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Beyond the KKK: Getting at White Supremacy in the Church

Beyond the KKK: Getting at White Supremacy in the Church May 6, 2017

The Meaning of White Supremacy

The term white supremacy gets at the heart of what some would call colonialism or giving precedence to white culture. Ultimately, what it comes down to is believing or living as if whites are superiors to blacks or people of other races. As if whites are “supreme.”

It doesn’t necessarily carry a conscious intent of malevolence. In fact, it may be something you have never thought about before. But, in essence, it is assuming white culture should be the guide of what is proper. It is not even having it occur to you that a different way might be just as valid. It is insisting that every conversation must center on the perspectives of white people. It is talking over other people, people of other races, when they take a risk to share with you their true thoughts about race–or anything else. It is only listening to the opinions of people from other races that confirm what you already think. It is being “colorblind,” not even noticing how white culture is operating, because you aren’t the one who is different. It is being so deep in the fishbowl of white culture that you can’t even see you are in the fishbowl.

I remember when I took a Dismantling Racism class in seminary. There were bits of it I got and large portions of it that I really resisted, convinced those parts were all a lot of liberal hooey. I remember in particular thinking that there was no such thing as white culture. I couldn’t see how I had a culture at all. I think I remember one of the professors saying that we only see our culture in contrast to another culture.

“Seeing” in the Midst of the Fishbowl

After a great deal of listening over the course of the last few years, I can “see” my culture now. I’m sure there are many aspects of it that I still don’t realize are my culture and think are just “normal human stuff,” but I see a lot more than I used to. The only reason I can see more now is because of the opportunity to interact with more people from black American culture. As I have done this, I have come to see so many parallels with the experience of moving to another country and being suddenly immersed in that new culture.

As a missionary kid, I went through new culture immersion several times. For many people entering a new culture, there is an initial phase of “culture shock.” The world seems upended; everything you thought was a certain way is another way. Things that you thought were absolutes are questioned now. If you are a person of faith, you might even see your faith expressed in a very different way than you had ever experienced before (in Latin America, I remember three-hour church services!). Initially, you are uncomfortable and deeply homesick. The food doesn’t taste “right”; nothing makes sense. You can’t understand what people are saying. You might even be angry that the culture you are visiting is “doing it wrong.” But if you continue to process and move through this stage, eventually you come to a place of settled peace within the culture. A place of acceptance.

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