Simple Things

Are there Limits to White Privilege?

“Mom, what does ‘go drink your race’ mean?”

This was posed to me by one of my children yesterday after school. Evidently it is one of the many odd statements directed at him by his classmates. As a standalone statement, it’s a goofy thing to say, and doesn’t make sense. Considering that my eldest child’s nicknames include “white bread,” “white cockroach,” and “salt,” and that my seven-year-old- daughter is growing self-conscious about her skin because she is always asked why her skin is so pale, the odd question makes sense.

White privilege is very real, and the current conversation about it is centuries overdue. It is hard to conceive of my privilege as a white female of a comfortable socio-economic status and how I take advantage of it without realizing. I applaud and am grateful for the strong voices from people of all ethnic backgrounds. I’ve especially received a lot to consider and pray about by reading The Root. It’s uncomfortable as hell, I’ll be honest, but that is the point. As it probably should be.

But.

I am afraid to write that “but,” yet it hangs on my heart like a weight that wants to drown me. I am painfully aware of my privilege, of how much I am still unaware of the ramifications of my privilege, and how addressing this “but” may be interpreted.

But…

There are limits to white privilege, and they exist in places where whiteness is a minority. I don’t mean “whiteness” in the manner of the population percentage of those with predominantly-European ancestry. Rather, “whiteness” is a cultural habit of consciousness. And that is OK. In fact, it’s great that the whole word isn’t dominated by “whiteness.” It’s one of the things that my husband and I were initially excited about when coming to our current destination: immersing ourselves and our family in a different way of life.

But almost a year later, my children are becoming accustomed to casual “racism” on a daily basis. They don’t understand it. They don’t understand the invisible barrier that was placed between them by their peers; almost impossible to describe but ephemerally perceptible to the mind and piercing the soul. It is inconceivable to them why they would be rejected simply because their skin is not the same color as most everyone else. And when  we explain to them that this treatment is the tip of the iceberg for what people of color and people of other ethnicities have experienced at the hands of far too many white people, for centuries, they stare at my husband and I dumbfounded that this is even a thing.

Right now I feel like I’m going crazy. I look to my left and see so much hatred and bigotry spewed on us for our pasty skin, and on the right I find beautiful, kind people of diverse ethnicities who don’t care about my freckles. I’ve never felt closer to understanding the experience of people of color, yet I am afraid that mine and my family’s pain is nothing more than racial blasphemy: my white privilege is simply unaccustomed to rough treatment and I should quit my whining.

This heartache, aside from inspiring me to understand, acknowledge, and check how I use my white privilege, continues to circle around one detail that, in my opinion, may be a really good place to start earnestly course-correcting how we all think about privilege and race.

That detail is the word “race.” The world generally uses the words “race” and “racism” and “race relations” when discussing issues surrounding white people and literally every other ethnic group in existence. That is a huge problem, because the word “race” specifically drives a wedge between people by omitting a particular ethnicity from the “human race.” In anthropological and scientific circles, “race” has long been frowned upon as a term specifically for this reason, and where it is still used has increasingly become scrutinized. So why do we still use it in our cultural conversation?

“Black people are people, too” should not be a ground-breaking statement. We are all human. Full stop. We are all one race. Full Stop. By defining the ethnic bigotry that has been heaped on people of color as “racism” automatically pits them as outsiders who need to fight their way back in. While that may have been the intention when “race” was introduced by pasty white dudes to describe “primitive cultures” way back in the days of exploration, it should not be accepted anymore. Are there white people who still consider other ethnicities to be less than human? Absolutely. Are there people of other ethnicities who believe that white people are roaches beneath their feet. Apparently.

To recover and rejoice in the truth that all people are indeed people, that ethnicity is a beautiful expression of the whole of humanity, and to begin frank and uncomfortable discussions about the privilege each of us carries about our own ethnicity in relation to that of others, I humbly suggest we start by removing “race” terminology out of the discussion. Affirm what is equally good in all of us, so that we can start to affirm what is good in each other.

If you made it this far, thank you.

Simple Things

Profound Quotables from BXVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth”

Long on my “need to read” list, I chose volume one of then-Pope Benedict XVI’s Jesus of Nazareth for my Lenten reading, and finished it right after Easter began. The book shook me to my Church-nerd core, and I think my head exploded after every third page or so. For instance: offering evidence that Barabas the “thief” was truly a political rebel leader and therefore appeared more like the traditional messianic figure that Israel was expecting (hence why the people chose him over Jesus!). Or the implication that the “Our Father,” given to the disciples at their request to “pray as he does,” is literally the prayer that God the Son prays to/with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.

I love little details like this! But this holy and misunderstood servant of God was firing on all cylinders, and the results are as profound as they are Church-trivia worthy.

If you never read this book, or haven’t read it in a long time, I offer below my top 10 tabbed quotes for your enjoyment and reflection.

On the role of prophet:

His task is not to report on the events of tomorrow or the next day in order to satisfy human curiosity or the human need for security. He shows us the face of God, and in so doing he shows us the path that we have to take.

On the multiplication of loaves:

This miracle of the loaves has three aspects, then. It is preceded by the search for God, for his word, for the teaching that sets the whole of life on the right path. Furthermore, God is asked to supply the bread. Finally, readiness to share with one another is an essential element of the miracle. Listening to God becomes living with God, and leads from faith to love, to the discovery of the other. Jesus is not indifferent toward men’s hunger, their bodily needs, but he places these things in the proper context and the proper order.

On Jesus’ Third Temptation throughout history:

The Christian Empire attempted at an early stage to use the faith in order to cement political unity…The powerlessness of faith, the earthly powerlessness of Jesus Christ, was to be given the helping hand of political and military might. This temptation to use power to secure the faith has arisen again and again in varied forms throughout the centuries, and again and again faith has risked being suffocated in the embrace of power.

On the Beatitude of Mourning:

The mourning of which the Lord speaks is nonconformity with evil; it is a way of resisting models of behavior that the individual is pressured to accept because ‘everyone does it.’ The world cannot tolerate this kind of resistance; it demands conformity. It considers this mourning to be an accusation directed against the numbing of consciences. And so it is.

On the thirst and hunger for righteousness:

Does someone achieve blessedness and justification in God’s eyes…because he has declared his opinions and wishes to be norms of conscience and so made himself the criterion? No, God demands the opposite: that we become inwardly attentive to his quiet exhortation, which is present in us and which tears us away from what is merely habitual and puts us on the road to truth.

On a pious Rabbi’s struggle with Christ as “Lord of the Sabbath,” and how it confirms Jesus’ teachings:

Jesus understands himself as the Torah–as the word of God in person…[Rabbi Neusner] is concerned with the consequences of Jesus’ centrality for Israel’s daily life: The Sabbath loses its great social function. The Sabbath is one of the essential elements that hold Israel together. Centering upon Jesus breaks open this sacred structure and imperils an essential element that cements the unity of the People of God…Communion with [Jesus] is filial communion with the Father–it is a yes to the fourth commandment on a new level, the highest level. It is entry into the family of those who call God Father and who can do so because they belong to a ‘we’–formed of those who are united with Jesus and, by listening to him, united with the will of the Father, thereby attaining to the heart of obedience intended by the Torah.

On the “Our Father”:

The Our Father does not project a human image onto heaven, but shows us from heaven–from Jesus–what we as human begins can and should be like.

On the meaning of the divine name (“hallowed be thy name”):

God establishes a relationship between himself and us. He puts himself within reach of our invocation. He enters into relationship with us and enables us to be in a relationship with him. Yet this means  that in some sense he hands himself over to our human world. He has made himself accessible and, therefore, vulnerable as well. He assumes the risk of relationship, of communion, with us.

On why Jesus speaks in parables:

Jesus is not trying to convey to us some sort of abstract knowledge that does not concern us profoundly…He shows us God: not an abstract God, but the God who acts, who intervenes in our lives, and wants to take us by the hand. He shows us through everyday things who we are and what we must do. He conveys knowledge that makes demands of us; it not only or even primarily adds to what we know, but it changes our lives.

On the reaction of the Prodigal Son’s Brother and the temptation of the righteous:

…bitterness toward God’s goodness reveals an inward bitterness regarding their own obedience, a bitterness that indicates the limitations of this obedience. In their heart of hearts, they would have gladly journeyed out into that great ‘freedom’ as well. There is an unspoken envy of what others have been able to get away with. They have not gone through the pilgrimage that purified the younger brother and made him realize what it means to be free and what it means to be a son. They actually carry their freedom as if it were slavery and they had not matured to real sonship. They, too, are still in need of a path; they can find it if they simply admit that God is right and accept his feast as their own. In this parable, then, the Father through Christ is addressing us…encouraging us too to convert truly and to find joy in our faith.

Faith and Life · Uncategorized

Magic in the Mundane

For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.

-Leonardo Da Vinci

There is something deeply compelling about the fantastical: the ideas, the possibilities, the inhabitants, of a world that is so like ours yet alien in ways both exciting and unnerving. It fires up our sense of wonder, and a kind of nostalgia for the childlike ability to see magic in the mundane.

The idea of the Garden of Eden, a place of perfect peace and harmony between God, man, and nature, is fantastical. What does “perfect peace” mean? What does that look like? How does that even work? Eden imagery, for people of predominantly European descent, usually evokes a single moment: the one right before man breaks union with God. The world of Eden is frozen for our reflection. It is fantastic, we think, that lions and lambs and turkeys coexist without fear. It is fantastic, we wistfully say, that the world here is sunny and unbloodied. Wouldn’t it be fantastic, we think, if the world was more like this again?

29994-adam-and-eve-in-the-garden-of-eden.800w.tnWell, what if the world did retain some vestiges of Edenic harmony? What if the magic is still in the mundane? What would that look like?

The people of the Arctic and Hawai’i have a pretty good idea.

Scientists are increasing interested in studying the Arctic peoples who have a rich cultural history of communicating with whales and other animals. Their anecdotes, like that of Harry Bower, Sr. are fascinating.

Harry Brower Sr. was lying in a hospital bed in Anchorage, Alaska, close to death, when he was visited by a baby whale.

Although Brower’s body remained in Anchorage, the young bowhead took him more than 1,000 kilometers north to Barrow (now Utqiaġvik), where Brower’s family lived. They traveled together through the town and past the indistinct edge where the tundra gives way to the Arctic Ocean. There, in the ice-blue underwater world, Brower saw Iñupiat hunters in a sealskin boat closing in on the calf’s mother.

Brower felt the shuddering harpoon enter the whale’s body. He looked at the faces of the men in the umiak, including those of his own sons. When he awoke in his hospital bed as if from a trance, he knew precisely which man had made the kill, how the whale had died, and whose ice cellar the meat was stored in. He turned out to be right on all three counts…In his final years, he discussed what he had witnessed with Christian ministers and Utqiaġvik’s whaling captains. The conversations ultimately led him to hand down new rules to govern hunting female whales with offspring, meant to communicate respect to whales and signal that people were aware of their feelings and needs.

What can we take away from the experiences of the Arctic people? One, they support theories that animals have an acute awareness of self and their relationship to “other.” Two, man and animal have the ability,  on some deep level, to know each other and communicate that knowledge. Three, that man and nature have a hierarchical relationship, but one that is rooted in deep humility and respect for what each can, and should, offer the other.

Farther south, in tropical waters, the Hawaiian people have their own rich tradition of understanding and cooperating with the natural world. Nowhere better is this tradition expressed than in their creation mele (song), the Kumulipo.

The Kumulipo, composed before the arrival of European explorers, is breathtaking in it’s comprehensive and scientific understanding of how nature works harmoniously. The song speaks of the creation of all things-male and female-and how for every life in the sea there is a counterpart on land that guards its purpose:

Seaweed and grasses
Man by Waiololi, woman by Waiolola,
The Koeleele was born and lived in the sea;
Guarded by the Ko punapuna Koeleele that grew in the forest.
A night of flight by noises
Through a channel; water is life to trees;
So the gods may enter, but not man.

Like the traditions of the Arctic peoples, the Kumulipo expresses the Hawaiian understanding of reciprocity and its centrality to life. There is an awareness of self, of the “other;” we give generously and take with a profound humility for the gift that is given.

Both of these cultures beautifully express how man and the natural world can reclaim a bit of the fantastical. More importantly, they are living invitations to do more than just reflect on a frozen moment of time. They invite us to generously give now, to humbly accept now, to live now, as we were first created to do.