“Helping” People Become Whiter

We, in my and other denominations, are dealing with the consequences of taking Native children out of their communities to educate them in Western ways between 1860 to 1978. Helpful White Missionaries taught them the English language, Western table manners, and religious practices that encouraged them to abandon their own culture so that they might prosper in a better culture, a whiter culture. Here is a good article about this tragedy.

It would make their lives so much easier.

When people who look like me protest that they are in no way racist, much less White Supremacist, I think of the Good White Christian People like those missionaries who authentically believed they were “helping” those “poor savage children.”

As a parish pastor in a church outside Washington, DC, we welcomed three children who came to Sunday School on their own. They found themselves in our congregation by a variety of paths and they were all low income and Black or Brown. In the middle of the liturgical year, as we were checking on how things were going in each class, the teacher of the class that included those three children, we learned, was teaching them etiquette lessons. Etiquette Lessons. She was “helping them” learn how to put a napkin in their laps and how to shake hands with adults which was – apparently – as important as teaching them the Parables of Jesus.

For the love of God.

Although I (kind of) like sports, I had never heard of the football player Dante Stewart until yesterday when I read his essay for The New York Times. Please read it here.

As Stewart tells it, he arrived at Clemson University as a Black country boy and he was embraced by White Christians who invited him to Bible studies and prayer meetings. Excellent. What was also true is that he found himself in more and more White Spaces as if being a devout Christian equaled being White.

Through my life, I’ve heard White Christians refer to certain Black people as “good Blacks” or “the Black family who fits it so well” in our church/school/club. Speaking up about injustice is frowned upon in these circles. The Jesus who turned over tables and spoke about the oppressed is not given much attention.

We “Good White Western Christians” have conflated evangelism with making people into our own image. God’s Image is much more glorious and colorful. There is no culture or government or – certainly – political party that has corned the market on being Christian.

It would make OUR lives so much easier if everybody would just dress, speak, live like we (White Western Christians) do.

Perhaps the definition of current religious hypocrisy is expecting people to practice their faith and every other aspect of their lives in the image of the dominant culture of White Western Christianity.

If that’s the case then we – White Western Christians – are the ones missing the point of evangelism.

Image of three Lakota boys before and after they were brought to the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, PA in 1900. (Smithsonian Institution) Source here.

4 responses to ““Helping” People Become Whiter

  1. Elizabeth Sudduth

    I love your writing, always. This post is very well written and thought provoking, as always. I was all set to share it on social media, as I often do with your posts. However, you blew at the end. The “definition of current day Pharasaism” is modern Rabbinical Judaism, whose traditions developed as they were passed down through generations of Pharisees.

    If you want to call someone a religious hypocrite, call them a religious hypocrite. Don’t allow the antisemitism inherent in far too much Christian culture to creep its way into an otherwise excellent post.



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