Flickr photo by Daniel Lobo

Black is the New Black: White Privilege and White Fragility


By Matthew Rindge

In 1900, W. E. B. Du Bois declared that “the problem of the 20th century” would be “the problem of the color line.” His prediction is just as true for our 21st century. Black men and women in contemporary America are judged not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin. And for black Americans, such judgment is not merely hurtful or offensive. It is often fatal.

The number of African Americans killed because of their skin color is legion, and showing no signs of slowing down:

  • Michael Brown was shot to death by police in Ferguson, MO, for walking on a street.
  • Two days later, Ezell Ford was shot and killed by LAPD officers.
  • John Crawford was shot to death by police after he dropped a toy gun in an Ohio Walmart.
  • Jonathan Ferrell was shot 10 times and killed by Charlotte, NC police, while he sought medical aid after sustaining injuries in a car collision.
  • Eric Garner was suspected of selling untaxed cigarettes, and choked to death by the NYPD.

Many more human lives — not mere statistics — could be added to this tragic and unnecessary list.

This litany of unarmed, modern Emmett Tills is a reminder that in America, black is the new black. To be black is to bear in one’s own body an undeserving target, made permanently and indelibly visible by the color of one’s skin.

The scourge of lynching which plagued the American South has yet to come to a definitive end. It has certainly changed and evolved in many significant ways. What remains the same, however, is the identity of the victims of white brutality: black men, black women and black children. Accompanying the new Jim Crow in America is this not-so-new legal lynching.

Compounding the tragedy of American legal lynching is that it is often executed by people charged to serve and protect. Malcolm X had reason to quip that the KKK traded in their white hoods for police uniforms. When those who kill African Americans wear a badge, they usually are immune from justice.

It is on the altar of white fragility that these African American lives become involuntary sacrifices. For white fragility is the other side of the white privilege coin. One scholar has described white fragility as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.” Manifestations of white fragility abound in our culture.

White fragility is evident in the incessant claims of victim status by white people (usually men). A recent Pew study found that 50 percent of white evangelical Christians believe they face more discrimination than Blacks, Latinos, Jews, or Muslims. Notwithstanding the galactic gulf between such views and empirical evidence, this perception reflects a profound insecurity. Relevant to this anxiety is Nathan McCall’s observation: “Some white people are so accustomed to operating at a competitive advantage that when the playing field is level, they feel handicapped.”

White fragility is evident in recent efforts by school boards to whitewash American history by downplaying elements (such as slavery or even the civil rights movement) deemed too unsavory or unpatriotic.

White fragility is evident in the daily onslaught of hateful and irrational criticisms hurled at President Obama (what Frank Schaeffer called a “slow motion lynching”). President Obama has received three times as many threats on his life as former presidents.

White fragility is evident when Republican politicians (and now the Supreme Court) seek to make voting as difficult as possible for people of color.

White fragility is evident in the efforts to paint black victims of violence as the aggressors, and their killers as the victims. Such efforts follow the same revisionist script of John Ford’s westerns that depict European settlers as victims of Native American savagery.

White fragility is evident in tolerating white men who carry deadly weapons in public, but killing black people who do so. (African Americans in Chicago have actually been denied conceal carry licenses).

Just as sexual violence is a male problem, so too is racism a white problem. White Americans are complicit in — and the primary beneficiaries of — a system that dehumanizes and erases black lives. If Howard Zinn is correct that “our problem is civil obedience,” we white Americans ought to reflect on how we might protest in order to change a system that perpetuates misery for so many. Such protest is imperative for Christians who want their lives to reflect the Jesus they claim to worship.

Protesting against a powerful system was the primary and proximate cause of Jesus’ arrest and execution. The Jerusalem temple was the epicenter of economic, political, and religious power in Judea. Violence against it was not tolerated. And this is the one time in the Gospels—aside from a curious fig tree episode — that Jesus is physically violent (Mark 11:15-17). He throws out buyers and sellers, destroys tables (the Greek word katastrefō is closer to “destroy” than “overturn”), and somehow prevents people from carrying anything.

Jesus’ violence is relevant to our contemporary context because it was a protest against a system of ethnic segregation. Jesus concludes his violent actions by citing Isaiah 56:7 – “My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples/nations.” In its original context, the prophet Isaiah had argued that God would welcome ethnic foreigners into the temple and accept their offerings.

Yet the temple in Jesus’ day was ethnically segregated. Gentiles (non-Jews) were only allowed in the most exterior court. Ancient inscriptions warned Gentiles that they would be put to death if they passed beyond this exterior court. Gentiles were excluded from the court of Jewish women, the court of Jewish men, and the holy of holies. The temple in Jesus’ time was not a house of prayer for all peoples.

The one time Jesus expresses violence is to protest a powerful system of institutionalized racism. Christians fond of asking, “What would Jesus do,” can follow Jesus’ example by protesting and changing systems of racial injustice today.

We can aim for two specific goals: (1) establishing civilian oversight of local police departments throughout the country; and (2) providing economic reparations to descendants of former slaves (see the excellent case made by Ta-Nehisi Coates). The U.S. government gave over $1.6 billion to Japanese survivors of WWII internment camps and their families. We also have a moral — and economic — obligation to descendants of slaves. By meeting that responsibility we can begin atoning for our nation’s original and ongoing sin of racism.

Pursuing these acts of justice can move us closer — even if slightly — to realizing Langston Hughes’s vision:

O, yes,

I say it plain,

America never was America to me,

And yet I swear this oath—

America will be!

Join SpokaneFAVS for a Coffee Talk discussion on “Addressing Racism and Prejudices” at 10 a.m., Oct. 4 at Indaba Coffee Bar. Rindge is a panelist.

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Tracy Simmons

Matt, thank you for writing this. Looking forward to hearing you at Saturday’s Coffee Talk!

Les K

ROFLMAO. I needed a good laugh. and reading this tripe has done it. Do you do standup anywhere?

Jan Shannon

Les, if you have something to say in regards to Matt’s article, please say it. Your sarcastic and pointless comment does not further this conversation or provide us with a different viewpoint. All opinions are welcome here, but this comment is not an opinion…it’s really just a waste of space.

Les K

Jan, what’s truly is a waste of space is people giving this White Privilege, and “white fragility” any credibility at all. It’s a bad joke. But you want point, fine. I’ll take time out of my day to go over the stupidity of this article.

“White fragility is evident in the incessant claims of victim status by white people (usually men). Some white people are so accustomed to operating at a competitive
advantage that when the playing field is level, they feel handicapped.”
Complete and utter nonsense. Granted, Christians feel persecuted, and in many way they are because more people are sympathetic of Muslims and religious groups who behead people, than Christians, who all they want is the right to believe what they believe. Now, the competitive advantage comment? Show me whites with a competitive advantage. Whites don’t have Affirmative Action, whites don’t have NAACP, yet we have the competitive advantage? With Equal Opportunity Employment, everyone has the level playing field. And I’ve lost jobs to blacks, women, etc many times. Yet white men don’t have the built in excuse “It’s cause I’m black”, or “Cause I’m a woman I make less money”. According to you, White men have all the advantages, and these programs “level the playing field” Yet the field is still not level enough that if the white men get the job, its because it’s racist or sexist.

“White fragility is evident in the daily onslaught of hateful and
irrational criticisms hurled at President Obama (what Frank Schaeffer
called a “slow motion lynching”). President Obama has received three times as many threats on his life as former presidents.”
Obama is the 44th president of the US (not that I voted for him at any time) Out of the 43 other presidents, are you saying none of them ever had hateful and/or irrational criticisms hurled at him? Are you saying the continued hateful and irrational criticism that are STILL thrown at Bush, 6 years after the end of his Presidency, are justified? It is clear that people who believe in white privilege and fragility cannot and will not accept the fact that people dislike Obama because he is a crappy president, and has nothing to do with skin color. Their answer is “Of course its skin color, he’s the first black president.” This president has one built in defense that no other president in history has had, and that’s the Race Card, and he’s used it so often that the term Racist has no meaning anymore. You look at someone and say Hi, you can be called a racist now.

The fact is that Obama is the worst president to ever be elected to office has nothing to do with the color of his skin.

” racism a white problem” is probably the most ludicrous and contrived statement in this whole story. Granted, there is racism between whites and other races. The author says “White Americans are complicit in — and the primary beneficiaries of — a system that dehumanizes and erases black lives” when he says racism is a white problem. But the author seems to forget that Black people are racist against Whites, and as much or more racist against OTHER BLACKS. There is more black on white crime than white on black crime. There is more black on black crime than white on white crime.
Chris Rock asked the question years ago, “whose more racist, white people or black people? Answer: Black people, because they hate black people too.”

White privilege and fragility is a made up “problem” to once again give black people an excuse and someone to blame for their problems/issues. They don’t take responsibility for their actions, their lives, their circumstances and do something to change them. So they have to have someone to say “It’s their fault.” What makes is worse and will never help to improve the situation is when white people like this author play into it and try to give it validity. It just gives them more power to continue blaming whites for their problems.

Jan Shannon

Wow, you are obviously really upset by Matt’s article. I belive your passion might arise from having your White privilege (and male privilege from your comments) exposed. Since that was one of Mr Rindge’s main points, I think you have helped him make it quite clearly. You say you have been passed over for jobs by person of color who, you believe, were hired under the EOE mandate, which was put in place due to the overarching and systemic racism in America. Your statements in this area prove Matt’s theory that White people now complain that they are “handicapped” by EOE and similar policies.

As for your comments regarding President Obama, you quoted from the article, “President Obama has received three times as many threats on his life as former presidents.” but then you ignored the quote to ask your next question, “Out of the 43 other presidents, are you saying none of them ever had hateful and/or irrational criticisms hurled at him?” The answer is no, we are not saying that other presidents have not had criticisms hurled at them, we are saying that President Obma has had 3 times MORE death threats. All presidents get criticized, of course, and probably all receive death threats, which is a shame, but President Obama has not only endured those threats, at 3 times more the level, but has also had to endure the shameful and obscene racist comments that no other president has had to endure.

Have you no compassion for the Black Americans who have lived through 200+ years of systematic kidnapping, torture, rape, and brutality? Have you no understanding that it will take hundreds of years to repair and restore this Black/White relationship? Where is your heart??

Les K

You’re almost as funny as he is. You are trying to twist my words to make it sound like what you want me to have said.
I never said that I believed people hired over me was because of EOE. I said EOE levels the playing field. However, I said whites dont’ have NAACP, or Affirmative action. And even with these organizations backing them, that whites don”t have, blacks still claim that whites have more advantages. Whites are not handicapped by EOE, nor are we handicapped by NAACP and Affirmative action. That’s because we don’t rely on agencies and gov’t to put us into a job, we let our work history and work ethic speak for itself. I have never in my life had to have some agency fight my battles, or get me a job because I had to cry about my circumstances to get some sort of racial advantage.

That 3x the number of threats article by VOX? That’s the proof? Vox has been discredited so often it’s not even funny. The fact this guy would use them as a credible source is laughable.

As for Black Americans and their “Systematic kidnapping, torture, rape and brutality”, Do you know that the most ruthless slave owners prior to the civil war were black? The first slave owner in the US was black? That the blacks that were sold as slaves were sold by their African brothers? Or does that explain why the hatred of Black on Black is even more than that of Black on white?

Did you also know slavery existed long before America? Slaves go back almost as far as human history, but blacks only seem to care about what happened 200 years ago. And don’t even care about the hundreds of thousands of White men who died to free slaves in the Civil War.

So when does it become enough? Who decides? Leave it to black, and it will never be enough. Economic reparations are not going to just end this. It is time for them to stand on their own two feet and take responsibility for their life’s path. Enough with the white privilege BS.

Riff Mattre

Hi Matt,

Participating in FAVS has taught me a lot about myself. I think for me this topic is what discussing religion and politics in general is like for most people. My thoughts are not as well organized regarding race and prejudice and, therefore, I can become easily agitated when my logic and reason centers feel the topic is being unjustly served.

Your post caused this reaction in me and, for that, I must say thank you.

There isn’t much I agree with as stated in your post. That said, curiosity begs who is more sheltered from reality, you or me? (Perhaps the Coffee Talk will enlighten.)

Opening statements as: “The number of African Americans killed because of their skin color is legion, and showing no signs of slowing down: Michael Brown was shot to death by police in Ferguson, MO, for walking on a street.” send my logic centers off the charts.

Fifty years ago, one-hundred years ago, one-hundred-fifty years ago, I do not doubt the dominant illness of our society was absolute prejudice along strict racial lines.

Today, our dominant illness is more FEAR of difference and the unknown.

By default, any majority can afford a complacent luxury in avoiding diversity. This is a weakness, a ‘fragility,’ in any arena. THIS is the dominant issue I believe we must choose to boldly address in our culture. Invoking the violence of Jesus as call to protest is naiveté by my experience. Do not incite the ignorant. Help to educate them, instead.

Perhaps we can ask Apple to manufacture a ‘police issue’ Apple Watch to collect biometrics tracking officer fear levels responding to minorities compared to caucasians?

Liv Larson Andrews

Hey Matt! i think this piece is excellent and on point. Langston Hughes – oh, what a voice. To claim both the truth that this land is not freedom for so many and yet he also claims a future in which it is. This is our task. I can’t be with you all on Saturday because I’ll be coming home from a family funeral. But I will think of you and pray for everyone: that we be kind and calm and good to each other even as we speak of things that make our pulses rise.
The peace of Christ be with you.


Liv, we are going to ‘try’ and take audio on Saturday!

Matt Rindge

Thanks, Liv. Hughes is a poetical genius.

Eric Blauer

“Michael Brown was shot to death by police in Ferguson, MO, for walking on a street.”
Wait, did that trial happen already?

Riff Mattre

Hello again, Matt.

Just a brief follow up since giving this more thought before and after the Coffee Talk … I think what aggravates me about your presentation on racism in America is that it fails to draw distinction between actions originating in ignorance, fear, frustration, and anger (‘fragility’) versus actions originating out of ingrained hatred (blatant prejudice/bigotry).

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I most definitely would not be one to say that ingrained hatred along racial lines no longer exists in America. However, to lump all such unjust killings of racial minorities into a category of intentional lynching seriously hampers efforts to correct what I believe to be the more predominant problem today of unjust actions committed due lack of skill, discernment, knowledge, and understanding. Someone making the mistake (as I have) of action based upon irrational, unconscious prejudice is not equivalent to a conscious act of prejudicial hatred. It IS common human experience to fear difference and the unknown. I believe tackling THIS common ground is our greatest hope for rapid, effective change in this arena.

And, personally, I believe if Jesus were alive today, He would not be storming any temples. It’s my guess He would be using the Internet to get our attention.
Sincerely, thanks again for challenging me to attempt tackling something that has nagged at me for quite some time. I am truly motivated to add my efforts to this crucial cause.

Matt Rindge

Hi Riff,

I don’t think it’s possible to neatly separate the “ignorance, fear, frustration, and anger” from the “actions originating out of ingrained hatred.” I think the former often fuel the latter.

Yes, I agree, fear of the unknown and the “Other” is a prevalent problem. However, I also think there’s a danger in reducing racism in the U.S. to this element. Because in doing so we can avoid the concrete historical backdrop to racism and the multiple ways it is enacted in our society (e.g. with the criminal justice system, sentencing, jail terms, death row, etc.).

I think it’s hard to know what Jesus might do today. What is clear is that he acted violently to oppose a racist system of segregation.


Riff Mattre

Thanks for the reply, Matt.

Here are my thoughts:

Is there difference between minds open to learning and minds made up? If not, your reasoning is sound. If there is difference, logic dictates we measure judgment accordingly. There is no neat separation. Ignorance, fear, frustration, anger, prejudice, racism ARE the fuel of hatred. It is a linear progression (ignorance mutating into hatred) that can only be viewed as a spectrum with no absolute dividing lines.

The origination of racism IS ignorance. The history of racism is not denied by acknowledging this fact. The point is, you do not treat a person in critical condition the same as the person surrounded by a pathogen but uncertain of infection. If a person is surrounded by deadly germs they must be educated as to how to protect themselves lest they act foolishly, fall prey to the disease, become ill and slowly die. The person who falls prey to infection out of ignorance, fear, frustration, and anger is not the same as the person who intentionally contracts the disease with intent of infecting others. The analogy is sound.

Hatred is a disease. The final cure to hatred (and its symptoms) is when we each CHOOSE to look INTO questions rather than AT questions; INTO fear rather than AT fear; INTO people rather than AT people. While seemingly counterintuitive, this prescription applies to the hateful, the racist, the prejudiced, as well as the marginalized, the abused, and the victimized. How could it be any other way? Jesus also said, “Love your enemies… For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same?” Loving our enemies does not mean we roll over and become pacifists.

If you invoke Jesus’ actions in this matter as underscore for action, I concede your point. If you invoke His violence in any way as method for action, I strongly disagree except when necessary to counter violence. Because your piece did not clarify this, I took exception.

Again, you have motivated my own personal investigation. THANK YOU!

Jan Shannon

Matt, it was refreshing to hear the White male on the panel present the idea of White fragility, because it would be too easy for all the detractors to shout down this perspective if it had been stated only by the persons of color on the panel.
As I stated at Coffee Talk, I’ve seen first-hand the overt racism of the South, and experienced the more insidious forms of “ignorance” on this issue by those who choose to remain ignorant rather than confront their own prejudice. Until we, the privileged many, become available to hear the voice that we have systemically stifled for so long, we will remain in our supposed ignorance, but I do not believe it is true ignorance. There is a difference between ignorance and stupidity; the former is a lack of information while the latter is an inability to process that information. You can fix ignorance, if you choose to, the question is, will we choose to.
Thanks for being that strong voice. Thanks also for your humility – it didn’t fall on deaf ears when you said that you choose to live where your girls are best served and safe, and that living in the mean streets takes courage. Good on ya. Humility is a good place for all of us to start this conversation…and all others. Blessings!

Riff Mattre

Hi Jan,
Do you agree a lot of folks are AFRAID to explore diversity on their own? I don’t believe solving interracial and cultural ignorance is just about opening Wikipedia and reading information. I’ve found it’s more about EXPERIENCING people first hand who look, act, and think differently from ourselves. Only then do we truly learn to tame fear. I agree racism is the problem of the majority. How can we help encourage and support people to step out of their comfort zones and grow in this experience?

Jan Shannon

Riff, yeah, walking in someone else’s shoes has never been comfy, and most of us are all about our comfort. I wrote quite a long response to Tracy’s post about the Coffee Talk, the post she wrote after the Talk, so I don’t want to reiterate all of my remarks here (I’m too lazy to retype it) but basically we either refuse to listen, or we listen and then argue about what we heard. We need to give in to the Others’ viewpoint in order to understand it, but most of us “listen in order to frame a response” which isn’t really listening. Fear is the big wall we all fall behind, but walls are getting us nowhere.
I think we can help and encourage people to step out by modeling it ourselves…I really know of no other way.

Riff Mattre

I agree. Step into fear. Lead by example. Imagine ourselves in others’ shoes. Give into viewpoints we know to be erroneous if only to understand how another might have gotten so lost in the first place. Maybe then we can hear. THX!

Matt Rindge

Thanks, Jan. You’re right – just as it’s important for men to be at the forefront of critiquing sexual violence, I think it is crucial for white people to do the same w/ racism, esp. regarding fixing systemic and structural policies that perpetuate misery for people of color.

Thank you. I don’t know if it was humility (re: lack of courage), but I do think it is important to give voice to the human parts of us that play such a vital role in the various decisions we make. I don’t do that enough.


Eric Blauer

I read this article this morning that adds a whole other narrative to the complex issue: http://www.ancient-origins.net/ancient-places-africa/white-slaves-barbary-002171

Jan Shannon

I learned this in middle school, I believe. There has always been slavery, perpetrated against all manner of people, but our conversation at Coffee Talk was not about slavery or even international mores regarding racism, rather, today’s talk centered on White privilege and Racism as it occurs here in America. If we conflate the argument, and muddy the waters as a result, we will only serve to continue the pain of our friends of color. We must drill down into the painful root of the problem in order to excise the infection and apply and kind of healing balm. Part of that drilling down is for us White Americans to admit that we do indeed hold privileges that others in our society, though they are equal in God’s eyes in every way, do not.

Say it loud, say it strong, “We were wrong, we were wrong, we were wrong!”

Eric Blauer

Actually the topic was: Racism and prejudice. The panel guests and writers chose to talk about their views on white privilege. A point that is free to debate and dialogue about from whatever angle one chooses. It’s a multifaceted, complex problem.

Jan Shannon

Ah, you’re right. My bad.

Eric Blauer

First I want to thank you for being part of the panel at the Coffee Talk, you presented your views and thoughts with clarity, conviction and depth and that is courageous. I appreciate someone who is willing to throw and take punches in a battle with injustice.

The difficulty in so much of these types of engagements be they online or face to face is the challenge of forced brevity and lack of reflective dialogue. It’s the unfortunate problem of non-relational dialogue, we just don’t have the time to hash it out together. That means one is left to the good or ill of the immediate presentations of ones thoughts or feelings in the comments one makes.

Since the Coffee Talk didn’t allow for much interaction between panel and crowd, my comments felt unresolved and had an unintentional result, which I wanted to resolve and didn’t get the right moment to do so. I’ll say it publicly here, since I couldn’t there. I am sorry if my comments were too forceful or barbed towards you. Upon reflection I left feeling like the position I was trying to present got diluted by the brashness of my tone.

I don’t see you as an opponent, or our Coffee Talk as “foolish and stupid arguments” but this verse is important for me to tether myself to since I am prone to burn in the prophetic gifting hotter than is needed and I can end up burning down the house instead of creating light.

2 Timothy 2:23-25:
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth…”

Forgive me if any of that happened as a result of our interaction. I appreciate your voice, even though we disagree on some issues. When we take steps in East Central to create a “table” to invite people together to work on these important matters here, I hope you will feel welcome to help us towards those goals.

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[…] Matthew Rindge | Originally Published at Spokane Faith and Values October 26th 2014 | Flickr photo by Daniel […]


White people evoking the idea of white privilege need to consider the possibility they are suffering from mental illness associated with self loathing. Much like people that cut themselves, suffer low self esteem, survivor’s guilt or those contemplating suicide, those who suffer guilt about their race are likely suffering a form of mental illness. White people are no better or worse than anybody else. They don’t enjoy any more privilege or any more challenge than anybody else. White privilege is not a social problem. It is an individual mental issue.


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