Racial Injustice: A gigantic deal

The first time I ever heard about white privilege, I was sitting in a seminary classroom studying the first five books of the Old Testament. In the midst of our classroom discussions about the Bible, the topic of race bubbled to the surface. And it stayed there for the rest of the semester.

To call it a wake-up call would be an understatement. 

At first, I denied it (silently in my head of course...as not to say something politically incorrect). "No way," I thought. I didn't believe it was possible that I had privileges other people didn't have - merely by being white. But what about being a child of divorce? Doesn't that cancel out my white privilege? Or what about how hard my mom had to work as a single parent to raise two kids on a limited income? Doesn't that cancel out my white privilege? I searched high and low for some way to balance it all out. All the while, I kept listening to my classmates of color - as they shared about what it was like to be black women and black people in this country. 

It was hard to hear. There were many tears. I was mad. About everything. Could it be? Was this all right in front of my eyes and I didn't see it? I hated the thought that I was part of the problem. But I was. And in my heart, I knew it. Ignorance is not bliss. 

I wanted to believe that racism didn't exist - that it didn't matter whether a person was black or white or brown. I thought that by describing myself as white or other people as black - by merely acknowledging the reality of skin color - I was somehow being racist. 

I now recognize that actually - by denying the experiences of people who are colors other than my own - that is the real form of racism. 

Then, a couple years later, I took a class called "Ministry to the Incarcerated and Their Families." To call it a wake-up call would be an understatement. 

The racial and economic injustices of our mass incarceration system are too numerous to mention. There are justice-oriented people doing good work to make it right. But in the meantime, read this. Folks, we have a responsibility to understand the criminal justice system of which we are a part. 

During that class, I had the same thought I had in the Old Testament class: "Could it be? Was this all right in front of my eyes and I didn't see it?"

What's happening in Ferguson is about a lot more than the death of Michael Brown, Officer Darren Wilson, and the decision of a grand jury. 

What's happening in Ferguson is about generation upon generation of systemic racism. And I know we don't want to believe we're part of it - especially if we're hundreds of miles away - especially if we have friends from other races - especially if we enjoying thinking of ourselves as progressive and lovers of diversity. 

But we are part of the problem. We all are. There are no exemptions. As a citizen of this country, we're part of it. If you're white, you have white privilege. There is no getting around it. This doesn't mean that we, as white people, haven't experienced difficult times. It doesn't mean we don't experience other forms of prejudice.

It just means that merely by the fact that our skin is white, there are privileges we get that people of color don't get. And the sooner we accept this reality, the sooner we can start doing what we need to do to build a more just world where privileges are shared and the bonds of racism are loosed. We are part of the problem and we are equally part of the solution. (This is a helpful, short lesson a teacher shared with this teacher about privilege.)

Because of the worldview and the privilege that we have as white people (for those blog readers who are white), it's going to be really hard for many of us to understand the depth of the anger, rage, and pain currently being experienced by communities of color around the country - at the announcement of the grand jury verdict. These emotions aren't coming out of nowhere. They are coming out of a place of deep and long-ranging, raw pain at the way the system is set-up. The whole system. 

If you're white like me - then you have to believe me when I say: we can't assume we know what it's like to be another race. We don't know. And we do a major disservice to the human race when we try and make assumptions about being black or Mexican or Syrian or Saudi Arabian or Colombian. The only thing we can do is listen and read and pray and follow the guidance of Micah 6:8 - "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." That's the best thing we can do. And try to be open to what people of other races are willing to share. It's not about pitying people. It's about genuinely listening. It's about loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

Jesus says a lot about peace. He also says a lot about justice. And while I do pray for peace in Ferguson and around the world, I also pray for justice. I pray for an economic system, a criminal justice system, and educational system, and a health care system where all people receive the same privileges. Because right now - that doesn't exist. It doesn't mean progress isn't being made - it just means there is a LONG way to go. 

This is a fascinating post about 12 Ways White People Can Get Involved. You might not agree with it all of it; that's fine. But perhaps there will be one or two or ten insights worth acting upon. 

Here's what I know, friends: pretending like race doesn't exist is not the solution. I thought it was for a long time. It's not. The same holds true for gender and sexuality. Pretending that we're all the same gender or that gender doesn't matter...pretending that we all have the same sexual preferences or that sexuality doesn't matter: these aren't solutions. In fact, it's a dangerous approach. Again - ignorance is not bliss.  

Honest conversations. Placing a high priority on being an ally and advocating for the needs of others. Celebrating differences and learning from them. Confronting injustice and not ignoring it. Modeling non-violence. Searching Scripture for guidance. Praying. Humility - O Lord, please make us humble. And LISTENING. These are actual solutions. 

May the Spirit lead us. 


  1. Thanks, Emily, for the important wake-up call!

    Pastor Vern Christopherson's sermon from 11/23 is also a good reminder, in that along with your call to listen, we need to keep our eyes open, looking for Jesus in everyone we meet.

  2. Thank you Emily. Your insight in this was just what I needed to hear this week. I too was denying that I was part of the problem because I feel like I value diversity, etc., etc., but I am white and yes, have certainly experienced white privilege in my life. I need to work through the list of ways to be involved and to try to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Pat

  3. Pastor Emily, I can relate to everything that you just said, although I am white, I have two Granddaughters who are black. I see everyday how my granddaughters are treated. I've known for a long time that the deck is stacked against them. However, I keep trying to tell them to go to church and pray and maybe things will be different someday. That's not to say that they are faultless, but a lot of the things that happen to them is race related.