Since writing, We Confess! The Civil War, the South, and the Church – and now working on a documentary film based on this book – I’ve heard lots of statements similar to the title of the 2010 post in which blogger Abagond offers a response we whites may not want to hear, but desperately need to know.
For generations, we’ve let our own defensiveness keep us from acknowledging and addressing what we’ve been party to and/or benefited from that deeply hurts whole groups of people and deeply offends God. Yet, much as we may try to do so, we cannot buy ourselves “a pass from American history,” nor from the racist fallout still occurring today.
Many of us don’t even see that we’re clinging to privilege (and fear and pride), but we’re all experiencing the results of it. For privilege built on grave injustice may seem a blessing, but always carries a curse.
Profound denial will keep us in a cycle of hurting ourselves, mistreating others and misrepresenting God. The only way out is to do what Abagond suggests: face up to these things and seek God’s ways to truly set them right.
“My family never owned slaves” is something you hear White Americans say. Although not racist in itself it has the effect of turning a blind eye towards racism.
The statement by itself is true for most whites: even back in slave days in 1860 fewer than 2% of whites owned slaves! Slaves cost way too much for most people and in half the country it was against the law. On top of that millions of whites came to America long after the slaves were freed, like most Italians and Jews.
The trouble with the statement is not its truth but how it is used: to cut white people off from history. When they say black people live in the past and need to give the slave thing a rest, they are making the very same argument: history does not matter, it somehow magically does not affect anyone alive now. If we are affected at all by history it is only through our families, nothing else.
That is wishful thinking. America’s slave past still profoundly affects its present. Most white people, it seems, refuse to see that: it makes them uncomfortable. By saying “My family never owned slaves” they are trying to buy themselves a pass from American history, both past and present …