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    Confronting White Privilege From Within

    We 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.

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. 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

    Comment

    On Wednesday, March 13, 2019, Concerned said:

    As time progresses I think the notion of "white privilege" has less and less relevance in Canadian society. In fact, I struggle to accept that it exists at all.

    The message of the gospel is not one of total social and economic equality here on earth. If "white privilege" exists it does so for a whole number of reasons, perhaps only some of which are related to skin colour. Articles such as this one do nothing but serve to divide and fuel a fire that really no longer burns with any real heat in today's Canada.

     

    On Thursday, March 7, 2019, Seth Hennessy said:

    Darryn! Great story.... thank you for such relevance and well said. As for individuals such as Mr. Steckbauer (I am assuming a white male) do not worry about their comments.

     

    On Sunday, March 3, 2019, Marlene Greaves said:

    Thank you your sincerity. As you say- it’s incredibly ingrained. I am Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand. We have unbelievable disparity in our country that no one likes to speak of, or, as written, make a joke of. I am in full agreement. I am a part of a fantastic church but until we - as a body - can acknowledge that our church culture is primarily white, middle class we will not have an inroad to the hearts of our people.

     

    On Saturday, March 2, 2019, Justin Steckbauer said:

    It's important to recognize that there are two sides to this debate, one that white privilege is a fact, and the other that white privilege is a myth that is not supported by the facts.

    Here is a link to an article which details the other perspective, with statistics, showing white privilege is not consistent with statistics of society: https://www.nationalreview.com/2016/02/white-privilege-myth-reality/

    I would also point out, that saying 'white privilege' doesn't seem to really help anyone. In fact it seems to divide people, and it seems to lead to more divisions in society, and more hatred between people groups, not less. Additionally, teaching an entire group of people that they are systemic victims of another is not a particularly good to do. Once people feel they are victim, it can be quite self-defeating.

    Also, total equality in society is not the goal of the Christian gospel message, though it is the goal of more secular progressive ideology, which seems to be infiltrating the church more and more.

    The goal of the body of Christ is to win people to Christ, and carry the gospel. It's true that we are called to advocate for the poor and the oppressed, but we really do need to evaluate if it's wise to do this by attacking one group of people by calling out their 'white privilege' which may or may not be statically accurate. It seems to me that a far better strategy would be to help those who are marginalized, by empowering them to gain employment, connect with God, and pursue their goals in the world, not by telling them they are victims. Those are just my thoughts, thanks for listening.

     

    On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, Kathie Chiu said:

    Well said, Darryn! This is a well written article and well laid out with helpful tips to educate ourselves more. Our founders vision was that it’s about others, not us.

     

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