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Lamenting the Plague of Whiteness

Editor's Note: The following post reflects on the concept of 'whiteness' - not a skin colour or race, but as an ideology that equates lighter skinned people with spiritual maturity and civilization, and then uses this ideology to harm both creation and other humans. We invite you to read it and reflect on how this kind of ideology may be present in your own life and community.

The day we denied Earth’s life:
The day we denied our own.
God’s Image shatters in strife
Christ’s blood spills on floors, my home,
Along with children of God.
Sacred blood soaks sacred land
Thick. This lush system we trod
Blind to the red on each hand.

How long O Lord will You bleed?
Whence endless store does life come?
How much longer do You need?
To finish what will be done.
‘Strange providence’ it may be
Or Your sardonic pleasure. 
Torn flesh – aching to be free 
Or submits without measure.

Can we see life in the Earth
Again? See Thy will anew?
Our denial turn to mirth?
Your Image reflect what’s true?
How long O Lord will You bleed?
Whence endless store does love come?
Avenge the Earth! Strike that greed.
Forgive weak bodies undone.

In his great work, The Christian Imagination: Theology and The Origins of Race, Willie Jennings argues, “The deepest theological distortion taking place is that the earth, the ground, spaces and places are being removed as living organizers of identity and as facilitators of identity.” [1] This distortion is an essential component of what Jennings calls a diseased theological imagination, namely whiteness. 

In this paper, “Can White People be Saved?” Jennings argues that “whiteness as a way of being in the world has been parasitically joined to a Christianity that is also a way of being in the world. It was the fusion of these two realities that gave tragic shape to Christian faith in the New World.” [2] For Jennings, whiteness is not a skin colour. It is a theological lens which colours one’s view of the world and bends one’s body and life towards a deformed view of maturity. This view separates that which is considered immature - such as  barren land and worldviews of brown bodies - from the mature - civilized land and enlightenment of lighter skinned individual citizens. The above variation of a Filipino Tanaga is a lament over the plague of whiteness covering the earth. 

The above variation of a Filipino Tanaga is a lament over the plague of whiteness covering the earth. 

Thankfully my own relationship to the land remedied this plague to some extent. My bi-racial family grew up on an acreage in rural Alberta. Since we did not have much material wealth, we relied on the land. For me the prairie sunsets, the golden crops, the overhead Canadian geese proclaimed the sacred life of creation, a life I was intrinsically part of. Feeling the life of a goat leaving its body as I struggled to hold it down and seeing its blood soak into the sacred ground left a spiritual impression on my soul. 

At the same time, I was far from immune to the plague. I was blind to the implications of this distortion especially in regards to the peoples the Creator had first nursed on this land. As my knowledge increased concerning the extent of this plague, so did my sorrow. Grief and weariness grew as I communed with children of God experiencing poverty, homelessness and injustice. I became angry at people who closely resembled whiteness. I was angry at God who allowed it to happen. 

In my studies, I recently came across a Mohegan Preacher named Samson Occom. He thoroughly resisted this plague of whiteness even as it gobbled up the land of his people. In the midst of this plague, Occom believed that God in Christ Jesus, the providential one, was with his people amid their despair and suffering. By some extraordinary faith, he believed that colonization was somehow part of the ‘strange providence’ of God, who made him both Indigenous and a Christian. [3] Occom’s words, wisdom, and resistance allowed me to breathe again.  I lament not to some void or empty space, but to the Spirit of Christ who is my hope, who hears us, who bleeds with creation.

[1] Willie James Jennings, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2010), 39. 

[2]  Willie James Jennings, “Can ‘White’ People Be Saved?” in Can “White" People Be Saved? : Triangulating Race, Theology, and Mission (ed. Love L. Sechrest, et al; InterVarsity Press, 2018), 27.

[3]  Joanna Brooks and Jay Clayton, American Lazarus : Religion and the Rise of African-American and Native American Literatures (New York: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2003), 84

Photo provided by the author.


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