White Privilege and Black Challenges 


While staying at our hotel during the time we were teaching at the New Jerusalem Congregation outside Wheaton, Illinois, I happened to hear an interview where the black person being interviewed gave one of the better presentations of white privilege.  Unfortunately, I did not get his name.  I think it was on ABC on Saturday morning.

The subject explained that white privilege did not mean that there were not underprivileged whites or underprivileged from other ethnicities, but that blacks were underprivileged on the basis of the color of their skin in a unique way.  Therefore white skin color gives whites a leg up.  I thought about a time when I was ministering in Brazil.  I remarked that Brazil seemed to be a wonderfully integrated society.  Blacks and whites intermarried, and every shade of skin and variety of ethnic appearance was common.  My host disagreed with my conclusions and said that shades of skin color produce a hierarchy of privilege.  It was not that one could not succeed, but there was more of a barrier to the darker the skin.  I have no doubt that that is true.  Why is this the case?

  1. Human beings favor those that look like them.  They relate more easily to those with a greater reflection of their own appearance.  I cannot quote from the studies, but I have read such in the past.  Whatever group is a majority will tend to favor their own kind over against the minority.
  2. Secondly, there is a fear of blacks, partly due to skin color favoritism in our psyche and partly due to the actual crime statistics.  However, this fear tends to diminish in a neighborhood where the middle class and upper-middle-class blacks live.  In one of our homes in Maryland where we lived for ten years, we had black neighbors next door and across the street.  I think all accepted them fully. Our children played together.  One was a veterinary doctor and the other in high tech.  Part of the issue is class status and not skin color.  However, where the police are concerned, the testimony is overwhelming that blacks are pulled over disproportionately without reason and are treated more harshly in the same situation as whites.  Note the testimony of Senator Tim Scott.
  3. There is no question that the black community experiences a disproportionate level of economic disparity in economic outcomes.
  4. Yet there are some realms where being black can give a leg up such as in school admissions at some universities.

So, what is to be done?  Some argue that the answer is massive funding for reparations from slavery or affirmative action where the positions of blacks in schools, jobs, government service, and more is strictly proportionate to their numbers.  A spoils system thus replaces a meritocracy.  But this is not possible.  Does one really want an equal proportion of brain surgeons by fiat?  Or engineers to build buildings and bridges?  Or nuclear physicists?  The skill of creating a flourishing business cannot be parcel out to ethnic proportions.

There can of course be government programs and incentives to help.  One is charter schools and vouchers for private schools for the parents’ choice.  A second is economic incentives for the father to marry and raise his children. Welfare can be so reformed.  Another is economic incentives for business development in the cities as well as incentives for businesses to train and hire.

Ultimately, the solution will not be found by the disadvantaged becoming more and more demanding and bitter over their disadvantage.  Exponential spending increases sometimes throw good money after bad in programs that do not work.  50 years of experience causes us some doubt about many programs.

This last week in my devotions, I was reading Matthew chapter five.  I have been reading the Bible since I was twelve and a half and read through it for the first time when I was fourteen.  I am more and more amazed by the Bible, its unity, and its profound quality.  I still find new insights and things I have missed.  Again, I was reading Matthew 5, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  I prefer Luke’s version.  “Blessed are the poor.”  It is more stark, and leaves out the words “in spirit.”  Matthew 5 tracks with Luke 4, where Yeshua says that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to, “Proclaim good news to the poor.”  The Gospel is the proclamation of a great reversal.  The poor become rich in faith through the Gospel and this leads to God’s provision.

Through the power of God there is a supernatural quality to life that overcomes all the disadvantages, including one like mine in where I lost my father at a young age, or being raised with terribly dysfunctional families and – yes – to being raised in the context of a poor black neighborhood with a single parent mother.  I am in favor of good programs as noted above, but I ultimately believe that only the Gospel can enable the marginalized to overcome; it will not come by quotas or asserting victim status. This only breeds division as we see with the offense Asians feel that they are not accepted at Harvard in proportion to their attainments.  The Gospel can lift people like nothing else and make people the heads who have been the tails.  Sometimes I dream that a mighty revival will hit black churches and bring about changes we can hardly imagine.  Then the blacks will lead the revival and the white churches will have to receive from the blacks.  The Azusa Street revival in 1906 that led to the formation of the Pentecostal Movement was led by a black preacher with an anointing that was unparalleled.  “Do it again Lord, but multiplied in city after city.”