Close your eyes and imagine a fire fighter, then a police officer. Next, imagine Santa Claus. Take in what you see.
Imagine, Jesus. Yep, we all saw that same one, didn’t we? Long blondish-medium brown locks and blue eyes? Why is that – when, at the time and place He was born, He would have been the only ‘white’ person in the region?
Let’s take it to another level.
When our eyes are open, look at what we see all around us and what we have seen historically in our:
Think of all those portraits along the walls of legislatures, libraries, courthouses that we all walk by
This is only the beginning of trying to define our world’s cultural reference point called ‘white default’. This simple exercise of closing eyes to imagine our world in everyday fashion is quite effective for beginning the understanding of why we see things differently.
Despite the origins of people of color in our Western areas and those added willingly or not, our world is still awash in ‘whiteness’, particularly in positions of authority. We need to be asking why is that and not pass it off with simplistic replies of convenience or avoidance.
I admit I only heard this term ‘white default’ not that long ago, thanks to a note on Twitter. It made me realize how deeply the teachings of my life had been ingrained in me without conscious or critical thought. Which, given some of what I’ve lived as an Indigenous person is saying quite a bit.
I read an article explaining this phenomenon of recent understanding in Salon Magazine called, “How can white Americans be free”? The writer, Kartina Richardson, said that, “The default belief that the white experience is a neutral and objective one hurts both white and American culture”. I suggest that’s very applicable to most of the world. She goes on:
“…The beginning; in the beginning there was Whiteness. This is the glittering starting point. This is The Default. This is what we measure everything else against”.
“Whites are free from the constant awareness (and subsequent constant paranoia) of existing in another person’s world. Because The Default has so successfully dominated our subconscious, because our egos have been shaped by it from the moment of birth, we perpetuate it in micro ways while fighting inequality with more obvious actions”.
We know this though, right? Because we did the eyes closed exercise and saw what we did.
Let’s close our eyes again and this time, let’s imagine all those portraits in those fine institutional halls as brown or black. Pay attention to your reaction as your imagination walks by them. Now, picture Jesus as black or brown, how does that feel? Odd, strange, uncomfortable? And yet, the likelihood that that is how He actually looked is 100%. Still, that is unacceptable for a large swath of people, Christians or not. Interesting, no?
It’s that discomfort, one must realize, that is felt every day from the other side of the ‘unwashed’ fence, as in the not whitewashed, people of color. This is what is at the centre of the differences. It’s only the beginning of why there really isn’t a level playing field for all to prosper and succeed.
Kartina expands the thought as this: “Whiteness as The Default keeps brown people in subjugation by convincing them that every part of their being, physical, spiritual and emotional, exists within a white narrative. When you are made to exist within something you are forced to be smaller than that which contains you. This is precisely the basis of racist thought. Brown existence, brown consciousness is smaller”.
I have certainly come to know what she is talking about. I have encountered that first-hand, particularly by some people who thought I was getting ‘uppity’ when I began to write about the inequities and misconceptions about Indigenous peoples. What I wrote was somehow seen as an attack and yet, I merely gave factual details to update old ideas and misconceptions. Even that much myth-busting was too unsettling for some.
It showed me how strongly some people want to believe in the notion of their worlds, as opposed to what actually is.
How bizarre is it really though, when people of color are told their Creator is really a white guy who was actually born black or brown?
These demands to adhere to the whitewash are currently sealed into the cement of our societies. This is why it is so damned hard to get past the barriers that should not have been there in the first place, especially for the peoples who are the original inhabitants of said lands. The fear of change and/or difference is at the heart of the need to keep plugging on this issue.
We know change is hard, even for the better. It’s not that white people are being asked to change their visions of Jesus or Santa, but mainly to revise the idea that only their visions can be trusted for themselves and for the rest of the world.
Those are the very thoughts that have created the environments we’ve been working to change for centuries now. This is what affects how people of color may or may not succeed in these standards set by white default.
It means that we have to consciously check our own thoughts and the statements we teach our children with, until that one magical day when the norm for our societies is equal representation in all those areas of everyday life and authority.
If you’re still not convinced that we have to actively pursue true color-blindness when it comes to true equality, check out this latest report published in the New York Times on January 3rd called, “Racial Bias, Even When We Have Good Intentions”. Even blind tests produce the sadly expected results.
We really need to get to work, people.
KING: Dylann Roof’s journal once again shows the danger in the myth of white Jesus
White people… “are conditioned to the myth of white superiority from the moment … in fact, before birth, we are conditioned to the myth of white superiority” – Jane Elliott
For those interested in exploring privileges from a non-Indigenous viewpoint, I recommend a great organization working hard for mutual understanding: http://www.truepartnership.org/white-privilege/
An excellent article on White Fragility: White Women’s Tears and the Men Who Love Them
“I like to think we can get to the point that white is not best, nor is it worst, but simply that colors are equal. It’s so odd to me that such a simple idea is such a difficult endeavour.”
And so threatening. Seriously, I’ve come across people who are completely hostile to the idea. I suspect it’s because they’re afraid, and it forces them to think outside of the commonly accepted frame of reference that you speak of.
Thanks for your thoughts Tony. I have to say, the sense of threat is quite palpable from various areas that I serve in. There is no true impending doom except a shift in perception and behaviors, and yet…
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It’s hard to see one’s own blind spots (or in this case, non-colourblind ones). It’s even harder and a more complicated task to point out others’. Thank you for pointing them out, though, and for challenging me and others to work more on our unquestioned perspectives. I get very excited when I read a post like this one.
I appreciate your willingness to take up the challenge, small as it is, but I was also so surprised at my own reactions too. Even those of us who are willing for change, have to realize that even we have a lot to work out within ourselves at accepting new images.
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Thanks for the article. It’s hard to assume anything after living in one of the black townships of South Africa where you are the one in two million who is not black. When children cling to mum’s skirt pointing at you wide eyed in fear as you walk through the mall. When, during the rush hour, the other 18 people in the 14 passenger van try not to stare and a huge silence hangs in the air and you know it is because you are “different”. When you go to church on Sunday, dance with the other women in the circle, then at the end of the hymn. hear one of the other women you had been dancing with, come out with an incredulous, “You have rhythm!” (Don’t stereotype I replied and then we all burst out in laughter.) It was also shocking to see that same picture of Jesus with blond hair and blue eyes that was produced around 1960 hanging in the same spot at the back of the church. I had assumed a darker skinned Jesus in that place.
I so enjoyed your comment, Rev. What a great way to point out that other side. I had to laugh at the rhythm comment too. Didn’t they know you’re a drummer! 🙂
Morgan Freeman had the right idea when the interviewer asked him how are we going to get rid of racism , when he said, you stop referring to me as a black man and I will not call you a white man.
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Wow. Super potent and what a way to dive into 2015. As a person of color, even though I was born in the Philippines, I too was indoctrinated into the white default.. probably because we had the Spanish colonizing us for hundreds of years. It is definitely something to become aware to and shift. Another paradigm to turn on it’s head. (I recently watched Big Hero 6- the Disney animated feature- and I loved that the lead characters were of different ethnic backgrounds, black, asian, white, hispanic, etc. and the movie seemed to take for granted that is how the world is colored. I want more of that in the real world.) Great post, Robyn!
In the bible it said he had skin of bronze and hair of wool. I doubt his eyes were blue. Many people claim they read the bible, but they misinterpret the words. You cant create your own image of jesus.
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You have no idea how much I appreciate your thoughts and insight, Diahann. As I mentioned to feverdreams earlier, I was as surprised as anyone at what I had accepted as norms that don’t belong, or more to the point, how weirdly uneasy I felt while strolling those imagined halls too. I suspect I’ve hit another nerve for readers in this post too, because although I’m getting the reads, I am not getting our normal comment or even like numbers. Yes, that could be a lack of interest, but my gut is telling something different. Oh well, my soul compels me and I’ve no choice in writing it, if I want any peace. 🙂
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Caesar Borgier is the man who is in the pictures with the thirnes on his head. He was an Ethiopian long ago who had deceived people by telling them he was jesus. Thats why god said not to worship any false images. He gave us an idea of what jesus looked like, but in all reality no one has ever layed eyes on him.
First of all, I know this is not on target, but I LOVE your new gorgeous photo, Kindred!
Yes, I agree, we all need to work harder at being color blind. But I’d also like to add that I find it to be racist to assume that all white people are racists. (I’m talking about the aftermath of the Ferguson shooting.) SOME people may do things that are not kind, nice, or honorable, and THEY are a disgrace to their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, nationality, job description, etc. We all need to realize that EACH OF US are a representative of whatever “category” we are, (i.e., race, religion, gender, etc.) and if we don’t put on our best face and behave in a way that is kind, WE are giving a message to some that ALL of us are bad. Lovely post, my friend! Once again, it showcases your beautiful soul. 🙂
Beyond just the ridiculous idea of presenting Jesus as white in the first place was presenting him as blonde and blue eyed. The preconceived idea of “physical perfection” runs deep and goes beyond ethnic boundaries only. That was a very subtle supremacist i plant, even for that time. A way to feed the up and coming minds with something relatable so that the digestion would be simpler. The fact that I grew up in the South and know many people who still buy into it is what is glaringly sad. Thanks for your post.
Thanks so much for reading this one and sharing your thoughts. I really, really appreciate when someone states their ideas on these subjects. It’s such an area of contention and even contradictions.