It was to be a significant event in which I was humbled to be invited to support. Pastor Arthur Breland of United Church had been meeting with community leaders, neighbors, and the city of Atlanta to help change the name of the street, which his church sits on from Confederate Ave to United Ave. Arthur, who’s African-American had no desire to pastor a church that sits on a street named after a rebellious nation that was founded upon white supremacy.
Arthur arranged a march down United Ave with many different churches and One Race was proud to help out and support this initiative. He invited me to go with him the Sunday before the March to get the word out to four different churches in the city and asked me to meet him at 9 am at his church.
After hopping in the car at 9 am and on our way to the first church, I asked Arthur a normal question that made sense to me, “What do you want from me as we go to these different churches and announce the march?”
Arthur answered graciously with, “Dan, your whiteness is kicking in. Let’s just roll with what comes and see how the Holy Spirit guides us.”
What ensued over the next four hours was amazing as we made the announcement, but also watched the Holy Spirit do some amazing things in the different churches we were at.
But what was meant by, “your whiteness is kicking in”?
What is whiteness and what is a Biblical response to it?
The National Museum of African American History and Culture defines whiteness as; “Whiteness and white racialized identity refer to the way that white people, their customs, culture, and beliefs operate as the standard by which all other groups of are compared.” https://nmaahc.si.edu/learn/talking-about-race/topics/whiteness
This doesn’t seem so bad, but as in all culture, there are positives and negatives. From a Biblical perspective, culture is what it is. No culture is a perfect culture. The negative aspect of white culture is that it carries a lot of terrible history with tenets of white supremacy.
The problem with dominant white culture is that as Daniel Hill writes in his book, White Awake quoting a friend, “White culture is very real. In fact, when white culture comes in contact with other cultures it always always wins. So it would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.”
There are many dynamics of white culture, but particularly to this experience is the white culture’s infatuation with everything being linear and feeling like we’re in a state of control. Us white people have been conditioned by whiteness to falsely believe that we are in control by having everything planned out and following a precise schedule.
Is there anything wrong with planning and scheduling things out? Of course not, the Bible talks about planning for the future. The sinful element is when we worship being in a state of control and become addicted to those plans and don’t know what to do when those plans go awry.
Having lived a cross cultural and racial life for over tens years, I have witnessed this many times when those that come from the dominant culture enforce their cultural worldview on those coming from the sub-dominant groups. This is one of the reasons I love the training, Dignity Serves, which places a huge emphasis on realizing the power dynamics of race, culture and class and seeks to give power away.
For those of us that come from the dominant culture, we must be aware of how we have been conditioned. Daniel Hill says in White Awake, “To live from our identity in Christ, we must confront the ways the narrative has informed both our sense of self and our views of other people.”
So, in that moment when Arthur called out my whiteness, I had a choice. I could have gotten defensive, felt guilty or even shameful. But, as a follower of Jesus, I am always called to humility, particularly if someone points out my cultural blindspots as Paul does to Peter in Galatians 2 for not being willing to eat with the new Gentile believers. I am called to model the humility that Paul describes in Philippians 2 to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”
Are we available to God first and foremost for Him to point out our cultural blindspots of how we’ve been conditioned by culture?
Are we willing to receive in humility as followers of Jesus that come from majority white culture?