Our top 5 commonly asked questions on white privilege:
- What is white privilege?
- What are some examples of white privilege?
- Why do many people get mad about the term white privilege?
- Should I feel guilty?
- How can I help?
1. What is white privilege?
Sunday to Saturday: According to Webster’s dictionary privilege is “a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others.” In the case of white privilege and the United States the right or benefit comes from the color of a person’s skin. If you are a white person most likely you have not noticed this privilege as our country is built around being white.
“White privilege means that when most factors are held equal, it’s generally more advantageous to be white in the U.S. than it is to be any other race. White privilege doesn’t mean that white people don’t work hard to obtain personal or professional success. Nor does it invalidate hardships experienced by someone who is white – they’re just different conversations with different root causes. White privilege simply means people of color often have to work harder to obtain an equivalent level of success or respect in society.” Joe Forrest, “Waking Up: Christianity, White Privilege, and the Dark Side of American History” Instrument of Mercy, 15 August 2018. https://instrumentofmercy.com/2018/08/15/white-privilege/
“As personal as it sounds, white privilege is really not personal. It is not about you, your life’s journey or your achievements. White privilege is the societal understanding (and agreement) of white as normal…White privilege is the understanding of white as default…is always being included…is getting the benefit of the doubt…is being able to live your life without always thinking about racism…is having your skin work for you.” Ronke Abidoye, “White Privilege is Seeing ‘White’ As the Default” Relevant, 6 July, 2020 https://www.relevantmagazine.com/life5/white-privilege-is-seeing-white-as-the-default/
“The unspoken assumption that my whiteness somehow makes me more worthy of trust from the general public, department store clerks, civic authorities, educators, law enforcement, and others than that afforded to people of color.” James Atwood, Collateral Damage, (Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2019),138.
2. What are some examples of white privilege?
Sunday to Saturday: Redlining. The centering of white theologians over all other theologians. Learning about history through the eyes of white people as the default. Westward expansion. The ability to break treaties with no consequences. A generally positive outlook on the police. Manifest destiny. Not having to think about race or the color of one’s skin on a daily basis.
“White supremacy has resulted in the colonizing and conquest of the Americas, forcing Native populations off their own land and onto reservations, oppressing early Chinese immigrant workers and excluding them from citizenship, sending Japanese immigrants into concentration camps during World War II, creating unjust and arbitrary immigration laws to keep Latin Americans from entering the country (as many European immigrants were allowed to do in the past), and taking prejudiced postures toward Muslim or Middle Eastern people.” Drew Hart, The Trouble I’ve Seen (Harrisonburg: Herald Press, 2016),147.
“The white American church continues to envision itself as the main missionary thrust of the church even in the twenty-first century. While the growth of the church continues in the non-Western world in unexpected regions like China, India, Central America, and sub-Sahara Africa, the white American church will reject immigrants and refugees from these regions as not reflecting Christian values of the West. It is noble for the exceptional white American church to go help those ‘over here,’ but not for them to come over here to a nation reserved for exceptional white Americans. This assumption of exceptionalism hinders the work of reconciliation as a dysfunctional imagination of white supremacy and exceptionalism continues unabated in the US church and in US society.” Mark Charles, Unsettling Truths, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 80.
3. Why do many people get mad about the term white privilege?
Sunday to Saturday: Pride and/or ignorance.
“What (we are) really pushing up against is pride…When you see some of the strident pushback and this inability to even acknowledge the extermination of Native American people as…genocide, you realize there is a root of pride there that is resistance to repentance (and) to culpability that is resistant to any form of redress or reparations. There is a strong hold to whiteness and white identity and pristineness that is really part of what keeps us from making progress. For Christians in particular it should not be a threat to admit wrong. We have a Savior that atoned for it. We have a cross that carries it away. We have a resurrection that brings justification and righteousness, but it requires repentance.” Thabiti Anyabwile, “Repenting of American Exceptionalism and Whiteness – Thabiti Anyabwile & Sonng-Chan Rah” YouTube, uploaded by VergeNetwork, 21 August 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7ox0TiCh34
“The United States of America has a white majority that remembers a history of discovery, opportunity, expansion, and exceptionalism. Meanwhile our communities of color have the lived experiences of stolen lands, broken treaties, slavery, Jim Crowe laws, Indian removal, ethnic cleansing, lynchings, boarding schools, mass incarceration, and families separated at our boarders. Our country does not have a common memory.” Mark Charles, Unsettling Truths, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2019), 204-205.
4. Should I feel guilty?
Sunday to Saturday: No, but lament and acknowledgment of privilege is a must.
“I would love to do away with the phrase white guilt. Because the way we use it in our vocabulary really implies an individual feeling bad about something we did…I prefer the phrase white shame or corporate shame. And shame is a much more corporate experience. It is even though I may have not done anything personally I am part of the system that abused African American lives in our communities. I am part of a system that devastated the Native American communities. And because of that I don’t feel guilt, but I’ve got to deal with the shame of it. And to me that is a much deeper spiritual issue than feeling guilty…The Christians should be leading on this because we have to vocabulary to deal with shame whereas the world does not…this is where my work in lament, looking at the Psalms, looking at how deep that lament goes doesn’t just do that quick resolution of individual guilt, it really cries out to God as a community.” Soong-Chan Rah. “Why We Should Stop Using the Term ‘White Guilt'” YouTube, uploaded by VergeNetwork, 14 July 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Sz0C-iKBIA0
5. How can I help?
Sunday to Saturday: Educate yourself. Lament. Pray. This is what Sunday to Saturday is attempting to facilitate. See our framework for a pathway to engagement.
“Read books. The power of information can move people in ways that ignorance would not move them…exposing them to authors that they might disagree with, but can shine light on their privilege can be helpful…One thing you can do is expose your white brothers and sisters to black and brown authors who would die for the same things they would die for theologically and biblically…Look for ways to use your privilege that you have to help those that are marginalized. I am very encouraged when I see white brothers and sisters use their privilege as white people to stand with, along side of or behind black brothers and sisters when clear examples of racial injustice emerge in our society. Jarvis Williams. “Practical Next Steps for Pursuing Racial Justice – Dr. Jarvis Williams” YouTube, uploaded by VergeNetwork, 29 July 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kDALRKAk_PA
“First, don’t panic because I think the natural tendency is to overcompensate and then you start making all kinds of mistakes in what you say and how you interact with people. Take a couple of breaths. Calm down. The gospel has an answer. Jesus’ interactions and how he tells us to interact with one another…has all the answers. Doing everything in love. Doing everything in humility. If we acknowledge there are broken systems I think it only makes sense to try to restore broken systems…that looks like kingdom business.” Sho Baraka, “What To Do With Your Privilege – Sho Baraka” YouTube, uploaded by VergeNetwork, 7 September 2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I5rE4gBaU1E
More curated resources on white privilege:
LEARNING CAPSULE: White Privilege
Confused? Curious? Offended? Inquisitive? Angry? Defensive? If any of those terms describe you when you hear the term white privilege then this learning capsule on the term is for you.Read more
SERMON: White privilege and the Gospel
Does white privilege exist? If it does exist, why is the idea repulsive to so many people? What are we supposed to do about it? Pastor Tim Cain of Kaleo Church (Lakeside, CA) answers those questions and more in a convicting sermon full of wisdom. Cain believes that we must first acknowledge that advantages exist,…Read more
SERMON: Jesus and Privilege
In a nuanced, informative, and kind sermon, pastor Jon Tyson defines privilege as “when you do nothing and you get something.” Tyson then proceeds to give the history of the modern understanding of privilege saying that most people land on the rights side or the responsibility side on the privilege spectrum. Using Philippians 2:1-11 as…Read more