|United Methodist video examines ‘white privilege’|
The Rev. Marion Miller leads participants in Indianapolis in an exercise to help
white people understand a truth that may be invisible to them.
A UMNS photo by John Coleman.
A UMNS Report
By Kathy L. Gilbert*
April 9, 2008
In a church fellowship hall, a long line of people are beginning to
realize that many of them live with "an invisible, unearned advantage"
based on the color of their skin.
They listen and respond as the Rev. Marion Miller, pastor at St. Luke's
United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, reads a list of commands in an
exercise on “white privilege” in the United States.
"If you should need to move," she asks, "can you be pretty sure of
renting or purchasing housing in an area you can afford and in which you
would want to live? If this is true, take one step forward."
"If you can go shopping alone most of the time pretty well assured you
will not be followed or harassed, take another step forward."
"If you can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of your
race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit
with your cultural traditions, into a hairdresser's shop and find
someone who can cut your hair, take three steps forward."
Leaders at the 2004 General Conference
in Pittsburgh hold hands during a service
of appreciation for African Americans
who stayed despite institutional racism within the Methodist Church. A UMNS
file photo by Mike DuBose.
By the end of the exercise, all of the white participants are steps ahead of the people of color in the line.
"Sensitizing white people to an invisible system of advantage is a
healthy beginning in the journey," said Blenda Smith, conference lay
leader of the Wyoming Annual (regional) Conference and a white board
member of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and
A different viewpoint
To help people in the journey, a DVD called "Truth and Wholeness:
Replacing White Privilege With God's Promise" has been developed by the
United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race and the denomination’s
Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
"We pray that the DVD will bring understanding and insights to white
people who live with an advantage that is truly invisible to them,"
Smith said. "People have no reason to change systemic, invisible
circumstances until they actually come to see and accept their reality."
Barbara Isaacs, a white staff member of the Commission on Religion and Race, said many whites do not feel privileged.
"It is the truth of our everyday white lives that we fail to see," she
said. "We do not understand the daily reality of friends and colleagues
who are not white––how they are constantly treated differently by sites
of economic, political and social power."
“We pray that the DVD will bring
understanding and insights to white people who live with an advantage
that is truly invisible to them.”
The DVD will be given to every United Methodist annual conference
delegation attending the 2008 General Conference meeting in Fort Worth,
Texas, April 23-May 2. It also will be used during the April 29 morning
worship service at the churchwide legislative assembly. Isaacs said
conferences can burn a copy of the DVD for every church.
In addition, Isaacs and Smith are developing an accompanying study guide
to be made available on both commissions' Web sites later this
"The two agencies partnering on this is another example of the
church's commitment to confront racism that is still being experienced
today," said Erin Hawkins, top executive of the Commission on Religion
"I think this will be an important tool to help white leadership see the impact that privilege has on all people."
"Truth and Wholeness" follows up on the Service of Repentance for the
History of Racism in The United Methodist Church, held at the 2000
General Conference, and The Service of Appreciation For Those Who
Stayed, held at the 2004 assembly.
Bishop Clarence Carr, African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, accepted
the corporate act of repentance from The United Methodist Church at the
2000 General Conference. "I am not going to be a judge, but I want you
to know that we will be fruit inspectors," Carr said, suggesting that
the church will be monitored on its efforts to change.
"The next logical step for the 2008 General Conference is for white
people to begin understanding what 'white privilege' is and how it
affects people of color and themselves," Smith said.
The 16-minute video features diverse interviews ranging from a teenager
in Indianapolis to a professor of Christian ethics at Wesley Theological
When white people become truthful and share their feelings, "the healing
process with the racial-ethnic persons and their communities will
begin," said the Rev. Taka Ishii, New York Annual Conference.
Ishii, a board member of the Commission on Religion and Race, previewed
the DVD during its board of directors meeting in March. The video was
produced by United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tenn.
Alice Glenn (right) embraces fellow delegate Angela Brown at the 2000
General Conference during a service
of repentance for racism. A UMNS
file photo by Mike DuBose.
"We've seen recently how different perspectives rooted in our personal
experiences can affect the way we see the world, and how we live out our
lives," said the Rev. Larry Hollon, top staff executive of United
Methodist Communications. "Race plays a key role.
"We hope this video will provide a way to reflect upon perceptions of
privilege and lead beyond reflection to dialogue that builds new
awareness about our everyday experiences in a multi-ethnic society," he
"A powerful story in the DVD is when Dr. Sondra Wheeler shares her
story about the African-American mother who has to school her newly
licensed 16-year-old son about how polite he had better be to a
policeman because she believes with good reason that just being an
African-American boy behind the wheel of the car is enough to put him at
risk," said the Rev. DeeDee Azhikakath, Desert Southwest Annual
A typical response by some white people was defensiveness, according to Smith.
"The sense of 'I have earned everything I have' is a common reaction by
some white people who have worked hard to attain better lifestyles,"
Smith said. "However, that perception indicates a lack of understanding
the effects of hundreds of years of history––be it African-American
slavery or global colonialism by white people.
"When a society has a long history of invisible, unearned advantage, it is hard for people to suddenly accept a new reality."
More information is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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