White Guilt

My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ,the Lord of glory.  For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonored the poor man. Are not the rich the ones who oppress you, and the ones who drag you into court? Are they not the ones who blaspheme the honorable name by which you were called?

If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.  But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.  For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it. James 2:1-10

I am partial to what is most familiar to me, to what is most “natural” to me, to what I have been conditioned to consider “best.”  But, like fashion choices, what I am certain is very attractive is horrifying ten years after my moment of great pride, and plain disgusting twenty years later.  Even with this knowledge of perspective, I persist in believing that from where I stand, my judgment of what is superior is failsafe.

God wasn’t making up stuff when He told us not to judge or show favoritism because He knows we can’t recognize value with our spiritually blind eyes.  Incomplete sanctification leaves us in the “not yet” of cognitive infallibility.  One of the most pernicious handicaps is the human’s fierce commitment to innocence when confronted with our guilt.

We who have self-consciously believed the Story of Scripture, that humanity who was created to image the perfections of God instead became captivated by worship and service to our own image, should not be shocked by indictments of our resulting failure to be to the world the breath of life we were intended to be.  Not that its easy to see our offenses or worse, to have them pointed out like the discovery of a kick me sign on our back we didn’t know was there, but we at least theoretically welcome the opportunity to have them removed.

Why then, I wonder, if we are willing to face and name with specificity our sins, in faith that they are covered and taken by Jesus in exchange for his righteousness, (our anger issues, our addiction to work or porn or food or intoxicating substances, our selfishness and laziness, our gossip and slander, our aversion to authority and so many other ways in which we place our own power and comfort and image over the health and well being of others), do the white brothers and sisters have such an aggressive resistance to naming how our whiteness has perpetuated a global favoritism that has excluded all of those with pigments that disqualify them from privileges we never earned?  Why is this particular effect of the fall one we are collectively so unwilling to acknowledge when we claim to understand that sin in it all its forms preceded us in Adam and is beyond our ability to correct?  This one indictment, that we enjoy a sense of safety, prosperity, cultural dominance and political power that has been born from a division of classes of people that God never acknowledged, is one that on the whole we who identify as white defensively argue our innocence. And my innocence does nothing to make my black friends feel safe around police or free to wear a hoodie while walking through an affluent neighborhood, or comforted when watched more closely than the white customers in a store.

So dear reader, if you are willing, can we examine the issue of favoritism as a starting place?  How about with speech…”The King’s English” is the corrective to the American black vernacular.  We show favoritism to this manner of communication and call it “correct” and those who use it “articulate”, though we find Australian or Jamaican English charming.  We show favoritism to straight hair over “kinky curly”, one style of music is deemed “sophisticated” while hip hop as genre, regardless of lyrical content, is deemed “crass.”  The white normative is so unquestioned that we feel it necessary to identify our “black” friend/classmate/teammate but do not identify another as our “white” friend/classmate/teammate.  Volume of voice and use of space in a room, whether that is in conversation or in worship, are judged favorably according to cultural norms though there is no implicit value in the spectrum.  Or how about the assumption that white favorites are probably everybody’s favorites…like Bruce Springsteen or Taylor Swift.  Until we look around and see the crowd, it may never occur to us that its no longer segregation keeping the fans looking so homogenous…but maybe, like the earlier discussion of perspective, everyone isn’t as impressed with “us” as we are.

This systemic oppression and favoritism is not something we can just fix nor is it something, if we are willing to see, that we can engage in and be “righteous” independent of Jesus.  Like every other aspect of being broken in a broken world, only Jesus can reverse the damage done and regenerate the life has been lost.  But also like our many forms of addiction, the first step which goes a very long way, is naming the truth about our problem.  We can’t then run off and correct centuries of man made hierarchies and the deeply embedded effects of those beliefs in all areas of society, but like all other areas of sin, we can look more fervently to Jesus to change us and enable us to love others as He has loved us.