White People, White Power, White Platform
The great thing about social media is that, if you want, you can get to know lots of different people. The not so always great thing is that it’s a very public venue.
Which means that sometimes we get to put what we write about into public practice. Naming. Dismantling. Getting at the core of an issue.
The core of a current issue is power dynamics and race. It is not about who said what or who followed who or even personality clashes.
It is about white people learning the concept of centering, understanding that whiteness and white attitudes are normal – the center of the world – and any other view is an affront to that.
So for white people, especially white people who want to talk about racial issues and systemic injustice , it means constantly telling ourselves it’s not about us. Constantly.
And when we feel challenged (threatened?) by other opinions, by other methods of interactions, by other tactics, we cannot get defensive.
I’ll tell you, I do a lot of this internally. Being wrong in front of people, or even being perceived as wrong is a huge shame trigger for me. Huge. I can’t really overstate that point. That’s one of the reasons I read so much. I want to be damn sure I know what I’m talking about before I open my mouth. This also drives my husband nuts and may not be the healthiest way to communicate.
So, I really appreciate the people who DM me or email me when they want to talk about how I might be wrong. And I probably do not always give people the same consideration.
But. When it does come up – either publicly or internally – we have to take the focus off of ourselves. When a person of color is challenging us – or even talking to us – our only response is to listen. When we are friends with and in relationship with them, then maybe we can give push back and discuss our problems – you know, like friends.
But until then our posture as white people has to be one of giving up the center of the universe. It means giving up our power and our privilege and just listening. Even when – or especially when – we don’t like or agree with the other person.
Because what happens and has happened, is happening, is that white people join circles, close ranks and build the walls that insulate and isolate them from minority and marginalized views.
I am deeply ashamed it has taken personal experience for me to understand the dynamics at play in systemic injustices and the
privilege supremacy of whiteness.
It is not just privilege – being lucky – that being white affords people. It is power over people. White supremacy is the power to block, to unfollow, to ignore, to walk away from voices that point to a different way of life. It is to state beforehand what tones are acceptable to talk in. To be in control of the situation. To decide when the conversation is over.
The power dynamics involved in the fallout at Mars Hill are not special ones. They are human ones, and the same dynamics are at work in everyone who desires them. And because the way our society has been set up for hundreds of years, those dynamics are set up to work in favor of white people at the expense of minorities.
It takes intentionality to give up that desire to be right, to win, to walk away with the ball. It is a hard-fought dynamic to choose to decenter our whiteness. To name the supremacy society has given us and to sit and listen to voices that may make us deeply uncomfortable.
But damn it. White Christians – especially white Christians who want to talk about race all of a sudden. It. Is. Not. About. Us.
It is not about us. Itisnotaboutus. Notaboutusnotaboutusnotaboutusnotaboutusnotaboutusnotaboutus.
And if we cannot even have these hard discussions among friends – if we cannot even have the most basic conversations about listening to all people of color without powerful white people covering their ears and saying lalalalalala, then whatever it is we’re doing here in this Christian-justice-blogging world is fucked.
We don’t get to just talk about giving up white privilege like it’s a trip to the fair we do once a year when we want to. We are required by Jesus to do better. We are required to dismantle our white only circles, our majority white collectives, our white Facebook groups of commiseration. We can’t just dismiss Twitter issues because there is real oppression out there. There is real oppression in how we conduct ourselves on Twitter and the supremacy of whiteness can blind us to it.
White supremacy is not about joining the KKK. It is the freedom to not care about Marissa Alexander or John Crawford. It is the ability to use platform at someone else’s expense. It is the obliviousness in telling people to be kind. It is the freedom to walk away from any kind of controversy because you don’t want to pick sides.
Dismantling the systemic racism that is at work even in ‘Twitter drama’ is essential. We can talk about the power of social media giving ‘progressives’ a voice and being a shelter from the storm of evangelicalism and fundamentalism, we can build our brands because of Twitter and social media, but then when minorities find that also to be a powerful tool, we shut them down and out? NOPE.
This is not about sides. It is about power dynamics that divide and conquer. It is about seeing and naming, about (hopefully) the powerful becoming powerless so that justice comes, and then we can talk about reconciliation. (Go listen to this.)
There can be no justice in this arena if white people retreat to the power that being white gives. There is a reason Jesus talks about giving up power.
White people – we are called to do better, to be better. Yes, it’s hard, and yes, it’s public.
So is following Jesus.