White Fragility: What Next?
Written by TM of JC on August 20, 2020
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the privilege to hear from professors, pastors and church leaders of various backgrounds as we’ve reflected on White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. I am not one of those professors, pastors, or church leaders, though I hold each of them in great esteem. What I am is an adopted Asian-American woman, a recent graduate of Wheaton College, and the newly introduced Managing Editor here at The Exchange.
I do not pretend to have the academic or professional credibility that our other contributors have had, nor do I expect to have such expertise. I do not write despite this lack, but because of it—there is a certain hope that comes from youth, naivete, and inexperience that is difficult to replicate. For that reason, my aim is to focus less on textual criticisms that many of our contributors have had for DiAngelo’s work. Instead, I will focus on ultimately trying to answer this question: Where do we, as individuals and as a Church, go from here, now that we know what we know?
It is not lost on me that this series began mere days after the passing of Representative John Lewis, and the posthumous publishing of his final words to us all, Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation. Lewis’ words echoed through hearts and reverberated through social media upon its publication. One of my personal favorite lines from this essay was: “Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble.” Is this not who we, as the Church, are called to be—ordinary people with extraordinary vision? We have been made vessels, “set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Tim 2:21, ESV). We are ordinary people who have been given extraordinary vision through the sanctification of our Savior. As for the idea of good trouble, I’d like to think that trouble is worth the furthering of this extraordinary Kingdom vision, the hope for things not yet realized on this side of heaven, that we’ve been given.
What will we use this Kingdom knowledge for? I believe it is becoming ever more apparent that one of the areas of most glaring need for a Kingdom vision in our American society is our persistent institutional racism and racial division. I am in agreement with George Yancey, who wrote in his recent article, “Those who deny the existence of institutional racism are either ignorant of the evidence or do not want to know if institutional racism exists.” There is an abundance of empirical evidence (here, here, and here, as pointed out by Yancey), and willful ignorance cannot be corrected by anyone but the beholder.
Allison Ash reminded us that DiAngelo wrote the book in question for white progressives, who likely do not need to be convinced of the existence of institutional racism. If we remain stuck in the argument about institutional racism’ existence, the Church will miss the opportunity to infuse Kingdom values like forgiveness and reconciliation into the larger cultural conversation. God will be on the side of justice and on the side of the oppressed whether we are there or not (Ps. 146:7-9, ESV). In order to have a seat at the table, and to take part of conversation, you have to sit down.
Like many of our contributors, I am in agreement with DiAngelo that institutional racism exists. While I cannot hope to set out to empirically prove the entire concept of white fragility, I can lay out my own personal experiences and let you decide for yourself. As I previously mentioned, I am an adoptee. At a young age I was adopted from Hyderabad, India by a white family from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Most of my life was spent in predominantly white, evangelical spaces, leading to my college education and now my career beginning at a predominantly white, evangelical institution.
I am no stranger to white evangelicalism nor am I naïve to my own privilege in the opportunities living in these spaces has afforded me. I did not have to come to grips with my own racial identity as an Asian-American until I went to college and no one assumed my white family background. This was earth-shattering, but I didn’t get defensive—I didn’t have a reason to. I wasn’t being told that my racial identity was oppressive to others or that society has been set up to benefit me the most. I understand why that might make someone defensive. Perhaps white fragility is not the most unreasonable response, even if it is one of the most counterproductive.
When I then brought what I had learned from my new racial experiences and realizations back home to my white family, there was real strife and real division within our household. And of course there was—I cannot imagine how difficult, and potentially hurtful, it would be to realize that the child you raised as your own has not had and will not have the same racial advantages you have had. On top of that, it’s your racial group’s fault. That is difficult to reckon with and requires active, often imperfect, grace on both sides from my family and myself. I am in no way trying to advocate for white fragility, or say that it is acceptable to remain defensive, but I am actively trying to reach across the aisle and unify through grace. This is just what has gone on behind closed doors in my own life, but I am not particularly exceptional, and I have hope that my church leadership can be able to do it too.
As I look back at the civil rights leaders who have dedicated their lives to this work, I am renewed to an unchanging vision of the Kingdom and the hope of sanctification. As I examine where we are right now, I see tremendous opportunity, if we choose to join in on the work that God will do with or without us. As I look ahead, I see no long-term path without compassion and understanding, something Christians should be quick to embrace. We serve a God with no shortage of grace; I think it’s time we act like it.
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