Dear white people…


I rarely write blog posts that are directed specifically to white people. I’m not sure if that’s good or bad, but there are two reasons why I rarely do it:

1) I don’t want to appear self-righteous – In conversations like this, it’s very easy to communicate with a tone that sounds like, “I am the enlightened white person, and I am going to wag my finger at all of you unenlightened people and tell you what’s up.” Hopefully those who know me would say that I try to approach these painful and charged realities with humility and grace. That’s at least what I’m trying to do.

2) I don’t want to contribute to naive thinking – In conversations like this, it’s very tempting to say overly simplistic statements like, “Race is a problem. White culture has contributed to it. So we need to start doing (fill in the blank) or stop doing (fill in the blank).” Obviously there are things we should start doing and stop doing in the name of justice and righteousness. But it’s important that we don’t minimize the impact of centuries of racial oppression and propose naive solutions to complicated problems.

With that being said, I am feeling incredibly burdened today, and feel the need to share some thoughts with the white community…

There are many things that have me feeling burdened, but the most recent trigger is a Facebook conversation I had. It started when I shared a link to the CNN video which shows the gory, play-by-play murder of Samuel Dubose, at the hands of a white police officer at the University of Cincinnati. It’s horrendous in every way. Mr. Dubose was pulled over for a minor reason – an alleged missing license tag. He was cooperative and showed no aggression (which the video now confirms). And yet Officer Ray Tensing still shot and killed Dubose, claiming that he feared for his life.

The death of Samuel Dubose contributes to the larger chorus of voices who have lost their life for absolutely no reason other than racial hatred. Like Abel from the Genesis account, their blood cries out for justice from the ground. It’s an incredibly difficult truth to grapple with in every way.

The video of this cold blooded murder was released yesterday, and it was largely met with the same type of reaction as most of these injustices. A decade ago Dawn Turner Trice wrote an article in the Chicago Tribune and said, “I am more convinced than ever that African Americans and Whites live in two different worlds. How could they ever be brought back together?” She astutely pointed out that when it comes to the conversation of race, there are two completely different responses and ways of thinking.

Such was the case with Samuel Dubose’s killing. For most of my dominant culture friends, it wasn’t really on their radar. I’m sure most of them would condemn the cold blooded nature of the killing if they knew all the facts, but it’s not something that’s front and center on their brains. For most of my other friends, it’s a cold and chilling reminder of just how dark and deep this continues to be. His murder is anything but an isolated incident. Like Charleston, it shows where the natural progression of unchecked hate and racism eventually culminates.

The fact that news of a tragedy like this splits us back into our “Two Americas” is not a surprise. It’s sad, but it’s predictable. And the fact that I lost a bunch of “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter when I commented on it is not a surprise either – it happens every single time I post anything about racial injustice. (And just to be clear, I’m not in any way trying to sound like some type of martyr for that – I’m very aware that I am posting these thoughts from a privileged position, and that having some people upset at me on social media is at the very bottom of the pile of problems we face when it comes to race in our country).

What was particularly upsetting to me was a message I got from one of my Facebook friends. He is white, a respected Christian leader in a major megachurch, and someone whom I have a lot of respect for. But there was something about my link to the video of Samuel Dubose’s death that infuriated him. He not only unfriended me, but then followed it up with a heated message letting me know of his displeasure with my post.

In the message he told me that he is fed up with people like me who post and repost videos that show horrible racism. He questioned my motives, asking if I just want people to see them and scream in anguish. He said that these kind of posts make him feel angry and powerless, and condemned my lack of conviction for failing to offer any concrete solutions.I can’t even count anymore how many times I’ve heard stuff like this, so you’d think I would be used to it. But this one shook me more than normal. I think it scared me more than anything, because I fear it represents the same early level at which so many of us get stuck.

John Metta recently wrote a wonderful article entitled “I, Racist,” and it has been shared widely. It’s worth reading, and in it he makes a point that I think is very applicable to this situation. Here is an excerpt:

I don’t talk about race with White people because I have so often seen it go nowhere. When I was younger, I thought it was because all white people are racist. Recently, I’ve begun to understand that it’s more nuanced than that.

To understand, you have to know that Black people think in terms of Black people. We don’t see a shooting of an innocent Black child in another state as something separate from us because we know viscerally that it could be our child, our parent, or us, that is shot.

The shooting of Walter Scott in North Charleston resonated with me because Walter Scott was portrayed in the media as a deadbeat and a criminal- but when you look at the facts about the actual man, he was nearly indistinguishable from my own father.

Racism affects us directly because the fact that it happened at a geographically remote location or to another Black person is only a coincidence, an accident. It could just as easily happen to us- right here, right now.

Black people think in terms of we because we live in a society where the social and political structures interact with us as Black people.

White people do not think in terms of we. White people have the privilege to interact with the social and political structures of our society as individuals. You are “you,” I am “one of them.” Whites are often not directly affected by racial oppression even in their own community, so what does not affect them locally has little chance of affecting them regionally or nationally. They have no need, nor often any real desire, to think in terms of a group. They are supported by the system, and so are mostly unaffected by it.

What they are affected by are attacks on their own character. To my aunt, the suggestion that “people in The North are racist” is an attack on her as a racist. She is unable to differentiate her participation within a racist system (upwardly mobile, not racially profiled, able to move to White suburbs, etc.) from an accusation that she, individually, is a racist. Without being able to make that differentiation, White people in general decide to vigorously defend their own personal non-racism, or point out that it doesn’t exist because they don’t see it.

The result of this is an incessantly repeating argument where a Black person says “Racism still exists. It is real,” and a white person argues “You’re wrong, I’m not racist at all. I don’t even see any racism.” My aunt’s immediate response is not “that is wrong, we should do better.” No, her response is self-protection: “That’s not my fault, I didn’t do anything. You are wrong.”

I like this section, because I believe he accurately diagnoses one of the really important dynamics that gets in the way of a sincere white person’s journey towards racial justice. Those of us who grew up white in America (myself included) have a hard time understanding systems, and we have a hard time understanding the way that the narrative of individualism has even further complicated that.

To his point, white people are never required to think in terms of “we.”

If we see a white person who is the victim of senseless violence, we feel compassion for them (as we should). But we don’t see the recipient of that violence as an emblem of a system that targets white people because of the color of our skins – that though would never even cross our mind.

If we see a white person who is the perpetrator of a horrible crime, we will be quick to condemn that crime (as we should). But we don’t see the need to defend white culture or explain that this horrible act is not symbolic of white people. One more excerpt from Metta to illustrate this point:

The reality of America is that White people are fundamentally good, and so when a white person commits a crime, it is a sign that they, as an individual, are bad. Their actions as a person are not indicative of any broader social construct. Even the fact that America has a growing number of violent hate groups, populated mostly by white men, and that nearly *all* serial killers are white men can not shadow the fundamental truth of white male goodness. In fact, we like White serial killers so much, we make mini-series about them.

White people are good as a whole, and only act badly as individuals.

People of color, especially Black people (but boy we can talk about “The Mexicans” in this community), are seen as fundamentally bad. There might be a good one- and we are always quick to point them out to our friends, show them off as our Academy Award for “Best Non-Racist in a White Role”- but when we see a bad one, it’s just proof that the rest are, as a rule, bad.

This, all of this, expectation, treatment, thought, the underlying social system that puts White in the position of Normal and good, and Black in the position of “other” and “bad,” all of this, is racism.

So back to my friend who “unfriended” me on Facebook.

We had an exchange of thoughts, and I did my best to convey these ideas to him. In a nutshell, I basically communicated two things:

1) I’m glad you are honest enough to verbalize your true feelings about this. You are angry. You feel powerfless. And you are fed up with me for sharing stories like this.

2) You are completely missing the point of what and where this anger should be directed

It’s this second point I want to say just a bit more on, because I think this is where he got lost, and I think it’s where too many of us white people get lost as well.

To put it in the form of a simple question:

Should my white brother feel anger when he watches the video of Samuel Dubose being shot dead by a white police officer?

Hell yeah.

(Sorry for the language. It feels like the only way I know to answer that)

He should be fuming. He should be outraged.

Of that there is no doubt.

But this is where it went haywire for him, and where it goes haywire for us.

You see this injustice. You see a man’s life get lost. You see how it flows both from and into a history of racial violence. And now you are mad.

But wait. How in the world did the outrage get pointed at me?

I don’t actually care if you are mad at me (well, if I’m honest I care a little bit. But my feelings aren’t the main point here). What I care about is how and why that misdirect happened.

How is it that the outrage over an innocent life lost gets redirected towards the person who told the story? Where did that outrage get so short circuited? How did your feelings of powerless and inadequacy so quickly trump your feeling of outrage towards the systemic violence that you witnessed?

This is where I actually get more sad than mad. It’s such a missed opportunity.

The anger and outrage that boils up in someone when they see naked injustice like this is so good. It’s the final precipice before having your eyes permanently opened and your life forever changed.

I would love it if my friend would get so mad, so furious, so outraged… that he could never go back to his safe, white Christianity. It would be so good for him if that outrage would burn, and make him ask new questions about the character of Jesus, and the kingdom of God, and the Cross and Resurrection, and praying for thy kingdom to come on earth as it is in heaven.

But instead, the outrage got short circuited. His anger got pointed on me, and his response to the anger was to “unfriend” me.

It goes without saying that I see this as a particularly unproductive response to the problems we are facing. But let’s say instead he chose to take a different path. Let’s say he chose to view this as a critical moment in his own walk with God. Let’s say he let that outrage come in, and move and melt him. What would that look like?

Here is what I would say to my friend… what I wish he would do with that outrage:

I wish you would see Samuel Dubose’s murder, and really see it.

I wish you would see the direct link between Samuel Dubose and Sandra Bland and Walter Scott and Rekia Boyd and Eric Garner and Tanisha Anderson and Michael Brown and the hundreds of other precious lives that have been lost.

I wish you could see that there is a history of systemic racism that ruthlessly promotes a vicious narrative: that White life is most valuable, and that everyone else finds their value in relation to that gold standard.

I wish you could see that nobody grows up in our country without being infected by this narrative, including yourself.

I wish you could see that it’s incredibly unhelpful to try and prove that you are not individually a racist, and therefore should be able to remove yourself from the struggle.

I wish you could see that it’s an exercise in futility to point your anger at the bearers of the troubling news. I wish you could learn to point your outrage instead towards the system of oppression.

I wish you could see that nobody is more outraged at this system of oppression than the God of the Bible.

I wish you could see that this outrage is not something outside of the Christian discipleship you care so much – it is front and center to the transformational process God intends for you.

There would be much more I would say, but this would be a good start.

And with that I come full circle, back to the title of this post: “Dear white people…”

Our history of racial oppression and white supremacy is so significant, and the challenges we face in our current climate are so steep. I would never dare suggest a simplistic solution to a complex set of problems.

But there is at least one thing I think we can all do. More than ever I am coming to the conviction that it’s a critical first step. I don’t know that any of the other necessary things can happen until we white people at least do this. So here is what I would like to say. It’s simple, and it’s short:

Dear white people,

I hope you will burn with outrage when you are exposed to the chronic, persistent, racial injustice in our society. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t disassociate yourself. Don’t redirect the anger. Just let it burn.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to actually have unity of thought with our brothers and sisters who actually see these systems of oppression for what they are? Wouldn’t it be amazing if, when they felt outrage… we actually did too?

It won’t solve everything (maybe not anything). But man, it sure would be a great first step.

Follow @danielhill1336

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60 thoughts on “Dear white people…

  1. Stand strong, friend! This is something we US whites, especially faith-based, need to finally have a big movement of “owning” our heritage and furiously pursuing systemic justice… Honestly, Daniel, one of the best things that started unpacking this for me was Carl Ellis’ River City “Bridging the Racial Divide” message about 8 years ago. His un/righteous & in/justice picture window concept is a great visual/tool.

  2. Daniel, I just discovered you, through our mutual friend Mike. (Thanks for sharing this on FB, Mike!) Thought-provoking, sincere, almost brutally honest. Thank you for your strong, pointed words. @chaplaineliza

  3. As usual, home run! Makes me sad to think someone would “unfriend” you. I’ve known you a long time, know your heart and your passion for justice, equality and peace. You make our God proud!!!!

  4. This was so, so good. My husband and I were talking about this very thing today and then I came across this. Thanks for your honesty and boldness.

  5. I love your post, I do. I understand the “we” community as being part of a Childhood Cancer community, we are a whole. i do have to ask something though and I’d like to have an honest discussion about it. Like you, I hate racism in the country and look to ways to improve the relationships. I want to ask, where does accountability come into play? For your example with Samuel, why didn’t he just answer the question of having his license or not? This man also handed the cop a bottle of alcohol, as what? He was also asked to step out of the vehicle and I saw that he shut his door and then the the shooting happened. I think you are right about the “white” people maybe not identifying with this because a majority of us would comply. We don’t understand this behavior. We don’t understand the hatred for police officers. I will admit that stereotypes play roles. Blacks get harassed by police officers, therefore the hate. But can you deny that there is an accountability issue? If an officer asks you for your ID and you don’t have it on you, just state that. If an officer asks you put out a cigarette, put it out… You make a comment about a reporter writing, “I am more convinced than ever that African Americans and Whites live in two different worlds. How could they ever be brought back together?” I ask, when were we ever together? People born prior to the civil rights movement have deep rooted hatred on both sides, white vs. black, black vs. white. However, many of us were born after civil rights. Why do we pit each other against one another? I would be equally outraged if this scenario was a white officer against a white person. But I would still question why the person didn’t comply? People are up in arms about white cops killing black people, but what about the black people killing black people? Or people killing people….where is that outrage? You mention that blacks can easily see that the victims could be there brother, sister, etc…I think people can see that on both sides. Its the media that keeps turning us against one another. EVERYONE needs to stop sensationalizing black and white. That cop could have been easily my family member just as Samuel could have been mine as well. They are people who need to be held accountable for their actions. Is life fair, no…it never has and never will be. Most people are law abiding citizens and most police officers are people who want to protect. And just like any group, there are those jerks that ruin it for the whole, but maybe we should celebrate the good instead of the bad. Maybe that is the solution. To give examples of our two races working together and showing examples of how we can live together. Then maybe the fear and hate will disappear. I know, idealistic…but I believe and I’m willing.

    • Thanks for the reply and questions. I’ll take a stab at offering a few thoughts, though i’m sure they will fall far short of addressing the larger problems…

      In terms of accountability for personal choices… I don’t think anyone is suggesting that is unimportant. Every person is going to experience cause-and-effect relationships for our personal choices, and there is an accountability each of us has towards God and each other for those choices.

      The problem in these types of conversations is that when it comes to racial injustice, there is often a disproportionate relationship between personal choices and systemic realities. You say that you would be outraged if this same example happened with a white cop and a white driver, and i understand what you are saying theoretically. The problem with that type of thinking is that it NEVER happens (or at least almost never).

      I’m sure there have been thousands of white civilians who have talked back to officers this year, or been uncompliant, or done something that we would all disapprove of. And i’ll be almost none of them are dead right now. And yet it happens over and over and over again to Black people. Therefore we see a system that is in play, and the system is far more powerful than the individual choices.

      I’m only scratching the surface here, but i hope that helps show some of the reasons that systems thinking is so important is in this. Eric Garner was selling cigarettes on the street when he was choked to death. I can think of a hundred personal choices i’ve made that were far less wise than that over the course of my life, but i’ve never been executed for any of them.

      So i would suggest that we don’t lose personal responsibility in the larger conversation, but we also must avoid minimizing the incredible power of the systemic realities that are present when talking about personal choices. To do so perpetuates a dangerous narrative that its somehow alright that these people have been murdered for poor decisions (which i realize is not at all what you are saying – but its where the narrative basically goes if you take it to its logical conclusion)

      In terms of separating out white on black violence from black on black violence, I would simply refer you to this wonderfully written blog by Christena Cleveland, Austin Brown, Dru Hart and Efrem Smith:

      http://www.christenacleveland.com/2014/12/black-on-black-violence-pastor-voddie-bauchams-assault-on-black-people/

  6. B”H
    Hey Pastor Daniel, thanks for sharing your thoughts on this hot topic. It’s much appreciated. I’m sorry about the incident of your being “unfriended” and then personally berated for your stand against systemic racism in the case of Samuel Dubose’s murder. Indeed this is a hard message for many of our white brethren to “hear.” Racism is so much larger than acts of individual bigotry and prejudice. The one thing that is “good” here, in the midst of this fallout, is that you, as a white pastor, have addressed it so clearly and forcefully. Black people can give sermons and write articles and books on the subject, but most Whites won’t really listen until another white person says it. That is a very sad situation, in my opinion, but I know it’s true. Therefore, I applaud you my brother. The community of Believers needs more true witnesses such as yourself, and your friends, who are persons of color, need more true allies to speak and act as though they actually believe the Scriptures – “…Of a truth I perceive that GOD is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he/she that fears Him, and works righteousness, is accepted with Him.” Acts 10: 34b – 35.

  7. Daniel, as you know spiritually, there are no “white people” and “black people;” we are one. It’s the continued use of these racial classifications that were established to separate humanity that’s a key part of the problem. That persons with dark skin are often called “black” and therefore self identify with “blackness” is not surprising.

    My solution is to stop calling us “black,” or to also call persons r with light skin “white” in all media, books, …etc

    • Yes Lawrence, I totally agree that a major part of the problem is the social categories of race, and the meaning we have attributed to them. I’m not sure if that would be enough if all we did was eliminate the current language we use around it though? Does calling something by a different (or no) name deal with the systemic realities?

  8. As I read the comments, I am amazed that after reading what you presented and the very real distinction of the “we” concept in our society, none of the respondents acknowledged or took ownership of their place at the table. It goes back to your statement that white people have the exclusive luxury of being viewed as individuals and embrace that individuality above anything else. The comment by one person that accountability must come into play at some point, seems to me as irrelevant because it doesn’t accept the fact that black people as a whole are viewed or looked upon as inferior and bad and therefore the worse can be assumed whether a crime has been done or not. Accountability is everyones responsibility without question. The bigger issue is that this accountability is not equal and never will be until the majority population OWNS it’s basic sin or fault if you will. Mistrust was there on this young man’s part because his narrative as a black person shows that this is unjust simply because I’m Black and a part of an inferior race as viewed and believed by the majority. Mistrust was there on Sandra Bland’s part because she complied with what was asked of her and she answered the officer’s question honestly. Her right to smoke in her car was being infringed upon and denied because of her honesty. And because of that she is dead. White society always asks why do African Americans make race an issue of everything. It is an issue not because we make it one. We are just dealing with the hand you have dealt us.

    White people made race an issue from the moment they came to America, systematically wiping out an entire civilization and then enslaving another. White people made the color of a person’s skin the sole factor in determining their worth and even further, their recognition of being totally human. Blacks have no recourse but to look at their existence in the context of “we” because that is how we have been looked and and recognized from the beginning.

    Until, as you say, white people burn with true outrage within from the recognition of themselves as part and parcel of the whole problem, we will never be one society. Until white people understand that black people have been talking about and discussing and trying to have honest dialog about racism from its beginning, no progress will take place. As Dr.King stated years ago, violence is the language of those that are tired of being ignored. It is the only thing that will get your attention because it assaults your sense of right and disrupts your level of comfort.

    Let’s hope and pray that this fire is ignited soon.

    • Actually, when I was positing that complacency = complicity, I was pointing the finger squarely at myself—for failing to love my neighbors as those made in God’s image and also failing to do anything for the “least of these.”

  9. Pingback: RT @ebonyjohanna: Simply lovely! Dear White People… | The Richard W. Hendricks Experience

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  12. Just saw your Marxist Jack-assery, muted, in a Subway restaurant. The bad news: You’re pathetic; you’re mission, cowardly. and you do not speak for Christians, let alone White Christians.

    The good news: No one watches CNN.

  13. And now the jack-assery turns wholly hypocritical. Observe:

    “But instead, the outrage got short circuited. His anger got pointed on me, and his response to the anger was to “unfriend” me.
    It goes without saying that I see this as a particularly unproductive response to the problems we are facing.”

    Riiiighhht. This is why you unfriended me some time ago, correct? The truth is that, like all agitators, you don’t do well under scrutiny. You don’t like being examined. You like being agreed with, and told what a revolutionary nice little white guy you are. You like acceptance.

    So get consistent. By your own standard, re-friend, then you can have every opportunity to evangelize me with your false gospel.

    I won’t hold my breath.

  14. I appreciated the article and I’m left with mixed feelings which is probably good. Personally, I believe as Christians, we should end up with a viewpoint that mirrors more how God sees things, (as I’m sure you do too). We shouldn’t match anyone’s political side 100%. I also like the effort to show repentance or remorse on behalf of our society (even if we ourselves are not personally racist) just out of love and kindness for the hurts and wounds of others. It’s just a loving thing to do, and it’s biblical. Having said that, there is a lot of baggage on all sides of the debate over racism and terms like “systems of oppression” that has been built up by decades of racist/divisive/political rhetoric. And I can’t help but think if we are ever going to get to the point where a man isn’t judged by the color of his skin, then we need to stop labeling everything black or white. If color of skin doesn’t matter, then someday, shouldn’t it… stop mattering? How do we get there? Our current efforts have, according to polls, not helped the racial divide. Not saying I have the answer, but I’m sure it someday includes a conscious effort by individuals to view the color of skin as irrelevant. Anyway, for the record, I have one small disagreement. I had a cop screaming at me with his hand on his gun for very little reason after he pulled me over. (I never even got a warning after he calmed down, just an excuse). If I had tried to start my car and drive away from him, I truly believe I would have been shot. In college my friends and I (all white) had our vehicle searched publicly for an hour while we were made to stand in in the headlights in view of the world. If they had found ANYTHING, I’m sure we would have been jailed. We committed no crime, gave no probable cause, and again didn’t even get a warning. So the claim this never happens to white people… well to be fair, my personal experiences have not backed that up. So while I don’t think it is JUST a black problem, I also do understand it seems to happen more often to people of color, and I understand being incredibly incensed at the injustice of these events. I don’t have the answer, but I’m ready to be a part of it, whatever it is.

    • Mr. Boone… all theology is contextualized, be it liberation, African, feminist… or Western, European-based dominant culture theology, which seems to be what is taught in most U.S. evangelical seminaries… please think deeper on this! It’s good that Daniel is owning his white dominant culture heritage “stuff” as a pastor. It’s a refreshing view from a faith leader… I’m weary of top-down Sunday AM rational pontification without a posture of humility or a solidarity lifestyle with the vulnerable who suffer!

      • Isn’t it wonderful to know that Yashua Messiah wasn’t a theologian and His Learners (disciples) weren’t theologians and none of them attended mickey mouse seminaries to be taught a load of irrelevant religious nonsense and hogwash?

  15. Hey Daniel – any chance of an article on the white genocide that is now taking place in my homeland Britain and all across Europe. I won’t get into who is behind it as that may cause you too much distress. LOL

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