by Diane Miller
I continue working to comprehend racial reconciliation & privilege. It creates tension for me as I look at systems in my city with accompanying advantages afforded me and others like me… then, I see how others not like me are excluded. I have experienced the benefits of a good education, business success, family & friend support, as well as white skin in a quickly fading white dominant culture. These circumstances have helped provide a prosperous life for me, yet they are simply unavailable to many. So, understanding privilege, pursuing justice & grasping my participation in systemic injustices have become a big deal to me as a Christ-follower.
I also live with a tension of sometimes being called a “Nice White Lady” and I struggle with the label… frankly, I don’t like its Urban Dictionary definition:
“This is a complicated disorder, which can only effect nice white ladies, often in the educational or social justice fields of employment, or through church based organizations.
The most recognizable symptoms include having an earnest and idealistic eagerness to help the more marginalized members of a society, such as persons of color, or the homeless. This can manifest itself through things like bake sales & canned food drives, although occasionally, more touchstone examples (such as that of a teacher assuming the role of mentor and parent) can be observed.
Nice White Ladies (or, NWL’s) know that they are just that, though believe wholeheartedly that not only do their contributions actually change the world significantly, but that they are somehow better than everyone else. There is more than a tinge of irony in this.”
In the past, many of the attributes in this definition fit me; but, after 20 years of living & pressing into my blended urban culture, I have changed. I’ve learned how people suffer without family support & opportunities. I have seen first-hand how hard it is for many of the brown & black people in my city to break free from stacked poverty neighborhoods. Nurturing schools & empowering relationships are not readily available to them. So, having an avocation for justice and creating just systems for all people in my city are most important to me now.
Living & attempting to love well in blended community has taught me these 3 big lessons…
First, being a “Nice White Lady” violates the Iron Rule of not doing anything for others that they can do for themselves. “NWL” type of service tends to rob people of dignity.
Second, honoring others also includes not giving items without some type of exchange. Simply giving is a type of charity that does not create a lateral friendship with each person giving reciprocally for the mutual benefit of both.
Third, a big majority of charity outside of crisis assistance can devalue the person on the receiving end. Assumptions tend to be made by the giving “privileged” or “NWL’s” that the people receiving service or gift/s should consider what they’re given as the gold standard best. It’s a twisted view of service and/or charity as betterment, developed out of Western ideals & consumerism.
Yet, being real, I am still sometimes labeled a “NWL”. Last winter I loaned a shovel to Mary (not real name). She lives behind us and wanted to dig out her car after a big snow. Upon returning the shovel she told me others in her building asked where she got the shovel. She responded, “Diane, the nice white lady living behind our apartment lent it to me.” Ugh… I felt profiled. It was a reality check that caused me to pause and ponder my relationship with her.
I wondered how Mary could label me that? I chat with her every week, ask questions about her life & share about my own. She has major health issues and is a single mom. It is a tough road for her and I would do anything she asked to help her as a friend. But, could it be she does not equate those interactions with being my friend? Maybe I’m just a chatty white neighbor lady to her… I so want to continue building our relationship. I really like her and have learned a lot from her, as I have from many of my friends who have suffered deeply. But, even though I have learned much, I continue to realize there’s even more to lean in & learn about being a friend to others not like me. And, I long for the day where I will no longer be labeled as a “Nice White Lady”, or hear a “You are so white” response to something I have said…
Maybe then I will know I am a little farther down the road in listening well… living, loving & understanding life a tad better in my beloved blended community, no longer wearing that urban dictionary definition.