The past week has seen a lot of retrospective commentary around the year since George Floyd was murdered by a uniformed police officer while other officers looked on and did nothing. I’ve heard interviews with social leaders saying both that change has happened in the months since and that we still have a long way to go. I’ve certainly read a lot that concerns me around the militarization of our nation’s various police forces and the resultant presumption by officers that anyone they encounter is to be regarded as an enemy.
The past week has also given us a number of retrospective articles and books around the centennial remembrance of the Tulsa massacre, in which a white mob destroyed the entire successful Black neighborhood of Greenwood, killing, looting, and burning until nothing was left and an estimated 300 bodies were mostly dumped in unmarked graves (that are now being excavated by archaeologists). There is no question that those white people saw successful Blacks as the enemy, and it is appalling to me that race relations have improved so little over the past century.
Back in April, after Derek Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder, I read a brief blog post by my friend Paul Moore that pondered the bigger picture in America. One line in his post stood out for me: “As long as identity is fused with social location there can be no real justice.” I want to reflect further on this idea because I think it weaves together some important strands in our common life these days.
Paul was reflecting on the fear held by so many white Americans that they will be “replaced” by the growing number of people of color. He points out that replacement isn’t literal. Instead, it’s about being displaced (my word) in positions of “power and privilege.” To me, this is key. It was the success of that Greenwood community in Tulsa that the white mob just could not stand—or let stand.
When we cannot treat everyone equally—when we insist there must be hierarchies, power, and control—people will always view the other as a potential enemy. Therefore, it is our social location as much as our identity that is the underlying problem. I’ve been appalled at the way Christianity has been coopted by white nationalists who fuse those ideas and thereby distort the image and message of Christ. The underlying issues are much less about Christianity than about white privilege and white supremacy in an increasingly multicultural and multicolored nation and world.
I’ve also been appalled with what I have learned in the various books that our antiracism group has read over the past year. White identity fused with social location at the top of the American power structure has served to suffocate justice for too many “other” people throughout the history of the United States of America. Perhaps the difference now is that social media and a proliferation of news outlets have allowed other voices to be heard, to speak up, to witness to the abuse of power and privilege, and to share videos of murder, injustice, and abuse.
It’s Memorial Day, which was created to commemorate war dead. There’s a long-running undeclared civil war in this country that has left tens of thousands of people dead over the past century and more. On this Memorial Day, I don’t have solutions for our systemic evil, but I no longer shy away from calling it such. I’m in good company in that regard. In order to have justice, we need to have social equity and equality. There must be no special social location for one group over another, whether it’s by skin color, educational opportunities, social connections, or any of a number of other factors.
Yes, that’s radical. I hope I’m channeling Jesus, who insisted we resist in whatever way we could (“walk with those Roman soldiers two miles”), and the Apostle Paul, who insisted there were no differences between Jews and gentiles, slaves and free people.
From my perspective, our single social location should be child of God.
What social locations do you enjoy? How might you work to bring everyone onto an equal footing?
Nicely put, Shirin.
Thank you, Paul, and thanks for the inspiration!
One of the gifts of the pandemic, for me, has been the time and opportunity to read books like Caste, White Fragility, White Supremacy and Me, How to be an Antiracist and others that have opened my eyes to my own privilege and the history and current realities of racism. I am searching for what I can do. I appreciate your statement that our single social location should be child of God. Amen!
Thank you for sharing a bit of your journey, Pat. I’m glad that you consider this time to read these books to be a gift of the pandemic. Blessings on searching for what is yours to do.
If you are so concerned about “white privilege”, why don’t you stop making a living off yours? You and your spouse could get out of the preaching business and find jobs frying chicken at a Church’s Chicken. Sell your house, go live somewhere off 27th Ave in Phoenix.
Stop assuming the worst about white people. Stop using all this sociological jargon like displacement and identity.
What has worked in improving the lives of the poor and marginalised of all races? African-Americans have run the political machines in major American cities for at least a generation and the schools continue to fail their students. Drug addiction still cripples Americans and American families.
Race-shaming doesn’t work. If you weren’t privileged and somewhat immune yourself , maybe you would understand that all lower classes of Americans are exploited by an increasingly multiracial power elite, e.g. Barack Obama, Eric Holder, Lauri Lightfoot, Maxine Waters.
Go get a crappy job and live in a trailer, then lecture us on White Privilege
Ah, David, why do you presume I assume the worst about white people? That would mean I presume the worst about myself (or you, for that matter), and I do not. I presume that it is very challenging to avoid being impacted by our social location. The point of my post is that we all need to be on a level playing field (as children of God), not that we need to raise up token multicultural representatives of each “race” and call it good. That’s not good; that’s replicating a domination society when my goal is to do away with that concept of domination altogether. That’s what’s truly radical (and yes, unlikely, but the point is to keep pointing out that there could be a different solution, over and over again, in the hopes that it might someday catch on). Then no one who fried chicken would make any less money, or be worth any less, than those who sold multimillion-dollar homes.
Thank you, as always, for being willing to engage with me on these issues.
So when are joining the throngs of “White Trash”?
Well, David, my family has experienced that label before (my McArthur ancestors gave as their reason for emigrating to America “high rents and oppression” and I still have relatives in the hills of Tennessee), so that’s not a threat to me or an issue for me. “White Trash” is a label created by sinful humans to put others down and thereby (theoretically) raise themselves up. Again, the point of my post is that God created every single one of us as “very good” (re-read Genesis 1).