I had a great lunch conversation with two young white men today who are feeling the pressure to “produce and provide” and are looking for alternatives to succumbing to this stereotype and just joining the corporate project. After lunch, I wrote this:
As I think about our conversation more in the understanding of my daily work at a social services agency in town, I am reminded on the necessity to invite anyone and everyone with whatever ethnicity or background (age, sexuality, religion, political persuasion) to participate in the work of healing (and radical positive social change and happiness creation) in our society. There is enough pain to go around. Everyone can have a hand in creating peace. I think a place like where I work, is where push comes to shove, and the realization that we can’t find enough people (of ANY race, class or gender) to facilitate the creation of a new society, and not enough people to persuade others to stop beating each other in inter familial violence). It feels desperate.
There were some black people back during the time of emancipation, who didn’t want to participate in the mainstream US society, and they opted to farm somewhere and live in peace with their indigenous neighbors. Just a random thought about what it would look like if instead of clamoring to be just like white people (when I say white here, i mean the white people that southern black folks encountered…rich, conservative, separatist, tea parties, cult of true womanhood, Victorian, etc) and be accepted into their culture and politics, we searched the alternatives that our indigenous (to Africa) pasts gave us. but we didn’t for the most part.
I see that in our communities still today, we’ve eaten everything that white supremacy had to offer. Militarism, racism, and materialism (Sound familiar? Those are the 3 evils Dr. King talked about in one of his important speeches). The lure of power that whites had appears to be too strong to resist by many poor whites and blacks. I think materialism is the clearest example of the places Black people tend to be way overboard in comparison to your average white person. It will present a dilemma. It has presented a dilemma and created a culture of aggressiveness, bling, and power (real or imagined).
But there are black people who questioned and continue to question the system, just as some white people did and continue to do. So we need to get those black and white people together. That’s the question I leave with today, from lunch.
How can we create a new type of culture which benefits all and has the flexible institutions necessary to recognize diverse historic backgrounds, and has sets of values that explain and facilitate that peace and justice we so desire? This is why I’m a transnational radical black feminist and it’s also why I’m a spiritual person. The creation of any society (or even a small community of this sort) will need to embody feminist and spiritual values of safety, ethics, conflict resolution, play, education, politics, and cycle of life understandings.
ST, I think you’ve named a central question for those of us who are trying to find alternatives to the “produce and provide” scenario that you are describing. I’m facing some of these questions right now in career choices. There are some many pressures to focus on providing financial security.
I think you’re also right to frame this as a spiritual question. As you point out, there’s a bit of a chicken and an egg problem. The rat race is so seductive, that in order to get outside of it, we’ve got to surround ourselves with a completely different culture. For me, spirituality is that it has everything to do with building that alternative culture where we can make choices based on a completely different set of values.
This actually begins to lead into answering the question that was asked by Folknotions in the Transformationist Anabaptist thread. I see Anabaptism as calling us to noncomformity with the powers of domination and greed that shape so much of our society and our world. Maybe I’ll write more on this in that thread tomorrow.
As neither a black woman, nor a feminist, nor someone seeking to identify with or understand diverse historic backgrounds I can see where you are coming from.
I too want to get rid of the rat race. But not in order to bring about vast social change or any other such thing. I simply want to get out of it because it sucks all the life from you. You become a slave to your job, to your employer, to the bills you have to pay that come monthly, and to interest rates that make products more expensive then they really are.
Society, whether black or white, seems to want:
The appearance of monetary wealth.
The Christian needs to look at these things and find the Godliness in what prompts these desires:
Instead of power; servanthood. (Is that a word? Who cares.)
Instead of sex; mature relationships.
Instead of the appearance of wealth (keeping up with the Joneses); Monetary stability……food in the storehouse you might say.
If you, if we, get our shi….stuff straight and keep it straight, if we do it as a whole, vast social change follows because we alter the fabric of cultural worldviews.
But if you crave power; political power to end racism; monetary power to keep corporations in check…….
If you want sex with a stable partner, not mature relationships…….
If you want to keep pace with Joneses even with organic free-trade goods…
You won’t change anything.
The world ain’t changed by more of the same; even in the name of the greater good.
these are such great questions, ST, questions which i am also encountering and pondering in my work with homeless families.
this social transformation, this new culture of which you speak, is imperative, and needs to be grown with the inclusion of these homeless folks i am learning to know. this is the piece i am struggling with in a new way… what does it mean to throw out the priorities of production and provision when simple survival is a family’s primary concern? when poverty becomes as chronic and generational as it does (and i think these cycles are becoming more entrenched all the time, especially as the job market dwindles to next to nothing, etc.), what creative and collaborative steps can we take to break these cycles and create functioning communities that challenge the current dominant social order?
unless we can answer these questions in a way that invites homeless people – people living in chronic poverty – into our visions, we have failed to offer anything new. we have only created another layer of privilege, of disconnect.
This is a great post ST. I’m currently studying and entering a professional world (medicine) where the culture is so soaked in materialism/cult of wealth/position/power that I find myself having a hard time sensing where exactly my calling is. (I still believe – and know from many living examples – that the true core of medicine still exists and is still strong, the serving and self-giving and human relating and using science/knowledge to give to others.) But it’s a really sticky thing. I long for authentic community, creative community, and escaping the spiritual untruths of materialism, yet at this point I don’t think I can ever really have it either/or.Instead I feel that my career/lifestyle will be a tougher game that involves living in a lot of the grey zone between what is seductive but empty about our culture and what is life-giving and true. Some of this is kind of practical – as in, I’m studying medicine, and it’s hard to find time to seek out counter-cultural community – and part might be a kind of late-twenties lapse of idealism and (maybe) compromise with the world.
[this part of comment moved to Sexuality and the Young Christian Thread]
[this comment moved to Sexuality and the Young Christian Thread]
[this comment moved to Sexuality and the Young Christian Thread]
Hi somasoul and others,
I think the sexuality part of this thread has a lot of rich potential and I’d like to pursue the conversation – however (as somasoul brought up) it is a digression from her topic – so I’m copying the relevant quotes into a new topic thread to discuss there.
Pingback: Sexuality and the young Christian » Young Anabaptist Radicals
I essentially agree with your point; I take issue with your argument on semantic points.
While you define what you mean by “white” in the context of your post, I think your use of the term collapses in on itself at this point:
The lure of power that whites had appears to be too strong to resist by many poor whites and blacks.
If the power that “whites” have is too strong for “poor whites” to resist, then the question follows: is “white” necessarily the term to be used to define the phenomena of militarism, consumerism, and racism? Surely, in an American context, whites played a significant role in the development of each of these. But I don’t think that these are inherently “white” phenomena simply because they can be pinned on “whites” in an American context. Once again, I argue in my post “In the Shadow of Classist Ethnocentrism”, that the polemics against whites, America, Christendom, and White American Christendom within the context you are describing, in and of themselves issue forth from an assumption of innocence on behalf of the rest of the world and total guilt on behalf of “whites”, demonstrating a lack of a global worldview when addressing these issues. Certainly there is no “white” who spurred Tutsi and Hutu hatred; surely there is no “white” in control of Sudanese Arab genocide against black Africans.
Please give me a better sense of what you are designating here before placing all blame for the sins of greed, violence, and pride on white American Christians alone.
I think you raise a good challenge here. But I’d like to raise another semantic point about the designation “white” that might lead us back to using the term more as ST does. I’d argue that in out American historical context, “whiteness” didn’t mean anything except “that which those who have power choose to define as racially/ethnically normative” – in other words, a designation with shifting boundaries depending on coalitions of power. Thus, some European ethnic groups were able to move between being non-whites to becoming considered whites. So as far as we believe white to designate a certain group of people in this country (which it does), then you’re right to challenge the notion that whites have an special place in materialism and culture of power. But if whiteness is also this term intimately tied with the very evolution of the culture of power in this country (which it also is), then I think ST is right in sticking to her guns on this.
In thinking about this, here’s a question: is there something about the experience of being outside the norms of the negative culture of power (being white, being straight, being male) that intrinsically makes it easier to work toward a new culture? Does it make sense to look to those other communities – black, latino, Native American, feminist, queer – for strength and vision about what new cultures might look like? Or, the flip side, alluded to in ST’s post: is there also something about being not white, not straight, not male, that might make one more susceptible to the values of the culture of power – maybe a kind of over-compensation – by grasping even more desperately after materialism, militarism – even racism?
I think that both answers are true, and maybe even both can be true within the same individual at the same time. Being outside the mainstream gives one a unique perspective, an understanding of suffering, and insight into the injustices and inhumanity of the system – but one also has to learn to survive within the system, so one can feel bound to playing the games of power, of materialism, even better than everyone else, to prove one’s place.
Great post, ST.
About ten years ago the Lord led me to get out of the “produce and provide” model you mentioned. Rather, I began a ministry for the homeless by making my family and myself homeless, using what resources we had–without a job and without asking for any support from anyone– to serve the homeless. After ten years of living on this philosophy, we are able to feed a hundred or so people a week, and have a church that has four meetings a week for the homeless and mentally ill in various parts of Portland.
It seems to me that there was some famous guy who talked about the “produce and provide” model. Something about “be not anxious”, “look at the birds of the air”, “don’t fret about what you will eat or wear” and “tomorrow will worry about itself.”
I think that if enough people can show that “dropping out” and depending on God is a viable lifestyle, then more people will do it, and, heck, we’ll have a movement!
I agree with you that a global worldview is important when addressing these questions. I gathered a number of understandings from ST’s post which it seems we may differ on. I’ll focus on the race point in hopes to be clear.
In relation to your comment — “I don’t think that these are inherently “white” phenomena simply because they can be pinned on “whites” in an American context.” — I agree that whites don’t have a monopoly on oppression (especially when we look at a long historical view).
But when it comes to forces in the past 1000 years that have shaped violence, oppression and materialism, I have to admit that people of European descent have taken a heck of a leading role.
(Not trying to be cute here, but impact of white colonial rule on African nations should not be underestimated — like the role the Germans and Belgians had in Rwanda when it comes to creating/entrenching the inequities between Tutsi and Hutu.)
I focus on the race point of yours because I believe that as members of historically oppressing groups (such as white people) we need to know our history. Being grounded in the historical realities (yes, the unfavorable ones — but also the stories of white folks who have resisted domination) prepares me to enter authentically into the process of trying to create new culture.
To be specific I believe growing up white, middle class, male, and in the United States are all variables that have taught me that it’s my perogative to decide what should happen with other people.
…that I should feel natural about not consulting for making policy decisions in a non-profit job that determine which poor people of color can have access to services; that I have a right to be present in women’s space; that my stake in what’s happening in Pakistan should be given hefty consideration even though I’ve never been there.
So I haven’t really stuck to race after all (I guess cause it’s all connected). I guess what I mean to say is that I need to keep reminding myself about white people’s history in order to keep sharp. I want to catch the patterns of white supremacy that keep cropping up, since I see them as obstacles to me joining fully in the creation and living of the new kinds of culture I think we’re all trying to work for.
lukelm and jason,
From what I’m reading in your posts, we still don’t seem to disagree on my points or on ST’s. My concern is that the term “white supremacy” is a localizing term for a global condition that the biblical authors identified as “sin”. So why can’t it be called that?
Perhaps we can see “white supremacy” as one notable expression of the broader umbrella term of “sin.”
For me it’s similar approach to comparing “that pit bull down the alley” to “danger.”
If someone was going to be leaving my house, and I said “Beware of danger,” that would be notably less helpful than me warning about the pit bull.
To go the biblical route, Jesus sometime gave broad counsel love neighbor as self, but also specifically counseled feeding the hungry and so on.
So for me it’s important to use the language of white supremacy because that is one particular manifestation of sin — and one that I believe is more dangerous to my life and our collective culture than the pit bull.
And while we can use language about “sin” when we’re speaking broadly, I value having the analytical clarity provided by using other terms as well to describe specific historical and social expressions under the “sin” umbrella.
To think pragmatically, maybe the idea of “white supremacy” and other notions of the connections between whiteness and materialism/militarism/racism are useful if they allow us to begin dismantles old systems and patterns of sin that bring people down, disconnect them. To change, we must be able to understand and name what it is we’re trying to change.
Yet “whiteness” in this context doesn’t mean white people exactly – thus ST found inspiration in speaking to white people who are resisting this negative form of what whiteness is connected in the material culture. Just as, in feminism, in speaking about patriarchy and systems of male domination, it’s not that being male in itself in anything less than wonderful – it’s the way this human attribute has gotten tied into systems of oppression.
Steve K, I know you’ve shared already a few times in this forum in various ways about your life & work, but I’ve never told you how amazing I think it all is. It’s as if you’ve truly decided to follow Christ – not an easy path, and an extremely rare one, I think.
so then perhaps, an analytically clear, culturally idiomatic, and biblical way to name this phenomenon is the “sin of white supremacy”?
That would seem, to me, to reconcile our points.
I don’t think it’s whites who have a monopoly on materialism or militarism or racism.
Maybe that’s not the point you are trying to make.
Asians are materialistic to the tenth degree. In their society they can’t even keep a cell phone for a year.
The Arab nations have been at war for, well, forever.
Blacks divide their own race into dark-skin/light-skin/purple-skin and have heavy negative attitudes toward nearly everyone.
I know I am generalizing here and certainly not all Asians (or whatever) behave in this way. But in a topic about race it’s nearly impossible to not generalize. Please excuse me.
Materialism is not about race. It’s about those who have. People who are born wealthy and live wealthy assume that they deserve to continue to live in that lifestyle. This is why Jesus said that it is so difficult for the wealthy person to enter into God’s kingdom. Because it is just about impossible for that person to surrender their lifestyle.
Yes, we can certainly look at the Western White person and say that he is rich without even knowing it. And this needs to stop. We can also point to the wealthy Asian and African and say the same thing. But it is White American culture that has exported materialism and a decadant lifestyle to the world, claiming that THIS is the standard by which all should live. So let’s label it American, if we like. Or White.
But as was already said, it is deadly. And so let’s deal with as the hissing rattler it really is. Race isn’t as much the issue as the fact that it has alreay bitten all of us. The real question is whether we will accept the antidote or not, because the death is so pleasant.
What is the antidote, Steve? How would you describe it?
Jesus described it as, “Selling your possessons and giving to the poor” (Mark 10; Luke 12:33)
I think my better descriptive term is– get rid of our stuff, try not to collect more of it, and use whatever resources we have to help those in need as a lifestyle.
You wrote, “in a topic about race it’s nearly impossible to not generalize.” That’s something that stood out to me because I’ve felt that difficulty as well.
One thing that’s helped me become more clear about what’s going on with race is to start with the base that race has no significant biological basis. A biologist who came to my school told us about how genetic variation is greater within any one race than when we compare it with another.
So the categories of race as we know them has been created within history (for a fun read, check out 100+ years of US legal cases about if people — Chinese v Japanese, people 1/8th black, Arabs, etc — are “white” or not).
And while race has no significant biological basis, it obviously has very real historical and social impact.
So when I see certain trends, I — like Steve above — try to look to the history of why things might be as they are. (As well as respecting the complexity of people’s choices in a variety a social positions.)
And while I’m not trying to say that no one else has specks in their eyes, I’d rather concern myself with the load of ocular lumber that history shows us white folks to clearly have going on.
So while it’s difficult not to generalize about race, I’ve found it very much worth it to work through how to find alternatives.
Doing so, and knowing my own history, has helped make me a better partner in the life-giving and liberatory work with which I strive to be involved.