You read that correctly. My name is Pastor Rebecca. I am (almost) 32 years old and have been an ordained pastor in the Moravian Church since December 2013. It took me until this past week, July 14, to come truly face to face with the fact that I have white privilege. It took sitting in a workshop held by the Dr. Timothy Berry, the Interim Dean at Metropolitan State University, for me to truly understand that I am a person who has White Privilege. It took looking at my surroundings, my words, my upbringing to finally come face to face with this fact: I have White Privilege.
Since George Floyd's murder in May 2020, the words "White Privilege" have flown around and even after hearing what so many people have said and written about White Privilege, I still wanted to say "yeah... but I'm different." As Layla Saad would say in her book Me and White Supremacy*, I suffered from what is called "white exceptionalism." What does this mean? Saad defines white exceptionalism as this: the belief that you as a white person are exempt from white supremacy. That you are "one of the good ones." She continues in her book saying that every time we say "not me!" or "not all white people" as a response to a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color's (BIPOC) testimony about what they have experienced because of their race and seeing racial injustice, White people are expressing "white exceptionalism." It's another way of belittling the experience of BIPOC and another way that White people do harm.
I confess that I have indeed said these very statements. And to my BIPOC friends, loved ones, and community members, I apologize. I am very sorry for any pain I have caused and I am trying to do better. (Trigger warning: I don't want to do any harm to my BIPOC friends, loved ones and community members. Following I give an example of how I have been complacent as well as active in my own racist ideologies and upbringing. Please know, I'm trying to do better... again... I'm sorry.)
To those of you who may be reading this thinking "well, I don't have White Privilege" or "I don't suffer from white exceptionalism" or "I'm certainly not a white supremacist!" I would like to offer you the story of how I know the color of my skin has unjustly put me in all of these categories. I am not proud of this, and yes... this feels scary to admit in writing and then posting in a blog where people can see it and read it and stand in judgement of me. My hope by putting this out here, is that other White people will be willing to take a look at their own lives and how they have been a part of a system that is set up to benefit White people and not BIPOC. Here's the story:
On July 16, 2020, sitting in Dr. Berry's seminar called The Road to Racial Justice, I was looking at my book shelves of my office behind me. I was looking at how my shelves were set up and I saw a puppet that my mother purchased me before I went to seminary in August 2010. It was a hand puppet of a person--blue robe, pinky-peachy fabric skin, white curly hair, kind blue eyes, sandals, and golden wings. Having a degree in theater performance as my undergrad degree, I had been looking for a way of implementing this into my ministry.
So my mom bought me this puppet. I was asked what I was going to name the puppet. I easily, and without thinking or judgment, said "Oh, this would be wonderful to help tell the story of Moses, or Abraham, or even Jacob or Joseph! You can easily hide the wings and it doesn't have to be an angel."
Does anyone see how my white privilege showed up in this story? I didn't. Until almost 10 years later. In our final session, Dr. Berry began talking about images, symbols, and media depictions. Dr. Berry put up this image:
This is one of my favorite movies. I have memories of watching it during the Easter Season with my family. My sister and I quote it all year long.
But... do you see the problem? Let me ask you this question: what is the real and honest likelihood that Moses looked anything like Charlton Heston? What's the likelihood that he had pinky-peach skin? Or wavy medium-brown hair? It's called white-washing and happens to so many roles through Hollywood--BIPOC actors are passed over to play a role of a Black, Indigenous, or Person of Color and the role is played by a prominent White actor instead. Avatar the Last Airbender, Dr. Strange, The Lone Ranger (2013 version) are just a few examples that have white washed roles that should have been played by BIPOC actors but they weren't.
And I knew this! And I was indignant over the choices that had been made! And I voiced my frustration at what they did! (You hear the white exceptionalism creeping in, don't you?)
But that was all them... that wasn't me. Then, July 16, 2020, I sat in my office on a Zoom seminar being led by Dr. Timothy Berry, and I saw face to face my own White Privilege. This puppet was staring back at me--with its blue robe, pinky-peachy fabric skin, white curly hair, kind blue eyes, sandals, and golden wings, and I named him "Moses, or Abraham, or Jacob or even Joseph." And I said "Well [expletive]." I'm not exempt. I'm not exceptional. I have been raised in a system where I didn't even stop to question whether or not I should name a puppet with pinky-peach skin after Old Testament characters.
I felt shame and sick to my stomach. I wanted to take that puppet off the shelf and throw it as far away from me as I could in order to distance myself from my reality and to blot out the fact that I have work I need to do.
This work of seeing yourself with White Privilege and seeing how you have been a part in the systemic racism that still plagues our country is painful work. And it is work that needs to be done. I do not get to exclude myself from this work for any reason because I am not exceptional when it comes to being a White person. I do not get to hide from this work because it makes me uncomfortable. I do not get to simply turn away from any of this and say "I'm not a member of the KKK, therefore I'm not racist" or "I marched in a Black Lives Matter protest! I can't be a racist!" or any other line that I have given myself in the past. I don't get to do this anymore because I need to make a better, more just and more equitable world for my BIPOC siblings.
I see it now and now I cannot unsee it. My name is Pastor Rebecca. I am (almost) 32 years old and have been an ordained pastor in the Moravian Church since December 2013. Pastor of a small congregation. Wife to a loving husband. Mother to two amazing daughters. I have White Privilege. And I have some freaking work to do.