It is MLK Day, and in my practice of spiritual-devotions-by-wandering-through-blog-feeds God led me to an article that made me very uncomfortable. I am grateful for it. I was led to the article because of this post by A Church For Starving Artists entitled “Meet Chad Crow.” Jan references the article “The Subtle Linguistics of Polite White Supremacy” by Yawo Brown.
It was this quote that Jan highlighted that made me want to read the article,
Affectionately, it’s called #PWS for short. It has been referred to as the Casual American Caste System, Delicate Apartheid, Gentle Oppression, or what I like to call it after a few drinks: Chad Crow, the super chill grandson of Jim Crow.
Acknowledging My Place
First, before I reflect on this article, let me acknowledge something. There is a big gap between how I feel about myself and what I actually am. Those who know me well know that I continually struggle with self-doubt. I run tapes in my head that tell me I’m not good enough, I don’t have what it takes to be a leader, you aren’t decisive enough, blah, blah, blah. Plus, I also have been told that I am a good listener and I don’t force my agenda on people.
However, there are brief moments when God allows me to see what I really am.
I am powerful.
I don’t say this with a puffed chest, suddenly filled with self-worth. I say this as a sociopolitical fact. I am a white, male, highly educated, middle-class, USA citizen, suburban, homeowner, heterosexual, happily married, Protestant clergy. There is only one category in which I am not among THE most powerful people. I’m not über-wealthy. Other than that, I am usually the most powerful person in the room, especially in a church context.
That means I don’t have to change. That means I don’t have to care. That means I can watch the evening news and be “troubled” but still go to sleep at night.
And that troubles me.
Does that mean I didn’t have to work my butt off to get the things I have. Of course I did. I started working at age 17 and haven’t stopped. But here’s the thing: It never, ever crossed my mind that I would NOT have the chance to get any job I want and go as far up the ladder as I wanted. It was the expectation.
Meeting Chad Crow
The article I read this morning discusses Polite White Supremecy #PWS. It is a good article that will make you uncomfortable (if you are a powerful white man like me). Here is one quote that was a zinger,
So why is it that we must specifically say ‘Polite White Supremacy’ rather than Racism? We must say Polite White Supremacy for three reasons. First, saying #PWS puts the responsibility solely on the creators of a systemic problem. Second, this phrase addresses the subtlety and casualness with which oppression is administered. Thirdly, it eradicates the all-too-common confusion between racism and prejudice. It’s important to eradicate this confusion so it can be clear that racism is tied to a power structure and access to resources.
Yesterday, I preached a sermon on Luke 4:16-30 that was a very safe anti-racism sermon. If you listen to it, you will probably find it to be as bland and vanilla as I am. Yet, inside I was filled with anxiety, thinking of the push-back I might get from people who are in the ruling class.
I am complicity racist, and it is hard to not be that. It is what I am by default, even if I don’t want to be, and even if I think it goes against every fiber of the Kingdom of God that Jesus invites us to indwell.
So, my purpose for this post is two-fold:
- To acknowledge my complicity in systemic, institutional racism in our society (complicity means that it is my default, inherited setting and I do next to nothing to change it).
- To confess that I have little to no idea how to change it in my 99% white, suburban, comfortable context.
I can only end with David’s prayer in Psalm 139:23-24,
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.