by Allie Lundblad
The following is Allie’s response to a presentation during the last gathering of the Constructive Theologies Project.
“What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?”
It was my friend Alexis asking, at one of our Constructive Theologies Project conferences. She’d just told a story of white church people coming together with church people of color for the sake of justice and then spending all their time and energy in confession and justification of themselves. So Alexis posed the question to the white people in the room: “What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?“
At some level, the question struck me as problematic, echoing the way that white people frequently seek to evade responsibility for their own whiteness and for the ways that whiteness functions within an unjust racial system. Were another white person to tell me that she was more Christian than white, I would be immediately distrustful, expecting the next words out of her mouth to be something like, “And I don’t see color.”
Even amongst those who are willing to acknowledge our whiteness along with the psychological tendencies and material privileges that come with it, most of us then immediately set out to get rid of our whiteness as quickly as possible. We confess, we rationalize, we justify, we minimize, and we look to people of color for affirmation that we aren’t really that bad, that we aren’t really that white.
The two — badness and whiteness — are more often than not equivalent in our minds, it seems. Many of us have become aware of our whiteness in its connection to oppression, privilege, racism, and it holds little meaning beyond these negative effects. Yet when we understand whiteness as little more than racism, as nothing more than immorality, there is nothing to do with it other than try to make it go away. And while this may be a noble goal, it’s also an impossible one and our attempts too often make us, as white people, all that much more damaging.
My first instinct, then, is that white people need to become more white, not less. Alexis’s question, though, pushes the conversation a step further. What would it be like if white people became more white in ways that were guided and challenged and shaped by Christianity, rather than allowing our Christianity to be hijacked by whiteness, as it has been for so long?
A good dose of grace might be enough to calm that urge to make whiteness go away as quickly as possible. Even a small reminder of our limits as humans, of our createdness might be enough to help us understand ourselves as having a culture more particular than whiteness alone but certainly related to it. Just a few of the words of Jesus or the long line of prophets who condemned oppression before him could only challenge us to take responsibility for the injustices done in the name of whiteness, to do our best to make it right, and to refuse to let history repeat itself in that way. And any amount of the command to love our neighbor would inspire us to do just that, rather than using our time with our neighbor to justify ourselves.
What would it be like if white Christians were more Christian than white?
Allie is a chaplain resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Downtown Chicago and a minster at First Baptist Church of Chicago