Perceiving White People: Part 2

uniqueA part of human experience is the need for identity, “who am I?” to quote Zoolander. This is because it is in identity that we find significance. Identity is an expression and conception of a person’s individuality. Now I am not saying this to sound smart, but to make a point about ‘white people’. It has been my observation from being around enough white people, and from being around myself, that white people often find their significance in their uniqueness. Could this be why a common racist taunt is “they all look the same”, as if a lack of uniqueness in appearance makes a person less significant?

We all know that teenage boy with the fringe over the eyes, sitting in the corner, wearing black… who loves the thought that he is so different that everyone hates him. Or the exuberant lady in the coffee shop who talks about how she enjoys watching humans interact, just sitting and examining this species relate around her, as if she was looking into a bowl of goldfish. There is a hunger in white people (not to say that other people groups don’t feel this) to be a unique person and therein find significance. This attempt to achieve uniqueness varies in degree from person to person, but basically it is all about how far into ‘wierdville’ someone is willing to go, and still enjoy it- some people go as far as tattooing their face, others just pretend to like Opera 😉

Generally, I believe that this doesn’t plague conservative type whites as much as it does their liberal counterparts, but it is still common place among the former. In the same way, it is more common among westernised modern to post-modern whites as opposed to those that are more traditional. Consider my favourite rugby team: Bemowo AZS-AWF Warsaw (since no one has heard of them the uniqueness points go up in my identity).

Christian Lander makes the following satirical observation using Apple Mac computers:

On the surface, you would ask yourself how white people could love a multibillion-dollar company with manufacturing plants in China and mass production, and that contributes to global pollution through the manufacture of consumer electronic devices. The simple answer: Apple products tell the world you are creative and unique. They are an exclusive product line only used by every white college student, designer, writer, English teacher, and hipster on the planet.

He goes on to explain…

You see, a long time ago Macs were superpopular among layout artists and graphic designers. Then apple released Final Cut Pro, and it became the standard for film editors. As a result, lots of creative industries used Apple computers instead of PCs. Eventually, people started making a connection between creativity and Macs, and all of a sudden all white people need to have a Mac.[i]

This may have led to some of the success of the YRR (Young Restless and Reformed) movement. Since the reformed faith sank into disfavour among evangelicals in the early 1900’s, the feeling of belonging to a very niche theological group has its appeal, as it satisfies some of the desire for uniqueness and thus significance. Add in a Charismatic element to make that little break with the left over-fuddy-duddy reformed churches and you have the makings of a truly unique little community.

While I may or may not be right, I do see this as an influence, at least to a point, on the creation of the emergent movement. Points that lend to this is the ever so evident homogeneity of this niche ‘ Christian’ group (all white, mostly young, often yuppies and techno-unique-margaretmeadnerds). It’s great to be the one who follows a mainline religion but has figured out how not to be ‘bigoted’, except against those who are sure of something (like Jesus being the only way to the Father; those outside of Christ go to hell etc). They are unique since they can watch all the blind people describe different parts of the elephant, while they sympathetically see that they only know in part.

All earthly identity factors of necessity create oppression because they all give us a feeling of superiority. They make us feel significant. It’s not always to the same degree, but it’s always there. Because whatever makes you feel unique, if that thing is your identity, will lead you to feel superior to those who… don’t know the difference between a Shiraz and a Bordeaux; think homosexuals should be allowed to marry; think homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry; follow the religion of their parents; are racist; are so myopic that they think Jesus is the only way; don’t know that Christianity is the true religion and on and on I could go.

identity-fraudWhile your identity makes you feel significant, what makes you feel significant makes you feel superior. Superiority lends itself to oppressing and/or marginalising those ‘beneath’ you, or those less ‘enlightened’ than you. But there is an identity factor that doesn’t need to lead to a feeling of superiority. The Bible teaches that Christians have a unique identity factor; they are ‘in Christ’. That is a huge theological theme that is beyond this scope of this post, but basically it means that all the promises of God are real for you, God’s attitude towards you is the same as that of His attitude to Christ. And this unique status is not due to some discovery that you made, it’s not due to intuition or wisdom, it does not originate in you in any way- It originates in God. This is called the doctrine of election, the teaching that God chose us, not because of anything that he saw in us, not because there is anything attractive about us to Him, but because of his own good pleasure, he chose individuals to be ‘in Christ’ before the foundation of the world. He loved us because He loved us.

Now since this identity is in Christ, and you get this identity as a gift and not because of anything in you; it creates humility not superiority. This makes being ‘in Christ’ a uniquely unoppressive identity. This  point then, when preaching and sharing your faith with white friends, is an important factor to bear in mind; our identity is not to be found in things around us anywhere on Earth- things may explain us but they do not (or should not) define us.

[i] Stuff White People like. Page47-48

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