Thursday, August 25, 2016

White Supremacy

Disillusionment is under-rated. It is good to have one’s illusions exposed. Many of our illusions about life stem from the lenses through which we see the world around us. From childhood we learn how to interpret the people and events we encounter. We notice how our parents and family respond to various situations. We note the way others treat us. We see how people receive our good and bad behavior. We shape our lenses accordingly, to help us know what to see and what to expect in our world.

With my set of lenses, I saw the world as a place of opportunity. The systems of society have always seemed neutral to me. I don’t expect to be treated with favor or resistance at the DMV, a department store, or a restaurant. I expect the workers at these places to do their jobs normally for all patrons—because that has generally been my experience.

My lenses are shaped by my experiences. It’s how I see the world.

But no two people have the same experiences. Our lenses are all shaped differently. For those who have experienced rejection or poor treatment in public places, the world feels potentially hostile. They don’t fit seamlessly into the system because of sex, skin color, hair color, accent, size, or shape. Those outward characteristics shape the way others perceive us, and probably how they treat us.

Those experiences shape our lenses. We expect a certain kind of response from others, and usually we see what we are looking for. I expect and find a neutral business environment. Others expect and find a biased environment. What I now realize is that the world is not nearly as neutral as I had believed.

It took the writings of Richard Rohr, another white male, to pull back the curtain and let me see my illusion. This has rocked my world.

When the horrific stories of racial tension increased recently, I could not sit idly by. I texted a black friend to invite him to lunch. Over the meal, I acknowledged that I now see that the world’s systems are designed by and for people like me: white men. I had never noticed that bias, because it had never stopped me. I fit perfectly through the system’s filter, so much so that I never knew it was there.

As I described for my friend my realization that there is a biased system, he said, “We call that white supremacy.” Oh wow.

Many call it “white privilege,” which seems much less harsh. But the term “white privilege” also fails to strike deeply enough in my soul. I can deny white privilege all day. “People don’t treat me that way because I’m white.” (How can I really know?) But white supremacy says, “Whites make the rules, set up the systems, and if you will just follow the (white) system, you will get along just fine. What is your problem?”

Forgive me for failing to propose sweeping systemic solutions here. I’m still reeling from my new corrected lenses. I’m trying to find my balance. I’m trying to see reality more from God’s perspective. Disillusionment may be good, but it’s not easy.

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