DLGP

Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

I Was Born into White Privilege Between Selma and Birmingham

Written by: on September 9, 2021

Raised in Alabaster, Alabama, I spent the first six years of my life in between Selma and Birmingham. These two places that hold great significance in the fight for equal rights for Black Americans; Selma for the second march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, in response to Bloody Sunday, hundreds marched from Montgomery in solidarity; Birmingham for the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the bus boycotts, and the historically horrifying images of the police dogs unleashed on peaceful protestors while others were knocked down with high-powered fire hoses.

Many white Americans believe that racism changed with the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, my earliest childhood memories vividly contradict such a notion as I witnessed the systemic prejudice against my Black classmates, sports team members, and friends. I am privileged to have grown up in a household with two parents that talked about and did not tolerate a notion of racism.

And yet, I must check my silver-lined memories of my childhood, recognizing that I am the beneficiary of a white privilege. My upbringing, education, upward mobility, economic comfort, and vocational opportunities are a blueprint to the continued existence of inequity, systemic racism, and delusions of cultural progressions.

Now serving a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I do not see evidence that racism is in our past and equity exists for all people. Take, for example, Louisiana’s education system, which was the last state to force integration. The response from the white community was to start hundreds of private schools, continuing to underfund the public school system. As a result, Louisiana ranks last or second to last in almost in upward mobility, education, and economic opportunity, with the black community disproportionally suffering the greatest. America’s greatest sin is an ever-present reality in Louisiana.

Over the summer, I led a book club with University Baptist Church (UBC) on Jemar Tisby’s latest book, “How to Fight Racism.” The participants ranged in ages, but all were born and raised in Louisiana. It was fascinating to hear the diversity of stories and recognition of the myriad of ways we are not beyond racism, how participants unwillingly have contributed to inequity, and what our church’s role has been in all of this.

There has been this fascinating narrative at UBC that since they were the first white church to accept black members in the 1960s, they have been a leading voice against racism. The church even opened its doors to a neighboring black church that lost its property to the flood of 2016. However, our book conversations uncovered a different story that has not seen the equal treatment of ethnic minorities regarding leadership opportunities, higher ranking staffing roles, and membership inclusion. The group recognized that its “open arms” to black community members are often done paternalistically rather than with equality.

The challenge was to move the group from the crippling and blinding notion of guilt into contemplative action, considering a fair and just way to expand this conversation to the entire congregation, own our systemic transgressions against our black members, and collaborate in understanding how to create a more inclusive future.

About the Author

mm

Andy Hale

CBF Podcast Creator and Host, Senior Pastor of University Baptist Church (Baton Rouge, Louisiana), & Professional Coach

7 responses to “I Was Born into White Privilege Between Selma and Birmingham”

  1. Andy, I greatly appreciate your perspective and experience as a pastor in Baton Rouge. I’m grateful for the work you’re doing to open avenues for discussion and healing. The last church I served at simply avoided this conversation, particularly pre-George Floyd. But even their recent attempts have been curated and somewhat scripted. I like your discussion approach, and giving spaces for honest reflection. Excited to connect further. Go Vols!

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Thank you for your post and honest reflection. While the state of MT is largely white (89%), you are certainly front and center with the blessings, and challenges, brought on by racial diversity. I especially appreciate our conclusion, being challenged to consider how to move from a place of guilt to contemplative action. I pray the Lord give you favor in these continued endeavors, all of which are undoubtedly centered around gospel.

  3. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    I appreciate the insight into your upbringing and transparency of how you processed (and likely still do) your white-privilege while living within a diverse population. Being confronted on a daily with the disparities your local black population faces, I’d love to hear more about how you navigate that while leading a congregation. Did you find after the book club with UBC this summer that those who participated were inspired towards any particular action steps in fighting racism? Do you think it will be something that begins/continues to infiltrate the other ministries out of your church? Thanks for the share!

    • mm Andy Hale says:

      Kayli,

      Thank you.

      Yes, the group is continuing to work towards what this means for our congregation. In addition, the group is working on action steps for expanding the conversation to the entire congregation.

      It has opened many people’s eyes to how we approach our international ministry, a group that has typically operated on an island unto themselves. Our children and youth ministries are leading the way with inclusion and equity for our international participants.

      We have also had some rather difficult conversations on our governing board about how UBC considers people members of the congregation, which ultimately leads to eligibility for leadership. Whether intentionally or not, many of our internationals were not given equal opportunity to join the church. As a result, our leadership cannot be more diverse because they are not yet considered members.

  4. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Andy, thanks for sharing the experience of growing up in the south on this side of the Civil Rights movement and the progress still needed to move forward. I grew up in rural New Jersey, and heard of white privilege and I was sure there where people to whom that applied, but not to me. We weren’t affluent, so what privilege did I have? It wasn’t until moving to Utah that I lived as a faith minority and discovered first-hand how much the entire culture is tilted in the direction of the majority. Long-held assumptions find affirmation from most people, so it must be true, right? May the realizations of racism drive us to examine our own hearts and “walk humbly with our God.”

Leave a Reply