In a recent webinar, one of the stories Willie Jennings urged us to become better story tellers of is the story of whiteness. Whiteness is not a natural state. It is a cultural marker characterized by a deep desire for control and mastery, a desire to possess the resources of the world and a refusal to live our authentic story as Christians in which joining rather than division is a way of life. He further urged us not to put “people of color” in the position of doing all the heavy-lifting on teaching us about whiteness. He may well have been speaking only to me.
I have read exactly one of these books Dr. Jennings recommends (although, The Christian Imagination was certainly eye-opening to me). But I kind of doubt I’m the only one he was speaking to. If this is a story you’re not prepared to tell, here are some guides to get started:
- Willie Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race
- Tim Wise, White Like Me
- Jennifer Harvey, Dear White Christians
- Neil Painter, The History of White People
- George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness
- David Roediger, Working Toward Whiteness
- David Roediger, The Wages of Whiteness
- Matthew Frye Jacobson, Whiteness of a Different Color
Nothing less is at stake here than the integrity of our Christian witness. As Gentiles who were brought into the story of Israel and fell in love with Israel’s God and were incorporated into Israel’s faith, the Christian faith was founded on a story of inclusion – a repudiation of separateness and segregation. The whole church needs to do the work of reclaiming a different narrative if we are to be part of the healing of the deep racial divides in our country.