Has Whiteness Eroded the Souls of White People?
I have for some time wondered if white people lost their souls as they have historically held onto, embraced, and zealously guarded their whiteness and the privileges their whiteness has afforded them.
It will never make sense to me how any people – white or otherwise – could possibly believe that chattel slavery was compatible with Christianity, as Robert P. Jones notes in his book White Too Long.
Jones writes, “The Christian denomination in which I grew up was founded on the proposition that chattel slavery could flourish alongside the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its founders believed this arrangement was not just possible but divinely mandated.”
Divinely mandated? That teaching floors me. How in the world can anyone who has read the Gospels walk away thinking like that? It is totally irrational and indicative of ignorance – or perhaps rejection – of the words of Jesus the Christ, whose ministry became as powerful as it was because he paid attention to, cared about, and ministered to “the least of these.”
But being white seems to have moved the Gospels and the words of Jesus to the periphery, if not all the way out, of the faith that Jesus taught. So many white folks have believed in and cherished their whiteness more than they have believed in and cherished the lessons of the Christ. Too many believe that it was God who made them superior and working on that premise, they have not worried about how they treat non-white people. Black people, many believe, were made to be subservient to white people, and, they are not really human and definitely not really American. They are – we are – objects to be owned and controlled by those commissioned by God and with the money and power to do it.
I heard an interesting portion of an interview with John Henry Faulk, a white Southerner from Texas who fought McCarthyism and eventually fought against racism.. He says he told this enslaved man that he was a “different” kind of white man who believed in “giving” Black people the right to vote, and the right to go to school– the same rights enjoyed by white people.
Faulk says in the interview that the man looked at him kind of sadly, almost with pity, before speaking and saying, “You still got the disease, honey. I know you think you’re cured, but you’re not cured.”
“You can’t give me the right to be a human, being I was born with it. You can keep me from having it,” he continued, “if you’ve got the police and all the jobs on your side, but you can’t give it to me. I was born with it just like you was (sic).”
Faulk was deeply impacted by what this formerly enslaved man said – angry at first that his “goodness” was not fully appreciated, but said that the more he thought about it, the more he realized and understood the power and the truth of what had been told to him.. He said he had an epiphany in his understanding of race and racism.
If white people, though, do not have an epiphany, they are unable to see Black people as human beings, capable of feeling hurt and pain, and having needs that all humans have. They cannot understand how spewing racist epithets at little Black children hurts them, or how Black families want justice as do all other human beings. They cannot understand why Black people are angry or frustrated or hurt – or all of those emotions; they do not understand how being told to “wait” for justice is like hearing a fingernail being dragged across a blackboard. They are not willing to admit that Black people have a
right to demand rights afforded to all American citizens; they feel, as did United States Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney who ruled in the Dred Scott case that there are “no rights of a Black man that a white man is bound to respect.”
They cannot relate to or even believe that the mothers and fathers of Black people murdered by police ache with a pain that cannot be assuaged. They cannot understand why the Black community in Ferguson, Missouri was outraged when, after he was shot by police, Michael Brown was not taken away but instead lay on the asphalt in the middle of the street for four hours, police not allowing his body to be moved. They grow impatient hearing about the atrocities committed against Black people by a white power structure and society that has historically allowed white people to kill Black people and not be held responsible or accountable. They cannot conceive that little Black children notice how their schools are run down and poorly equipped, as compared to the schools their white friends so often attend.
They think Black people whine, are too angry, and are definitely impatient. The frustration of waiting for over 400 years for justice and full American citizenship escapes the understanding of many, too many, white people.
They do not believe that Black people feel pain the same way they do. (https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=201128359), and they don’t feel bad about providing lesser medical care to Black patients than they provide to white patients. (https://www.heart.org/en/news/2018/09/20/differences-remain-in-heart-attack-treatments-for-black-patients) They don’t have a clue as to how little Black children react to being called racially hateful names, even as some oppose race being talked about because they don’t want their children to feel bad. (https://hechingerreport.org/opinion-why-the-narrative-that-critical-race-theory-makes-white-kids-feel-guilty-is-a-lie/)
I remember wondering about the souls of white people when I saw a video of a little second-grade Black child being handcuffed and taken to a police car for some minor infraction at school. As she was taken to the car, she resisted, screaming, and begging not to be put in the police car. The police ignored her. I wept when I saw the video. How, I wondered, could any adult do that to a second grader? (https://www.gq.com/story/six-year-old-black-girl-arrested-for-a-tantrum)
Maybe that’s when I started wondering if whiteness had erased or eradicated the very souls of white people. I remember briefly thinking about it years ago when I saw pictures of white mothers screaming hate at little Ruby Bridges as she integrated a while elementary school, and I have thought about it a lot since. Back then I thought, “mothers are supposed to be that way with any child.” Today, I think that those who call themselves Christian are not supposed to be so filled with hatred – which they justify – toward people just because they have been filled with lies and painfully incorrect perceptions about who Black people are and what, therefore, they deserve, don’t deserve, feel, and are incapable of feeling.
Sadly, for those who live and think that way, the words and the life of Jesus seem not to matter. And equally as sad is the fact that many of them do not care if that statement is true.
A candid observation …