Confronting White Privilege

Resist rushing past or suppressing the deep sadness of this idolatry.

In recent years, Christian colleges and universities have made significant progress on issues of race. Many would even say they are “antiracist.” At the same time, they have been inconsistent on the topic of privilege. Overt racism is condemned, but the subtler conversation about white privilege remains controversial

White privilege, as defined in social science, refers to “the myriad of social advantages, benefits, and courtesies that come with being a member of the dominant race” (Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory). Or, as Peggy McIntosh explains it, “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day.”

White privilege does not mean that every individual white person is always better off. Rather, it means that being able to claim the “white” identity in North America comes with certain social, cultural, and economic advantages, from getting a call back for a job interview to finding an apartment or booking an AirBnB. As James Bratt wrote on the Reformed blog “The Twelve,” this privilege has deep historic roots in American society, and acknowledging it is not intended to induce guilt but a sense of responsibility. As a personal example, Christina is often pigeonholed on our campus as one of the “diversity people” in ways that Joe is not, even though we both have scholarly interests in a wide variety of topics. She is often assumed to represent the views of people of color as a whole, whereas Joe is allowed a more holistic individuality.

On college campuses, part of white privilege is safety. In 2013, the most recent year for which we have data, there were 781 reported hate crimes on U.S. college campuses. The single largest motivation for these crimes was race—about 40 percent. A 2011 study of hate crimes on Canadian campuses found that 40.1 percent of respondents had experienced some incidence of hate crime. Race or ethnicity was a major motivator (23.3 percent) with Aboriginal people, and Afro-Caribbeans were particularly vulnerable. 

We work at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich. For us, the disparity between conversations about racism and privilege was made evident last winter, when one of our students wrote “white power” and drew a swastika in the fresh snow on the rear window of a parked car. Photos of the graffiti found their way onto social media, and our campus was confronted with a sobering reminder of the persistence of white supremacy. We came together to respond, and our president condemned the action as having “no place at Calvin College.” The primary student involved later confessed and issued an anonymous public apology. While some members of our community attempted to minimize the incident (the student was “only joking,” for example), there was almost universal condemnation for invoking white supremacist imagery. 

However, many people failed to see the link between white supremacy and white privilege. We believe that the denial of white privilege rests on an implicit assumption of white supremacy. If you deny white privilege, if society is indeed meritocratic and the game is essentially fair, it is difficult to avoid assumptions about who tends to win and who tends to lose. If the white population is not privileged in some way, how else does one explain the discrepancies between them and people of color? What’s left is assuming that white people are just smarter, more moral, work harder, or have a stronger culture.

But if you talk too much about white privilege, you’re told you’re being extreme. In some cases, you’re told that talk about racism and white privilege is actually what perpetuates racism.  Inevitably, someone quotes Dr. King: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Calling attention to white privilege is holding back the dream. If you are surrounded by this sort of attitude, you begin to question yourself. Maybe trying to talk about privilege is too confrontational. Maybe you should be less “extreme.” 

We don’t think that’s the case, and it certainly isn’t what Dr. King meant. Here’s a passage from his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” in which he laments the role of “white moderates.” Given that Dr. King’s words are often reduced into easily misunderstood feel-good sentiments, we’ll quote him at length:

I must confess that over the last few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White citizen’s “Councilor” or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically feels that he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Our suspicion is that many of those working to confront white privilege on Christian campuses know something about lukewarm acceptance and how bewildering it can be. Why is this conversation so difficult?

It shouldn’t be. As Christians, we are confessional people. At many Christian Reformed churches, confession is part of the weekly liturgy. What would it look like to confess white privilege? We’d like to take this a step further. The church often talks about confessing and lamenting sins, and in the context of racism particularly, the sins of the past. That’s appropriate. But we’d like to name the subtle white supremacy that props up white privilege for what we think it is: an idol.

We think this is why the conversation about white privilege is so contentious. As Christina wrote about the controversy on our campus, “If you ever want to see somebody get . . . really mad, threaten their idol.” Idols attempt to rob God of God’s deserved glory. They minimize our needed dependence on the gospel, and they lead others astray. So what does it look like to tear down or repent of this idol?

First, we must ask for the spiritual sight to see racial injustice. For those who live it, like Christina, it is as evident as the day is long; but for those who benefit from it, like Joseph, this is harder. Our tailored history and politically aligned media sources shape worlds and worldviews that feed the idol of racism. However, seeing this idol does not require some supernatural experience but rather a willingness to learn the full narrative. To listen to our brothers and sisters in Christ and to turn away from the voices of “post-racial” or meritocratic false prophets.

Second, this awareness will hurt. Resist rushing past or suppressing the deep sadness of this idolatry. It is so easy to medicate with avoidance, delusion, and quick tears. Repentance requires real sorrow and grief. It is a sorrow that acknowledges that we have missed the mark, that we have fallen so very short. The Bible provides us with images of godly sorrow that include weeping, wailing, and the ripping of clothes. We are broken people who ought to be broken up by our sin.

Third, our lament must lead to change. Christians serve an embodied Savior. We must have an embodied faith. A faith that has real implications for not only what we confess but how we live. We must walk up to and into racist systems and structures to change them. Lament must have legs—or else it serves to prolong the suffering of others.

Turning from idols is difficult. We cannot do it in our own. But we are not alone. Christ himself provides us with the ability to see our sin, the strength to repent, and the wisdom to proceed towards justice. 

Related Article

Stand Together

Questions for Discussion

  1. What comes to mind when you hear “white privilege”? How do you feel and why?
  2. Have you ever experienced being “pigeonholed”? How did you feel? What can we do to minimize such experiences for others?
  3. What is your response in reading Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s frustrations with “moderates” and “lukewarm acceptance”?
  4. Do you agree that white privilege is an idolatry? Why or why not?
  5. If you have the power, what racist structures in society would you change and how? What potential steps can you take to make that a reality?

About the Authors

Joseph Kuilema is an assistant professor in the social work program at Calvin College.  He and his wife attend Sherman St. Christian Reformed Church.

Christina Edmondson serves as Dean for Intercultural Student Development at Calvin College. She trains congregations and organizations nationally about implicit bias, multicultural accessibility, and leadership development.

See comments (25)


Thank-you for this article.  It is easy to sit back and examine "society" from a distance, as if we are not part of it.  But it is harder to examine ourselves, and address the racism within.  Racism still permeates our churches, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt, and I believe it is important for us to call out racism when we see it.  Sometimes, for the sake of "peace" or "unity", we might be tempted to gloss over racist statements.  But when we don't speak out against something we've seen or heard, especially within our own church, we legitimize that thing.  What do you say when someone paints an entire race or culture as "lazy", or "terrorist", or "violent"?  Do you nod your head or walk away, or do you engage and confront it? I think maybe I am just restating one of the points of the article, but I would like to see a more explicit call to deal with the racism we encounter in our own congregations.  Maybe white privilege looks like that person who makes racist statements over coffee after church and then faces no repercussions.  

THANK YOU. I'm so glad you both wrote this article and that the Banner posted it. This is such an important conversation. 

Hello Alina,

You said: "What do you say when someone paints an entire race or culture as "lazy", or "terrorist", or "violent"?"

I wonder: What do you say when someone paints an entire race or culture as privileged, idol worshippers and in need of confession for simply being born into a certain race and place?  Do you nod your head in approval?  Is it ok if we just generalize and vilify white people?  Who qualifies as a white person?  How much brown do I need before I'm no longer white?

It's so hard to know the rules of our race-obsessed and category-obsessed society (and denomination).


Hi Eric,

If I go shopping, and a person who is a visible minority has her bag checked to see if she stole anything and I am not even given a second look because I am white, then yes, I am part of an the popuation that is experiencing white privilege.  I will nod my head with an emphatic yes if you ask me if I am expericencing unfair privileged treatment because of how I look.  It doesn't matter "how white" I am or what category I am in, if someone made a decision about me based on the colour of my skin.  This isn't necessarily "villifying" (to use your word) all white people, but it most certainly IS calling attention to something that we simply can no longer ignore.  To be honest, before this happened, I didn't even give a second thought to the fact that no one ever checks my bags to see if I stole anything, it was a privilege I didn't know I had until I realized that not everyone had it.  But now that I know it...what happens next?  Am I a villain if I pretend the problem doesn't exist?  I think so.  

This piece is similar to the most recent article on the YALT blog. I really appreciate the attention these outlets are bringing to the sin of racism in our culture and churches.

But my issue with both articles is that a vague accusation like "you're privileged" is a) ripe for misinterpretation and b) difficult for people to respond to in any particular way. I would love for our churches and denomination to learn from the teachings of the Bible and Martin Luther King Jr. in how both point out specific sins and, therefore, specific solutions. For example, Martin Luther King Jr. was addressing racism in general - but he did this by focusing on particular manifestations of racism such as segregation on public transit systems and in educational institutions. This I can wrap my head around. Those policies were racist and we can be encouraged by the progress that was achieved when Jim Crow laws were repealed.

I believe that part of the reason those "white moderates" that MLK wrote about still exist (and convince themselves of their innocence) is partly because it's easy to rationalize one's way out of a general accusation. The difficulty that our denominational leadership will have is communicating on specific sins of racism, because those might not be evident in all areas of Canada and the United States. Therefore, it makes more sense to me to equip pastors on how to minister in their contexts. One congregation might be infected by racist attitudes in members' workplaces and the next congregation might be defining worship style according to cultural norms at the expense of celebrating the diversity of the Church.

When pastors and church leadership embrace our prophetic role, we'll point out particular sin alongside the specific way that Jesus' work is our solution. I'm hoping we can move more deeply in that direction as a denomination so that we can put partiality to death and increase in our love for all our neighbors, especially our brothers and sisters in faith.


Hello Alina,



Particularly as confessional reformed Christians, you and I will wholeheartedly agree that it is neither a secret nor a surprise that sin lies in the hearts of people and that the world is replete with examples of a lack of love for neighbor. 




Your example is helpful as an illustration of sin and culpability.  To the extent that the store clerk exercised a wicked and unjust judgment, he/she did not exhibit love for neighbor.  But notice: your mere existence at the store and the fact that you were not checked for shoplifting does not make you culpable for or accomplice to the sin in the heart of the store clerk.  The Scriptures know nothing of this sort of scapegoating.  The store clerk is responsible before God for any lack of love for neighbor illustrated by a wicked or unjust judgment, but you are not.  Nor did you in any way compel or encourage the store clerk to engage in unrighteousness. 




Here is one area where I take great exception to the article.  The authors center on the idea of confessing privilege.  As Christians, we understand confession to be necessitated by sin.  The authors have failed to show from Scripture that being born of a certain race at a certain time and place in history is a sin that must be confessed and repented of.  Then the authors go further to read the hearts and minds of others with accusations of white supremacy and idolatry.  And they do this all while generalizing about and speaking ill of (def: vilify) an entire people group, the very practice which you have rightly condemned. 




If privilege is sin and worthy of confession, then I would suggest that the authors have stopped far short of the various privileges and people groups where confession is necessary.  Asian Americans should repent of their clear privilege, since they have rigged a system where their financial outcomes are much higher than the whites whom they are oppressing.  The same goes for Jewish Americans and Indian Americans, whose median incomes dwarf those of the average white family.  Blacks in America should repent of North American privilege, since their freedoms and outcomes are some much greater than the majority of blacks in third world countries.  People in democratic and capitalistic countries should repent of the fact that they were not born in socialist utopias such as Venezuela.   For that matter, we should all repent of 21st century privilege, as the majority of people throughout the history of the world have known nothing of the comfort and ease which we enjoy. 




Or, rather, each person should thank God for their blessings, love God and neighbor, and seek the peace of the city in which they live while preaching the Gospel as the only solution to the hatred that lies in our hearts.  Incessant categorization of people into competing groups is decidedly not gospel language.  We know a gospel that breaks down the classes and competing groups that this article perpetuates (see Rom. 10:12, Gal. 3:28, Col. 3:11 for starters).




I would also encourage you not to be paralyzed by a fear that you are somehow villainous regarding a lack of recognition of the sin of others.  If someone is unjustly judged or treated wrongly, an injustice is done.  If you think that every injustice or string of injustices is somehow your individual responsibility to do something about, you will have no end to that, and no possibility to assuage your conscience.  Which injustice in our society is the most important to speak about?  Are you a villain if you have not publically spoken out about the blight of fatherlessness that drives much of the criminality and poverty in inner city populations?  Are you a villain if you have not spoken prophetically about the disparate impact of abortion on poor and minority communities?  Must you repent of every social ill that you have not given your life to stopping?  Will God hold you responsible for every injustice?  The list is unending.  I am certainly not saying that Christians have no place speaking about and seeking to remedy injustice.  However, each must serve in God’s kingdom as they have been placed and equipped.  The church and fellow Christians ought not be in the business of policing and demanding certain rhetoric and certain political or justices emphases that others must adhere to in order to be considered faithful, lest they be accused of idolatry. 


Hi Eric, I understand what you are saying.  I think that the sin of privilege is not so much in having it, but in denying that we have it.  In prentending that it doesn't exist, in turning a blind eye to those that suffer in poverty, oppression, or humiliation because they don't have it.  You're right, we can't fight every battle for every underprivileged person who lives or has ever lived.  The parable of the sheep and goats doesn't really give us the option of acting like we have no idea that we are supposed to be acutely aware of those that are suffering and do something about it. So yes, according to the words of Christ himself, if I see injustice and do nothing about it, I am the villain.  The excuse of ignorance doesn't fly with God; if we know the scriptures, we have no excuse. It doesn't help if my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are telling me that I don't need to repent of ignoring the problem...I see that argument and say it is simply not in line with what Christ taught us, over and over again.  Good Samaritan.  Rich man and Lazarus. 

Would you be more comfortable with a call to confession of our ignorance of the pain our privilege causes, rather than a confession of the privilege itself?  I'm guessing that is what lies at the core of your discomfort here, but that seems like semantics. If I am unaware that I have stepped on your toe, and you tell me, "Hey, you're stepping on my toe!"  I could argue up and down whether or not I did it on purpose or whether or not my inherent clumsiness led to this situation, or whether or not you were really hurt by this, all the while unmoving. Or, I could move, apologize profusely, and take steps to both make retribution and ensure that it didn't happen again.  I don't want to make racism seem as trite as stepping on a toe, but I just don't think that your argument that no repentance is necessary is valid.  Whether our privilege is accidental or if we abuse it for our own purposes is irrelevant to whether or not our action (or inaction) has caused pain, and that requires repentance before we can move forward in practical, meaningful ways.  


Hello Alina,


Thanks for the conversation.  The first point I would note in response is that you are beginning to mix categories.  At the end of your second paragraph you begin to substitute racism for privilege.  The two are not the same.  I have never said that if we have racist (actually: hateful) attitudes or actions that we are not culpable for that sin and needing to repent.   Secondly, I think you err when you assign pain to someone based on you receiving privilege.  Let’s go back to your original example.  Any pain experienced by the “visible minority” in that scenario is caused by the sinful action of unjust judgment by the store clerk.  The pain is not caused by the fact that you were not searched, but that the minority person was searched for no reason other than their race. 


Injustice is not fixed by you repenting of something you neither caused nor encouraged.  Inasmuch as there is a problem in privilege, its root is in any unjust action that causes the one to be under-privileged.   To that extent, what is often labeled as white privilege is actually a misnomer because it insinuates that a class of people is treated to much better than they deserve, when the problem that is seeking to be illuminated is actually that certain people are being treated worse than they deserve.  The solution, then, is not in white people apologizing for being treated justly, but in all of us collectively seeking to model Christ-like love for neighbor and indeed to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). 


You used the later example of stepping on a toe, which of course is an action taken.  Being white is not taking an action, it is merely existing.  In the store example you were simply shopping and did not get checked, but neither did you cause the store clerk to unjustly suspect the minority and cause pain.  Additionally, you still have not seem to come to grips with the fact that in your original comment you decry the painting of a race or culture with a broad brush, while the authors of this article engage in that exact practice. 


There are simply too many variables other than race that determine individual success in America. There are a host of privileges that dwarf “white privilege.” A huge one is Two-Parent Privilege. If you are raised by a father and mother, you enter adulthood with more privileges than anyone else in American society, irrespective of race, ethnicity, or sex.  And Eric mentioned Asian privilege -- Asian Americans do better than white Americans in school, on IQ tests, on credit scores, and on other positive measures. In fact, according to recent data from the Federal Reserve, Asians are about to surpass whites as the wealthiest group of Americans.   And Jewish Americans might say there is a Gentile privilege; and many Christians in metropolitan areas would say there is an atheist/non-religious privilege (many Christians are marginalized in all areas of of life).  I would also argue there is a minority privilege and as Eric noted the biggest privilege of all is an American privilege.  Of course, recognizing and acknowledging white privilege is important, but rather than villify an entire race, why not pray for healing for the sin that apparently is very prevalent in our society.  That those who are racist and commit racist acts come to know the saving work of our Savior and repent.  Our Kingdom work is to bring healing and unity, not divide and continue to victimize those who are the recipients of unjust acts.  I agree with Eric on everything he said so I won't repeat more of his wise comments here.

Thanks for the Long MLK Quote.   Maybe someone at the banner should read Martin Luther King in his own words in the Stanford papers on "The Divinity of Jesus."    Every one things they know him, what he stood for.    Most don't. 

While it is a fact there is much to be undesired in both US & Canadian cultural history (i.e. banning of certain travelers indiscriminately- US,  and terrorist attack on houses of worship- Canada), to what point will self- loathing achieve a positive outcome?  In my opinion a broad sweeping article like this one, that is de jure correct- creates an adversarial tone for those who accept the past as unsavory, but really are attempting to live Christlike.  At what point is self-flagellation with the past counterproductive to grace and forgiveness.  Perhaps it is divine to forgive and forget when true repentance is made.


I am not calling for the authors to remain silent, but could there be a point where we as a denomination become sinful in our overzealous attitude in making things "right"?  We must speak the truth, yet is correct to create an environment where self-hate turns to group hate?  No one should be silent on observable past errors by our societies, but at what point can those "observe" accept the overwhelming grace of God to forgive and allow us to move forward in peace- together without fear of hearing- "all is fine now that we have been made whole, but..."; how is this Reformed?

Amen Del.  Well said.

Perpetuating the myth of white privilege is itself racism and idolatry.  Is the Christian reformed church actually a church of the Lord Jesus Christ or actually social justice warriors?

Regarding the hypothetical example of a store clerk checking bags to ensure items have been paid for, how do you know the real reason the clerk might check certain people and not others.  Are we not told in Matthew 7:1 "Judge not, that ye be not judged."?  Do you have the right to judge the reason(s) why the clerk is checking certain people's bags?  Maybe they have been trained in body language that tips them off who might be stealing or perhaps randomly every X number of people.  Would you be similarly concerned if the person whose bags were checked was a brunette and you might be a blonde?  In Israel they are specifically trained in being able to read body language.  People are watched from the minute they enter the airport.  They'll be asked certain questions to ascertain whether they are just regular passengers or should be investigated further.  Their focus is on finding the terrorists whereas in most other countries the focus is on finding things such as weapons/bombs.  They have great airport security in Israel compared to America where people are practically groped; even elderly ladies while those closer to the profile of a terrorist just get to walk through.   

Several blacks have written books etc. expressing the fact that white privilege etc. cannot be blamed for the situation blacks are in.  The reverend Jesse Lee Peterson wrote the book titled 'Antidote: healing America from the poison of hate, blame and victimhood'.  An excerpt from his book: "The pattern in this is simple: children―black or white―when deprived of fathers, grow up angry at their parents. White children displace their anger in a thousand different directions. Black children channel theirs, for the most part, in a single destructive direction―towards and against white people."

Others such as Tommy Sotomayor, who has youtube channel(s) basically trying to appeal to fellow blacks not to conduct themselves in line with stereotypes.  He admitted that if he entered an elevator full of blacks he would exit just like a white person might.  He said that they might all be fine, perhaps returning from a Bible study, but if not it would be too late once he is trapped in there and attacked.  I recently saw one of his youtube videos saying white people shouldn’t feel guilty and on another video mentioned how touched he was by how decently he was being treated by his white neighbours.  He lives in a predominating white neighbourhood.

What about ‘black privilege’ that give blacks much easier access to universities etc. due to affirmative action?

"White Privelege", is there really such a thing? I say that there isn't. The term is actually a cover for racism and being anti-Chruch. Yes, I said it. It is an anti-church reference that is used by the Left and their Muslim allies as a way of destroying the moral confidence of the West so that they can create a values vacuum that will allow for the over throw of Western democracy and substitute it with Islam.

I know that there are many out there who will say, how can I equate Western society and the church? My response is why can't I? We equate Budihhism with Japan and Islam with the Arabs. We equate Native religions with Native cultures etc. Even the Muslims equate Christianity with the West. I believe therefore that it is legitimate to see in the accusation of White privilge an indirect attack upon the church because it is within the context of Europe that the church came to exercise its influence over a complete continent.

If we look at the whole breadth of history we will see that there is no hardship that White people have escaped being equally subjected too. If we look at slavery then we see that Whites were also subjected to slavery just as Blacks were and by the same ethnic group, Arabs. The Muslims have a much longer history of practicing slavery than do Western White Europeans and it is a history that goes on even to this day. In the end it was only White Europeans who because of their Christian faith were led to abolish slavery in their lands.

Another thing that "White privilege" is used for is as a way to explaing the chronic underperformance of Black America. This perpetuates the notion that the way to explain the failure of Black inner city culture is by saying that success was denied them by an outside evil force. We see this currently now with the Democrats who say that the election was stolen from them by Russian interference or F.B.I. Director Comey's ill timed revelations of new information with regards to Hillary's emails. One group's failures are not necessarily the result of another group's evil influence. Usually the most likely explanation for the failure or success of an ethnic group is the ethinic group itself. I believe that in the case of Black America that the latter is the case we find ourselves looking at.

Why doesn't Black America succeed? I am a Black man who grew up on the Southside of Chicago and I can offer up my observations about the Black community which I see as the reasons why the community fails. The first observation that I would make is that Blacks in the inner city do spend less of their financial resources on their children. They have more children than they can possibly care for. Their children grow up in one parent families that are overwhelmingly headed by women, education is not a priority in the community, moral guidance is sorely lacking.

Black people spend an inordinate amount of their limited financial resources on 4 things; hair, alcohol, flashy cars, clothes. Weaves, wigs and dreadlocks aren't cheap. Liqour stores are on almost every corner and luxury cars are aspiration symbols for people who in many cases have no job or have mediocore jobs at best. What is in short supply are after school activities that are supervised by parents. School parent/teacher interviews are not attended and the shcools themselves are not safe places for students. None of this can be blamed on White privilege. If an ethnic group can't make a success of their own community then that is the fault of the group residing in the community. An example from my own life that I will cite is the community of Roseland and Roseland Christian school.

My brother and I attended Roseland Christian school in the 70's. At that time Roseland was a quiet community that was majority White with a significant Dutch population that had first immigrated and settled there in the 1880's. It was this immigrant community that started the Christian school. You can read about some of its history at this link:

At that time we took the bus to school from our home in the Englewood district. The Roseland community was clean, had well kept houses, manicured lawns etc. It was the picture of middle class life and the crime rate was negligible. If you look at Roseland today after it turned over from White to Black you can't see any of what it used to be. The community is now a typical ghetto and Roseland Christian school is closed because of a lack of community support and the rising violence. You can't blame this on White priviliege. The buildings didn't change it was only the ethnicity of the owners that changed. The school didn't change but there was a lack of community support for Christian education. The Christian Reformed Church would have been happy to continue to support Roseland Christiand school but there was just no support from the community of people who resided there. Yet these same people have money for drugs, alcohol, wigs, dreadlocks, weaves, luxury cars and nice clothes including 200.00/ sneakers.

If a person is looking for discrimination than that person is likely to find it. Other ethnic races, such as Jews and Asians, have over come overt and subtle discrimination but Blacks seem to be stuck in the mud. The Black community has found that there is more reward from being the victim than there is from going to work and raising their children.



Thanks to Joseph Kuilema and Christina Edmondson for a thoughtful article. Neither of them will presumably be surprised by the comment section in the article, particularly the groundless accusation that the article sought to "vilify an entire race" nor the employment of red herrings, wherein respondents change the subject ("Let's talk about affirmative action making it easy for blacks to get into college! Also, blacks spend so much money on weaves and shoes instead of their kids!") rather than addressing the thesis of the article: "White privilege does not mean that every individual white person is always better off. Rather, it means being able to claim the 'white' identity in North America comes with certain social, cultural, and economic advantages...." The article makes no claims about the experience of an individual white person. Nor does it assert that racial identity is the sole factor affecting North Americans' experience and success. But, at least coming from an American context and, for the CRC, a Dutch heritage that means the roots of our tradition in the U.S. are largely identified with white folks, it is hard to ignore that a country that affirmed in 1791 that only "free white persons" could be American might have an injustice problem. When my great-grandparents came from the Netherlands, speaking no English, their white skin ensured that they could live in Chicago, as the racial covenants in the housing deeds deemed their skin A-OK; the white deed holders were forbidden from selling to African-American citizens, even had they wanted to do so. Were my great-grandparents responsible for this policy? No. But they certainly benefitted from it. That is white privilege. And I benefited too. Home ownership is one of the primary vehicles to wealth in this country. Being able to buy a home, in a "good neighborhood," enabled them to benefit from rising property values. It enabled them to have access to "good schools." It positioned them to help their children buy homes. Indeed, while some might interpret the fact that whites' net worth averages roughly $120,000 USD while blacks' averages roughly $6,000 USD as evidence that whites "work harder" and "value education more" than "them," certainly the connection between housing (and housing discrimination) as well as educational access and attainment is well-documented. Of course racial identity doesn't explain every aspect of a person. But it is illogical to conclude that it therefore explains nothing and that white privilege is a myth. For Pete's sake, Brown v. Board of Education didn't occur until 1954. In the 1960s we still needed legislation ensuring voting rights for all eligible (i.e. non-white) Americans. In 2017, we still have white folks unaware that the single largest beneficiary of affirmative action in college admissions has been and continues to be white women, and they instead assume that any dark-skinned person has an edge over them in college admissions. But, no, that isn't white privilege to walk into a college classroom and assume that *I* (as a white person) had to earn my admission but *you* (as an African-American) simply had to be born black and the doors of opportunity were flung wide. Why is it we can accept the doctrine of original sin as having on ongoing impact in today's world while at the same time deny that racism, what Jim Wallis terms America's original sin, might be part and parcel of the Fall and similarly be impacting our nation and churches today? That's not "vilifying an entire race"; it is acknowledging that, whether I ask for it or not, I may benefit from injustice. Where I sin is when I recharacterize this injustice to others as injustice to myself or when I simply decide it doesn't exist and thus is not my problem. I may not be guilty of creating white privilege, but that doesn't negate my responsibility to work toward its demise.

Responding I suppose to the last sentence of Calvincollege_10557, my own perspective is that followers of Christ do well when they decide to and do treat others justly and with love, without regard to their race, ethnicity, culture, gender, physical attractiveness, intelligence, capacity, or many other characteristics.

Picking up on a recent Banner editorial, "yellow privilege" exists in Asian countries, "black privilege" exists in Nigeria, and other colors of privilege exist in other areas of the world, in each case, as the Banner editorial suggests, because persons of that race are the majority.

But ultimately, who cares.  Said another way, is it not the true responsibility of each of us to treat others with respect, justice and love regardless of the statistical race box or other boxes they might be placed in?  Ultimately, we can't, individually or aggregately, control or manipulately large scale, statistical realities, and nearly all efforts targeted to doing so end up creating more injustice.  But we can and should resolve to regard each person we encounter as Christ regards us.

The authors and CalvinCollege_105579 deny they intend to declare guilty all whites within a "white privileged" society.  I don't buy the disclaimer, given that they clearly declare it the responsibility of each and every white person (as if that can be known) to cause that statistical reality they decry to be altered (to exactly what is inherently unclear).  Failing in a responsibility is, after all, cause for one to be adjudged guilty.

The authors, Calvincollege_105579, and I will be on common ground if we can agree that we are each responsible for how we treat and regard others, again, irrespective of race and a long list if other factors.  But if I must align with some political or culture wide movement to alter certain macro-statistical realities that are infinitely complicated, I guess I'll have to be comfortable with them regarding me to be guilty of shirking my responsibility as they see it.

Doug, thanks for your comment. I think we can find common ground, though I think you have also at least partly misrepresented my views in stating that I hold all white people guilty, in spite of my disclaimer to the contrary and my emphasis on both my own experience and on the inability of anyone to speak about the experiences of any one individual white person based on the statistical generalizations we can make about white people. I also fail to see why one shouldn't seek justice in the face of "the statistical reality [we] decry," to use your words, or why we can merely note systemic injustice without making an effort to do justice. Why must we determine such efforts to be futile because, as you put it, we cannot "individually or aggregately, control or manipulately large scale, statistical realities"? White privilege need not be fixed feature of North American society, an unassailable reality. Certainly the efforts of Frederick Douglass and Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King Jr. have demonstrated that taking aim at racial injustice bears fruit. Nor does acknowledging that being white has tended to give North Americans an edge in society require a concomitant acknowledgement that only non-white persons should be treated with respect. I acknowledge that Christians are called to "treat others justly and with love, without regard to their race, ethnicity, culture, gender, physical attractiveness, intelligence, capacity, or many other characteristics." But I also acknowledge that I live in a fallen world, and within that world I have been accorded advantages (or had them withheld) because of others' regard of my race, ethnicity, culture, physical attractiveness, intelligence, capacity, and other characteristics. To the extent that we are called to be agents of transformation in bringing about Christ's kingdom, I see no conflict in simultaneously acknowledging that this brokenness will be with us until Christ comes again while also striving to end it within my spheres of influence, both on the micro and macro level. Declaring that, because there are "infinitely complicated" factors at play, the only viable action is no action is problematic, to my mind, as it hints at the notion that some problems, some sins, are of such magnitude that we might as well not try address them. I think God can handle the infinitely complicated. So, yes, the call of Micah 6.8 to do justice or the command to love my neighbor as myself is neither one-directional from whites to non-whites nor limited in scope to only concern racial matters. And it is because of that very fact that white privilege, in its elevation of one group, one kind of neighbor, over all others is particularly pernicious.

Calvincollege_105579 please tell us what social sin have Whites escaped experiencing? Was it slavery? History teaches us that for centuries Muslims kidnapped and sold Whites into slavery. Was it disease and famine? History tells us that Whites experienced famine throughout their history. Was it unemployment? History tells us that Western economies have gone through great boughts of depression and loss of jobs. Was it discrimination? History tells us the the Irish, Jews and Eastern Europeans were discriminated against on both sides of the Ocean. European society is responsbile for finding the answers to all of these issues  because it addressed them. There is no other culture on earth; not Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Muslim, etc. that has acknowledged its shortcomings and addressed them as the Europeans have.

What you are wanting to argue for is corporate guilt of the White race. I find this argument to be specious. It is wrong to assume that because someone is of a certain race that that person must have been priviliged or oppressed. Just as it is wrong to assume that because a person is rich that he/she must have committed some inequity in order to attain the riches. It is also wrong to assume that because a person is poor that he/she must have been victimized. I would no more penalize the ancestors of Whites just because they are White than I would reward the ancestors of Blacks just because they are Black.

European society struggled over centuries to overcome the inequities that all of humanity is saddled with because of sin. What allowed Europe to wiggle its way out of the mud wasn't the skin color of the people but the ideas in their heads. And those ideas that led Europe out of the mud were fueled by the Christian faith.

If we in the CRC are really concerned about social injustice than that is where the work must begin. We have to change the content of people's minds. Attempting to change social structures is not going to accomplish the job. In the end it will only perpetuate more inequity such as we witness now with BLM and the Leftist thugs in the streets who are destablizing our society. When people stop blaming others for their problems and look to themselves then that is when they can address their problems. When the church starts to evangelize the individual instead of attempting to instill Christianity into social structures, the Social Gospel, that is when the world will change.

It will take the same thing to change the world as it took to change Europe and that is the church.

CalvinCollege_105579.  You say I mischaracterized you by accusing you of blaming whites when you didn't.  I'll repeat my explanation.  You say you don't lay blame but then in the same breath assign a responsibility (and only to whites).  Roundabout to the same.

This is like BLM insisting both that the spoken phase be "black lives matter" and not "all lives matter," then saying that means "black lives matter too," but still insisting that the mantra be "black lives matter."

So in some social contexts, it is and advantage to a person that he or she is white, and then in other social contexts, it is an advantage to be black, or brown, or something else or some mix.  Again, so what?, except that we respond rightly to every person in every context.  In other words, "all persons matter."

You suggest that folks like MLK took up "statistiscal racism", in contravention to my point.  I disagree.  MLK took up unjust laws, literally force applied by government against persons of certain characteristics that should have been irrelevant to the laws made.  You and I will be in perfect agreement in opposition to any law that irrationally discriminates and oppressed like Jim Crow laws.  Where we might disagree is on issues of "affirmative action," at least when applied so as to be irrationally used to punish someone for an injustice he or she did not commit.

So when you say you are not blaming but just noting, I'm unconvinced.  Maybe YOU are, but I rarely encounter anyone waving a banner about "white privilege" who is not also suggesting that some reverse injustice plan be implemented under threat of force (that is, by law).  And you go down that road as well when you assign all persons who are white a "responsibility" to "do something" about this statististical reality (except of course, not in China, Nigeria, or parts of the US where whites may not in fact "dominate.")

The problem, as I agree with Eric, is for the first time in our Christian life we are being asked to confess a sin we did not explicitly commit. We are meant to admit that because our genes code for "white" skin tones we have a certain sin, and by not confessing this, we are committing idolotry. I'm sorry but that is unacceptable to me. Every sin I've seen results from an explicit choice, even if it's a bad thought.

If there are other exceptions in the Bible where one's genetic makeup results in sin requiring confession, please tell me. As Eric said, these authors are painting all caucasians with the very same brush they wish to avoid.

The solution is to levy for an elimination of barriers that face minorities and we should be for that. But this particular divisive sentiment is only going to make people emotional and angry because you are telling them they are sinners for unavoidable reasons. My fellow Christians are welcome to confornt me on my sins but I do require them to be based off my own faults and choices. Many have worked to overcome racism based on actual behaviors and actions. Is that not enough?

Doug, again thanks for your comment. I don't know that our views are really all that divergent, though again I will push back at some of your characterizations of my views. I do not quite suggest that "folks like MLK took up 'statistical racism'"--I state that MLK et al. "have demonstrated that taking aim at racial injustice bears fruit"--but certainly statistics, as a descriptor, can motivate where to direct one's aim. So, when you say "MLK took up unjust government against persons of certain characteristics that should have been irrelevant to the laws made," I don't disagree or see it at odds with my point. MLK targeted systemic injustice, to the extent that the government and social custom both propped up racist practices. And while Jim Crow laws have always been immoral, MLK, Ida B. Wells, Frederick Douglass, etc. remind us that such immorality has not always been illegal. Moreover, they remind us that, where such immoral practices have also been legal, these immoral practices have almost exclusively in the U.S. benefitted white folks (physically and economically, at least--not spiritually).

Meanwhile, while you seem to regularly encounter folks "waving a banner about 'white privilege' [while they are] also suggesting that some reverse injustice plan be implemented under threat of force (that is, by law)," I seem to never encounter such people demanding that "reverse injustice" be implemented. I instead find folks making protests along the lines of "I don't have to repent for a sin I didn't commit." (I am not characterizing your views thusly, by the way.) But we do see such a response in this article's comments section and virtually anywhere within the Church that white privilege is a topic. Too often it reads like someone trying to get out of the mandate of Matt. 25.40--"Whatever you did to the least of these, you did to me [Jesus]"--on a technicality, something along the lines of "It isn't my fault that I am not the least of these--it is a quirk of genetics that I have white skin + benefits--and thus it isn't sinful to reap the benefits of the situation, since it isn't of my making or explicit choice."

I will use an analogy (and, yes, like most analogies it will be somewhat reductive--you will likely enjoy pointing out its limitations ;)). Let's imagine a set of octuplets, identical in every way except that 7 are white and 1 is a person of color. They have no responsibility for the circumstances of their birth, for their appearance, their class, etc. Now let's imagine that their parents decide to ensure that the 7 white children have access to sufficient food, give or take, such that the white children average 2000 calories per day. Meanwhile, the parents decide to ensure that the black child has, oh, 1000 calories per day.

Have the white children asked for extra food? No. Is it possible that one of the white children might have even less than 1000 calories per day? Yes. Who is guilty of meting out the food in unequal portions? The parents are. Nonetheless, I think we can agree that, on the whole, the white kids are better off, even if we can't assert that each white kid is better off than her non-white sibling. Even so, the food distribution system--both its ideology and implementation--is tilted toward the white kids.

(Aside: We can reasonably accuse the parents of racism, to the extent that they are intentionally ensuring that their white children will be better off, on average, than their non-white child; by contrast, we would say that the white kids are experiencing white privilege: by virtue of their skin color, they are on average receiving more food--calling this tendency "white privilege" does NOT say that all of the white children have received more than all non-white children, nor does it say that the white children are guilty of racism for having received more. Nor does highlighting the workings of white privilege necessarily entail a concomitant demand that, for example, the non-white child now receive 2000 calories while the white children receive 1500 calories. [But--even were it to demand such a reversal, which we might (to use your words) characterize as "some reverse injustice plan," the white children would in many instances still be better off, for a goodly while, because the advantages of having received sufficient sustenance persist. But that is a matter for another day.])

Now let's imagine that this system of injustice, wherein white children are born into a world where, without their volition, they are accorded greater sustenance than the non-white children receive, is replicated over multiple generations. The well-fed white children may find that they are able to stockpile food, or to barter for better (and sometimes worse) food, etc. They can pass on that stockpile to their children and grandchildren, even as those children continue to receive, on average, more food than non-white children. Meanwhile, the original non-white child has not fared so well. Less well fed, she doesn't have quite the stamina for school and she is out sick a lot. A lifetime of receiving fewer opportunities, fewer access to sufficient food, has dimmed her ability to see a path out of her situation, were such a path to exist in equal measure to the paths of her white siblings. (Were we to trace American history more closely, we would note that historically she would have largely not had access to education, the institution of marriage, home ownership, and a whole host of other factors that contribute to one's material success and familial stability, but to keep things simple I will stay focused on my analogy of food access.) She has difficulty stockpiling food, and certainly will be less able to pass on generational wealth as a result.

Even acknowledging that I have reduced a complex set of events to a narrow analogy, I think this admittedly imperfect analogy raises another important question: If we concede that the white children are not guilty of creating the system where they, on average, have received greater material wealth than the black child, at what point--if ever--do they become responsible to intervene in that system? As another commenter put it, are "we being asked to confess a sin we did not explicitly commit," with the implication that "white privilege" is code for "it is a sin to be white"?

Such a confusion seems due to a misreading of Kuilema and Edmondson's point. They do not assert that being born white is a sin. They suggest that, in North America, being white has tended to come with privileges, and that it especially behooves white Christians in North America to seek to end such a state of affairs. I see Matthew 25 as being manifestly relevant here (and it in fact prompts my use of food in my analogy), as the Son of Man asserts that the kingdom has been prepared for "the least of these": "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me" (v. 35-6). When the righteous query, "Hey, when did we do that to you?", Jesus responds, "[W]hatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me" (v. 40). He doesn't ask whether you have more because you are "guilty" of white privilege: he simply says that you are responsible to use your advantages for "the least of these." Moreover, he says that those who don't aid "the least of these" will be "cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (v. 42), because "whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me" (v. 45).

Circling back to the question of white privilege, and whether we are "being asked to confess a sin we did not explicitly commit," Scripture seems quite clear that holding on to privilege, and the material trappings that come with it, when others are in need is a sin. Jesus doesn't ask whether we sought the privilege or whether we are to "blame" for a North American society that has historically accorded more advantages to whites than non-whites; he simply asks what we have done for those people who are the least of these. And, for our purposes, statistically "the least of these" within North America are non-whites, particularly Latin@, African-American, and indigenous peoples (but certainly Scripture is inclusive of all "the least of these"--the article is merely highlighting one factor, that of race, and its workings to relegate some folks as "more of these" rather than "least of these" people, since the correlation between race and wealth is robust in North America).

So, returning again to my food analogy, the original seven white children had no say in their parents' decision to ensure that, on average, they received more food than their non-white sibling. They aren't in that sense "guilty" of starving their sibling. But at what point should we expect them notice that, hey, I am getting more food than Sis is? At what point does that recognition turn into a responsibility to ensure that Sis is well-fed? What if it means that they receive less food--for a short period of time? for a long period of time? When do "the least of these" become my problem? Am I willing to go on a diet, so to speak, for others? 

Perhaps the God who gave up heaven in order to die for us, a God who models a lavish love for sinners coupled with a rejection of his justly deserved privilege, offers a path worth following.


My response won't be so long cuz I think the horse near death.  Just a couple of response points.

You say you don't know of folks wanting "reverse injustice" (my phrase) while they fly high the banner of "white privilege."  Sorry for the syntactical confusion.  They call it "affirmative action," and its implementation has been historically persistent in this country and always closely tied to the claim of "white privilege."

You also suggest these authors aren't guilt tripping anyone.  I disagree, as said before.  They don't say "you are all guilty" but do say that, given the existence of "white privilege," all (at least whites) should feel the sense of "responsibility" to correct that big picture statistical disparity.  By my understanding of that rather straight forward word (responsibility), it would be the case that if one fails in a responsibility, one acquires guilt.  So I follow the logic of the authors' words:  I am white, I have the responsibility to correct certain big picture statistical realities -- and if I don't, well, I will have failed in my responsibilities, and you know what that makes me.

OK, final remark.  Do you think you and I have the responsibility to help non-Asians (including whites) get closer to the financial success levels achieved these days in the US by Asians?  Yes, that's a rhetorical question, but the point of it relevant to this exchange.  The status of "whites" (again, however defined) is slipping these days, and that is predicted to continue in a big picture, statistical way, all of which I regard as irrelevant to how we should live life, which is by ignoring meaningless individual characteristics (skin color being perhaps chief among them), recognising the image of God in each of us.  If we do otherwise, we will set up our society for a strong "white supremicist" movement that will use rules and principles society put into place for other, purportedly benign, reasons.

Good chat, Doug. Thanks.

Just a reminder that those who post comments must identify themselves. Thank you.

What comes to mind....I feel very disappointed that the Banner would go this far....WHITE PRIVILEDGE!!  There is no such thing!!  I happen to be white...some folks are red, yellow and brown...God made us the way HE chose and in HIS image...Just because there are EVIL people in this world and run down and hate certain people...does not make me any less...

OR something I have to feel ashamed about....Dont blame others evil on me...  Get to the ROOT of the problem...and stop with the SOCIAL justice stuff!!  God has justice...When you add to JUSTICE like social it is political and not God's justice anymore...  YOU got this "white priviledge" talk from the liberals...folks who WANT to make trouble and chaos...and they USE the race card to do it....Stop falling for all that and get to what God says...