The past week has been a struggle for many African American/Black Christians due to the erasure that took place at a conference of a black woman speaker who challenged the social construct of whiteness. This situation was hurtful to many for a multitude of reasons, but two reasons stand out to me more than the others. The first issue that I believe caused a multitude of black people (especially black women) pain was the erasure of Ekemini Uwan who was a black woman in a white space answering questions she was asked truthfully. The erasure that took place of Ekemini in response to her truth-telling was triggering for a lot of black people because it reminded them of the common experience many have in their daily lives. I speak about the black experience and erasure in this earlier reflection.
The other issue that I believe caused a lot of profound pain was the reminder to many of us that “whiteness” hasn’t lost its societal power because those under its banner remain ignorant of what it is and its power can still be exercised to silence people of African descent. The hard truth is this:
Anglo-Americans have become so disconnected from their actual ethnic heritage & have so embraced the racial/social construct of “White” that many do not know how to distinguish between the two. If you criticize or challenge “Whiteness,” many still actually believe you are talking about their ethnicity or personhood. This reality demonstrates how intrinsically tied to power many Anglo-American identities are, despite not many realizing it.
If I were to fill out a form at the doctor’s office (or anywhere else), it would typically ask me what my ethnic heritage is. I would be asked whether or not I was Eastern Asian, Hispanic, Carribean, black, or white. I know by checking black I’m admitting to being a descendant of the African Diaspora. By identifying as black, I am both acknowledging that my true ethnic origins were stolen from my ancestors. I am acknowledging that my ancestors has to develop their own culture from the shards of cultural memory and their present-day oppression and suffering. I also know that if I check “black,” statistics tell me I will likely receive deficient healthcare and so I leave the box unchecked.
Many Anglo-Americans actually believe checking White on such a form is actually affirming an ethnicity not a social/racial caste. They don’t realize that checking “white” is not a reference to skin color since they are not really white, nor is it an ethnicity. Who is white? From what country/tribe do “white people” come from? The answer is anywhere in Eastern Europe. England, United Kingdom, Norway, Germany, Ireland, Scotland, France, Russia, Switzerland, Italy, etc.
Anglo-Americans don’t realize that their ethnicities were stripped away from them as well. Their ethnic identities were taken away and replaced with a socially constructed “racial” identity rooted in power. Their ethnic identity was exchanged for power. In the work I do, I constantly meet Anglo-Americans who lament over their lack of cultural belonging. Not all “white” people may struggle with this, but many do not find a sense of cultural belonging. Often, these white people envy people of color because beacuse they have rejected an individualistic worldview and they see whiteness as something to divest from not invest in. Therefore, they now wonder where they belong?
What’s sad is when black people try to help them out, they get attacked and are often hated. It is no easy task trying to help anglo-Americans realize they are disconnected from their ethnic heritage and rediscovering it is of greater value than the power they possess thru “whiteness.” It’s not easy, and the cost of trying to do so can often not feel worth it. The price often includes pain, trauma, job, friends, health, provision; it honestly often it isn’t worth it.
“So why do you bother?”
I speak because I do believe this issue speaks to the Gospel and Kingdom. “Whiteness” is not an ethnicity nor is it a reference to skin color. “Whiteness” is a social construct created to establish power and dominance over other groups and there will be no such socio-ethnic construct in heaven where we all stand as equal people; diverse and yet unified under the Lordship of Christ. “Whiteness” will not be seen among the tribes/people groups of Revelation 7:9, It’ll be cast into the lake of fire. “White” Christians will stand before the throne as members of their actual ethnic groups, and their actual ethnicities are beautiful.
I have shared these thoughts before and have been met with,
“But I don’t have cultural ties to my ancient European heritage/culture!”
There is a difference between “ethnic heritage” and “cultural expression.” No one’s ethnic heritage is “white”…
My point is that people who understand themselves to be ethnically white are misled. Whiteness is a social construct that was created to REPLACE ethnicity in order to establish power. Anglo peoples need to stop finding ethnic heritage in whiteness instead of their real heritage.
Rediscovering your heritage and roots does not mean you magically inherit said culture. It does mean you find identity in a place other than power and white supremacy and ethnic, but from there you must do the work of isolating elements of your culture that are rooted in “white” paradigms.
A white person from Georgia does not have to abandon southern cultural expressions such as food, clothing, music, etc. They do need to abandon elements of culture that are rooted in white supremacy like championing the Confederate flag & racist vernacular.
A white personal from Texas doesn’t have to abandon Texas culture or subcultures such as clothing, lingo, dance, etc. but they do have to abandon elements of culture that are rooted in white supremacy such as racist vernacular, white hyper-sensitivity/fragility, paternalism, etc.
If you identify as white, Beloved, that is not your ethnicity. You may be multi-ethnic like me when you trace back your roots, but you still have an ethnicity beyond the social construct of race/whiteness. My advice to you is to discover that & seek appreciation for it. This doesn’t mean you must embrace a foreign culture, it merely means you move beyond the individualism that leads you to identify primarily as a member of a social construct of power while at the same time not having much regard for your actual heritage.
For me, personally, I am black with a multi-ethnic heritage. I acknowledge my multi-ethnic ancestry, am thankful for it, but culturally I am black. It was my white paternal grandfather who was born in Oklahoma who sat me down one day and explained to me that I lived in a racialized society and in this society, it was dangerous for me not to understand the racial construct I was given (black). At the same time, my grandfather understood what he had been given, and for years, alongside his black wife, he served as a pastor in a predominately black area of inner city DC. On the last day, a host of others and I will stand before the throne alongside a multitude of others who suffered under the oppression of whiteness, and we will be a people, a people called black. At the same time, I long for the day Christ reveals my African ancestry. At the same time, many Anglo-Christians will stand before the lamb on the great day of Revelation 7:9 and they will not stand there as members of a white race. No, they will stand there as members of various ethnicities from all around the world. My encouragement to white Christians now is to move beyond their whiteness and begin the journey of self-discovery.
In the meantime, we must recognize that seeking to dismantle the oppressive power and privilege of “Whiteness” is not a battle against flesh and blood. It is a battle against spiritual forces who desire to keep people groups oppressed and the reputation of the church marred. As White Christians seek to learn about the history of Whiteness, why it was invented, and what it has done; the anger, sensitivity, and rage they will encounter will be spiritual warfare. As Christians of Color, especially black Christians, seek to engage white Christians on these things we must also recognize that we are entering into a stronghold that the devil has used to cause profound devastation in the church. Satan will not let this go easily. We fight to bring awareness because we cannot allow the devil to continue to hold the church and the world captive to systems of oppression. We must also be careful and faith-filled because the battle to dismantle this stronghold has left martyrs in its wake.