Confession of a White Male

I recently returned with my friend, Chris, from the PC(USA) multicultural conference. Chris has already posted a good summary and reflection on the conference on his blog, so I’m not going to bother rewriting what he’s already done a fine job doing.

I do though, want to reflect on what it means to be white/Euro-American. Honestly, I’ve never really thought about until this conference when Rev. Jin Kim of Church of All Nations challenged Chris and I to do so. Something that I’ve been learning from my Asian friends over the past year or so is the importance and significance of communal identity. As Euro-Americans, our culture is so terribly individualistic that we have no understanding of corporate identity, corporate sin, or even ethnic heritage. As I’ve been reflecting on this for a few days, I’ve been feeling the need to confess and repent, and while a don’t consider a blog post to be a valid Christian form of confession, I nevertheless want to write out what I feel I need to confess as a white male:

I confess that I’ve inherited and benefited from a legacy of oppression. I’ve benefited from a history of stolen land and slave labor solely because of the color of my skin. I’ve also received unjust privilege because of my gender, and have contributed to the unjust suffering of minorities in America and the poor across the world by virtue of the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and other ways that I’m probably completely unaware of. I confess that, until recently, I either didn’t care, ignored facts, or rationalized my way into denying the sin of my people. (And I could easily go on…)

I’d like to say that I repent of this, but sadly I’m not sure if I know at this point what genuine repentance looks like in this case. How does an individual repent of corporate sin? In concrete terms, as I turn away from the above what am I turning to? How do I completely crucify my ‘white privilege’ and to what am I raised? (And I could easily go on…)


8 thoughts on “Confession of a White Male

  1. hey bud,

    i personally don’t think you need to repent cuz you aren’t really responsbile for any of the things you have confressed. You don’t need to feel guilty or be held responsible for the acts of your ancestors. As the Prophet Muhammd said, “Actions are to be judged by intentions”, and I personally don’t think you are guilty of anything… unless ofcourse you intended to be racist or proud during certain instances of your life.

  2. Hey, I agree with the above. I understand where you’re coming from and I understand feeling bad for the racism… but I think the way to “repent” of this corporate sin is to just be a loving, unbias person in your everyday life. People need to see you as not just the stereotypical white male, which I personally do not think you are.

    The past is the past, and we need to learn from it, but not dwell on it. We need to realize our own sin and help people realize their sins as a way to repent of corporate sin. It’s our individual responsibility to help others realize their corporate responsibility.

  3. Mike: your post is truly neurotic if not downright useless. I don’t see anywhere in Christianity were a person needs to confess for the behavior of others. Strangely enough you are wandering into the area of group guilt so well used by generations of Europeans who blamed the Jews for crop failures and the Black Plague.
    By the way there is no such thing as “white privilege” privilege has no color.

    1. Toby: Thank you for your comment. I’m curious to know how you came across this, as I have no idea who you are or how you found a post that I wrote nearly two years ago.

      I couldn’t disagree with your comments more. I’ll respond line by line.

      Mike: your post is truly neurotic if not downright useless.

      Obviously, I disagree. More importantly, I suggest you avoid statements such as this when addressing others in writing in the future. Abrasive statement such as this weakens your argument, making you appear insecure in the point that your trying to make. Support what you want to say. Don’t hide behind ad hominem attacks.

      I don’t see anywhere in Christianity were a person needs to confess for the behavior of others.

      First, you miss my point. I’m not talking merely about confessing for the behavior of others in any general or abstract sense. I’m more specifically talking about a person’s need to confess and take ownership for the sins of a people to which the person belongs. In the post, I talk specifically about one’s ethnic people, but the concept can also apply to one’s family, an organization one associates with, etc.

      The concept is very strong within the Christian tradition, and has only been absent in recent history in the West because of our emphasis on individualism. Just a few instances:

      There are numerous Psalms in which the Psalmist confesses the sins of Israel committed generations before while still in the wilderness. (Psalm 106 is one example that comes to mind.)
      In Peter’s first sermon in Acts 2, he says to the listeners, “Jesus, whom you crucified….” Those present were not the ones who were nailing Jesus to the cross, yet Peter is saying that in some way they – and we, and all who read Acts 2 today – had a part in Jesus being crucified.
      Finally, Jesus’ willingness to be crucified for the sins of the world is an example of Jesus taking responsibility for and bearing the consequences of the sins of others, all others, in fact. Don’t get me wrong. We’re not Jesus; we can’t atone for other peoples sins. But dismissing our part systemic injustice by saying “it’s not my fault” is the exact opposite of following Christ’s example.
      We can find examples of the early church applying these Scriptures to their worship when we read ancient prayers that were used in celebration of the Eucharist. Many of them recount salvation history in the first person plural, confessing our sinning against God in the garden and our part in crucifying Christ.

      Strangely enough you are wandering into the area of group guilt so well used by generations of Europeans who blamed the Jews for crop failures and the Black Plague.

      Again, you’re missing the point. The point of understanding communal sin is not to blame others, as many Christians and anti-semites have done. The point is to confess one’s own part in the problems of the world. The distance between me and these “generations of Europeans” you’re referring to is as far apart as the distance between confession one’s own sins and blaming others.

      By the way there is no such thing as “white privilege” privilege has no color.

      This statement is nothing more than empty rhetoric that is not grounded in facts. It sounds politically correct to say that “privilege has no color,” but such a statement flies in the face of reality. I don’t know where you live, but I live in a city that is still racially divided. In fact, one sociologist concluded that my city is more segregated today than South Africa was during apartheid. I can drive through the city and know when I’ve entered a different neighborhood based solely on the skin color of those walking down the street. Is it just coincidence that the better public schools tend to be in the neighborhoods that are predominantly White? Is it just coincidence that the average income is higher in the White neighborhoods? These are questions that Christians should be concerned with and seeking answers and solutions to. Simply saying “It’s not my fault” doesn’t lead to solutions.

      I recommend that you do some more homework on this. Michael Emerson and Christian Smith’s book, Divided by Faith (published by Oxford University Press) is a good place to start. Paul Louis Metzger’s book Consuming Jesus (published by Eerdmans) is also a good resource.

  4. I’ve been reading quite a few articles, book reviews and blogs concerning this very same topic and, even though, neurotic may be somewhat un-nice to say, I’ve read enough of those blogs/book reviews to see such a pattern.
    Here are a few quotes from a variety of blogs and books: “30 some years ago, I learned that I was racist and privileged not because of any intentionally racially biased behavior on my part, but because I am ‘white’ and benefit from the white power structure;” (from WordPresss) “The minute our kids are born, they are learning -both directly and indirectly – how to be white, which includes how to be a racist. Thandeka in her book, “Learning to Be White: Money, Race and God in America,” states that the first act of child abuse directed towards all white children is that the minute they come out of the womb, they are being taught to be racist.” As person who faces multiple “isms,” I am well aware of the need for a safe space: A space in which the marginalized can speak to each other openly and honestly; however, the idea that Whiteness needs such a space is ridiculous, when the world is designed to assure its comfort. An all-white space is not about safety, it is about excluding others. It is about maintaining white supremacy.” On the anti-racist parent blog a white women agonized about inviting black friends to her home-why?-because this woman had numerous paintings from Africa and she worried that she would be blamed for stealing African culture.
    Now, are these healthy approaches in dealing with racism? Do you see anything remotely connected with the the justice that Jesus speaks of? Perhaps you remember the story of Daniel in the Lion’s Den. After Daniel was let go those who plotted to kill him were executed as well as their wives and children.
    Unfortunately, human nature often links confession with admitting guilt-and, focusing on the vague idea of “white” privilege creates an endless supply of white people who, must be guilty of something. Actually I already have the book Divided by Faith. History has shown us that when a particular ethnic/racial or religious group is blamed for having some kind of poorly defined privileges that division not peace will be the result.

  5. Let me tell you a few things about myself. I live in an average size city in NC.
    I am a mental health counselor with the state and my primary role is to provide counseling and job placement services. My case load includes disabilities ranging from mental retardation to anxiety to paranoid schizophrenia. Perhaps the majority of my clients are Afro-Americans and, in general, most of them are fairly poor. Issues of race sometimes come up and they are discussed at various levels depending on their background and emotional stability. It’s pretty useless to discuss race relations with someone who is hearing voices. However, my approach reflects my white middle class upbringing and values, nor do I view my clients as members of a unique or different culture-unless-the person has recently arrived from the Sudan or other country.
    I also teach history at the Community College level.

    As you can tell from my other post I don’t think much of this white privilege/white studies movement at all. Looking over a white privilege list by McIntosh an interesting paradox shows up. Apparently a complaint that pocs have is that white people assume that an individual poc speaks for their whole community-not surprisingly-one white person reflects the behaviors/thoughts of all white people.
    This is reflected by an online site (can’t remember which one) where a university professor analyzes white racism in a children’s book called the Jacket. In the book a 12 year old white boy rushes home from school (it’s MLK’s Birthday) and tells his mother:” why didn’t you tell me that I am a racist”? she answers him and says: “who called you a racist”? Then the analysis begins! According to the professor white people speak in a secret code when talking about race, plus, this dialogue denies the experiences of people of color. Plus, the professor maintains, both the 12yr old and his mother should be aware of the racism around them and their entire dialogue smacks of hidden racism.
    White people can talk about their privileges/both earned and unearned every day but it won’t change a thing. These days there are so many different forms of racism which apply to white people that calling me a racist simply doesn’t matter. A few years ago PBS had a short documentary called “Meeting David Wilson” it is the way in which racial issues need to happen but they won’t because some people prefer to blame and covet what others have.

  6. Mike: I should have added this to the post above. Let me say that I am deeply saddened to hear that Christian Churches are buying into the “white privilege” movement as a way to lessen the impact racism. I think that Jesus said: “go and sin no more” he didn’t say:”go and wallow in your sins and the sins of others before you.”

    “I’ve also received unjust privilege because of my gender, and have contributed to the unjust suffering of minorities in America and the poor across the world by virtue of the food I eat, the clothes I wear, and other ways that I’m probably completely unaware of. I confess that.”

    Is this an example of christian white privilege logic? If so, it reminds me of something one might read in the book the Gulag Archipelago.

  7. Well you’ve probably blocked me from your site but here are some of my opinions concerning me as a white male.

    1. I share no guilt concerning racism, sexism, heterosexism or any other {ism} created by utopian moralists.

    2. I have no, nor do I, share any guilt concerning slavery nor have I benefited from any stolen land.

    3. I have not taken part in the unjust treatment of minorities-nor will anyone insist that I have.

    4. I will not be blamed for any nebulous concept of genocide. Knowing full well that the majority of genocides have been committed by people of color.

    5. I will listen to a minority person concerning his/her experiences with racism. I also have the right to disagree with a minority person concerning her/his opinion.

    6. No person of color, or their cohorts, will insist that all white people are inherently racist.

    7. I maintain that religion/the Church has a role to play in lessening the effects of racism and injustive. However, no religion should foster the idea that only white people must change in order to please a human ideal of justice.

    8. God will ultimately judge whether I have caused anyone any pain or emotional discomfort.

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