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Blog Post

White Supremacy, Babylon and the Church (part one)

When I was about 12 years old I remember going secretly after school to buy something I really wanted but which I really didn’t want anyone to know about. Children have few secrets, and little opportunity for enacting their own agendas; this was mine. It was something I could not talk to anyone about. I was embarrassed, perhaps ashamed, it was something about which I felt a strong sense of guilt; like I was letting the side down just by wanting it. Remember this was the mid 1990’s, the internet was little help, I had to physically go into a shop, pick what I wanted from a shelf, walk over to the till and hand my choice over to a human being who would now know my deepest darkest secret before I could leave as quickly as possible with the article in question discreetly hidden in a plastic bag.

What did I buy?…

this.this.

a history textbook

which as you might imagine was full of pictures like this this and thisthis etc.

It is perhaps unsurprising that I might want to learn about the history of black people, the history of my people but why was I so secretive, ashamed and guilty about it. I could not have told you then but looking back I suspect I felt that to discover my history was to implicitly shame, expose and condemn the white people around me, whiteness, the white world of which I was a part and my white family whom I loved. As a young person (perceived as black) searching for identity and trying to understand my place in the world I wanted to know. But as a complicit white supremacist who valued and wanted to protect and to be at peace with white culture, with my culture, I was ashamed to air our dirty secrets.

To keep confusion, misunderstanding and offence to a minimum in this potentially fraught topic let me clarify some terms and lay bare some assumptions.

Terms I talk about White Supremacy rather than racism for sake of clarity and specificity. I am not here discussing racism in general but a particular form of racism, present in people of all diverse ethnicities, that whiter is better (more attractive, intelligent, safest, correct, innocent, to be favoured etc.) and white is best. I do not use the term white supremacist to refer exclusively to the notorious white favouring racist groups such as the E.D.L. or K.K.K. but to all forms of white favouring racism.

I use the term Babylon, in keeping with the biblical tradition, to denote the evil economic, political, cultural religious and military forces which are opposed to God and the people living God’s way (you could also call it empire, pharaoh, egypt, rome or the man, the city, the pentagon).

By Church I mean that spiritual community called by God out of the world, formed as the contemporary earthly body of Christ and empowered by the Spirit to live God’s coming Kingdom here and now as a witness to God’s glory.

**My assumptions ** Race is a social construct not a biological reality. Human genetic diversity exists but it is not simplistically classifiable in to races.

Western culture is white supremacist (for a reason).

It is reasonable to assume that individuals within such a culture are themselves white supremacists.

White supremacism is not compatible with the church God is calling into being.

EXCURSUS. In my experience white people struggle to be told that they are white supremacist/racist. However as Christians we have a helpful category for this, we call it sin. Few churchy types would be offended if I suggested that it was reasonable to assume that they were a “sinner”. By suggesting you (reader) [yes you] are most likely a white supremacist I am not calling you out as more or especially sinful but merely naming a particular aspect of your manifold sinfulness. I say this because white supremacy, like any (unfashionable) sin, does not like to be named and it uses all kinds of evasions to avoid it. However the ability to name something is to have power over it, admitting it is the first step to dealing with it, so it is important that we plainly name our realities, especially harmful realities.

My experience as an Afro-Caribbean Scot in Scotland shapes who I am and how I see the world. Growing up with a generally polite but profoundly ‘othering’ fascination and incomprehension with my hair, “yes it’s naturally curly”, “yes I can hide pencils in it”, “ok, yes you can touch it”. Funny looks when my blond haired daughter and I are out together. White people asking me where I am from… then being unsatisfied with the answer and asking where I am really from… originally. That brief lapse of facial control revealing evident confusion when, having arranged a visit over the phone, someone expecting an English sounding “peter atkins” opens the door to me. Old white people complementing me on how well I speak English. Walking down the street in an afro and kilt and being told by a passer by, “cool hair but you are not Scottish”. I have not experienced most the brutal edge of our white supremacist culture but my ambiguous status and experience has one given me a sensitivity and attention to it which most Scots will not have.

In talking about White supremacy, Babylon and Church I am and will be unusually personal indeed the framing of our conversation is deeply autobiographical. The politics of ethnicity have been a part of my church life since childhood. My mum was the only white person in my first church, a Jamaican/Caribbean migrant congregation in London. My siblings and I were the only non-white people (or rather the least white people) growing up in the church in middle class Edinburgh. When Nat and I first visited Mosaic in 2010 a significant part of its draw for me was its ethnic diversity. This experience has given me a perspective on these issues which most of you will not have but which you as individuals and we as a church could benefit from.

Recently all this, which I have never really discussed in a public church setting has been brought into the forefront of my mind by the American ethnic violence and BLM campaign and because of this background and my position in Mosaic I felt compelled to somehow engage this fraught issue.

Because of our different ethnic status in society our experiences will be different. What I have shared and will go on to share may surprise you or you may find incredible, it may contradict your own experience and so be difficult for you to make sense of or believe, that is reasonable. However I ask you to believe me on matters relating to white supremacy because in this I am better positioned to discern reality that you are. Joerg Rieger wrote “In being pushed to the margins of the system the repressed… gain an alternative perspective–you see things from the underside that you cannot see from the top, especially the distortions of the system.” Henry David Thoreau wrote “The rich man is always sold to the institution which makes him rich.” Paul of Tarsus wrote “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.” Jesus of Nazareth said “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

The phrase “The Epistemological Advantage of the Oppressed puts this concisely, if obtusely - epistemology concerns how we know what we know. It claims that those disadvantaged by any system have better insight in understanding that system. So women have a better grasp on patriarchy, the poor on capitalism and black people on white supremacy. Basically dominant culture can not be relied upon to accurately perceive or portray the world it seeks to dominate. For example in May 1946, about 7 out of 10 White Americans believed that “negroes in the United States are being treated fairly”. This was, of course, in the midst of Jim Crow segregation, racialized economic inequality, the terror of the KKK and the White Citizens Council, systemic disenfranchisement and the regular lynching of black people in America. However the majority of black people knew they were not being treated fairly.

so just because you don't see it, that does not mean that it does not exist.

a video, an article and a question

a video

an article

a question: how do you think you have been shaped by our white supremacist culture?

click here for part two