Harnessing White Privilege
We could debate for hours on the validity of white privilege, however I would like to begin with the assumption that it could be true and occurring in the 21st century. That being the assumption, I would like to next consider, how to harness it for good. Whether the world agrees or not, Donald Trump is America's 45th president. According to numerous sources, his win hinged on the support of white nationalist and the evangelical right (Posner, 2017). While, I have much to say about the misguided connection between these two groups, and the unsuitable brotherhood that has ensued, I would like to instead assert a probable way to harness white evangelicals influence for the benefit of all.
When my family and I sail in blue water we often have to make hard decisions on the right sail to guide us. At times we read the wind wrong, and the wrong sail is chosen. However, since we have already hoisted it, placing it in front and above us, we have to move towards harnessing its energy. In a flurry of quick stressful movements, we trim the sails. Believe it or not, while changing out the sail seems like a logical idea, we don't. Instead we work with the one we hoisted. Trimming the sails looks like using the ropes that guide the sail by reeling them into a place that helps us to move in the right direction. We do not allow the sail to flop in the wind unrestricted, this would be dangerous and anti-productive to us traveling forward. In fact, unrestrained sails would hurt the crew and the boat.
As I look at Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech from 1968 entitled "I've Been to the Mountaintop", I am struck by MLK Jr's ability to harness the sails of power during the civil rights movement.
"You know, what's beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. (Amen) It's a marvelous picture. (Yes) Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somewhere the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones (Yes), and whenever injustice is around he must tell it. (Yes) Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, who said, "When God Speaks, who can but prophesy?" (Yes) Again with Amos, "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." (Yes) Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, "The spirit of the Lord is upon me (Yes), because He hath anointed me (Yes), and He's anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor." (Go ahead)
And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years. He's been to jail for struggling; he's been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggling; but he's still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. [Applause] Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kyles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them, and I want you to thank them because so often preachers aren't concerned about anything but themselves. [Applause] And I'm always happy to see a relevant ministry. It's all right to talk about long white robes over yonder, in all of its symbolism, but ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here. [Applause] It's all right to talk about streets flowing with milk and honey, but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here and His children who can't eat three square meals a day. [Applause] It's all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day God's preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. [Applause] This is what we have to do."
During the civil rights movement, the "preacher" had great influence over the people, and MLK Jr. asked them to join him in not only creating a new Jersulem, but "new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee" (King, 1968). Likewise, during segregation Robert F. Kennedy, heard the plea of a bi-racial woman and her white husband, Mildred and Richard Lovings, who had been outlawed from Virginia because they were married. While the local courts banned them from their hometowns, and imprisoned them while she was pregnant, Robert F. Kennedy used his white privilege to help do the right thing. The case eventually went to the Supreme Court and in 1967 inter-racial marriages were allowed throughout the country (Stanley, 2012).
So here in 2017, as we once again feel the eruption of resistance, I ask the people of power, white evangelicals to consider their influence. You have been put in power, whether any one agrees with it or not-- it is true. Therefore, I ask you to use your power to fight for the rights and privilege of all people. Noting that the evangelical gospel speaks of the equal rights for all and the love of God being for jew or gentile, slave or free, man or woman, outsider and insider, I ask you to stand for the gospel you have a covenant to. May you restrain the sails you have hoisted so that we can keep moving forward. May you not let the sails of white power not flop in the wind so that they hurt and impale others. May you rise up and use your power so that "justice roll[s] down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream".
King, M. L., JR. (1968, April 3). I’ve Been to the Mountaintop. Speech, Memphis, Tennessee. Retrieved February 4, 2017, from http://kingencyclopedia.stanford.edu/encyclopedia/documentsentry/ive_been_to_the_mountaintop/
Posner, S. (Writer). (2017, February 3). Exploring The Nationalistic And Christian Right Influences On Trump [Radio broadcast]. In Exploring The Nationalistic And Christian Right Influences On Trump. Chicago, Illinois : National Public Radio.
Stanley, A. (2012, February 13). Scenes From a Marriage That Segregationists Tried to Break Up. New York Times. Retrieved February 5, 2017, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/14/arts/television/the-loving-story-an-hbo-documentary.html