A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Sunday, November 30, 2014

It (Shouldn't) Matter If You're Black or White

Sometimes when we give thanks, I feel like we become smug. It reminds me of an observation by my New Testament professor. My professor told us about a prayer said by Jewish men of Paul's time: "blessed be the Lord our God, the King of the world, that he hath made me an Israelite; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a Gentile; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a "servant"; blessed be the Lord, &c. who hath not made me a "woman";" (Note 1).

In other words, the prayer is saying thanks for making me so much better off than these other classes of people who have fewer rights, privileges, and blessings than I do. In a way, it's a prayer of smug self-satisfaction that pits me versus a "lesser" class (Note 2).  Contrast this with the teachings of the Paul, found in Galatians 3:28, which reads: "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." Paul is perhaps deliberately contrasting the Jewish prayer with the gospel truth that we are all the same in God's eyes. In scripture, this concept is referred to as "God is no respecter of persons."

As humans we often don't think this way.  Perhaps we consciously or unconsciously place ourselves above or apart from other human beings. We tend to overestimate our own contribution to our success while underestimating the class, race, or other barriers standing in the way of others. Probably classic liberal guilt, but I have been thinking a lot about how privileged my life is because I am white. If you're reading this and think that white privilege is a myth, then I suggest you read the series of articles by Nick Kristof "When Whites Just Don't Get It" - the five part series can be found here, here, herehere and here. Also, I liked this recent article in the Washington Post about the difference between responsibility and culpability.

The truth is, I have enormous privileges because of my background. I was given a very big gift that I in no way deserved, while other people were not given the same advantages. Could I have succeeded if I wasn't white? If I wasn't born into a middle class family who could afford to live in a really good public school district? I like to think so, but the truth is that I might have succumbed to the whirlpool that drags so many people down - the unluckily accident of birth that places them in a situation with huge disadvantages relative to me.

I think this quote from Nick Kristof's fourth article sums it up:

We all stand on the shoulders of our ancestors. We’re in a relay race, relying on the financial and human capital of our parents and grandparents. Blacks were shackled for the early part of that relay race, and although many of the fetters have come off, whites have developed a huge lead. Do we ignore this long head start — a facet of white privilege — and pretend that the competition is now fair? Of course not. If we whites are ahead in the relay race of life, shouldn’t we acknowledge that we got this lead in part by generations of oppression? Aren’t we big enough to make amends by trying to spread opportunity, by providing disadvantaged black kids an education as good as the one afforded privileged white kids?

If you think racism in America is over, it's not. I'm sure the Jewish men who uttered the prayer I quoted above were nice people, trying to live their religion as best they could.  They probably really were grateful for the blessings and privileges they had in their life. But the problem is that they didn't look around and see that other people were oppressed. They were comfortable with their station in life, and they didn't notice that it was near impossible for others - slaves, women, outsiders, to attain the status they had. In America, it shouldn't matter if you're black or white. But it does. If you're black, you're more likely to go to a bad school, get arrested, be poor, die early, or any of a host of other bad outcomes. We need to change that.

Note 1: I think it was this prayer, I can't be certain, but the internet has provided this one in one of the commentaries on BibleHub, so let's assume it was this one. Found on the commentary for Galatians 3:28, from "Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible."

Note 2: See also Alma 31:8-18 in the Book of Mormon - another crazy group of people thanking God that they were better than others.