Last week I wrote a blog, on white privilege and a friend of mine that read it asked the great question–how? How do we address the problem of white privilege? And she challenged me to give provide practical steps to the “how.”
So in three parts I want to share some thoughts I’ve had on the “How.”
- White Privilege in Me
- White Privilege in My Home (the next generation)
- White Privilege in the Church
I start by addressing white privilege in me because I agree with the words of Leo Tolstoy,
“Everyone thinks of changing the world but no one thinks of changing himself.”Leo Tolstoy
I’ve been on a long journey with discovering the deeply rooted prejudices that exist in me and my lack of recognition of the privileges I possess over others due to the color of my skin. As I reflect on that journey, four stories from that I can apply practical application to my life now, and maybe you can as well.
When I was a Freshman in High-School I got my first real black friend (I had other people I called friends who were black, but they were more acquaintances or friends of my parents); her name was Danielle. Danielle and I met at a picnic table at Loma Linda Academy. I happened to be at the picnic table because one day early in the 3rd quarter of the school year, I was thrown out of the library study hall. When I went back the next day, the librarian informed me the banning wasn’t a one day deal, it was permanent, but no one told me where else I could go. So without a car or a great desire to walk anywhere–I found myself at a picnic table every day (one could do that in California). One afternoon as I was carving something into the picnic table, a young lady, a young African-American lady, Danielle, came and sat down by me and began to talk. It was odd that Danielle was talking to me, she was a junior–but that wasn’t the odd part. What was odd, I hung-out with a group of people who wore white laces in their Doc Marten’s, and I had a WP written on my trapper keeper; it was a WP I was carving into the picnic table that day Danielle approached me. She saw what I was carving and said, “that is so stupid.” And then she proceeded to continue talking to me . . . not just that day, but every Tuesday and Thursday at that same picnic table. She later told me I was quite a jerk to her when she sat down, but she knew I wasn’t as bad as I thought I was. By the end of that year, I would have counted her as one of my closest friends. And that friendship began to change me. Not the way all friendships change us, but in my philosophical world view, some of the “white pride,” I had adopted in my life. It is hard to not do some self-analysis when there is a person you care about in your life that opposes darkness in your soul.
Practical lesson one:
Having a friend of color then helped grow me. If I want to continue to grow in this area of life I need to have black friends now.
Story Two: (A shorter story)
A year later I was living in Ohio and even though I now had a black friend, Danielle, had moved to Maryland, and I was growing, I still had blind spots. One of my blind spots was a Confederate flag that hung on the ceiling of my bedroom. One day my friend Gerald, an Asian, walked into my room. He looked up and saw the flag and asked me, “What is that?” I was immediately embarrassed, he then said, “Only racists of have those. Whatever.” That was the end of the discussion, but soon after that the flag came down.
Practical lesson two:
I need friends in my life that will be honest with me and call me on my non-sense as Gerald did.
Jump ahead to my days at the Seminary. I was asked by the chaplains office of Andrews University to oversee the revival of a vespers program called United Vespers that happened once a month. I went to the first United Vespers and it was dead! There were a few white kids there and they were half asleep. Where was everyone else. Over the next several weeks I visited several other gatherings: Mosaic, a great musical celebration made up of a packed house of mainly white preppy kids. Adelante’s Vespers, a smaller gathering of the Hispanic community on campus, warm loving people. I also attended the Asian club’s vespers, great food, great fellowship, also a small gathering. But it was the last vespers on campus I attended that changed my world, BSCF (Black Student Christian Forum), amazing preaching, amazing music, and wall to wall people. And I realized if I could somehow get BSCF and Mosaic to connect we could truly have a united vespers. And so I went to my friend Dilys, a Jamaican student there at the seminary, I shared with her my vision and asked her to help me make the connections (Dilys was friends with everyone on campus). She did and by the grace of God Fusion was born (if you were on campus at Andrews in the early 2000’s to late 2000’s you are familiar with the Fusion vespers). That vespers (which happened once a month) exploded, it got so big the school, with the help of Ron Whitehead, let us move it from the gymnasium to the Howard Performing Arts Center and you had to get there early to get a seat–and it was diverse–all the colors and people’s on campus. I share this longer than necessary story, because through my time at seminary and more specifically my work with Fusion and my friendship with Dilys and her husband Delroy, I got connected to a larger black community than I had ever known before. And as I became a real friend with many of these individuals I would sit and listen to them talk and as I heard them share their stories and their pain, I realized they had experiences, that first I could never relate to, but second that I knew I never would have to relate to, based upon the different colors of our skin. I also was able to ask them sincere questions about the stereotypes I held in my head and they helped me understand how to work through those views.
Practical lesson three: I have to listen to the stories of others. The world is evolving and people’s stories evolve, so I have to keep listening!
I watched in sadness the news in 2016 as I saw the events that brought about the Black Lives Matter movement, and then on July 7, 2016 police officers were ambushed by a man who was angry over police shooting black people and as he stated he wanted to “kill white people.” I watched now horrified on my computer the event unfold. Then the next night just before bed, I went to the Facebook page of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and I began to read some of the comments on their page related to the Black Lives Matter movement and the things Adventists were posting made me sick and angry. That night I scrapped my sermon, and I wrote a few thoughts, and the next day I went into the pulpit and told our congregation, “we must do better.” I don’t remember what I said or how I said it, but it was intense and mainly off the cuff–something I never do. As I was driving home from church that day I was about to turn onto my road when the Holy Spirit said to me go down to Emmanuel-Brinklow and apologize (Emmanuel-Brinklow is the African-American Adventist church a mile from the Spencerville Adventist Church). This impression from the Lord was as a strong as the day I stood up and accepted Him as my Savior and as strong as the day He called me into ministry. I wanted to resist, but I couldn’t. So I drove down there, black churches go a little longer than our predominantly anglo churches 🙂 So when I walked in the preacher was nearing the end of his sermon, I decided to just wait in the foyer until he was done, at the conclusion as the worship band was playing Pastor Tony walked to the back door to shake hands, I stepped forward to introduce myself and then I said, “I just wanted to come and say sorry for what is happening and I want to be a better neighbor.” Pastor Medley stopped the music he told everyone to sit back down and then he walked me to the front and said you need to share this with everyone, and so choking-up I repeated what I said. After that service some of the stories members shared with me and the way that community embraced me–I went home and I wept, I couldn’t stop crying.
Practical lesson four (actually multiple lessons in this one):
First, I need to open to the Holy Spirit always in matters of how I interact with people of other races. Racial conflict is a result of sin. I ask Jesus to reveal in me the dark spots of my heart concerning impatience, arrogance, and lust–why not my prejudices, my accepted white privilege? Second, own the collective hurt of the black community and say “sorry.” It doesn’t matter if I have perpetrated every wrong, I can still let them know I am sorry for what my people group has done and I should be sorry!
So those are the “how’s” for me of continuing to overcome my biases and my blindness to white privilege:
- Surround myself with a diversity of friends
- Have honest friends that will call out my prejudices and blind spots
- Listen and ask questions willing to change when you hear the answers
- Be open to the conviction of the Holy Spirit
- Say sorry
What about you?