NOTE: Please read Part 1 before reading this post. In both, I am discussing the causes and cures for what is commonly called “white fragility.” That term describes the often strong tendency of many white people to avoid honest discussions about racial issues. Christians cannot isolate themselves from other Christians who are different from them. We are God’s family and caring about one another and meeting the needs of one another is simply not optional. Part 2 digs in even more deeply to this part of the subject. Thank you for reading it.
Cause #3 – White Guilt
Dictionary.com defines this term as “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.” For most of us light-skinned people, our guilt is far less defined. It is often something sensed, but with a question mark. What should we feel? That vague uneasiness we feel is connected to our ignorance about what we keep hearing about. We may feel accused without knowing the exact details of the accusations. Since we don’t know as much about the overall topic as some seem to know or expect us to know, we can feel guilty about our lack of knowledge and wonder what else we should feel guilty about. It’s confusing and it is scary for the uninformed. Until and unless we start trying get educated further, our feelings are going to remain muddled and our fragility is going to continue.
It is important to understand the difference between feeling guilty and feeling badly. I feel badly for the plights of people in all kinds of hurtful situations, but if I am personally in no way responsible for what they are suffering, I don’t feel guilty about it. So, I can feel badly for others but not guilty if I wasn’t responsible. I don’t know if any of my ancestors owned slaves, but if they did, I would feel badly but not guilty. What hits closer to home for me is having the awareness that some of my relatives were bigoted racists. That knowledge brings sharp pain into my heart but not personal guilt. It also makes me increasingly thankful that my parents were not among that number. Praise God for that!
The responsibility I do feel in the realm of racism involves my desire to help, which is what prompted my starting this blogsite. I just wanted to try helping in the ways I have already described. If we can do something to help, we are responsible for doing it. Opportunity carries with it responsibility, and we all have the opportunity to help in this area in some way. Galatians 6:10 puts it this way: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” James 4:17 words it more strongly in these words: “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Proverbs 18:19 gives us a very sobering concept: “One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” In other words, it is just as wrong to fail to build as it is to tear down something already built.
Bottom line, should you and I as white people feel guilty for anything connected to racism? Yes, but we have to be clear on the why. If I have overt prejudices, I need to feel guilty and repent. If I have systemic racist attitudes of which I am unconscious, I have the responsibility to gain more understanding of what those might be and then repent. If I have the opportunities to help others of my race become more aware of their own prejudicial attitudes, hidden or not, I am responsible to help them get woke. If I have opportunities to help those who are receiving the brunt of overt or systemic racism, then I also have the responsibility to help them bear those burdens. The beginning point of helping the latter is listening, learning, empathizing and serving. Opportunity plus knowledge plus ability equals responsibility.
Hopefully these brief explanation has made it clearer regarding what we should and should not feel guilt for. I grieve over American history of slavery, but I am not responsible and thus don’t have or feel guilt for what my ancestors may have done. I grieve for what other ancestors definitely did in holding racist attitudes and often putting those attitudes into practice by treating others badly. But I am not responsible for their attitudes and actions. Here are the things for which I am responsible.
To reiterate, I am responsible for repenting of known racial prejudices in my heart. I am responsible for educating myself and discovering similar prejudices of which I am presently unaware. I am responsible for helping my white friends to do the same – to become more knowledgeable in those same two areas. I am responsible for helping my friends of color to work through their challenges and heartaches due to living in a world where injustices reign. In a nutshell, failing to do what I can do to help myself and others should produce guilt in us, motivating us to handle that guilt in God’s way – by repenting and changing and doing what we can do going forward.
Cause #4 – Refusal to Embrace True Christianity
When I inform people about my blogsite, I explain my reasons for having it something like this: “I want to help my white brothers and sisters in Christ to better understand our fellow Christians who live in a different world than we do. I also want to help my brothers and sisters of color to handle an unjust world in the way that Christ did.” If we are to help bear the burdens of others, as Galatians 6:2 directs us, we have to know what those burdens are. If we are to “bear up under the pain of unjust suffering because we are conscious of God (1 Peter 2:19), we have to purposely imitate Christ. On either side of that coin, we must receive help from one another, which means that we of different “worlds” must cross the aisle in order to accomplish it.
Do we have a choice in this matter? Not if we are going to live as Christians. Look at the following passage, the likes of which could be multiplied:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross!
So what’s the primary thrust of this passage? Do not give in to selfishness and pride as you value others and their interests (to say nothing of needs) above your own. Do give in to the challenge of imitating Jesus, whose sacrifices to save and serve us go beyond our comprehension – by light years. Why is white fragility so pervasive in our American society? Because we aren’t intently set on following Jesus and his teaching, plain and simple. Regarding those who don’t claim to be Christians, I feel sad for them but not mad at them. They are lost in many ways. Regarding those who do claim to be Christians and are not even trying to get out of their comfort zones to help those who are hurting and being hurt, that’s another matter entirely.
Commands, Not Suggestions
Those verses quoted above are not mere suggestions; they are commands. Thus, they are not optional. Continual ignorance and willful ignorance are not acceptable for Christians – period. No buts and no ifs. Unacceptable. Read what Jesus said:
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.
18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?
The Bottom Line
Do you not see the bottom line here? Claiming to be a Christian doesn’t make you one. What do I think about Christianity in America? I think most of those who claim to be Christians aren’t. But it doesn’t matter what I think, right? I’m not the Judge; only God is. Let’s not stop there though. It doesn’t matter what you think either. You aren’t the Judge.
It only matters what God thinks, and I know what he thinks because he had it written in this book we call the Bible. This picking and choosing what we prefer in the Bible and skipping the rest is a soul-damning exercise. My fellow white church members, if you are not willing to try to follow Jesus into the world of the hurting, those hurting for any reason, including racism, you are not of Him. My fellow church members of color, if you are rationalizing and excusing your own forms of prejudice and anger toward others, you are not of Him.
Thankfully, I have many white friends in Christ who have repented and are trying to learn and serve. I have some blog posts from some of them. A couple of days ago, I received a note in response to an article directed toward common attitudes among those who have been unjustly treated. The title of that article is “Vengeance is Not Yours, Says the Lord!” (blog post 50). Here is what this disciple named Nona wrote and my response to her. It will serve as a fitting close to an article intended to help us all repent where needed, regardless of our color or the challenges we face. Christians must be Christian, which is to say, followers and imitators of Christ.
Gordon, I’m black & I knew I had to deal with bitterness & resentment toward whites in general & in particular because of the way I was treated all my life. It was openly confessed as I studied the Bible before baptism. It has to be. With Jesus as our example NO ONE can excuse racial animosity in any degree. In these times you have to pray for days to handle what goes on in the world. For a lifetime! Imitating Jesus is a 24/7 calling. No exceptions or excuses. Keep teaching & guiding us Gordon as one race, the wretched sinning race.
That is a wonderful testimony, Nona, an excellent example to call us all higher! Our identity is first of all disciple of Christ. To me you are a disciple who happens to be black, not a black disciple. I’m a disciple who happens to be white, not a white disciple. From a scientific perspective, there is only one race, and unfortunately, you described it all too well in your words. We are all on level ground at the foot of the cross. No one is superior and no one is inferior. We all need the grace of God and one another. The world will always be a mess without Christ. As the song puts it, this world is not my home. My citizenship is in heaven. Thanks so much for your testimony and may God bless you!