Posts Tagged ‘Thandeka’

Rev. Dr. Thandeka on white privilege

June 24, 2019

In colonial Virginia, there was a law that white indentured servants could not be stripped naked and whipped.  They could be whipped while fully clothed, but only black servants and slaves could be whipped naked.  So the white servants enjoyed “white privilege.”

Rev. Dr. Thandeka

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka, a Unitarian Universalist theologian, says this is an example of how the idea of “white privilege” is used to persuade white people to accept being exploited and abused.

She wrote a series of posts (linked below) on her web log about how the idea of white privilege has been used through American history to divide poor black and white people and maintain the status quo.

She questioned the value of mainstream Christian churches trying to promote racial equality by means of instilling white guilt.  As an alternative, she proposed certain spiritual practices to help people of all colors better understand their common humanity.

I think she’s basically right.  Her analysis is considerably oversimplified, but when you’re stating your case in just a few paragraphs, you can’t always make fine distinctions.   I think her main points are important and true, and deserve to be more widely discussed.

The name Thandeka, which means “beloved” in the Xhosa language, was given her by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984.

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Are we whites afraid of not being white enough?

May 2, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka is a Unitarian-Universalist minister, theologian and consultant who previously had a successful career as a journalist and TV producer.  “Thandeka” is an African name, meaning “one who is loved by God,” and was given to her by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In LEARNING TO BE WHITE: Money, Race and God in America (1999], Thandeka told a story about how a white friend asked her what it was like to be black.

Thandeka told the friend to perform the following experiment, which she called the Race Game.

Every time the white friend referred to another white person, she was to say: “my white friend, Bill,” or “my white minister, Rev. Smith”, and report back on her experience within a week.

The white friend couldn’t do it.  Only one person, out of all the white people she asked to try the experiment, could do it.  Why is that?

I imagined myself playing the Race Game.  I would feel uncomfortable doing it.

It is not because the white people who stress white identity the most are racist neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates.  It is rather that, by expressing myself that way, I would be separating myself from white people as a group.

But I don’t believe in white superiority or supremacy.  Why should that make me feel uncomfortable?

Thandeka wrote in 1999 that white racism makes most American white people feel, from a young age, that they would not be loved by their parents or anyone else if they were not white.   Many learned this lesson as children when their parents told them not to play with black children.

White racism is a system of social control that not only holds down black people, but many white people, Thandeka stated; historically, white people were at risk of losing their white status if they married black people, were friends with black people or joining forces politically with black people.

Two particular groups of white people were especially at risk of being considered not quite white enough.

One is the so-called “white trash,” poor rural Southern white people descended from slaves and indentured laborers brought from the British Isles to the American colonies, often in chains and treated no better than livestock.

When the white planter elite decided to replace the white slaves and indentured servants with black slaves from Africa, the poor whites still were poor and politically powerless.

The so-called “wages of whiteness”—the self-esteem that comes from superiority to black people—were paid in counterfeit money.   They were little better off economically than black people and were just as far below the rich white planters and the educated white professionals as they always were.

Much has been made of how millions of black people were excluded from Social Security because it did not cover farm laborers and household servants.  But these same rules excluded millions of poor rural Southern white workers.  The same measures that held down poor blacks held down poor whites.

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