Color Blindness Cannot Be a Response to Racism

Sunday, July 14th, 2013 11:00 am

Last night, as I watched the announcement of the George Zimmerman jury, I closed my eyes in prayer.

I gave thanks for the jurors and their service – having served on a jury in the recent past, I can honestly say it is the most intellectually and emotionally draining experience I’ve ever encountered. I prayed for the family of Trayvon Martin and for the questions they still have that were not answered through the trial process. But most importantly, I prayed for a world in which we act as if race no longer matters.

Race matters, not because we live in an overtly racist society any longer. Race matters because racism is structural, hidden, and pervasive. The events of the past two weeks highlight the structural racism that is still present in American culture. The Supreme Court’s gutting of the Voting Rights Act and the media’s attempt to create division among people of racial and ethnic minorities highlights the glue that allows racism to continue to be structural, hidden, and pervasive: privilege. Or to be more direct: white privilege.

It is white privilege that allowed my 71-year-old father to state, “Well, I guess we can expect riots to begin soon.” His white privilege allows him to assume that the only response to injustice to African Americans is rioting.

It is white privilege that allowed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia to claim that the Voting Rights Act is a form or racial entitlement. In Shelby County v. Holder, Justice Scalia upheld this opinion, and along with his Supreme Court cohorts, referred the Act back to Congress for further review.

It is white privilege which states that racism is prejudice against the color of a person’s skin. Our privilege has let us believe this, and it is incorrect. Racism is prejudice PLUS privilege. Until we recognize the way in which our privilege (be it racial, economic, heterosexual) influences societal injustices, we will never be able to break the cycles we claim are detrimental to work of justice.

Our progressive theological movements are often wrapped in a shroud of white privilege. We want to take seriously Paul’s directive to the Galatians, that “in Christ there is no longer Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” We want to believe there are no longer differences, so we say, “We’re color blind, race isn’t an issue for us.”

To say that we are color bind Christians negates the experiences of evil, injustice, and oppression of millions of our Christian siblings. Progressive, white Christians must engage in working on our own white privilege, reflecting on how our lives benefit from the pervasive, hidden structures in society that create injustice for others.

But it’s not enough to reflect. We must take action and work in broad coalitions chip away at the structural injustices our friends and neighbors encounter. The Methodist Federation for Social Action encourages participation this August in Washington, DC surrounding the 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Justice. We’ll also be launching a postcard campaign, encouraging Congress not to fail in their assigned task of reviewing the Voting Rights Act. If you want to participate in this campaign, let us know.

I said a prayer last night. And I will continue to pray, and witness, and take action so the memory of those whose lives have ended at the intersection of racism and violence might be remembered through the work of future generations.

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Chett Pritchett is Interim Executive Director for the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

One Response to “Color Blindness Cannot Be a Response to Racism”

  1. Vicki Woods Says:

    A judicial system that says there has to be proof beyond a doubt that the killing was an act of hatred not fear for life is the structure that called for absolutely no accountability on Zimmerman's part.
    We cannot answer the question I know, but had the face been white, would standing one's ground by shooting a 17 year old dead been the only possible action?  

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