This blog explores and examines the intersections of rhetoric, race, and religion.
Monday, August 5, 2013
7 Stages of White Identity
I have had the joy of pastoring a multiethnic, economically diverse church in Chicago for the past 10 years. The journey has been challenging, perplexing – even painful at times – yet the joy and transformation I have experienced far outweighs them all.
I could fill up volumes with some of the important theological and life principles that I’ve learned along the way, but one that rises to the top is the importance for each of us as God’s children to understand and embrace our racial-cultural identity. I have come to believe that this is one of the most understated yet critical components to holistic, Christian discipleship.
My journey has been that of a white male, so much of what I’ve learned along the way is undoubtedly unique to my path. My hope in sharing is not that my exact stages would be used to describe another’s journey, but that instead, each person would gain clarity of where they are at on this journey of understanding and embracing our racial-cultural identity, and identify what terrain is still to be discovered.
Though I was semi-conscious of other people’s cultures growing up, it wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I began to have any sense of belonging to a culture myself. Because white culture and the dominant, overall culture of America overlap to such a high degree, it’s hard for many of us who are white to understand and embrace our own racial-cultural identity. It’s often compared to a fish trying to describe the water it lives in – he is unable to, even when he tries.
A funny anecdote from my early twenties gets to this point. One of my good friends was getting married, and he happened to be South Asian/Indian American. After his wedding rehearsal his family threw a party for those participating in the wedding, and the atmosphere was rich with Indian culture. The highlight for me was the dandiya dance, where a group of people moved in two circles anti-clockwise holding two colorful sticks.
Once the dance was over I told my friend how jealous I was of him. When he asked why, I told him I admired how much culture he had, and I lamented that I didn’t have any culture myself. The groom-to-be placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “My friend, not only do you have a culture, but your culture wins almost every time it comes in contact with another culture. It would be a really good idea for you to learn about your culture.”
I never forgot those words, and they ignited within me a desire to begin a journey of understanding and embracing my own racial-cultural identity. I will describe some of the big stages involved with that journey, with the hopefully obvious disclaimer that each of these deserves a far more in-depth treatment: