Feb26TueWe need to acknowledge our status as the first step to equality. February 26, 2019 by Darryn Oldford
- Filed Under:
- Opinion & Critical Thought
As a lifelong and multi-generational Salvationist, justice plays an active role in my life. I have volunteered with the homeless, people with addictions, refugees and people with developmental disabilities. All of these individuals, made in God’s image, are deserving of love and respect. As God’s Army, we are called to fight for the most vulnerable in our society, as our founders did. In this context of struggling toward a more just and equitable world, I have come to realize that the colour of my skin has given me privileges I didn’t earn.
When I moved from Winnipeg—where I lived in an area aptly named Whyte Ridge—to Brampton, Ont., I went from a majority white school to one where I was in the minority. Most of my friends were South Asian or Black and I started to understand what life was like outside of my cultural bubble.
Since then, I have lived in South Korea and Kenya, which added to my knowledge of the world and my place in it. Although I will never fully understand what it’s like to be a racial minority, these experiences opened my eyes to white privilege. It was, and continues to be, a learning process.
A lot of white people don’t believe in white privilege. Those with difficult lives often don’t recognize that their circumstances are difficult in spite of being white, not because they are white. Others claim “reverse racism,” thinking they are being discriminated against because of their skin colour, while “undeserving” minorities take jobs and scholarships that belong to them. They are unable to see that their skin colour is a currency that gives them advantages people of colour don’t have, and that programs promoting equity are merely trying to level the playing field. Still others point to significant societal gains by racial minorities, and claim that racism is almost dead.
These observations don’t align with facts. A recent CBC article profiled Hassan Hai, a man in Newfoundland and Labrador who helped raise more than $200,000 for violence prevention, only to be called a terrorist on social media due to his complexion and beard.
Whether we believe in it or not, white privilege is alive and influences the world around us. Since we can’t change what we don’t acknowledge, agreeing that it exists is the first step toward being better neighbours.
I can’t speak for people who face discrimination based on the colour of their skin. What I can share is how I learned, and continue to learn, to be a better ally for people who are racial minorities.
- Be quiet and listen. This is the hardest step, but it’s the most necessary. When people tell you their stories of discrimination, listen. Don’t discount their message before they’ve had a chance to speak. Take the perspective that discrimination is unjust. If what they’re saying sounds like a personal attack on you and your way of life—despite the fact that they are talking about their own life and experiences—take those feelings to the foot of the cross. In order to truly listen, we need to work through our own pride and shame.
- Observe the world around you. One of the hallmarks of white privilege is that it’s invisible until you start looking for it. It’s not that it doesn’t exist; rather that it’s so ingrained in everything around us that it appears normal. When I really started looking, I was amazed by what I saw. I walked through a security checkpoint with barely a look from the guard, while my Black friends had to empty out their bags. I was treated as an authority on Scripture while standing next to a pastor with a master’s degree and 20 years of experience, who is overlooked based on his skin colour. Once you truly hear people, you start to see the patterns in the world around you.
- Do your homework. There are a lot of educational resources that can help you understand your own privilege and how others are discriminated against. Talking to friends can be helpful, but remember that this is one person with one perspective. Often, but not always, we surround ourselves with people with similar stories and life experiences, making it difficult to see the complexity of race. Learning history and reading the stories of people of colour from other communities and countries will open your mind and heart. Pestering your friends with questions can also be annoying after a time, so keep in mind that a number of people have already written about their experiences online and in books you can easily access.
- Take action. This doesn’t necessarily mean organizing or attending a protest. Taking action can be as simple as letting someone who tells a racist joke know it’s not funny. If you’re in leadership, it also means actively trying to encourage and empower people of colour at work or in ministry, to better reflect our multicultural society.
If enough good Christian people are on the side of truth, justice and love, even when it feels like we are the only one taking a stand, we can change the world around us. Society does not improve by itself—it is moved forward by those with the power to change things. By the very nature of being white, I know I have power. I choose to use this power to amplify the voices of those who are marginalized and work toward a more equitable future.
Unless the good news of Christ includes the active dismantling of unequal power structures, it isn’t good news for everyone. If you are a white person reading this, I challenge you to be quiet and listen, observe the world around you, do your homework and take action. This is what we truly need to start doing in order to be a church for all people.
Darryn Oldford is a senior soldier at Bloor Central Corps in Toronto.
Feature illustration: © wildpixel/iStock.com