I’m taking a course this spring on anti-racist spiritual leadership and am grateful for space to learn and process.
Yesterday, the class met and talked about intersections of gender and race, and the ways that those constructed systems are always present and active in our lives and interactions. We read bell hooks on patriarchy and reflected on the ways that our gender socialization contributes to the ways we participate in white supremacy.
I was formed as a white woman in the South, and let me tell you: unraveling all of what that means and implies and implicates is not easy, and it is not always fun. “Raised a white girl in the South” probably conjures immediate images for you, especially if you were not raised in the South. But I’m willing to bet that your assumptions are not exactly true: I was raised by people who emerged from white working class Appalachia, not the white plantations of the deep south, and that makes a difference in understandings of race, class AND gender. My white church decided against a second chance at white flight when the neighborhood demographics changed, so even though I absorbed the ever-present understanding that my white girl body was not safe in Black spaces, there was this weird, contradictory reality that was always also true: church was one of the safest possible places, and it sat squarely in the middle of Black space.
Those distinctions and specificities function, for me, as crevices in the facade of whiteness to be ripped wide open. Yes, I’m a white lady from the south, but the idea of delicate, simpering, limp-handed womanhood didn’t enter into my experience until I left home and spent time in the not-Appalachian parts of Virginia. Yes, I was formed into white supremacy in one of the most racially segregated cities in the country, but the fact that my church existed and persisted in the part of the city where good white girls weren’t supposed to be cracked that fiction from the beginning.
I’m still trying to get words around these realities, and it is the middle of Holy Week, and I haven’t yet finished my coffee. Probably this post would be better kept in my personal journal instead of out here on the internet. But what I’m trying to get to is that race and gender are constructions – they are not innate. How I exist as a woman is not divinely determined by some set of God-given instructions for how to Act Like a Lady. And what it means to be white is not written into my DNA, predestining me to be hateful, oblivious and power-hungry. We ingest the assumptions of the culture and the structures that govern our lives. But those assumptions are just that: assumptions. They are not invulnerable, they are not immovable, and they are not eternal.
Jesus tells Pilate, in the wake of his arrest, that his kingdom is not of this world. If it were, Jesus says, his followers would, right that very moment, be taking up arms and attacking the government’s headquarters to demand his release. Jesus refuses to participate in the systems and structures of this world that demand violence and complicity, and we get to do that, too, in ways both big and small. Find the tear in the fabric of the fiction about who you are *supposed* to be, according to this world, and rip it open. Expose the lies, and live more fully in God’s delight.