On Robert Jensen’s book, The Heart of Whiteness: Confronting Race, Racism, and White Privilege

To be fully human is to reject a system that conditions your pleasure on someone else’s pain. Dostoevsky

Jensen is a white Professor that with insight discusses why white privilege is maintained as the status quo, and why it needs to be addressed by whites. Jensen honestly expresses several instances when he shamefully became aware of his own white superiority, but with the added understanding that awareness is an important first step to acknowledging the systemic dysfunction that creates destructive inequality.

“It’s to face the ugly, brutal, violent racist history of the country, understand that our affluent society is the product of that history, and then recognize that such violence continues to protect our affluence and perpetuate racialized disparities in the worldwide distribution of wealth.”

Jensen not only discusses the superior attitudes of whites toward non-whites in the U.S., but the U.S’s consistent racial behaviors towards non-whites in other countries especially during times of conflict. He goes on to explain the same white blindness to white privilege in America is expressed in our perceptions of the way we portray our own history; “White society’s version of U.S. history is weighed down by narcissistic fantasies of innocence, entangled in a self-serving web of stories of nobility…this imperial racism is complex , interwoven with a pathological patriotism and ethnocentrism.”

Additionally, in speaking of systemic white privilege, Jensen mentions the inequality of our public education system and suggests school taxes should be spread evenly across schools and not be relative to each district. However, wealthier neighborhoods would still have schools that are mostly white, and wealthy parents contribute greater resources to their neighborhood schools such as material and monetary donations that minority neighborhoods can’t match, so the racial disparity would still exist.

The most significant question he poses is, “How does one persuade an affluent and protected class of people to work for fundamental change in regard to an issue such as race?” Jensen concludes with, “What they need from white people is for us to realize we are the problem. They need us to commit to dismantling white supremacy as an ideology and a lived reality. The world does not need white people to civilize others. the real White People’s Burden is to civilize ourselves.”

Maintaining the status quo of white privilege is too beneficial for whites. Just stating that whites need to acknowledge their own privileged status won’t change white behavior. Jensen states, “We need a political and structural, rather than a cultural and individual framework.” However, any type of inherent rigid systemic hierarchy must be addressed at the very foundation of its expression which is spiritual. Privileged behavior which harms non-whites is antagonistic towards the core truths of Christianity and other monotheistic religions.

To the distress of many non-whites and Jews, Muslims, and Sikhs, the election of Donald Trump as President has increased the viability of white privilege. We must work towards unity and attempt to dialogue with Christians using the language of religion. Angry rhetoric will only increase resistance, but actions of intentional inter-racial and inter-religion relationships to increase understanding will begin to break down barriers of ignorance.

I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. (Audre Lorde, late poet and activist)
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