there are no remnants of slavery that affect African Americans today, that the Japanese didn’t have to give up their land, their homes and businesses, or that the Lati- nos weren’t brought back into what had been their country to do stoop labor.
• We can disconnect ourselves from any reali- ty of people of color that makes us uncom- fortable, because our privilege allows us to believe that people basically get what they deserve or we feel helpless to do anything about another group’s pain. So we have kind, good people who, because of race and class privilege, are so removed that they don’t have to see or experience oth- ers. Without that personal experience, they have no understanding of or motivation to address others’ lives.
Inclusion and Collateral
We have the privilege of being able to determine inclusion or exclusion (of ourselves and others) in a group.
We can include or exclude at our whim. “She would be great here, but her research doesn’t focus enough on Latin America even though she’s a Latina.” And, moments later, “She would add a lot to our depart- ment, but she is just so . . . Chicana!”
I have the ability as a white woman to move back into my gender and commiserate with other women about men if I don’t want to be aligned with other whites.
We are able to slip in and out of conversa- tions about race without being questioned about our loyalty or called an Oreo or a Banana or a Coconut.
We can speak up about racism without being seen as self-serving. In fact, we can even see ourselves as good at standing up for others and mentally pat ourselves on the back.
We expect and often receive appreciation for showing up at “their” functions — the Multicultural Fair, the NAACP annual fund- raising event, the Asian Women Warriors awards celebration — as if they don’t really pertain to us. If we aren’t thanked profusely by people of color, we give up because we feel unappreciated.
We have the privilege of having our race serve as a financial asset for us. We are the beneficiaries of a system that was set up by people like us for people like us so that we can control the critical financial aspects of our lives more than people
of color are able to. There is much research that shows that race, when isolated as a variable, over- rides the variables of class and gender in impacting institution’s financial decisions. I am able to count on my race as a financial asset, if I have nothing else to offer as collateral. For example, as a white person I am far more likely to have access to ex- pensive medical procedures, particularly pertaining
to heart disease, than people of color. Statistically, the likelihood is that I will pay less for a new car than a Black woman will. Examples of this element of white privilege are plentiful. For a more in-depth discussion of whiteness as financial collateral, see Cheryl I. Harris’s article. “Whiteness as Property” in the Harvard Law Review, 1993, Vol. 106.
We cannot allow our fear of anger to deflect us nor seduce us into settling for anything less than the hard work of excavating honesty. . . .
Audre Lorde. Sister Outsider. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press. 1984. p. 128.
For those of us who are deeply committed to social justice work, the purposeful crafting of system- ic supremacy of whiteness is one of the most difficult and painful realities to hold. It would be more com- fortable to believe that racism somehow magically sprang full-blown without our having had anything to do with it. We would rather remain unconscious of decisions that reinforce white privilege that are made by a few on behalf of all white people.
However, if we are truly to understand the racial context of the twenty-first century, we have
to grapple with our dogged unwillingness to under- stand the patterns of discrimination for what they are. We must ask how we participate in not seeing the experiences of people of color that are so very different from white people’s. We should question our resoluteness to identify class rather than race as the primary determinant of opportunity and experi- ence, particularly when there is so much evidence to the contrary. In short, white people can continue to use unearned privilege to remain ignorant, or we can determine to put aside our opacities in order to see clearly and live differently. As Harvey Cox said in The Secular City, “Not to decide is to decide.”
Reprinted by permission of Frances Kendall. Permis- sion is granted to reprint for the purposes of this study.
Examining Attitudes of Privilege
It is difficult to deal with issues of White privilege and to change deeply socialized attitudes and ways of be- ing. In this session we will examine Jesus’ own struggles with issues of privilege and will explore our place within a privileged system.
Discussion on Assigned Role in Matthew 15:21-28
Talk about your experience within the story from a first person perspective:
How do you see yourself?
How do you see yourself in relationship to the others in the story?
What feelings and reactions do you have to what is happening?
Commentary on Matthew 15
Read and reflect on this commentary written by the Rev. Paul Benz, during the coming week.
When one looks at this text through the lens of White privilege, what an amazing revelation this is! It has much to say about Jesus and his humanity, his attitude toward this Gentile woman, the courage and inten- tionality of this woman, and the implications this has upon our church in dealing (or not dealing) with our own privilege (personally and institutionally). This text has much to say about privilege, the application of it, and how it was challenged—all of which from the first century is applicable to us in the 21st century. It goes with- out saying that the Jews of Jesus’ day had a definite underlying belief that they were a privileged people, e.g., God’s chosen people, and that belief had an affect on their relationships with other races. As we enter this text we get the sense that Jesus would really rather not deal with this Gentile woman. First, he does not respond to her. Second, he reiterates that his mission is primarily to the “house of Israel,” and third, he makes a clear racial preference for the Jews versus the Gentiles, or “the other” (children and dogs, vs.26).
I am not saying that the main point of this text is that Jesus “had not gotten it” about his own privilege and that after this brief exchange with the woman from Syrophoenicia he all of a sudden got it about the shortfalls of his own privilege. I am saying that this exchange between Jesus and the Gentile woman is an example and opportunity that Scripture provides for us as the ELCA to be open, to be vulnerable, to be challenged, and to be willing to look at and discuss White privilege and its daily operation in our lives, in our church, and in our society. I do believe that Matthew’s main point to his intend- ed readers, the newly forming Christian community of the latter part of the first century, is that the Gen- tiles—of whatever race, country, or culture—were to be a part of this new community of believers.
Christendom confesses Jesus as fully God and fully human. As to the human part the Church confess- es that Jesus was fully human, but without sin. It is not a new theological thought to say that Jesus as he lived his life out on earth was to some degree coming to a clearer understanding of who he was from his first Passover visit to Jerusalem with Joseph and Mary to his going to the cross. Just as Jesus did not want to deal with this Gentile woman, so too, we as the dominant racial group in the ELCA and in society do not want to deal with the voice(s) calling us and challenging us to look at why we are still 97.1% White in a society that is less than 70% White. The voice(s) are calling us and challenging us to seriously look at what White privilege is, how it affects us as White people, and affects our relationship to communities of color in our local communities and society. It was the persistent voice of this courageous Gentile woman that called to Jesus saying that “the other people” (the dogs, vs.26) belong to the masters and should be able to receive food from their table. Though we may not have “the other people” kneeling in front of us, I believe in many instances we do have people knocking on our church doors asking for assistance, or speaking in our local communities calling for justice, calling for allies to work for justice. We are called in this text to consider what has been and is our response to these voices/knocks at the door. How do our privilege and our stereotypes of “the other” affect the way we respond? Are we open, vulnerable, and willing to listen? Or, do we respond like the disciples—send them away to someone else (vs.23)? Or, are we resistant and wanting to avoid and not interact as Jesus did (vss.23 & 24)?
One of the key lessons from the text for members of the ELCA and other predominantly White denominations is that Jesus was in the end willing to sit down “eyeball to eyeball, heart to heart” with his neighbor who was different from him in culture, country, and religion. When we do that in our settings we begin to listen to the story of others, their version of history, their version of how things happened in this country, why events happened the way they did, and who benefited from all that and who continues to benefit. Our goal for this church is that we (as the White people in it) be as courageous and intentional in being open to looking at and dealing with our privilege and its affects as this Syrophoenician woman was in calling Jesus to see her for who she was a fellow child of God and not a member of “those other people.”
Reading from Gary Howard We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know about the privilege that comes to us as a result of our collective identity of being White:
Many privileges have come to Whites simply because we are members of the dominant group: the privi- lege of having our voices heard, of not having to explain or defend our legitimate citizenship or identity, of seeing our images projected in a positive light, of remaining insulated from other people’s realities, of being represented in positions of power, and of being able to tell our own stories. These privileges are usually not earned and often not consciously acknowledged. That our privileged dominance often threatens the physical and cultural well being of other groups is a reality that Whites, for the most part, have cho- sen to ignore. The fact that we can choose to ignore such realities is perhaps our most insidious privilege (p. 62).
Reading from Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations About Race by Beverly Daniel Tatum. Used by permission of Basic Books, a member of Perseus Books, L.L.C.
The view of oneself as an individual is very compatible with the dominant ideology of rugged individualism and the American myth of meritocracy. Understanding racism as a system of advantage that structurally benefits Whites and disadvantages people of color on the basis of group membership threatens not only beliefs about society but also beliefs about one’s own life accomplishments. . . . If viewing oneself as a group member threatens one’s self-definition, making the paradigm shift from individual to group member will be painful (p. 103).
Discussion on White Privilege
How do you see yourself within a collective White identity? What is hard about seeing yourself as part of a White group?
Name privileges you experience every day because you are White.
In what ways have you tried to distance yourself or see yourself as separate from other White people?
What does it mean to you to own an identity of yourself as a member of the White collective?
How would you explain the reality of White privilege to someone outside this group?
During this week journal on your thoughts and feelings related to who you are as a White person and your place of privilege within a system of White racism.
Read and reflect on the readings by the Rev. Clemonce Sabourin, Vine Deloria, Jr., and José Miguel de Jesús on their view of the church as it relates to issues of race. These pieces were written at different times and reflect a small part of the history of the Lutheran church. Note how the writers see White attitudes and values expressed in the church. Include journal reflections on the readings and note the ques- tions, concerns or thoughts you would like to raise about the readings at the next session.
Excerpts from Let the Righteous Speak By Clemonce Sabourin
Let the Righteous Speak is a book of Travel Memoirs by Clemonce Sabourin. The Rev. Clem Sabourin served faithfully as a pastor of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod throughout his life. In this small but powerful book, written in 1957, he recorded his memoirs of a trip through the South. In a brief foreword to the book, Pastor Sabourin wrote, “This is the raw material of sociology, the human sore to which the balm of the Word — preached and practiced — must be applied.” These excerpts from his book give a brief glimpse into a part of the still recent history of race relations in this country and of the role of the church in supporting racism.
From Let the Righteous Speak, by Clemonce Sabourin, 2nd Edition. (Valparaiso, IN: Lutheran Human Relations Association of America, 1962). Used by permission.
We got the impression that the South is our new frontier — an industrial frontier. Every- where we found cities and towns bursting at the seams, local industries expanding, and Northern industries seeking broad acres and cheap labor.
There is feverish religious activity also. There are new churches, old churches, big churches, little churches, churches that are khaki-colored tents by the side of the road. In old towns and cities, mod- ernistic buildings stood like country cousins in their Sunday best, and not far away there was always the traditional church, standing with the grace and dignity that comes with age.
The churches advertise. In places the signs were so close together they looked like Burma Shave slogans. The farther South you go the thick- er they get: “Jesus Saves,” “Christ is the Answer,” “Go to Church.”
With all of these evidences of godliness about us, we felt like saying, “Surely this is the house of God; this is the gate to heaven.”
We had just run a gauntlet of Gospel signs
and crossed the city limits. This was Athens. The radio was low, but the voice was clear and distinct. In substance, it said this: “The Georgia Board of Education announced today that any teacher, Negro or white, found holding membership in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or otherwise supporting this organization, will be penalized. And any teacher, Negro or white, found teaching an integrated class will lose his license forever.”
Ruby quickly added, “. . . and ever. Amen.” (p. 12)
The only white person in church that day was the young unmarried pastor. But that could hard-
ly be considered an evidence of integration,
because white pastors have served Negro congre- gations from the very beginning. Often white pastors have entered Negro work against the opposition of their friends and the tears of their mothers. Usually the opposition died away, the tears evaporated, and the friends and relatives began thinking of the white pastors in Negro congregations as foreign mission- aries, sacrificing their lives for the propagation of
the faith. However, I have still to meet a white pastor worthy of his salt who accepted this mantle of mar- tyrdom conferred upon him by family and friends . . .
No, the presence of the white pastor did not mean integration. In fact, the organized Christian Church seems to be the body that is least con- cerned about integration. Resolutions are passed. Statements are prepared and published. But there is very little day-by-day effort to bring the various racial groups together around a common pulpit or before a common communion rail.
This in itself would be bad enough. But it indicates something deeper. Men and women and children who refuse to worship together are certain- ly not inclined to study together in the same schools, eat together in the same restaurants, live together in the same communities, and work together as equals on the same jobs. Thus, these people must of ne- cessity strengthen the social and economic system that brings suffering and death to Negro Americans, disgrace to the name of Christ, and weakness to the country they profess to love . . .
A year or so ago I read a book called Race and Religion. The author argued that Jesus was not a Jew but an Aryan. Christianity, therefore, is an Aryan religion and only Aryans are naturally susceptible to the Christian faith. As proof of this, he pointed out that after two thousand years of missionary work, there are comparatively few non-Aryan converts. I don’t know what brought it to mind, but I was thinking about this after service at my old home church.
Let me say that I don’t agree with the author of Race and Religion. Yet there are white people who act as though Christianity is an Aryan religion, at least, their conception of Christianity. Their trouble is, I believe, that they have not accepted the whole Word of God. They act as though they got stuck at the sentence: “All things are yours.” And that is the word by which they live.
And the Negroes — what about them? Do they accept the whole Word of God, or do they too get stuck at a certain passage? If so, what is it — “All things will work together for good,” or “Vengeance is Mine; I will repay, saith the Lord?” . . . What would happen in the South, I wondered — in the whole country, for that matter — if the people who profess faith in Christ would really accept Christianity as a way of life? . . . (pp. 52-53)
Staying the night in a “Negro motel” in Nash- ville, Pastor Sabourin had a conversation in the lobby with another guest, a resident of Alabama. The conversation began on the effects of traveling on African Americans in searching for places to stop to eat or drink or rest, and moved to the topic of integration:
I tried to butt in, but there was no stopping him.
“Now wait. . . . With the older children, those in high school, it’s going to be a lot more difficult. You’ll have the same situation you have with the little ones, but they will have an additional curse to bear. They have lived — I should say endured — longer than the little ones. They have been conditioned. They are so torn and twisted by insult and humiliation that they walk in a fog of anxiety and uncertainty. Man, it will take a whole army of psychiatrists to straighten these poor kids out. And . . . as far as you and I are concerned, we’re hope- less. After all these years of inhuman treatment, we’ll never be able to respond to human situations like human beings. Poor dogs of the earth, our guts will burn and our food will stick in our throats until the day we die. . . You see, integration will work in our schools, but it is going to require teachers with patience, a genuine love for children, and an iron- bound will to do the thing that is right.”
“You say,” I interjected, “that the whole Southern system of segregation is involved. I believe that you are right. I believe that the man in the street must be made aware of that—the postman, the police of- ficer, the housewife in her kitchen, the newsboy on the street, the factory worker behind his machine. They must realize that a change must be made. They must be made to see the eternal rightness of dealing with human beings as human beings. Our present system has made democracy a joke and Christianity a laughingstock. Now, if a change is to be made, it must be, first, a change of heart. And at this point, it seems to me, the clergy comes in. I have seen churches by the hundreds here in the South. Catholic priests and Protestant ministers have the Southern white people sitting before them every Sunday morning. Couldn’t they help? Couldn’t they inspire the people by word and deed to strive for the glory that could be theirs if they really practiced the political and religious creeds that remain unful- filled, but that they are yet reluctant to let go?”
“Look, friend,” the little man said, “don’t put your faith in clergymen. If they really wanted to do something, they could. But how many of them want to? Why, I once saw a preacher throw a rock at a Negro boy. With my own ears I heard him call that Negro boy a little black bastard. I heard someone say that the white preachers in the South have both their knees in the black man’s belly, and the louder The organized Christian Church seems to be the body that is least concerned about integration.
they pray, the deeper they sink their knees. I believe it came from a book. But that’s it! Even the best of them meet in conferences and pass innocuous resolutions; but when they stand in their own pulpits on Sunday morning, they’re dumb. They preach sermons about the forgiveness of sins, but they never say that treating Negroes like you would not want to be treated is a sin.”
“But,” I said, “if white clergymen did point out the evils of segregation, do you think it would help?”
“No!” he shot back, “not unless they were
men enough to admit their own sins. . . . Nobody has any respect for the clergy — not as spiritual leaders. Everybody knows that as far as spirituality is concerned, they’re just a bunch of sanctimonious hypocrites. Nobody really respects them. They respect them like a person respects the president of the bridge club. The preacher is just the president of the church club. And the church is just another social organization where a certain little group of friends meet for a Sunday morning get-together. Why, in some congregations, they don’t even take in all white people. They take in only their kind of white people.”
“But still,” I insisted, “the man in the pulpit has the ear of his people . . .”
“I know!” he said, “What good does it do? He says what the people want to hear. And even if he did preach against the evils of segregation, do you think it would do any good? I tell you, nobody respects the Church, not even the devout members who attend. Look! Suppose a preacher began hammering away at the evils of segregation. First thing, his members would tell him to preach the Gospel and let the race problem alone. If he didn’t stop, they might ride his tail out of town. Does that sound like respect? If he kept it up and stuck to his pulpit, they still wouldn’t pay any attention to him. Why? It’s because the Church never has been bound by segregation laws. If the Church wanted to, the Church could have integrated its congregations, its schools, its Sunday schools, all the way down the line. That could have been done fifty years ago, a hundred years ago. But the clergy didn’t tell the people to do it. Now, when they talk about it, the people say if segregation is an evil today, it was an evil fifty years ago. Why didn’t you tell us then? If it wasn’t evil then, why do you talk about it now? . . . And what can the preachers answer? . . . You can’t respect that kind of clergy.
“If the Church of the South really wanted to help, it could. But, first, the preachers will have to be hum- ble enough to repent of their previous cowardice, and men enough to tell the people that they were wrong. With that as a starting point, they may be able to gain the respect of their parishioners, and when that is done, the parishioners will listen.
“But watch what I tell you — some of the clergy- men of the South are going to capitalize on the preju- dices of their people. They are going to remind them that the Supreme Court desegregation decision does not apply to churches and church institutions. The result will be that we are going to have a rash of new church schools in the South. . . . Watch what I tell you.”
I made a move to go, but it was no use. The little man was steaming.
“Look!” he said, reaching for another cigarette (now he had a lighter). “In a way, religion is all mixed up in this thing. The only real religion the Southern white man has is purity of race, and on that he is a religious fanatic. And that is not so ridiculous as it seems, for after all, race is a matter of faith. No man knows his race. . . . I don’t care who you are, in the final analysis both you and your father have to take your mother’s word for it.” (pp. 64-67)
When I was pastor of a church in Greensboro, North Carolina, Carl was teaching chemistry at Agricultural and Technical College in the same city. Mary was teaching chemistry in another local school. Carl and Mary and their daughter Doris attended our services and eventually fell in love with our simple liturgy and simple message of sin and grace — the simple story of Calvary’s Cross. One day this little family was confirmed. I shall never forget their kneeling at God’s altar to pledge undy- ing allegiance to their God . . . and to the Lutheran Church. . . . To say that we were all very happy about it is to put it mildly.
Carl became active in our work with the boys of the parish. Later he was elected treasurer of the congregation. A popular figure in the community, he was often called upon to serve as speaker at various community affairs. He was the kind of person who would be an asset to any congregation.
Shortly after I accepted a call to New York City, Carl accepted a position as head of the Department of Chemistry at the State College in Nashville, Ten- nessee. Mary accepted a position, under Carl, in the same department.
After Carl had settled in Nashville, he decided to look up his Church—the Lutheran Church. The only thing he could find, however, was a white Lutheran church. And there he was told that he and his family would be permitted to attend the services, but that they would have to use a rear entrance and sit in
a little room off the chancel. From this convenient hiding place they would be able to see the pastor at the altar and hear the services.
As these things came to mind, my melting pot, that had been simmering all the morning, began to boil.
What difference did it make to this Cornell Ph.D. that many of the members of that church were not his social and intellectual equals? . . . He was not seeking fellow scientists with whom to study, but fellow saints with whom to worship. Denied the communion of saints in his own household of faith, Carl and his family joined a Presbyterian church. . . . Thank God for the Presbyterians!
God, don’t let me get sick on this trip. . . . Quiet my stomach . . . ease the pain . . . let me hold out until I get back home . . . and, Lord, this . . . this whole sickening mess . . .
Heavenly Father, wilt Thou not speak? . . . How long shall the flaming cross be a thing to dread and Thy blest Name a thing by which men curse?
. . . Don’t let this last, best hope of men succumb, and earth be damned by a hammer and sickle. . . . Must Thine own salt of this earth be salt that’s lost its savor? . . . Must Thine own light of this world be light that failed? . . . Surely, there must be seven thousand in Thy many pulpits who have not bowed their knees to Baal. . . . Hast Thou not placed them there for such a time as this? . . . Must they forever cringe and cry and sob with inward pain: “The good I would, I do not; the evil that I would not, that I do?”
. . . Must they forever cringe before the howling mob? . . . Must they forever sleep their fitful sleep and hide their eyes from facts of day? . . . Dear God, open up their mouths. . . let Thy Holy Spirit take some point- ed word from Thy Holy Book and stab them wide awake. . . . Let the righteous speak! . . . Let the sons of God stand up and be counted! . . . If no courage comes from Thee, dear God, these poor souls are going to stew in their own juice . . . As we approached Asheville, Clemmie began reading the motel signs: NO VACANCY. . . NO VACANCY. . . NO VACANCY.
Suddenly he said, “Look, Daddy! There’s one. The sign says, ‘VACANCY!’”
In a voice that bristled with irritation, his mother said, “Clemmie, by now you ought to know that we can’t stop there!”
After a moment of silence, Clemmie answered, “I know, Mamma. . . . Come on, Daddy, let’s go look for afleabag…”
But it wasn’t necessary to look for a flea bag. I knew where I was going — or thought I did. I was driving from memory. After correcting one false turn, we pulled up at THE RABBIT TOURIST COURT.
Two summers ago we had stopped at this place. We had come up to see the famous outdoor drama, called Unto These Hills. Clemmie was with us that time, too . . . and Ruby and Elva. When we drew up before the neon rabbit racing across the sign, some- one read: RABBIT TOURIST COURT FOR COLORED. Everyone got out of the car but Clemmie. Thinking that he was asleep, I reached in to pick him up and carry him. But his eyes were wide open. There was a look of distress on his face. He whispered, “Daddy . . . is everyone in this car colored?”
Something happened to my heart. . . . “Yes, Clemmie,” I said, “we may go in here. . . . We are all colored.”
My little boy was wide awake. He could have walked. But I carried him in…and held him close… and prayed that somehow God would let him understand and . . . without bitterness. . . .
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