Our collective members were arrested last week holding a banner that boldly proclaimed that “Whiteness is Anti-Christ.” Even some left-leaning liberals have been bothered by this statement. We stand by this statement and believe it needs to be said, but for those confused or offended by this statement, let’s unpack this statement a bit.
When we’re talking about whiteness being anti-Christ, we’re not just talking about skin color. We’re not saying that all white people are damned for their skin color. This statement isn’t a condemnation of all white people but rather a rebuke against an oppressive social order, which is whiteness.
So what is whiteness?
Much of how we think about race, especially in terms of dividing races between white, black, brown, red, and yellow, is due to the work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach and other German scientists in the 1800s. They formulated these identities for the purpose of justifying and excusing imperialism. Whiteness is a cultural construct, not a biological reality. That isn’t to say skin color doesn’t exist but the categories of “race” that various skin colors are sorted into (which is different from ethnicity) are socially constructed, and not for good ends.
As one white Friend put it, “The only evidence you need for whiteness being a social construct is how it’s possible for ethnicities to become white. My Italian ancestors became white probably by abandoning anything that culturally didn’t fit with WASP society (such as being ‘too loud’ and ‘ethnic’) and adopting anti-Blackness. Mediterraneans weren’t ‘white’ upon arriving in this country because Whiteness is defined in significant part by behavior, class, and other standards of WASP society (interestingly, a long running study wherein researchers interviewed 12,000+ people and then the researcher designated the person’s race found that 20% of people’s perceived race changed over time as their education level, employment, and criminal records changed.). We assimilated to Whiteness, and suddenly Whiteness allowed for more melanin than it previously had.”
Though there is some flexibility in how whiteness has been conceived over time, essential to whiteness is white supremacy.
As Frances Henry puts it in The colour of democracy: Racism in Canadian society:
“‘Whiteness,’ like ‘colour’ and ‘Blackness,’ are essentially social constructs applied to human beings rather than veritable truths that have universal validity. The power of Whiteness, however, is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. White culture, norms, and values in all these areas become normative natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”
It’s not being white that’s a problem. It’s the cultural hegemony of Whiteness as a value system.
Because of this, Whiteness is not neutral. In our current reality, it is, as Frances Henry put it, “the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.”
Where does this leave white people?
Recognizing all of this as true isn’t enough. White people cannot hide behind their “wokeness” to claim that they are not racist. Work needs to be done. White people need to be aware of how their privilege benefits them daily and they need combat and dismantle systems that make this true. They need to help other white people become as anti-racist as possible. And still, no amount of work done can be done to completely absolve one of their complicity or liberate them from their whiteness. All white people are complicit in white supremacy. Racism and white supremacy is a force and sin that is integral to how white people in the United States, Canada, Europe, and even elsewhere, are socialized and how they operate. The work of an individual doesn’t take away the fact that white colonialism lead to the system we currently live in.
This may not be a satisfying answer for some Christians seeking “forgiveness”, but I think white Christians need to accept this tension in order to create a way forward. For white Christians to truly be accomplices to black and brown people, their understanding of repentance and salvation may need to shift. Popular Evangelicalism teaches a “cheap grace” – that if we say sorry to God and put our faith in Jesus and his work on the cross, we are absolved of all our of sins and are “saved.” I think we can locate the power to conquer racism in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and can access this power through the Holy Spirit, but we need to understand that we are called to constantly “renew our minds.” Repenting of racism for white people isn’t just a one-time deal. This is an aspect of their salvation that needs to be worked out in “fear and trembling.”
Whiteness is a force and sin that white people will need to continually combat within themselves, and in the world. The good news is that there’s a God of generous grace willing to empower white people to live into active anti-racism and will constantly offer to liberate them from whiteness.
Those who marched with this banner at the Richard Spencer protest are members of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), a religious tradition that prides itself in its prophetic work. The majority of Quakers in the United States are white, and whiteness is a painful deception and sin that US Quakers also have to repent of and exorcise from their lives and spiritual communities. This banner was a prophetic word against Richard Spencer and his alt-right cronies but also a prophetic word to the Society of Friends and the white Church as a whole. Whiteness is anti-black, anti-life, and therefore anti-Christ. May we yield our power to those forced into meekness, those subjugated by the white supremacist, capitalist system, so that they may inherit the earth.