White Privilege: History Matters

I recently wrote the article below.  I suppose I got folks’ attention, and that was intentional.  The comments were all over the board, which is expected with something so provocative.

The Christian Church’s Complicity in Perpetuating White Supremacy

White supremacy is a buzz word and it’s become the popular descriptive term for white Americans.  I don’t agree with it but if it does get people’s attention. I think better said is white privilege…which denotes privileges people of color don’t enjoy.  There are places in the country – probably more than we would realize – where white privilege exists.  And it evolved from all of our institutions, of which the Christian church is one. A large percentage of folk alive today have been raised in that culture and still carry the biases learned from the environment they were raised in.

It is not about pointing fingers, attacking Christian churches, sinners or saints. History is history.

This has become an important topic for me lately, and one I probably would not have felt so strongly about 10 years ago.  We tiptoe around sacred cows that have played a role in perpetuating white privilege/racial inequality and somehow get a free pass from any serious discussion. It is not about pointing fingers, attacking Christian churches, sinners or saints. History is history. It is about understanding that there is a reason why white privilege still persists and somehow influence a different way to think about equality. We will never change our way of thinking if we are always defending the status quo and ignoring the obvious.

I sent this to an old friend whom I have known for 40+ years.  He is a southerner by birth, through the 60s…a good guy. He sent me back a note which included this comment;

I have never had the exposures discussed in the article. Largely that had to do with my family’s views toward blacks which was always very respectful and pretty much the same with friends’ family’s.

My friend’s response was thoughtful and honest, and it was from the perspective of the culture of the times.  But he missed the point.  He was looking at the white/black relationships through the white lens…we were respectful so they must be “ok” with how they are treated.

But is that the case when people of color look through their own lens, created by history that is different from those of us who grew up white.  Were those people of color really okay with their role in society, in church, in neighborhoods?  By not asking the question we can remain blissfully self-righteous.  It’s time to ask the question.

I truly believe most White Americans are not racist, but we enjoy our white privilege, me included. White privilege is what it is…most of us had no idea it even existed until recently…I sure as heck didn’t and coming to terms with it is a bitter pill to swallow for some folks. We can change that mindset, but we need to think differently if we really want to level the playing field.


Joe Anderson
Joe Anderson
JOE is a partner at Anderson Performance Partners LLC , a certified woman/veteran-owned business, working with organizations to facilitate problem solving through workforce energy and innovation. He is a retired Marine Officer and a seasoned senior business executive with more than 30 years leadership experience as a senior business executive in several Fortune 500 companies and as a business owner.

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  1. Important article, Joe. I think the last dozen or so years have really forced those of us who are white to look deeply into how we and others are treated. More and more I have thought to myself, watching the news of another young Black man being shot by police, “What if he had been white? Would the police have been so quick to shoot?”

    It about kills me to realize that someone can die that way just due to skin color.

    I grew up in a very white town, so not being prejudiced was easy. We had almost no one who looked different from us, so there were no conversations about it. I never formed an opinion at all!

    And my parents traveled widely and brought back stories of other lands, other cultures, and the folks they met. I never remember them saying anything negative about the people they met. And while they may not have met many people of color who weren’t part of the folks helping them in some capacity, I still think they were very complimentary about everything and everyone.

    I got the amazing gift of not thinking about skin color at all in my formative years, something that has stayed with me. And we do need these conversations; we can’t keep pretending it’s all just fine. It isn’t for far too many people on this small blue planet.

    • Thank you Susan for your thoughtful comments. My wife recently gave a book that she had just completed reading…”Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson. It is a powerful read. We didn’t get to where we are today by accident and the book lays out a well researched reason how it occurred. I hope you will read it because it will give you a better understanding of the “why” and “how” America’s “caste” system evolved. A short synopsis:

      “A deeply researched narrative and stories about real people, how America today and throughout its history has been shaped by a hidden caste system, a rigid hierarchy of human rankings.

      Beyond race, class, or other factors, there is a powerful caste system that influences people’s lives and behavior and the nation’s fate. Linking the caste systems of America, India, and Nazi Germany, Wilkerson explores eight pillars that underlie caste systems across civilizations, including divine will, bloodlines, stigma, and more. Using riveting stories about people—including Martin Luther King, Jr., baseball’s Satchel Paige, a single father and his toddler son, Wilkerson herself, and many others—she shows the ways that the insidious undertow of caste is experienced every day. She documents how the Nazis studied the racial systems in America to plan their out-cast of the Jews; she discusses why the cruel logic of caste requires that there be a bottom rung for those in the middle to measure themselves against; she writes about the surprising health costs of caste, in depression and life expectancy, and the effects of this hierarchy on our culture and politics. Finally, she points forward to ways America can move beyond the artificial and destructive separations of human divisions, toward hope in our common humanity.”

  2. Joe, thanks for the article. I am going out on a limb here to just say, “I have had it with the terms used, need to be said, or whatever catagory one wants to put “White Privelege” in. I would like to see the list that reflects this. I am someone who truly, and honestly has not a racist bone in my body, and I look at others not because of their skin color but their hearts, how they treat people. Yes, I have driven through area of lower income, and poorer neighborhoods, I’ve worked in these areas, and I have helped where I can. However, when it comes down to trying to understand why this is, I think, there should be leaders within the communities of same color or same ideas, values, to uplift what it is they don’t like. Your article speaks on a topic that brings about diversity.

    • Lynn, thanks for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you on the terms thing but it’s the times we are living in. I really dislike the term minority just because of it’s connotations and I am looking forward to the time when we are just all people.

  3. Joe, thanks for having the courage to touch this topic. I particularly appreciate your view “My friend’s response was thoughtful and honest, and it was from the perspective of the culture of the times. But he missed the point. He was looking at the white/black relationships through the white lens…we were respectful so they must be “ok” with how they are treated.”

    It is time to look at this issue deeply.