#FFFF: Abby Norman

I don’t want to be your white savior.

When I tell you about the schools I used to teach at, the ones that burn in my heart, the ones I cannot stop thinking about on my slow drive up to my current suburban classroom, it is not so you can be impressed with me and what I used to do. It is not so you can say how hip and with it I am. I am not some sainted super-hero. I am just a girl with a teaching degree trying to pay off her student loans.

I don’t want to be your white savior.

I don’t want to be the white-savior, in a story just so that you will suddenly care about it. I don’t want you to hear that “those people” have it all wrong, that they needed me and my white gaze. They didn’t. They don’t. They need resources, but whiteness isn’t one of them. The inner-city classroom needs people who are invested. Just like the inner-city neighborhood, the inner-city church. I suppose just like the suburban church, the suburban neighborhood, the suburban school. The suburbs have a whole support system of people with margin, investing in their community, this is the whole draw of the suburbs, isn’t it? Come be with people who have as many resources as you! Plus, it is convenient.

I don’t want to be your white savior.

I don’t want to be special because I found myself caring about the people around me. I don’t want giving a damn to be a brave and special thing. I don’t want you to think of going into a neighborhood thirty minutes from your house (and getting paid for it) as giving up your whole life, as dying to yourself. The fact that it is right now is a symptom of a broken system, not proof of how good and pure my heart is.

I don’t want to be your white savior.

I don’t want to be the piece you fit into the story so that it will make sense. I hope you have cognitive dissonance when you hear of the inequality happening right now in your own city. I don’t want my four years of hanging on and digging deep in my inner-city classroom used as a reason that the injustice is acceptable. “It is bad, but there are people who care so it will be okay.” The reality is that unless a lot changes, it won’t ever be okay. One bleeding-heart white lady can’t change the trajectory of inequality in this country.

I don’t want to be your white savior.

But I used to. I used to want to be the white savior in the story. I used to think that the best way to walk out this faith of mine was by becoming the savior to those who were different. By swooping in and saving, by pointing to another way. It seems I didn’t understand the Emmanuel part, the with us. As an outsider, I was no help at all. I couldn’t come in and rescue. I could only become a part of and care. It was only when I became a part of the community, when I began to think of  myself as a part of this place, that I could think about what a better way might look like. I wish that I wasn’t so surprised by this. Isn’t Jesus becoming flesh the thing that sets apart the Christian God?

I don’t want to be your white savior.

The white people aren’t the only ones who are consuming the white-savior stories. My students were waiting around to be saved. They were told that was the only way out, the only path available was through me. It is a pretty great lie we all are being fed, that you have to be special to go help, that you have to wait for someone special to do better, that only certain people can be the savior and most people just need to wait to be saved.

I don’t want to be your white savior.

Because we are all the savior, and we are all needing to be saved. This life we are living, these inequalities we are contributing to, they are all so much messier than the saved and the savior. Don’t make me your white savior so you can feel better about not doing the saving. Don’t make me the white savior so you can distance yourself from the people you think need saved. I don’t want to be your white savior. I don’t want to lay down my life so people can point to me and say “it is finished.”

I don’t want to be your white savior so that you don’t have to go and be Emmanuel, God with us.

Abby lives and loves in the city of Atlanta. She swears a lot more than you would think for a public school teacher and mother of two under three. She can’t help that she loves all words. She believes in champagne for celebrating everyday life, laughing until her stomach hurts and telling the truth, even when it is hard, maybe especially then. You can find her blogging at accidentaldevotional and tweeting at @accidentaldevo. Abby loves all kinds of Girl Scout cookies and literally burning lies in her backyard fire pit.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. He blogs here at Patheos and HuffPost Religion. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter, released in 2012. Most importantly he binge-watches TV dramas and plays in the snow with his family.

Find him on Twitter & Facebook!

  • Suzanne Terry

    Abby, I love you, I love you, I love you.

    That is all.

  • http://www.findingfruit.blogspot.com/ Jennifer Lundberg

    I LOVE this.

  • Mark Allman

    Spot on Abby….. We need to care for people where they are at in life; spend time getting to know who they are; interacting and letting them know us. Hopefully we both grow from the relationship.

  • Abby Norman

    You will. If you are in relationship you will change. IT is inevitable.

  • Abby Norman

    Thank you

  • Abby Norman

    mwah! that is all.

  • mike davis

    “Cognitive dissonance: Get to know these two words. It is the unseen enemy of mankind. It does more to cause war, crime and suffering than anything else, because it prevents people from learning and changing. If you are ready to overcome your cognitive dissonance and learn the truth of life, keep reading.- from The Present, a free book at http://www.truthcontest.com

    What do you think about this? Agree or disagree?

  • Abby Norman

    I think that cognitive dissonance points to things we need to consider, but people do not want to consider them.

  • http://www.jamiewrightbagley.com/ Jamie

    Thank you for writing this. Humanity focused. Relationship focused. The action is not “to fix” but “to be with.” Well said.

  • pastordt

    Well done, Abby. And thanks for inviting her, Zach.

  • http://zhoag.com/ zhoag

    I feel lucky to have this article posted in my space :).

  • Carol Fulghum Silver

    I work at this suburban school with Abby — my community– I feel I’m directly contributing– it’s a rewarding and satisfying career and our students share a good vibe. I think the vibe matters when reaching a student means passing a test. Thank you Abby for spreading the good vibe!

  • BoBraxton

    the phrase that hits me hardest is that we are people “with margin.” I think I know clearly what that means. For two semesters (right after college graduation) we lived in East Harlem. My spouse grew up in Atlanta (high school 1962 graduate).