Facing White Privilege

By

February 18, 2016

Having begun the Lenten Journey on Ash Wednesday with a reflection on white privilege, I invite you to further explore the theme through the Season of Lent. Contemplating issues surrounding race is very relevant, especially as our nation continues to be confronted by police violence against African Americans, such as the killing of Tamir Rice in Cleveland and many more across the nation.

You might ask why this emphasis on race as we are a predominantly white community on the campus of a liberal arts college in Wooster, Ohio. The reason is that for us as progressives it is sometimes very difficult to realize our own prejudices as we are not overtly racist and therefore think we are without bias. As a people who desire to be "Intentionally Inclusive" this unnoticed racism can be very harmful as we do not see how we participate in structures of systemic oppression, and therefore fail to create the "inclusive" community we desire.

Instinctively, our first response when we want to talk about racism is to find the nearest African American person to explain to us what it is like being African American. The reality is expressed in this quote I just recently read.

Expecting marginalized peoples to disregard their own emotions to calmly educate you is the epitome of entitlement.

If "Intentionally Inclusive" is more than just a catchphrase for our church, we will begin to explore our own lens through which we view the world and create our own reality. A new social campaign, Awake SA, launched in South Africa after facing renewed racial tension, suggests that a good place to start is to become more aware of and talk about the "privileges afforded to us by virtue of the colour of our skin." On their website they voice their belief that by growing in awareness of our privilege "we can make a real change to the future dynamic of race relations." According to Awake SA:

White privilege is not an easy thing to acknowledge and the mere mention of it puts many backs up immediately. It is important to remember that white privilege is not an accusation that has to be defended (you did nothing wrong), it is a reality that needs to be acknowledged.

By acknowledging your privilege, it is an opportunity to reflect, and to see the world through a different lens. It teaches us humility. It teaches us to listen. It teaches us to look at the people around us and understand that the opportunities afforded to us, for no reason other than the colour of our skin, were denied to them.

When someone asks you to check your privilege, see this as an opportunity to learn something from someone whose life experiences are different from yours - and a chance to come out of it as a better person.

It's totally normal to feel uncomfortable acknowledging your privilege and it's understandable to look for a way around it. No one wants to feel like they've done something wrong, particularly when they haven't.

But it's when you feel uncomfortable that it's time to let others offer insight into their experiences. The key here is to understand what to do when someone feels upset because of white privilege. Instead of trying to unpack whether something is racist from your perspective, try to do so from theirs. Your willingness to listen and engage with empathy is most important.

I invite you to further explore the Awake SA website and what white privilege is.

It is in this context of race relations that it is very appropriate that a second group from Westminster leaves today on Friday, February 19th for South Africa. As with the previous group, we will visit many significant places in South Africa's history to overthrow apartheid and attain full democracy and also the challenges faced by the "Rainbow Nation."

Here at home in Wooster I encourage you to take full advantage of all the Black History Month events that are lined up to further educate us and help us grow in mindfulness about the reality of racism. I would like to highlight an event with Bree Newsome, who is mostly known for removing the Confederate flag that flew on the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol. This event entitled "Tearing Hatred from the Sky" on Tuesday, February 23 at 7:30pm at The College of Wooster will be an excellent talk to attend as the presence of the Confederate Flag is a contentious issue right here in Wooster, OH, especially at the Wayne County Fair. Even at Westminster our members are of different opinions about the symbolism of the flag, yet we know very little about the present-day perception it holds for African Americans.

Thank you for being an open, daring people who are willing to be challenged and to grow!

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