Thursday, February 11, 2016

Why "Dismantling Whiteousness?"

Last week, I was so grateful to be part of Teach For America's 25th Anniversary Summit.  Yes, it was good to see friends and colleagues, and yes it was incredible to sit in the front row of the Civil Rights, Then and Now session with Joyce Ladner, Michael Lomax of the Little Rock 9, Brittany Packnett and DeRay McKesson.  But truly, this has been my life's work.  Ever since Levi.

Levi was a lifer.  I met him through the University of Michigan's Prison Creative Arts Project.  He was a shrapnel-damaged Vietnam Vet who returned home to find employment hard to maintain with undiagnosed PTSD getting in the way.  He found himself addicted to morphine, he found an income selling drugs to others.  He found himself in and out of prison: and then one night, on a restrictive parole, he babysat his two year old niece while his sister had to rush to the hospital in premature labor.  Someone else decided to climb up the fire escape and break into that apartment, and Levi charged the window when he heard the rustling.  That intruder fell to his death, and Levi would go to prison for the rest of his life branded a "murderer."

And Levi is like, truly, my Paul.  I'm Onesimus.  Levi prayed for me, taught me who Jesus was from the inside of a prison yard.  Levi asked me to go, as a messenger, and "tell the story truthfully, tell the story right."  Levi told me to do Teach For America.  Ever since I was 19, I've been trying to dismantle whiteousness by first going after the dangers of Single Stories of minority people groups.

What is whiteousness?  A hilarious little throw-away phrase I heard an old friend say at the TFA gathering in DC last weekend.  She's an amazing black author and activist, and she used it when we were conversing about how white people need to take on the work of convincing other white people that racism even exists.  But the term stayed with me, and I looked it up online but couldn't find anything about it.  So: I think it probably means something like this: It's white people, even good-hearted ones, thinking they have all the solutions to the problems of the world.  It's white people, thinking they own this country more than anyone else, and thus can do what they want in their own land.  It can range from white guilt and white fragility to white privilege and white supremacy.  No matter what shade it is, whiteousness needs to be dismantled from the inside.  And I don't have all the answers, but I hope to continue in dialogue with you.  What I am certain of is that whiteousness is holding this country back from truly being great.  I do know it is the same noxious spirit that Paul rails against in Romans 14: reminding those who saw themselves as "more righteous" that Jesus invited everyone to the table.  The pagan, the outcast, the homeless vet, the drug riddled meth-head, the Native, the Buddhist, the you, the me.  And the emphasis at a Jesus table is love.  Love that can only be realized by listening and responding, in person, at a common table.

My work with DOOR Hollywood has been life-changing, and I'm speaking about for myself.  Hosting "mission trippers" and asking them to find the linkages between service and "do-gooding" with noticing systemic issues that constantly demonize and hold people in frozen stereotypes.  Asking, "who are the modern Samaritans to white America?"  Are they Muslims, are they Murderers, are they black kids with hoods?  Are they "sneaky" Latinos?  Are they gay people with agendas?  Are they racists?  Could you imagine any of those people helping you, if you are white?"  How do you reconcile Muslims as "terrorists" alongside Mosques being some of the first to send bottled water to residents of Flint?

I have been called naive.  I have been called a racist.  I have been called a racist against white people (which I'm not even sure what that means).  I have been bullied by black and white kids, made fun of by Latinos, terrorized by homophobes, and called anti-Christian, even when reading the words of Jesus.  But I believe in Jesus, and I believe He keeps calling us to sit at these tables of diversity.  And this is one way I can keep coming to the table.

Peace and blessings and thanks for reading, and you can keep up with the discussion on Twitter by clicking here,

Recent work with DOOR Hollywood

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