The past few days, I’ve been observing the kerfuffle over the Sparrow Conference and the interview delivered by Ekemini Uwan. She spoke boldly about the need for white women to divest in whiteness by embracing their ethnic heritages and rejecting the power structure that whiteness created. She briefly explained that race was a false construct devised to create a classification of people and the result was whiteness that is rooted in plunder and theft. Unfortunately, the YouTube video was removed and her presence erased from the conference because some people couldn’t handle what she was saying. I personally believe that people weren’t hearing what she was saying and concluded that she was making racists statements against white people.
Moving past the conference and how issues related to race today are being addressed, I can see why some responded the way they did. We are bombarded by racialized sensitivities and the propensity to shut down any kind of pushback even when there are legitimate concerns about the way issues are being addressed. I notice this tendency to create hyperbole and conflation especially around current events, political ideology and public policy and wrap it around the danger of white supremacy. I get that those classified as white people are persistently told they are the problem and they need to bow down in silence and repentance to every jot and tittle of demands or else they are complicit in the perpetuation of racism. Nobody wants an accusatory finger pointed at them at all times. Particularly with Christians, I can see how off-putting this can be. I observe that sometimes the focus on race can supersede our focus on Christ.
But we can’t deny the fact of how and why the false construct of the white and black race was created. It was constructed to create a hierarchal system whereby one class was deemed superior and one inferior. This hierarchal system emerged out of Europe based on economic trade that soon evolved into a full blown denial of personhood towards those of African descent. One only needs to look into the annuls of history to see how this resulted in power structures whereby one group of people, those classified as the white race, set the standard by which all else was subjected to including people deemed inferior solely because of the melanin and places of origin.
It is those power structures that have been firmly in place for centuries that infested every area of society, even the church. I was yet again soberly reminded of how deeply entrenched racially prejudicial attitudes were in the fabric of American society with the viewing of Best of Enemies, based on the true story of a klansman and black activist came together and catapulted integration. It was hard watching the resistance and hate. It wasn’t just that those with racially superior mindsets hated those they deemed inferior, but those attitudes pervaded the governmental structures that dictated how people were to live. It struck me hard that this is what whiteness was all about.
Now I contend that today, much has changed, including attitudes, laws, systems and general cultural mood. That doesn’t mean society is rid of racially prejudicial attitudes but I would go further to say they are far less tolerated than 50 years ago. However, we can’t ignore the fact that there may be lingering vestiges of those power structures based on what we define as the standard.
Where these structures exist in the church, I do think it’s right to address it if we are to live as those who equally value one another, anchored in our union in Christ. But that also means being judicious about what we deem as “whiteness,” not carelessly throwing out the term or defaulting to it because we are culturally uncomfortable. But when it is used, let’s strive for an understanding of what is meant by the term and not knee-jerk reacting against it. Unfortunately, just throwing it out there conjures up hostile reactions because either it is deemed as an accusation against white people (in some case it just might be) and being told they are automatically guilty. But that is not what I believe divesting of whiteness means or at least the way my sister was using it.
But perhaps it might be better if just simply divest of the concept of race altogether and concentrate on what Scripture says about how we are to be. What does it look like to really love one another in a way that people will know we are Christ’s disciples? Perhaps we just set “whiteness” and “blackness” aside because it is built on a false concept, anyway. How can we build on something that wasn’t meant to be in the first place? As I observe it–the misunderstandings, the hostilities, the accusations, the persistent punting to black and white–only creates divided camps vying for attention, often under the guise of righteousness. I have this growing conviction that we can’t bring correction to a false concept using the very same false concept. Yes, let’s identify by ethnicity as Scripture is replete with those references. But more importantly, let’s identify as those brought by sacrificial purchase of blood so that we can truly value one another in our diversity of ethnicities and cultures.