This is a hard article to write, for I am a white person who doesn’t want to be defensive—or racist. But last month I was a bit disconcerted when I saw that a respected acquaintance asserted on Facebook that all white folk are racist. (I assume he used the word racist as an adjective rather than as a noun.)
What is Racism?
Like most controversial terms, racism (or racist) is not easy to define to everyone’s satisfaction.
Here is the Oxford online dictionary definition of racist (as an adjective): “Showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another.”
In many circles today, racism is understood as racial prejudice plus power, and I think that is a helpful depiction of the issue. Racism is experienced negatively primarily by those who are minorities and without significant social or political power.
Thus, racism is closely linked to both white supremacy and white privilege, with the latter being a by-product of the former. While many whites, such as I, may eschew the concept of white supremacy, it is undeniable that all of us whites benefit from white privilege.
Are All Whites Racist?
Two years ago I read and reviewed Leroy Barber’s new book, Embrace: God’s Radical Shalom for a Divided World. (Here is the link to my review of that book.) Then in November of last year, I was quite pleased when Barber, who is an African-American, was the guest preacher of the church where June and I are members.
Barber preached a good sermon, and after the worship service we had a restaurant meal with him, our pastor, and a few others. All of us were white except for Barber, but it seemed to be a good and cordial time.
Shortly after that, Barber and I (Leroy and Leroy) became Facebook friends, but soon I began to feel a little uneasy with some of his posts. They were mainly for his black friends, it seems.
So, it was with some consternation that I read a Barber FB post last month in which he asserted that “all white folk are racist.” (That posting, and the many comments on it, can be found here.)
It was disappointing to read Barber’s posting, for I thought he was working for reconciliation and that my pastor and many in our church, including me, were allies working with him in combating racism with the goal of full equality and mutual respect for all people.
Barber's blanket statement that all of us whites are racist was not helpful.
What Can We “Racist” Folk Do?
This coming weekend, Sept. 28~30, Rainbow Mennonite Church (RMC) will be holding a symposium on “The Ongoing White Supremacy of Our Everyday Lives: Consider, Confront, Change.”
Our guest speaker, who will deliver two keynote talks and the Sunday morning sermon, is Dr. Jalane Schmidt, a bi-racial professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia and the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Charlottesville.
It will be interesting to hear what she has to say to us RMC’s church members, most of whom are white, about being racist. It will also be interesting to hear what she will suggest about changes we need to make.
Perhaps all of us who benefit from white privilege are so much a part of the problem that there is little we can do to solve the persistent problem of racism.
Maybe the best we whites can do is just to seek to understand the ravages of racism from the standpoint of people of color—and to keep trying to chip away the structures of white supremacy in American society.