I was born into a white middle-class class Christian Evangelical family. I was raised to believe in a culture war, the gay agenda, liberal “conquest” of science, and that while we say we “love” minorities, we don’t want their culture infecting ours. I believed all of this while I was young but had grown out of most of it during my twenties. But this is not what I am apologizing for. I am apologizing that my evolution never translated into activism.
The following article is not an “I’m sorry, but…” It is an attempt to be as transparent as possible so that others coming from a similar place might see themselves in it and challenge themselves to engage in standing up for those on the margins of society.
What the White Man is Really Afraid of…
The first thing I want to bring clarity to is that this is a battle over identify, and it involves more than race. White Christian men are raised to identify themselves as MEN. We are told that we should all strive to be strong leaders, champions for Christian beliefs, and ideal family heads. We organize ourselves around this picture of Christian manliness. Being cruel may not be acceptable, but being loud, forceful, and unwavering is certainly praised.
The only person really on “top” of this structure is the male pastor, or the successful male businessman (both required to have attractive wives, unless you are Catholic). Everyone else is striving to crawl up that ladder of social status among their white male peers. Because of this, white Christian men wrap all their time and attention in getting approval and status by fulfilling this vision of manliness. Even more entwined is a whole culture of idealizing our past, simplifying our founders, and an unspoken deal with God that by doing all this we won’t have to struggle in life like “other people.”
So it is important to understand that everyone who isn’t a white straight Christian (Mormon if you are in Utah) who seeks status is a threat. Not just a threat to our status, but our very identity. If a woman is in charge, if LGBTQAI is normal, if minorities challenge our white-washed (or Christian-washed) history, then we feel we have no identity left. If we have no identity, then we have no status, and no status means no power. This is what the white straight male Christian is truly afraid of.
The Silent Majority, Most of Us White Straight Christian Males Aren’t…
So let me balance out what I just wrote. What I just described is a stereotype that doesn’t really fit most white men. Don’t get me wrong, there are still a lot who do, but most of us don’t truly fit the description. Many of us are across the gender-spectrum ourselves, in mixed families, or not really “bought and sold” into the Evangelical dogma. Like I said, I grew out of most of it in my twenties. So why don’t we speak up?
Even though it makes us miserable as well, we see how the rest of the world is treated, and we are terrified of “slipping” into their ranks.
Well, here is what I tell my kids: Imagine if nobody ever admitted they pooped. (It’s OK to giggle) Imagine if defecating was considered a sin, even though everyone did it. Imagine if all our leaders only held power because they were able to keep this need they have a secret. Imagine if everyone lives thinking it is “just them” and is shamed into keeping it secret. Well, this is what most of reality is. (Just not with pooping.)
The straight white male Christian majority is only upheld because those who have the privilege of blending-in try to do so. We justify it by saying we are providing for our families, or telling ourselves it is “mature” to be non-confrontational and politically neutral. Even though it makes us miserable as well, we see how the rest of the world is treated, and we are terrified of “slipping” into their ranks.
Of course, you’re not going to get any of us to admit it. Heck, we don’t even admit to ourselves. We do whatever we can, including drowning out all facts, history, science, and reality, just to make sure we don’t have to deal with it. Until something happens, like a friend or family member close to us becomes a victim of hate, it is hard come out of it. It’s like how people often justify a bad relationship and never realize how bad it was till long after they end it.
White Liberals Ride the Coattails of True Activists
As a further confession, when I left the Christian-Right behind, I still did so selfishly. I enjoyed watching the progress made in America over the last eight years and just felt like progress was inevitable. I felt like I could just be “aligned” and things would move forward naturally. I didn’t realize how much progress was made because of the hard and persistent work of others fighting for every inch. Like other freshly minted white liberals, I was enjoying the view but failing to help build it. I laid low in conservative rooms, and only spoke freely around those I already knew were safe.
Forgive Me Brother and Sisters, For I Have Sinned.
...not just by what I have done, but by what I have failed to do. Don’t believe for a second that Evangelicals are just struggling with what the Bible says about homosexuality, it didn’t stop us when we decided we wanted divorce to be OK. We use what we want in Scriptures to give a divine justification to social persecution and ignore the verses that might actually challenge us to change our actions. We say the Bible was written to a “time and place” about slavery (well, we do now) and say that verses about women and LGBTQAI are “timeless.”
I can’t say I am going to be the perfect ally moving, in fact I am still realizing just how much I have been disconnected from the real work around me. I am just saying that I acknowledge my inaction, and will work to do whatever I can to participate moving forward. Minorities and the disenfranchised have been doing the heavy lifting for too long, it’s time for those of us in priviledge to take some responsibility for moving the country forward.