The world of today’s student is one filled with daily activity on the Internet. Communication by way of blogs, Facebook, twitter and email is practically incessant. Almost everything is accomplished by way of our computer in this day and age. This is also true when it comes to conversations regarding diversity and reconciliation. As “iron sharpens iron,” students from different backgrounds educate one another through their critical dialogues. Back and forth they go on their computers, sharing inquires and glimpses into the vigorous process taking place inside them. Their response to one another sheds light and opens new worlds of thought and perspectives.
The following email exchange is an excerpt from the student anthology, “Blessed Journey.” Each year since its inception, the Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation (SCORR) has offered a workshop session addressing the role white people in America play in the process of racial reconciliation. The following exchange took place as preparations were underway for the workshop and conference.
Todd Anderson, a white male student, was the presenter. Through email he asked his friends who were students of color, what they would suggest to white students as they engage in the process of reconciliation, and more specifically, the issue of white privilege. Ilayna Wright, an African-American student, wrote the response to Todd’s email. Her thoughts reflect her process as she critically analyzed the challenges she was experiencing. These reflections are offered, not as a dogmatic treatise on white privilege, but as a prompt to stimulate further thought and to use as a tool for dialogue with students or colleagues. Enjoy this glance into the student world of online chats.
From: Todd Anderson
Subject: White People and Reconciliation
To: Friends who are Students of Color
Dear Friends, as you all know, the Student Congress on Racial Reconciliation is just around the corner. I will be leading a workshop regarding the role white people play in diversity and multi-ethnic relations. We are bringing up various issues and are trying to find a way for students to process and begin constructing working solutions. The main issue is white privilege, coming to terms with its reality and the frustrations it raises with students of color.
What we would like from you is suggestions for white students as they begin to look for direction in how to deal with diversity and the realization of their privilege. The question is: “What sort of response would you like to see white people take regarding the issue of white privilege?” Please make your response concise as opposed to long-winded.
If you could do this for us, it would be extremely helpful. This is your opportunity to tell us (the white population) what you really want from us (i.e. the attitudes you want us to have, how we should treat you, how to deal with sensitive issues, etc.) It is very important that this information come from you because your perspective would be much more valid. Please respond ASAP if you can.
Thanks a lot. -Todd
From: Ilyana Wright
Subject: White People and Reconciliation
To: Todd Anderson
Hey Todd, here are my responses to your question. Be advised, these are only representative of myself and not African-Americans or people of color as a whole. So anybody else out there that may feel misrepresented by my comments or has something else to add, go for it. Here goes... I would like white students to respond to the challenge of racial reconciliation as follows:
1. Accept Responsibility: Accept responsibility (as opposed to blame – there is a difference) for the acts of racial oppression committed in the past to establish white privilege in the United States, including the genocide and illegal disenfranchisement of Native Americans and Mexicans; slavery; the internment camps of the Japanese, etc. Attempting to dismiss your connection to these acts of oppression by saying, “No one in my family ever owned slaves,” etc. is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter whether or not you were directly involved in committing any of these acts, nor does it matter whether any of your ancestors directly committed any such acts. What matters is that you are a member of the group that benefits from the acts of oppression committed in this country.
To use an analogy: It is like being in a relay race. At the beginning of the race, fans, coaches, trainers and members of your relay team purposely do things to sabotage members of the other teams, creating an unfair advantage for everyone on your team. Now the baton is passed on to you and you are running your leg of the race with a huge lead over all the other competitors running this leg with you.As people of color, we are not asking you to in any way minimize your efforts. By all means, do your best. What those of us on the other teams (people of color) are asking is that when, not if, you win your leg of the race, at least acknowledge that sabotage had a lot to do with your victory. And as you come to accept this fact, know that we are not blaming you specifically when we cry foul and complain that the race is unfair. Nor are we asking to end the race and start all over, since in reality that’s impossible. We do hope that you will step up as an athlete of integrity and acknowledge that the sabotage did indeed give you an unfair advantage over your competitors. We hope this acknowledgement will lead not to guilt and shame (which debilitates and entrenches you in a counterproductive pity party); not to you relinquishing your medal to another competitor (this causes the other competitor to doubt his true merit and further lessens his sense of worth); but to righteous indignation that will inspire you to help devise creative and even unconventional ways to make the race a fair competition for the athletes of all teams set to run the next leg of the race. We are asking that if you truly believe “win or lose, I want it to be fair and square” that you act accordingly.
2. Realize the “American” way is actually White Culture. The “American Way” as currently globally perceived and promoted is actually American white culture. It imposes its system of values and ideals in an imperialistic manner onto the other cultures that exist in this society and the world at large, an imposition that is unfair and unjust. The “American” way declares white culture as superior to all others while de-emphasizing and out rightly denying its obvious flaws and shortcomings. Most strikingly, the “American” way is hardly representative of all Americans (Red states vs. Blue states).
3. Realize that White Culture Does Exist. White Americans do indeed have a distinct identifiable culture (socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, and institutions). This culture is not as strongly connected to ethnic or geographic origins as other cultures, yet it is distinguishable, predominantly practiced by Americans of European ancestry. The danger is that it has been relegated to the status of the “elephant in the room” in that those who practice it either deny its existence or purposely refuse to acknowledge it. Still it has been given power and free reign equivalent to the force of a “bull in a china shop,” causing damage to that very extent.
4. Accept and Embrace Your Culture: The best way you can help us as people of color is to learn about yourself, i.e., embrace and accept your culture – the good, the bad, the ugly. By accepting both the positive and negative aspects of your culture, it will help you to relinquish latent and blatant feelings of superiority. Every culture has good and bad qualities. All cultures are in need of the redemptive power of Christ. This is the great equalizer that makes no one culture greater than another.
5. Realize How White Culture Affects Christianity. See that American white culture influences the way you live out your faith. By trying to dismiss culture altogether with statements like “Why can’t we just be one in Christ?” realize that you are 1) really denying the influence your own culture has on your interpretation and implementation of God’s word in your life; and 2) asking everyone to just conform to your specific image of Christianity derived from your cultural interpretation of what it means to be conformed to Christ’s image and thus assuming that this image is superior. It is imperative that you come to see that how you practice your faith is greatly influenced by your white cultural beliefs. Until you realize that, in your evangelistic efforts, you will repeat the mistakes made by so many white American missionaries who have gone before you – you will be proselytizing for your culture to the detriment of the true gospel. You will be enslaving others to your white American cultural beliefs instead of ushering them into the true freedom that Christ offers in the gospel.
6. Don’t Be Colorblind. Realize that to say to me “I don’t see you as a black person, female, etc, I just see you as my friend, person, etc.” you are devaluing my culture and my gender. You are also insulting me by exercising your white privilege to re-define me as someone you want to accept. This is considered an exercise of your white privilege because due to the imbalance of power in American society, which gives whites greater credibility, what you say becomes equivalent to fact while what I say as a person of color is suspect until given credence by a white person.
7. Stop Looking to People of Color for Sympathy. Do not look to us as people of color to stroke you, liberate you, assuage your sense of guilt, or provide answers for you. It is our hope that as you grow in awareness and acceptance of your culture, our presence will continually serve to make you uncomfortable with the way things are, and through this discomfort you will work towards change.
8. Stop trying to be the World’s Savior. Do not aspire to become the “Great White Hope.” A solution to racial conflict will only be found by all of us - members of every creed, culture and nation - working together from the perspective of truly seeing one another as equal co-laborers with equally valid input. If we do not learn how to stand united on equal footing, or divisions and struggles for superiority will fell us all.
9. Stop Viewing Commitment to Diversity as Secular vis-à-vis non-Christian. Realize as a Christian that diversity and the process of racial reconciliation is not a secular concept. God’s plan of redemption encompasses the whole person including their personality and culture, not just their soul. Conforming to the image of Christ does not mean relinquishing your personality, cultural traditions and beliefs. Instead, it means allowing God to redeem and transform all that is good but was tarnished by sin. It also means giving up all that the enemy has deceived you into accepting as true, which is really a distortion of the actual truth. As you begin to relinquish your dogmatic belief that your paradigm is right and everyone else’s is wrong; as you come to accept the fact that your point of view is also flawed and in need of correction and redemption, you will see the lie of entitlement, an entitlement that was acquired for you at the expense of the humanity and basic dignity of others. It is a fearful thing to be confronted with the fact that a basic fundamental belief you have held regarding life since childhood is false. That is why we have God’s word to cling to. As one of the foremost Christian apologists of modern times – Dr. Walter Martin says, “Let every man be a liar but God’s word be true.”
In conclusion Todd… I tried to adhere to your stipulations as closely as I could, really I did! I wish you guys the best for your session. I’ll be praying for you guys and stand in support of you 100%. I know you’ll do us proud! As I stated at the beginning of the message, if anyone else has anything else to say, speak now or forever hold your peace.
Glen Kinoshita is the Director of Multi-Ethnic Programs at Biola University. He can be reached at glen.kinoshita/at/biola.edu.