Escaping Whiteness

Part 1 of 3

by Paul Alexander

whitenessWhite American Christians need a liberation theology of their own to free them from the denial of their own past.  White Amer-Europeans must courageously own their past—without guilt but with great intentionality—to change the present and the future. This means Amer-Europeans will have to engage in a collective or corporate type of confession and repentance that looks incisively at the systemic and ingrained violence that has been such a consistent part of the American experience….[1]

In this eight-part series I’m going to riff on Whiteness and White Supremacy and see if there’s a way to escape it, because it’s very painful and is continuing to hurt a lot of people.  This is part one.

What we call the “United States of America” has emerged in the spaces and times of White Supremacy and light-skin privilege. The oppressive systems of Whiteness had been racing people as White for privilege and as less-than-White for exploitation,[2] for the construct of Whiteness was created for oppression.  It was created to transform diversity into uniformity for the sake of privilege.  This magic was enforced with law and violence.  The many of some parts of Europe become the one of Whiteness, and this Whiteness sought to colonize and ‘civilize’ the rest of the world.  However, Whiteness had a beginning, and it is going to have an end, and I want to theorize toward that end with the metaphor of a biblical story.

“Whiteness” is a system in which people with lighter toned epidermis use power (violence, the threat of violence, constructed knowledge, information, etc.) for wealth, social status, and control.  Alice Walker coined the term “colorism” to address the social inequalities resulting from socially constructed meanings attached to skin pigment.[3] “Pigmentocracy” is another term for a society in which social status is connected with epidermis.[4] Pigmentocracy occurs in human populations throughout the world.  As a Homo sapien whose ancestors evolved to have lighter skin to protect against vitamin D depletion because they lived in geographical areas with relatively less sunlight than equatorial regions, I am working to dismantle privileges based on this evolutionary adaptation.

If you think of yourself as white, consider instead thinking of yourself as “raced-as-White.”  More particularly, think of yourself as “raced-by-Whiteness-as-White-for-privilege.”  White racing is a super-ordination that subordinates the Othered, and we need to get beyond it.

Paul Alexander is a former director of the Sider Center.


[1] George E. “Tink” Tinker, American Indian Liberation: A Theology of Sovereignty (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008), 150, 160.

[2] I do not intend to communicate that nothing good has happened in the United States of America and that only the USA is hopelessly mired in Whiteness.  I think that much of the world remains mired in Whiteness and the construct of Whiteness must become history.

[3] Alice Walker, In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1983), 290-91.

[4] Richard Lynn, “Pigmentocracy: Racial Heirarchies in the Caribbean and Latin America,” The Occidental Quarterly 8 (2) 2008: 25-44.


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2 Responses

  1. Jim Welch says:

    I suppose the following is up for debate. But at least for today, it seems as though scripture speaks of 3 people groups.

    Jews, Gentiles, and the Church (Eklesia, or called out ones). Yes there are certainly other names in the OT or like Samaritans in the NT. But it boils down to Jews, Gentiles and the called out ones. At birth, everyone was a Jew or Gentile, and later God showed us a new identity, when we were born again.

    In my opinion, it is very easy to get lost in the weeds of racial issues. As the teacher used to say in Algebra, break it down to the least common denominator. IE, Jews, Gentiles, or the Church. Or you probably could even go a step further and say those that are dead to sin, and alive to Christ.

    The commission of the Lord is “believe on me” and “go make disciples”. It is the Lord’s way. Everything else gets us lost out yonder.

  2. Greg Fletcher says:

    I feel that the whole issue of racism seems to be very narrowly-focused, mainly concerning the appalling treatment of Blacks. But, we need to recognise that there is racism in all peoples, whatever their colour. The Bible talks about all of us need to repent of our prejudice, forgive everyone and learn to love them (‘Love your enemies’). By focussing on one aspect, is likely to lead to polarisation, instead of reconciliation. We need a new way to deal with the hurts that many communities feel, and deal with the pride we all have as to our superiority – this is where our focus should be on both Jesus as Lord and Jesus as Saviour as it is only God that can change us, by His Spirit working within us on a daily basis; hence the importance of a wholistic Gospel of the Kingdom of God. This is not just about salvation, or social justice, but also in worship, community and discipling as well as sharing our faith.

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