Pushing Past White Privilege
As Rooted Parent Editor, I have been able to read through drafts of Ben’s Sciacca’s excellent Red Pill articles (posted here and here) and discuss them with Ben and our editor-in-chief, Charlotte Getz. I told them both that this is a tough topic for me as a white mom to three white young men.
I don’t feel qualified to instruct my sons about the pitfalls of their privilege because frankly, I have benefitted from white privilege my entire life. And yet, as their mom I feel a responsibility to remind my sons how much benefit they have received by virtue of their birth into their skin, gender, and circumstance. Any time I broach the subject, they get defensive, and I understand that because I too feel defensive when the subject of privilege comes up.
I grew up in 1970s suburban Birmingham, Alabama. My discomfort discussing race stems not only from the history of my community, but from a deep fear that there is racism lurking in me. I desperately want to believe I don’t harbor prejudice, but I am so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing. I suspect I would not be so afraid of offending if there was nothing offensive in my heart.
How do I help my sons drop their defenses in order to receive what they need to hear? How do I drop my own?
While in the midst of this ongoing discussion, I happened across this wisdom in Scott Sauls’ Befriend:
“Shame – the disquieting, vague sense that there’s something deeply wrong with us, that we are not enough – keeps us preoccupied with ourselves and inattentive to the needs of others. It tells us that we have to fix ourselves before we can serve others, to clean up messy selves before we can be any good to friends and neighbors and especially to the poor, oppressed, and people on the margins.”
There it was, in black and white (so to speak): the reason some Christ-seeking, earnest people wilt in confusion whenever race and oppression and privilege are discussed: shame.
When shame whispers, “you are so inadequate” in my ear, he’s got a point. There IS something deeply wrong with me; I am NOT enough. I am sinful and often foolish, certainly ill-equipped to understand the impact of centuries of racial injustice. I have lived my entire life advantaged by my white skin, safe neighborhoods, and great schools. What’s more, the deck has been stacked in my favor for centuries, and my ancestors profited from the enslavement of other people. Whether or not they actually killed Native Americans or owned slaves, they certainly benefitted from the horrors visited upon human beings who were different from them. And there is not a thing I can do to change that.
But if I stay under the shame of all that, I will never be able to look a person of color in the eye, much less reach out to clasp their hand in friendship.
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7: 24-25)
The antidote to shame is only and always the Gospel. “He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only ours, but also for those of the whole world” (1John 2:2). While we cannot undo what our black brothers and sisters have suffered, Christ has atoned for both our sins and the sins of our ancestors, “once for all when He offered up Himself” (Hebrews 7:27). No matter what our ancestors did or failed to do, Jesus atoned for those sins. No matter what I do or fail to do, Jesus atoned for my sins too.
But while the spiritual battle was finished on the cross, we must not forget what African-Americans have endured and continue to endure in our nation. We still live in a broken world. There is much work yet to be done.
We allow the truth of the Gospel to transform our shame – about personal prejudices, about ignorance, about privilege – into godly grief, which presses us into repentance and change: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting… For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death” (2 Corinthians 7:9-10).
When parents talk to their kids about privilege, we need the Holy Spirit to bring the godly grief of conviction, not the worldly grief of shame. Shame is the conjoined twin of hopelessness (if you’ve got one, you’ve got the other). Hopelessness tempts our kids to believe they can do nothing about their privilege, and shame convinces them they shouldn’t even try. But Jesus gives us hope that we can be reconciled to our black brothers and sisters in spite of the crushing history of injustice. Repenting of shame, and repenting of the anger and despair that inevitably accompany shame, frees us to pursue loving all our neighbors.
We must also remind our kids that repentance is an ongoing process. We are changed “from glory to glory” (2 Corinthians 3:18). We cannot wait to, in Sauls’ words, “fix ourselves before we can serve others.” We invite God in to clean up our “messy selves,” we cooperate with the convicting work of the Holy Spirit, and we lean in to the discomforting possibility that we might expose our own sinful hearts in the process. Praise Jesus, He made a way for us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16).
We need Jesus to change our hearts. He is able.