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Seeing White Dominant Shadows

For the past couple of decades, I’ve been on a journey of crafting a lifestyle that is somewhat contrary to our Western success model. Theologian Barbara Holmes speaks about taking intentional measures to reshape her life into a more balanced posture; and, her words resonate with me and my journey. Though, for me, my post title seems to be the result of where most of my learning and life honing has happened.

If we can be real about “white” trajectory within the U.S., it seems that after a generation or more of American privilege, many of us "white" ones tend to develop unrecognizable postures of dominion. I did ... I loved moving up and getting "more" after I went through the academic pipeline and finally landed a great job. Our American Dream prosperity model with movement "up" is a somewhat normalized and dominating model of success. Maybe it's a prevailing mindset formed from our American heritage frontier mentality roots? I'm not sure... though, I am sure that it is hard to put on the brakes and say enough once you do start on this American Up trajectory.

I finally saw my own lemming-style adaptation to this shadow-producing phenomena by being exposed to another lifestyle possibility. That now seems somewhat serendipitous to me because I heard this alternative model being unpacked in a "white" dominant culture church filled with beautiful, successful people. Hearing a different lifestyle path explained in that environment was just not normal in my experience. The only faith-based, widely-accepted model of an alternative lifestyle was for “called” missionaries to move to a foreign country to save those "others" where they relocated.

My husband and I pondered the possibilities of this new model. It encompassed a trajectory of “relocation + redistribution”. We decided that we would attempt incorporating these concepts into our urban inner city lives by choosing to live deep within socio-economic diverse community. It felt like a feasible choice and a way to safeguard our heart + head connection after benefitting from our own generational privilege and education. Plus, it sounded a tad more like what Jesus modeled in being "with” vulnerable people groups.

Our little family journey began and we chose a home and focused on building community strategically different than most of our other upper middle class friends. Socio-economic diversity was our guideline in everything. That meant that we also chose public over private as much as our privilege allowed … including inner city public schools. (And yes, it was rarely comfortable many days!)

Reality now, two decades later... my friends who are doing justice work know very well that a "white" privileged posture is a “thing”. Yet, I didn’t know that when I started my journey; and, many of my "white" friends now still don't know nor do they understand the overall cultural ramifications of being "white". Many simply still think that law means justice. And within dominant culture American "church", the privilege model remains that most prosperous people serve in “help” programs, sit on boards or give funds to aid the poorer-types. Those “church” programs are great help for people in crisis; however, for me, the program part just didn't seem to allow any skin in the game. Programs and service days seemed to promote a vertical posture of giving without a long-term lateral reciprocity of being “with” others that were vulnerable.

Having skin in the game and living “with” my socio-economic diverse neighbors has been one of the hardest and best choices I've ever made. It has clued me into both my own privilege and our created "white" race's deep cultural shadows. I can see the systemic injustices and barriers that most of my non-white friends and neighbors continually face. Many of those challenges also seem rooted in class chasms maintained through our American shadow history of separating “them” and “us”. Honestly, I still battle against my own inhumane tendency of doing this with my 60's childhood-formed brain patterns!

Our country began with "us" European immigrants trying to escape imperial terror; yet, as so often happens, we settled here and immediately began inflicting terror on "them" others. We took land from indigenous Native Americans. Then, our colonial systems escalated to an agrarian culture that succumbed to the use of African slaves as a commodity of free labor. So, all of our heritage formation and economic systems were shaped with stolen land and stolen people. Yet, we and our childhood history books somewhat always seem to "white" wash most of these prevailing heritage formation shadows.

How can we nurture a better healing process with all of this "us & them" binary thought? American individualism and a faith-tied work ethic seems to feed national pride and a prevailing consumer-oriented, frontier mindset that likes this binary. Plus, we all seem not so good at recognizing or professing the ugly shadows. Some even think it un-American.

My neighbors pain and struggles have helped me see that we each have a lot of unshared history within our country. Though, I have no clue how we heal 500 year old shadows that have wreaked terror and produced deep accompanying internalized shame. Though, it seems that maybe the best way to begin something different is by creating spaces to talk "with" each other about our heritage stories.

Sharing experiences and exposing our "them & us" stories just seems the best move forward towards truly pursuing liberty and justice for of all.

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