Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the First Colony Church of Christ.
“White Privilege 1. a. A right, advantage, or immunity granted to or enjoyed by white persons beyond the common advantage of all others; an exemption in many particular cases from certain burdens or liabilities. b. A special advantage or benefit of white persons; with reference to divine dispensations, natural advantages, gifts of fortune, genetic endowments, social relations, etc.” 
My great-grandparents employed a black family who worked on their land in Texas in the 1960s. My mother describes many memories spending her childhood summers on the farm with her beloved grandparents. She recalls riding horses, driving tractors, picking cotton, and running carefree through the open fields. She tells of one vivid memory in which she caught a glimpse inside the apartment at the back of the property where this family of six lived. She remembers being appalled that they didn’t make their bed. She vowed then and there to make her bed every single day and raise her children to do the same.
Today I realize that, through no fault of her own, my mom’s white privilege allowed her to notice the unmade bed rather than the six people sleeping in it. In the same way that white privilege causes some to swap “Black” for “All” in memorializing lost black lives. White privilege is the blanket over some folks’ heads, rendering them blind to the racism and oppression of the day
As a white woman, my white privilege is more than just an advantage or an exemption. It is a white-colored lens through which I see the world. This lens impacts what I see and how I see it, what I experience and how I experience it, even if I am unaware of its existence.
I was speaking to a group of young people recently on the topic of forgiveness. As an illustration for my talk, I shared the story of Ruby Bridges, the six-year-old girl who forgave the white people hurling abusive and hateful threats day after day as she walked to her newly integrated school in 1960. As I stood before this large crowd, speaking boldly (or so I thought) on the power of forgiveness and the faith of this young child, I caught the eye of two black friends. In this moment I was suddenly and abruptly aware of my ignorance on the topic. Even though I had spent hours preparing and reading and praying for this talk, I became like a toddler using big words of which she didn’t know the meaning. I became aware that the vocabulary of forgiveness, defined by Ruby Bridges, was and is a foreign language to me. What was I to do? So I concluded the talk quickly and determined to learn more. The next day, I set up coffee with my friend, and I asked him:
“How did you hear that talk I gave yesterday? I mean (long pause)…as a black man, how did you hear it?”
And as I listened, at this Starbucks in 2016 with a friend, I heard the echoes of stories from the past. I heard the story of the black family living in the 1960s working on a farm, living in a one-bedroom apartment with an unmade bed.
Theologian James Cone finds Cain and Abel to be an appropriate metaphor for the relationship between the white privileged community and their black counterparts contemporarily.
Cain kills his brother Abel and God confronts Cain. “Where is your brother? Where is Abel?” “I don’t know,” Cain responded. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” But the Lord said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground!” (Gen 4:9-10)
God is asking, “Do you see your brothers and sisters? Where are they? Do you hear them? They are crying out from the ground.”
The blood of our black brothers and sisters cries out to us from the ground in
- 5,000 black people lynched from 1882-1968;
- Countless numbers of black men, women, and children sold into slavery from the auction blocks;
- Trayvon Martin and countless other innocent men murdered by police officers.
Listen. Listen to their blood cry. Hear their stories.
Look beyond the unmade bed and see the people sleeping in it. See beyond the disputable evidence to the innocent man, lying on the concrete in a puddle of his own blood.
Stop talking and listen. And God willing, we will give a better answer than Cain: “Here they are, I see and I hear my brother and sisters.”
After a decade spent ministering to students and families in domestic and international contexts, Kelly Edmiston has developed a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. Originally from Abilene, Texas, Kelly is currently the Student and Family Minister at the First Colony Church of Christ in Sugar Land, TX. She will complete a Master of Divinity from Abilene Christian University in May 2017. Her areas of interest are liberation theology, spiritual formation, and practical theology. She enjoys “suburban life” with her husband Ben and two sons. Find her blogging at brophytwinspeak.com.