Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Accosting White Privilege, Interrogating Racism, and Practicing Pentecost

In Grand Rapids this past weekend, I had a striking encounter with white privilege.

The moment I witnessed involved questions about the nature and location of desserts and coffee on a refreshment table; in other words, the moment about which I write took place in a particular social setting, at the nexus of culture(s) and place(s). This story features "person one" and "person two."

All of a sudden, the ambiance of the moment was ruptured when person one assumed person two to be hired help for the event. Without even a kind word of greeting or hand extended in friendship, person one revealed that, to use the words of the Apostle Paul, “principalities and powers” are everywhere evident. As words were uttered unconscious racism couched in white privilege reared its ugly head. Very often, the inadvertent display of the unconscious objectifies the conscious. The simple and direct response to these unfortunate and rancid comments roundly condemned the privilege they subtly displayed.

Some of what I’ve been reading lately provides the intellectual framework and some spiritual tools needed to understand and interpret this noxious encounter with white privilege.

As a historian I know that race is a particular construction of particular cultures in particular times and in particular places; I also know that race has a particularly complex past in Euro-American history. As a historian, and as one who is shaped by the life of faith, I believe that the pursuit of earthbound responses to racism (and its legacies) is necessary and commendable. I am also persuaded that given the religious dynamics that exist in Euro-American history and culture(s), a profoundly religious response to racism (and its legacies) provides a way to address – in sacramental and devotional ways – the principalities and powers that manifest as white privilege.

Suffice all of this to say that not only have I read about practicing Pentecost and overcoming the legacy of inequality, I witnessed the embodiment of practicing Pentecost. May I have the grace and peace, to use the words of a close friend, to practice Pentecost and embody racial penance.


Anthony said...

Phil, could you tell us what exactly happened?

Phil said...


I'm working on another post that will offer more details and sort of resituate the discussion.

Glad to see you at Acton and at Covenant; what's the dissertation about?

I'm a graduate student as well!


R.G. said...

Well said.

Phil said...


Good to "see" you here; Anthony (Smith) speaks very highly of you.

I look forward to continuing the discussion....