Feb 16, 2016

Reflections on Racism and White Privilege

by Dustin Shellenberg

I have something that has been on my heart and mind with the Truth and Reconciliation dialogues happening in Canada that has taken on new relevance in my new context in Winnipeg. I've always thought that racism wasn't that big an issue in Canada. Outside obvious racism towards Native Canadians I thought that all other ethnicities in Canada were mostly treated equally. I have been completely wrong.

I realize that part of my blindness is because personally, though recognizing that we each have particular cultural backgrounds, I tend to see people in two camps: brothers and sisters in Christ, or those yet to know him. So whether you eat fish, beef, vegetables or goat you are family, or not yet family. What I'm coming to realize is that my personal understanding doesn't really matter when the world around me is making these differences into huge dividers. Actually, as a white, Anglo-Saxon protestant male, society affords me the luxury of having a personal understanding of racism outside the social context. Canadian society allows me to view the world through my personal identity even as it forces people unlike me to be bound together by their skin colour, accent or clothing.

If I say: "I'm not racist even if other people who look and sound like me are", society says I'm a good person. But if a Native or African Canadians say "I'm not a criminal" or a person of Middle Eastern origin says "I'm not a terrorist, even though other people who look like me are", society tends to say "prove it". That is racism. It should come as no surprise then when minorities are looking at people like me and saying with vehemence, prove you aren't a racist before I believe it. I should not be offended by their skepticism but recognize it as legitimate and then prove to them that I am different.

If I say I am not a racist, then I have to be prepared to advocate for minorities. I have to apologize on behalf of the society that I represent by my clothing, accent and colour for its failures and injustices. I have to take a humble approach to the culture of others and come as the lesser seeking acceptance into their society rather than trying to force them into mine, even if I perceive Canada as eclectic in its ethnicity. Because the truth is Canadian society is racist.

So to answer my opening question, being white doesn’t automatically makes me racist in the same way that being black doesn’t make one a "thug" or being Native Canadian doesn’t make one a criminal, or of Middle Eastern background, a terrorist. The greater question to ask is how can I, how can we as the church, give living proof to the minorities that we believe AND practice "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." I think the first step for me has been to admit that I, as a white Anglo-Saxon protestant male am mostly easily identified as a racist, and I need to speak out against subtle and not so subtle expressions of racism in the society that I know. And instead of demanding that those outside of “the society that I know” prove they are worth my time, I need to make the effort to prove that I am worth theirs.

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