July 9, 2008

A Wake-Up Call on White Privilege

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Walking back a recent comment here at FotM by a guy named Jack Stephens (of whom more in a later post), I found some nifty material on the subject of white privilege. It struck me that it's been a long time since I gave the topic the attention it deserves--or plugged Chip Smith's superb book, The Cost of Privilege. So that's the plug.

What I want to do now is praise JJ Kissinger and Susie Becker, a young couple who were based, at least through this spring, at Seattle Pacific University. (SPU is a liberal arts school, although one which takes pains to let visitors to its website know that it "provides more than 3,800 students with a high-quality, comprehensive education grounded on the gospel of Jesus Christ." What does this mean? I don't exactly know, although Comrade Google informs me that the Discovery Institute has held an "intelligent design" conference there. Hmmm.)

JJ, by his account (which I recommend everybody read) pretty much climbed out of bed one day and decided
to create an exhibit that would visually and interactively educate people at SPU about the idea of White Privilege.
So he and Susie drafted friends, brainstormed, polled, built and assembled what looks to have been a challenging visualization and expansion of Peggy McIntosh's work on the "Invisible Knapsack" of white privilege. Throughout, they were driven by a simple conviction:
In order for true racial reconciliation to take place on this campus, our majority-white population MUST consider the implications of our whiteness.
The duo and a conscript work crew spent the better part of a Sunday night putting the whole thing up for a one day show which rang the changes on the theme of "Liberty & Justice for All." (It had such an impact on those who saw it that they held it over for Tuesday.) I highly recommend going to the well-captioned slide show JJ has posted at Flickr to document their exhibit, and giving it a look-see.

Note that JJ and Susie incorporated responses and reactions from non-white friends and acquaintances at SPU to drive the point home.

Thanks and respect to the both of them.


celticfire said...

What a creative and fascinating way to grab attention. I love the visual examples of white-supremacy like the children's dolls.

Linda Hargrove said...

I blogged on this a little while back

Linda Leigh Hargrove, author
writing Christian fiction with a heart for racial reconciliatin
Moody Publishers/Lift Every Voice
"The Making of Isaac Hunt" (June 2007)
"Loving Cee Cee Johnson" (Sept 2008)

Jimmy Higgins said...

Linda Leigh Hargrove's blog post raised a couple of interesting points for me.

First, like the white SPU students hailed in this post, she is tackling the question of white privilege from the standpoint of racial reconciliation within the Christian tradition. And judging from the other sites she is linked to, there's more of this going on than I knew about.

Second, she expresses in her post a concern that an Obama victory this fall may well be the occasion for an intensification of racism:

The real face of white privilege and convenience will raise its head. Real black rage will seep through. I fear some non-blacks will ask the question, “You’ve got what you asked for (a black president), why aren’t you doing any better? Why are you still killing yourselves in the streets? Why are your young children still fatherless? Why are you still whining about white privilege.”

I had felt related concerns from a different direction after Obama's much-heralded speech when the Reverend Wright kerfluffle first blew up this spring. His remarks, it seemed to me, could become a touchstone for white folk unwilling to come to grips with the cost of privilege--for its victims and our society as a whole. Sort of the 21st century version of "content of our character."