Dear White People: Why I am Racist and So Are You

Dear White People: Why I am Racist and So Are You June 19, 2015
Flickr, Creative Commons, jamieskinner00
Flickr, Creative Commons, jamieskinner00, some changes made

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear White People,

For the last 10 years I have led a church mission trip to Edisto Island, South Carolina. For me, it’s one of the best weeks of the year. I take a bunch of kids from a Chicago suburb to run an educational day camp for children on the island.

One of my favorite things about Edisto Island is Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church. We attend worship at Allen during the beginning of the week. Before we even enter the doors of the church, we are greeted with warm and welcoming smiles and hugs by black members of the church. When we walk through the doors, the pastor stops whatever he’s doing and greets us with open arms. After worship, the church invites us to lunch in their dining room.

Rarely do I experience a greater presence of the Kingdom of God than when I’m at Allen AME.

The warm greeting and abundant hospitality shows a spiritually healthy and loving environment. It is exactly what church should be. And it’s exactly how Emanuel AME embraced a 22 year old white man who came to their Bible study on Wednesday evening. They greeted him, accepted him, and loved him during the hour he spent with them. After receiving such hospitality, he murdered them.

In the face of such terror, it is tempting for white people to claim the terrorist is an aberration. That he’s not one of us. He’s the racist one, not us.

But that would be false. White America is racist. I’m racist. And so are you.

I can already hear my white brothers and sisters objecting, “Don’t generalize white people! Stop scapegoating us! I’m not a racist. I even have black friends!”

I don’t want to scapegoat white people. I want white people to take responsibility for the racism that infects us and our culture so that we can break the cycle. The fact is that white Americans live in a society that benefits from the racism that has permeated the United States for nearly 400 years. Because we benefit from racist structures, we are blind to them.

My good friend David Henson challenged white people to be honest in the wake of the Charleston terrorist attacks. Here’s my honesty.

I’ve been blind to racism because I live in a white world. I live in a white neighborhood. I go to a church that’s 95 percent white. I watch television where 90 percent of the faces are white. I shop at stores where white people shop. This is the white world in which I and the majority of white people live. And when a black person enters into my white world, I don’t greet them with arms wide open like the churches in South Carolina. Rather, I wonder to myself, “What are you doing here?”

It’s racist. And as my most prophetic Facebook friend, Dr. Stephen Ray, claims, it’s not normal. It’s sinful.

And it’s white America. Mimetic theory, which guides our work here at Teaching Nonviolent Atonement, claims that humans are not isolated individuals. Rather, we are interdividuals. We are formed by our environment. We learn how to be and act in the world through others. And so the terrorist attack on Wednesday wasn’t the result of a lone gunman who was mentally ill. It was the result of 400 years of white supremacy that teaches us that black lives don’t matter. It teaches that black lives are less valuable than white lives. It tells us that white people should live in white middle class neighborhoods while black people should live in the ghetto.

The terrorist attack on Wednesday was the result of white man who was formed by white American racism – a particularly pernicious form of hatred that infects all white people and continues to murder a countless number of black people. South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley was wrong when she told the Today Show, “There is one person to blame here. A person filled with hate. A person that does not define South Carolina and we are going to focus on that one person.”

I love South Carolina. The people of Charleston are some of the nicest I’ve ever met. But, as John Stewart pointed out last night, that “one person” who shot nine people in a church was formed by a state where “the roads that black people drive on are named for Confederate Generals, who fought to keep black people from being able to drive freely on that road.” That’s how white racism works to devalue black lives in the United States.

And white people can no longer afford to deny the violent racism that infects our lives. Rather, we must take responsibility for it. The first thing we need to do is to name it. Yes, name it in people like the terrorist who killed the nine people at Emmanuel last Wednesday. Name it in our political, economic, and entertainment systems that propagate and benefit from racist structures. For example, did you know that currently “the U.S. has a greater wealth gap between whites and blacks than South Africa did during apartheid”? Name it for the sinful, demonic structure that it is.

But just as important, name the racism that infects you. It’s not helpful to just name racism in others if we don’t also take responsibility for the racism within each of us. Name it in yourself so that you can repent from it. And once you repent from it, name it again and again. Racism is so embedded in our culture that its evil will surely return to our lives.

As you name it, let the scales of white supremacy and privilege that blind you from America’s structures of racism fall from your eyes. Work to change the oppressive racist political, economic, and educational systems that permeate our country.  Read The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Read up on Tim Wise. And as you do the personal work of repenting from the racism that infects you, seek friendships with African Americans. Listen to what they have to say about their experience of living in the U.S.

We can no longer afford to deny the racism that infects white America. It’s time that we dismantle the racism that permeates our cultural systems and our personal lives. Otherwise we will doom our black brothers and sisters to more white terrorist attacks.

Yours truly,

Adam Ericksen


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  • Guthrum

    To be sure there are white racists. I was raised around some racists. They are gone. I am not and never have been a racist. There are still some racists. But I will tell anyone that the era that we were children in was far different from what we live in today. A black president ? Few would have believed it and not many would accept it long ago.

    • Nathan Aldana

      Most on the right still dont accept it or else birther fever would have never been such a popular topic.

  • Johan Stavers

    It’s only a ghetto if you turn it into one. Most neighborhoods start out pretty much the same. It is the people who live there who mess it up.

    Also it is unjust to claim all white people benefit from ‘white privilege’. Some are dead poor and cannot claim a single penny of money that comes from black slave labor.
    In fact there is in some cases a higher probability that an African-American is a decedent of a slave owner than that some random white American is a decedent of a slave owner, certainly if you take in to consideration the Europeans who came to America after slavery was abolished.

    • Most neighborhoods don’t start out the same. Here’s great article on how racist laws and discrimination built the ghetto: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism/2015/05/how-we-built-the-ghettos-why-we-built-the-ghettos/

      Here’s an article that explains white privilege in the context you have put it: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/gina-crosleycorcoran/explaining-white-privilege-to-a-broke-white-person_b_5269255.html

      Take care,
      Adam

      • Johan Stavers

        “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.”

        No, I don’t. The majority of the world population is non-white and with white I don’t mean like George Zimmerman but entirely of European decent.

        “When I am told about our national heritage or about ‘civilization,’ I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.”

        Yes I know whites were all slave traders, colonialist, imperialists and Nazi’s and therefore you as a white person that didn’t have anything to do with that have no right to ever stand up for yourself ever again. no need to go on about that. That message is clear.

        “If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I
        can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my race.”

        I’m pretty sure whites get pulled over by the police because the police doesn’t want to be perceived as racists, even-though in particular cases they have every reason to suspect a particular ethnicity more that others.
        This in fact even diminishes police effectiveness because they divert attention from high prospect catch to low prospect catch (just statistics).

        “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.”

        If you are black move to Afrika, if you are Asian move to Asia, etc. Every country on earth has a majority ethnicity. But I do sympathize with people of color. All those white people probably reflect a lot of sunlight which can be hurtful to the eyes. Do note that the notion that being in the company of people of your own race is in and by itself preferable, ‘a privilege’ (according to the author) is actually a pretty racist position to take.

        Basically the whole concept of white privilege is like a bag you can put just about anything in making such a wide concept that it is basically meaningless and the only purpose it has is to make white people feel so guilty or at least uneasy that they don’t resist (or even better attack others that do!) when cultural norms or rules in society are rewritten to be discriminatory against those same whites.
        Of course the author claims that the purpose of the concept is not to make you feel guilty but to make you ‘aware’. But that doesn’t hold water because ‘aware’ doesn’t change anything so why would you bring something up only to have people shrug and continue business as usual?
        No – the objective is to change those very situations and behaviors that are being labeled as part of ‘white privilege’ and those can only be changed by artificially bending ‘the rules’ against those ‘privileged’. This ‘bending’ is also known as ‘discrimination’. The concept ‘white privilege’ is insidious and amounts to sowing the seeds of institutionalized racism against whites (like affirmative action). But of course discrimination is positive when it is targeted against whites so who am I to complain…

  • ravitchn

    Racism is caused by the fact that blacks do not behave in a civilized manner most of the time and this frightens whites. We cannot imagine living with them. We pay more for housing, more for private schools, more for everything, besides our taxes to pay for the undeserving poor, in order to avoid them. We want the, as my cousin says, to be invisible. Don’t blame us. Let the black churches spend less on Rolex watches and Lexus cars for their preachers and let them do something about black unmarried mothers and druggies, and criminals. They don’t seem ever to accomplish anything, as far as I can see.

    • I have no idea how to respond to such a comment except to say that this proves my point and I hope that this hard line racist thinking will die out within a generation.

  • EPluribusUnum

    I live in a place where whites are roughly one-third of the population. I wouldn’t have moved here if I was racist. Could have stayed where white folks like me are the majority. Even managed to marry a Filipina from Bicolandia, so we have what racist you undoubtedly would call half-caste children.

    Lastly, there are also white ghettos, except that we don’t use the “g” word in reference to the same. You probably call those living there, poor white trash.

    Oh, and I lied. We do call the one place ghetto. Appalachia. The Big White Ghetto.

    • Hey! Nicely done on moving to your location. In your first paragraph you present yourself very well as a non-racist.

      But then you show your cards by playing the resentful victim and projecting hatred upon me. I don’t need to you to project hatred upon me – I know it’s already there. I don’t know you, but your offending comments tell me that you are still dealing with the demons of racism.

      And that’s okay. You’re not alone. Most of us are dealing with them.

      Grace and peace,
      Adam

  • I’m sorry that you are a racist, but I’m happy that you are trying to improve. Please, don’t put all white people into your racist camp.

    • Hi Robert. No need to apologize, but did you read the article? I hope so. Racism is in the air we breathe. I wish racism was a “camp” that we could easily identify, but it’s not. We may not be overtly racist, but it’s there. It infects all of us. If we want to abolish it, we first need to be honest about how it infects us as a nation and as individuals.

      Thanks!
      Adam

      • There’s no denying that racism exists, but you are very much mistaken when you conclude that we are all racists inside.