I am a white Christian seminary student and I recognize that a society that privileges me just because I am white is a dangerous and sinful society.
White privilege is getting often unearned benefits from society. It is sinful when it harms people of color and contributes to their deaths.
The often lethal opposite of white privilege is racism, which sees non-whites as dangerous. Traci Blackmon, a leader in my denomination, said, “It is impossible to be unarmed when my blackness is the weapon you fear.”
Donald Trump and Mike Pence are among the most privileged people in America: white, upper-class men. Even after the institutionalized killing of two more African American men this week, they remain blind to their own privilege and its consequences.
It’s been said, “If you don’t think racism exists, you’re white.” Trump and Pence operate from a false paradigm that ignoring institutional racism will make it disappear.
After the police killings of Terrance Crutcher and Keith Lamont Scott, Pence argued, “We ought to set aside this talk, this talk about institutional racism and institutional bias.”
When Pharisees missed the point, Jesus responded, “Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” (Matt. 15:14)
That pit is the pit of sinfulness, the rebellion against God’s command that humankind love one another. (John 13:34)
On issues of race and privilege, Pence and Trump are as blind as the Pharisees Jesus criticized. Yet, as a person of faith, I cannot “let them alone.” I must examine these issues through the lens of my theological commitments to love God and neighbor. (Matt 22:39)
Unchallenged white privilege is dangerous.
Mothers of African American boys understand this. They face harsh realities whenever their children leave home. As the wife of a biracial husband and mother of biracial sons, I have similar concerns.
Author Marilynn Robinson wrote that “harmony in diversity” creates a nonjudgmental space allowing people to “live together in peace and mutual respect.” As a white woman, I cannot know what it means to be black in America. I do know that my first responsibility is to listen.
My second responsibility is to do something.
As Paul said, “Bear one another’s burdens and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
Alice Hunt, president of Chicago Theological Seminary, wrote, “As people of faith, we must love enough to get angry at great injustice and call it out.” Love is listening to understand; it is calling for justice.
As a seminary student and follower of Jesus, I take very seriously the dual responsibilities of listening to those whose lives are at risk because their skin color is considered dangerous and calling out the blindness to privilege that is getting African Americans killed with impunity.
Listen, learn, and challenge racist society.
To me, that’s following Jesus.