A call to cultural humility

Pondering Privilege 230x350I’m a white woman from the Deep South. Yet if I had seen Pondering Privilege 20 years ago, I wouldn’t have thought that I personally needed to read it. If I’d seen the book 10 years ago, I would have thought, “White privilege? You mean, there’s a name for what I’m just starting to see and learn?” Now, still having much to learn, I’ve read and highlighted and reread Pondering Privilege, and have started on the rich list of follow-up reading/viewing that author Jody Fernando provides.

This book is a call to cultural humility by a woman who writes with a lot of humility. It’s a call to us who are white – but who never think in those terms – to press in to see what we’ve been afraid and ashamed to see. It urges us to respond to the rest of the multi-racial world by listening, learning and valuing. It teaches us that what we count “normal” may not be others’ normal at all.

If you’re white, and trying to get a clear picture as to what in the world “white privilege” is, this book may be a bit frustrating. If so, keep in mind: Explaining white privilege to a white person is kind of like trying to describe colors to a blind person. The author defines the term more than once. She gives several examples of how white privilege can look. She asks questions that can help each of us identify our own white-oriented perspectives. She points out the primary way for a white person to begin to understand white privilege: Begin to truly listen to the nonwhite world. She references numerous places to start.

White people who are still trying to decide if such a thing as “white privilege” even exists – but who are willing to find out – may want to do as the author suggests: Skip to the appendices. Read/watch some of the other suggested resources. Listen to voices that are not white. Then, return to ponder with Jody Fernando what in the world to do.

For those who are beginning to see, and to uncover the defensiveness, fear and shame that accompany unacknowledged white privilege, this book is a gentle call, an I’ve-been-there-and-am-still-there call. It’s also a cry. It gives us a compelling reason to press in to the pain of facing what may seem so much easier to deny: What we white people don’t know about our whiteness is hurting everybody.

Pondering Privilege can help us in the scary and complex process of overcoming our white blindness. It can help us replace shame with humility, the crucial virtue that white privilege tells us we do not need.

I found Jody Fernando’s website, and then her book, during my own journey of recognizing white privilege and trying to understand what to do. We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church describes my awakening to white privilege before I ever knew the term.

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