‘No White Man Is Innocent’

One night William Stringfellow dreamed that he was stabbed with a knife on 125th Street in Harlem, at the hands of a black man who had asked him for a light. Stringfellow then lived in Harlem not far from there. He was a white man who graduated from Harvard Law School and, in 1956, promptly put his training to use in the streets. He was doing his part. Yet it was clear to him in the dream, he later wrote, that “the murder was retribution.” Further: “No white man is innocent.”

The re-emergence during the past year of outrage over racial injustice has prompted many white people to wonder what they might do. What policies might one propose and advocate to combat economic inequality along the lines of skin color? What condolence might one offer to the victims of mass incarceration?

A leader in the Black Lives Matter protests, Alicia Garza, has said, “We need you defecting from white supremacy and changing the narrative of white supremacy by breaking white silence.” But well-meaning speaking-out can have its hazards, too. Another activist’s exasperated blog post, titled “Dear White Protestors,” repeats as a refrain, “This is NOT about you.”

Much of Stringfellow’s output as a lay theologian takes up the challenge of what can usefully be said by white allies about racism in the United States of America. (He died 30 years ago this month; a collection of his writings, Essential Writings, is now available from Orbis Press.) Stringfellow wrote from the echoes of Harlem, the North’s subtler but no less cruel counterpart to the Jim Crow South. Harlem taught him a theology of the demonic principalities—institutions, ideologies, idolatries—that lure us into the dominion of death. Racism, as a principality, is not an aberration of a few cross-burning racists but a condition that manifests itself most pervasively among those who pretend to be innocent of it. Again, “No white man is innocent.”

“If you want to do something,” Stringfellow told an audience of concerned members of the clergy in 1963, “the most practical thing I can tell you is: weep.”

This was both a reprimand and a policy proposal. The challenge before white people was not more ingenuity or eloquence but, as he wrote in My People Is the Enemy, “they must surrender their prerogative of decision.” It is for the people who know injustice best, by having suffered it, to choose the path of liberation and lead the way. It is for white people to follow and to relinquish the privileges of supremacy. “The preface to reconciliation,” he continued, is when white people begin “risking their lives and the future of this society in the hands of the Negroes.”

Though I have no statistics on the matter, the bylines and photographs that tend to appear in this magazine suggest that its readership is far more white than the actual makeup of the Catholic population in the country today. I wonder if to such an audience Stringfellow’s words ring as scandalously today as they did in the early 1960s. They ring at least as true.

Partly in anticipation of the coming papal encyclical on the environment, I have been meeting with a group that seeks to support those on the front lines of the climate crisis, who are disproportionately people of color. We shared a supper recently with a group of organizers in the Black Lives Matter movement. This society heaps on our communities the waste it can’t put anywhere else, they reminded us. Yet in the white-dominated environmental movement, their voices remain on the margins.

White people have managed not only to reap the profits from climate change, and to predominate among its deniers, but also to weaken efforts to stop it by making others feel unwelcome. As the journalist and activist Naomi Klein has written, “White supremacy is the whispered subtext of our entire response to the climate crisis, and it badly needs to be dragged into the light.”

William Stringfellow had a tragic tenor to his white ally-ship, but he also sought to be a Christian in it. (He was an Episcopalian, to be precise.) He affirmed the gospel of life as much as he railed against the kingdom of death. And he believed them to be integrally related.

“My hope,” he wrote, “begins in the truth that America is Babylon.” Only when we recognize our fallenness is there the possibility of redemption. “The good news is relative to the veracity of the bad news.”

Henry George
1 year 11 months ago
Why is anyone in America Magazine referred to by the tincture of their skin ? We are all humans. Most "White People" are innocent of racism. It is poverty, not racism that destroys lives. Most "White People" do not force anyone to drop out of school. Most "White People " do not force anyone to have children they cannot afford, Most "White People" do not encourage anyone to take drugs. Most "White People" do not control the economy or the government. All of the above goes for most Americans. The elite that control this country and who are pushing more and more people into poverty are to blame. Please write about them and stop blaming the vast majority of "White People" who are not guilty of any racial prejudice whatsoever.
Tom Fields
1 year 11 months ago
You are correct. Nathan Schneider is a "fellow traveler" continuing the ideological narrative of "white guilt". The horror is that it hurts the very people it purports to help.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

It's surprising to me to see the eagerness found in this and other comments here to see sin as a purely individual phenomenon, as something only present in someone else. I think one of the most important things Stringfellow recognized about sin is the way it works collectively, the way it infects us all, and how we share its stain. This is essential for understanding a society in which racism is in many respects illegal, and most people personally object to it, yet racist outcomes are everywhere—such as the disproportionate effects of evils like predatory loans and mass incarceration in black communities. In many cases, the people participating in these practices don't want to be racist, yet we have to untangle the ways in which we nevertheless are.

In light of the gospel, also, recognizing shared sinfulness is not the end, but the beginning. Through it, we can begin to accept the divine grace of love, and its profound demands for our lives and our societies. The innocent have no need for this.

Martin Eble
1 year 11 months ago
It should not be surprising to see, in a Catholic milieu, sin considered a purely individual phenomenon. Sin is individual, we are all judged individually. Yes racist outcomes are everywhere, on the part of blacks as well as whites. We live in societies, and societies have tendencies which persist over centuries. But we deal with them as individuals by making individual choices in our own lives, not by adopting Stringfellow’s “no white man is innocent”, which in itself is a manifestation of racism. By taking his approach Stringfellow was paradoxically perpetuating racism by seeing things in terms of skin color. Had he said something like “all men are sinners”, you would not be getting any pushback.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

It's absolutely true that "all men are sinners," and Stringfellow's perception of "white men" is a subset of that. But it's not an irrelevant point of emphasis. I think this poster explains the matter poignantly.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 11 months ago
Re your Poster When Willis Sutton, a noted bank robber, was asked why he robbed banks and he replied "That is where the money is". If you asked a police officer of any race why more minorities are arrested than whites does anyone think the answer would be "white racism, privilege and supremacy"? More than likely the reply would be "That is where the crime is." Racism Michael Brown was a huge, 18 year old adult, not a teenager, and a thug after being caught on a camera robbing a store and assaulting the owner. The evidence showed that he assaulted the police officer, was wounded while attempting to gain possession of the officer's gun, refused to obey the officers commands to stop, charged the officer and was fatally shot by the officer in the line of duty.. Eric Garner was a very large small time crook with numerous arrests. He knew the drill, hands behind your back, handcuffed, taken to the police station and released with a desk ticket, maybe 3 hours at the most. The video clearly shows that Mr.Garner resisted the police's efforts to handcuff him and physical force was used to subdue him which led to his unfortunate death. Both of these men would be alive today, possibly in jail, had they simply obeyed the policeman's orders. Unfortunately, media sources are painting these petty crooks as victims and the police as. blood thirsty racists. This so-called journalism is biased, rabble rousing and incites violence.Why not place the blame for their deaths where it belongs on their own behavior. One significant piece of information missing from all major media reports and official reports is that the sergeant in charge of the police contingent attempting to arrest Mr. Garner was a black, female police officer. One has to wonder why this was not and is not reported loud and clear. Of course it would change the the whole racial argument against the police. NB. Previously posted on another American Magazine article but appropriate here also.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

I don't think it's as simple as that. For example, white people and black people in the United States use drugs at approximately the same rate, but black people are three times more likely to face arrest for it (see p. 272 of this Human Rights Watch-authored article). In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, the disparity is so painfully evident; I watch as teenagers of color here are regularly bothered by police for activities that, in the white suburban neighborhood where I grew up, were quietly (but quite openly) tolerated. When one is treated like a criminal from a young age, one begins to think of oneself that way. It creates a cycle.

Simply blaming individual police officers is not the answer either, though for many it is a tempting recourse. I'm not sure what the answer is—and I think Stringfellow is calling for a kind of humility here. But I know the answer is not to blame the poorest, most over-incarcerated communities among us and move on with our lives. Reconciliation, I suspect, must begin with an honest accounting of systemic racism that still exists around us, and a commitment to hearing out the voices who are saying that they are being made into victims—or, we could say, into widows, orphans, and lepers.

ed gleason
1 year 11 months ago
E.P.Mosman Isn't America great for allowing you to keep posting your racist slant?
Martin Eble
1 year 11 months ago
Stringfellow's "white men" is not a subset of "all men are sinners". Stringfellow’s “white men” is an error in reasoning. The yahoo holding the sign is saying “if you don’t agree with me, you’re a problem”, which if anything compounds Stringfellow’s errors. For example, a careful examination of blacks and the legal system seems to indicate that in some areas there is a disproportionate lawlessness among certain blacks, to wit among young black males. We can’t address this problem and really sort out what’s wrong and what to do about because facts get trampled by folks like the fellow holding the sign. While that sort of irrational analysis may guarantee Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton permanent employment, permanent victimhood doesn’t improve outcomes for blacks. White people and black people in the United States may use drugs at approximately the same rate, but black people are more likely to be using crack cocaine and using violence to obtain it. Followers of Stringfellow, and the purveyors of “root causes”, routinely do not get results, routinely deflect real problem-solving by people like the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and thus perpetuate the very problems they wring their hands over.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 11 months ago
Henry, unfortunately, the highest incarceration of black men per capita of black population is in a state with mostly white people. Also, deep red state black incarceration rates run 50% higher than deep blue states.
Tom Fields
1 year 11 months ago
The "analysis" above is destructive. For decades---policies have brought about a solid Black Middle Class---despite a history of Southern Democrat hate and racism. However, years of liberal Democrat policies have destroyed inner-city Black communities. Six years of a Black President--a Black Attorney General--4 years of a liberal Congress and a sycophantic press corps have left millions in ruin. In 48 States out of 50, Black students have the highest HS drop out rate. 72% of African-American children are born out-of-wedlock.. Among Black males, murder is the main cause of death. 90% of those deaths are caused by other Blacks. 98% are NOT caused by cops. A police officer is 6 times more likely to be killed by a Black man than vice versa. Read---"Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make it Harder for Blacks to Succeed" by Black author Jason Riley. Read anything by Ben Carson. Liberal policies--buying votes and the liberal press---have destroyed our inner cities. Injustice----YES-"-injustice" brought about by generations of liberal policies--creating a permanent, dependent, under-class. May God help us.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

It seems to me that the prevalent principalies of "liberal" and "conservative" politics are clouding the discussion here. The way he's quoted above, Stringfellow actually seems to be criticising can-do, government-driven "liberal" policies around poverty. In his lifetime he was a strenuous critic of Johnson's Great Society proposals. And of course histories like Ira Katznelson's Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time reveal the ways in which many of these policies were passed only through compromises that excluded black Americans from their benefits—the National Labor Relations Act (which excluded black-dominated professions like farming and housekeeping), for instance, and the G.I. Bill (which structural conditions often prevented blacks from benefitting from). This discussion strikes me as yet another case in which the labels "liberal" and "conservative" are hurting more than they help.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 11 months ago
Had the white powers to be heeded the advice of noted black leaders of the 19th century the idea that whites must suffer some universal guilt today for alleged inherent racism,white privilege and supremacy and that whites, are "stuck in delusions of superiority and privilege." would not be a topics of discussion and featured articles. "Asked by whites in 1865 what to do for freed blacks, Frederick Douglass responded: “I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! . . . If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength . . . let them fall! . . . And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs!” Douglass was essentially saying, give blacks equal opportunity and then leave them alone. Booker T. Washington, another late 19th century black leader who had been born a slave, once said that it is important and right that all privileges of the law be granted to blacks, but it is vastly more important that they be prepared for the exercise of these privileges." Source: IMPRIMIS Race Relations and Law Enforcement Jason L. Riley Editorial Board Member, Wall Street Journal imprimis.hillsdale.edu/current A second required reading is "The Negro Family: The Case For National Action (the 1965 Moynihan Report) was written by Assistant Secretary of Labor[1] Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sociologist and later U.S. Senator. It focused on the deep roots of black poverty in America and concluded controversially that the relative absence of nuclear families (those having both a father and mother present) would greatly hinder further progress toward economic and political equality. The Great Society programs and the myriad of follow-up social programs simply exacerbated the nuclear black family problem rather than improving it. The law of "unintended consequences" was either not considered or ignored in formulating the legislation and like all government programs once started they will continue whether they produce the intended results or not.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

I'm not sure if this comment was intended as a criticism, but in many respects it actually says exactly what Stringfellow said; he was a strenuous opponent of Great Society proposals, for instance. What he rejected, however, is the claim of many white people that systemic, demonic racism no longer exists, or that it has nothing to do with them.

Martin Eble
1 year 11 months ago
I am quite sure that there are white people who can say in all honesty and fairness it has nothing to do with them. I talked with one Jew a few years ago whose family lost three members fighting for the North during the Civil War and whose ancestors had worked hard for equality. He found the "you owe me" position offensive in the extreme. The fact that you deny that anyone can, as does the yahoo carrying the sign, is why your argument comes off as at best arrogant and at worst bizarre.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 11 months ago
"So another non-scientist, Pope Francis, jumps on climate change, which by the way the earth has been experiencing climate change for hundreds of millions it not billions of years, by declaring that "the science is settled" even as the recent head of the IPCC declared that there has been no warming for 18+ years despite a slight increase in CO2. Climate change,nee global warming, is supported by government employees at NASA,NOAA, GISS, the UK's CRU and government funded academics at the forefront of AGW alarmism. The Climategate emails and files exposed the extent of their efforts to "hide the decline" in global warming, to destroy correspondence to avoid complying with FOIA Requests, the inability to reproduce the charts and graphs used to support the AGW theory, the confirmation that they not only controlled the papers that would be considered by the IPCC committees, but also, controlled which peer reviewed papers would be published in scientific publications to the point that they were able to have an editor fired for publishing paper that challenged the AGW consensus.There is no scientific integrity but a classic example of what Professor Richard Feynman described as "Cargo Cult Science", the practice of failing to provide all available results, the good and the bad, for consideration by all concerned."
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

Death and taxes are certain enough, but denialist comments at America are more so. The IPCC, like all other relevant scientific bodies, has made very clear statements about the urgency of the climate crisis and its anthropogenic cause. For instance, summary statements from the body's 2014 synthesis for policymakers:

Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, and sea level has risen.

Raising genuine questions and challenges is always welcome, but this kind of comment is not that. I call it "denialist," because the author is striving to deny the reality of climate change despite all the evidence to the contrary. Please stop the obfuscation so we can have a constructive conversation grounded in the honesty our faith demands.

E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 11 months ago
Here is the view of another distinguished scientist: In 1996 Fredrick Seitz,President Emeritus of Rockefeller University and past President of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) described the 1996 consensus IPCC report as "I have never witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report"..."If the IPCC is incapable of following its most basic procedures, it would be best to abandon the entire IPCC process, or at least that part that is concerned with the scientific evidence on climate change, and look for more reliable sources of advice to governments on this important question. A Major Deception on Global Warming by Frederick Seitz Wall Street Journal, June 12, 1996" Mr. Seitz's comments refer to the fact that after the scientific report which concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support the theory that human activity contributed to warming and that further study was required, the IPCC unilaterally changed the conclusion to indict human activity and, without consulting the contributing scientists, issued the report. "Mr. Seitz also cited NAS' own study which states, inter alia, the earth has been subjected to impressive and abrupt swings in climate during recent periods covering thousands of years and that mankind's role cannot be assessed without adequate .... baseline documentation of natural climate variability".. So who are you going to believe a noted scientists or no-nothing politicians, government scientists, government funded academics and agenda driven environmentalist? The historic cyclical climate history of the earth over the last 12,000 years is well known, starting with the end of the last great Ice Age and in the last 1000 years the Medieval Warm Period, the Little Ice age of the Middle Ages, the warm dust bowl of the 1930-40s, the cold period of the 1950-70s and the warm period of the 1980s-1990s which ended in 1998-2000. It doesn't take computer modeling to study the past, actually today's computer models cannot model the past's history, and today's the AGW driven computer modelers continue to predict disasters based on worst case scenarios based only on C02 despite a cyclical cooling trend over the last 10-12 years. Archeologists and geologists have a better knowledge and understanding of the earth's climate history as described in a recent Smithsonian article on the secrets of the Sphinx "The Sahara has not always been a wilderness of sand dunes. German climatologists Rudolph Kuper and Stefan Kröpelin, analyzing the radiocarbon dates of archaeological sites, recently concluded that the region's prevailing climate pattern changed around 8,500 B.C., with the monsoon rains that covered the tropics moving north. The desert sands sprouted rolling grasslands punctuated by verdant valleys, prompting people to begin settling the region in 7,000 B.C. Kuper and Kröpelin say this green Sahara came to an end between 3,500 B.C. and 1,500 B.C., when the monsoon belt returned to the tropics and the desert reemerged. That date range is 500 years later than prevailing theories had suggested. Further studies led by Kröpelin revealed that the return to a desert climate was a gradual process spanning centuries. This transitional period was characterized by cycles of ever-decreasing rains and extended dry spells. Support for this theory can be found in recent research conducted by Judith Bunbury, a geologist at the University of Cambridge. After studying sediment samples in the Nile Valley, she concluded that climate change in the Giza region began early in the Old Kingdom, with desert sands arriving in force late in the era." No evidence was found of CO2 emitting SUVs, coal fired power plants or oil refineries. There are more than just an “insignificant band of skeptics”who refute the hysteria driven global warming advocates with real scientific facts, not computer generated, quasi-science. One should start with the 650 scientists who issued a strong dissent to the man made global warming theory in a letter to the recent UN Climate change conference held in Poland. http://www.globalresearch.ca.. And what were the myriad of variables and their individual and cumulative effects that resulted in these cyclical changes? The earth’s climate is effected by its atmospheric H2O content, cloud cover, distance, tilt and wobble as it orbits the sun, the sun’s solar activity period and perhaps variables unknown at this time also. How are these natural occurring variables going to treated since man like King Canute does not control them? The only difference is that King Canute was a wise man and knew he did not control the tides, for that he was exiled. Today, scientists who question consensus are not exiled, they are reviled, shunned and demonized by the consensus crowd composed of government scientists, government funded academics, agenda driven environmentalist, so-called science magazines, media science reporters and no-nothing politicians.
Fernán Jaramillo
1 year 11 months ago
Seitz had blood in his hands. Like with his opposition to the global climate change consensus he used his scientific authority to deny the medical consensus that smoking causes cancer. I wonder how many people smoke their packs reassured by the good Dr. Seitz. And of course, MANY variables contribute to lung cancer (cancer is not a "simple" disease). But please do not smoke, Patrick. And did he not also oppose the consensus on CFCs and the loses of polar atmospheric ozone? Although blood in his hands is harder to prove on a case by case basis for this one, it is certainly there in the aggregate (ask a relative of anyone dying of melanoma in Chile). And of course, ozone losses are affected by MANY variables, and perhaps the recovery that is taking place after Montreal banned CFCs is just a coincidence. Hey, let's bring CFCs back! I am not a government scientist, and I am not paid by the government. I am simply a professional biologist (Columbia GSAS '89) with a fair amount of experience. I am not a climate scientist, but I can read the data on arctic research and I understand how a CO2 detector works. I have done enough computer modeling (of ion channel kinetics) to know what models can and cannot do. And I do not care to bet on the side of Dr. Seitz
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
I knew you were going to get backlash by quoting Stringfellow, Nathan. Most people simply don't get him (and don't want to get him). Wendall Berry is perhaps more palatable in his attempt to get those afflicted (most all of us) to see racism in themselves. Berry calls it the "hidden wound". "If the white man has inflicted the wound of racism upon black men, the cost has been that he would receive the mirror image of that wound into himself." Part of that wound is blindness. Until we are able to see this wound (basically, fear), it will not heal.
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

Thanks for this, Beth. I think you're right in that Stringfellow often wrote with a sense of shock value; perhaps Berry, writing from the South, had reason to take a gentler approach.

Still, I think it's important to note that this shared sense of sin Stringfellow does not depend upon individuals having "inflicted" racism on each other. He saw it more as a systemic, demonic force. For many white people, I suspect white supremacy is more likely experienced through benefits that they never asked for and rarely notice. As Christ said from the cross, "They know not what they do."

Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
Yes, I agree, it is a systemic sin, built into the way we are. There's really not much we can do but weep, ask for forgiveness, beg for mercy. "Surrendering the prerogative of decision" is much, much more than most people could even consider. Richard Beck is one of the few (the only?) person I know who writes passionately about and finds a theological soul mate in Stringfellow. ... http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2012/06/william-stringfellow-project.html ...
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

There's definitely a growing swell of interest in Stringfellow today. Bill Wylie-Kellerman, who edited the Orbis volume I mentioned, has done much to ensure this. Myles Werntz tells me that his new book engages with Stringfellow on war. Leading American religious thinkers like Stanley Hauerwas, Jim Wallis, and Walter Wink were profoundly impacted by Stringfellow through writing and friendship. Daniel Berrigan, of course, was a close friend of his and wrote about Stringfellow beautifully. Anthony Dancer's recent study of Stringfellow (which I reviewed for Commonweal) includes a foreword by Rowan Williams citing Stringfellow's influence on him. I also know a network of young scholars and pastors who are profoundly affected by Stringfellow's legacy and whose works, in many cases, are still to come.

Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
Well, this is encouraging. Thanks, I'll look up the Commonweal review. I first heard of Stringfellow back in 1969 when Daniel Berrigan was seeking refuge at his home on Block Island. I've never read him directly, but his name and writings keep popping up at the peripheries of what I'm reading. I like his radical (as in getting at the root of the issue) clarity. Seems to be a prophet of sorts, able to cut through great tangled knots of lies.
Rachel Washington
1 year 11 months ago
This is a great and timely piece in America Magazine. But it is not enough to have an article about white privilege. America Magazine, as wonderful as it is, is nevertheless the epitome of white privilege in American Catholicism. Minorities in the Church are treated as diverse ornaments for display when the national conversation turns to issues of race and ethnicity. The entire magazine, and all national Catholic media for that matter, needs to be radically reconfigured so that it reflects the present reality and future of the church.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
The original sin in racism is to judge another human being by the color of his or her skin. As the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. said: "I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Today, the "white man" is a pejorative racist term, used by racial supremacists of all ideologies. I am afraid there is too much money to be made by the modern "keep the charge of racism alive" hucksters to let MLK's dream come about. Enmity between the peoples is also perpetuated by recasting climate change in a racialist-sexist way (as a "white man" sin), while leaving out the unavoidable connection between energy usage and all the good technological benefits the world has today (all the vaccines and medicines, the advances in food production, sanitation, clean water, transportation and communication, including green energy). I would point out that today the Chinese produces twice as much CO2 as the US and India and Brazil are rising fast, and emissions are dropping fastest in the USA (ironically, mostly due to fracking technologies and natural gas prices). Also, the global warming argument is almost exclusively a first-world debate, in terms of the academics on all sides on the argument. Here is an excellent article on the necessity of fossil fuels for the poor in the world: http://www.wsj.com/articles/fossil-fuels-will-save-the-world-really-1426282420?KEYWORDS=ridley
Nathan Schneider
1 year 11 months ago

Thank you for these responses. I certainly share the dream of a world in which skin color does not determine a person's chances in life, but I also think, with the preferential option for the poor in mind, it is for those who are historically oppressed to say when this has been acheived. The Black Lives Matter movement, together with related outcries about the ongoing and disproportionate impact of mass incarceration and economic crisis on black communities, make clear that skin color does still matter in this country, and whiteness is still a privilege. That sin is still with us. In my experience it is by and large those who benefit from that privilege who are most eager to claim that it doesn't exist.

I think you're very mistaken that concern about climate change is merely a concern of elite academics. Academics are generally more visible than many other professions in debates about scientific and policy matters, so I can see how you could get this impression. But countries around the world that are facing the effects of climate change first hand have been leading this discussion, even if many of those of us in wealthy countries haven't been listening. At United Nations discussion on the subject, perhaps no one has been as outspoken as Philippine climate negotiator (and Catholic) Yeb Sano. And several years ago, the government of the Maldives held a cabinet session underwater to dramatize the impact of climate change on their island. When 350.org (then still a very small group of recent college graduates—I knew them at the time) called for a global day of action on climate change in 2009, there were more than 4,000 events in 170 countries.

For correlations along lines of race, I commend to you the Public Religion Research Institute's recent study, which demonstrates how people of color in the United States are much more aware of and concerned about climate change than their white counterparts. Among Catholics, for instance, 73 percent of Latino/as are "very" or "somewhat" concerned, compared to 41 percent of white Catholics. Just because elite, often white voices are often the ones we choose to listen to on these matters doesn't mean that others don't have something to say.

Your claims about the emissions are also misleading. If we consider the numbers on a per-capita basis—the only terms that make sense if we're concerned about human welfare—the United States' emissions are much, much higher than India or China (17.6 tonnes annually, compared to 1.7 and 6.2, according to the World Bank). China leads the world in investment in green energy, and the consumers in China, India, and Brazil are the world's greenest. The U.S., as the country with the most resources to invest and the most influence in the world, should be leading the way on this matter. Instead, we are demanding that our far poorer competitors do so while also trying to scrape by in the game of global capitalism. This is a dangerous position for us to take, morally.

Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Nathan - I am not sure you realize what you are saying, but to claim that "it is for those who are historically oppressed to say when this has been achieved" is an extraordinary test, a form of intellectual disenfranchisement of "white" people and a denial of objective racism or oppression in favor of a subjectivity that would be very foreign to MLK as it could never be achieved. In your worldview, a so-called "white man," born in recent times into a poor family, with relatives who survived the holocaust or another recent ethnic repression (say in Yugoslavia), is charged with the crime of racial oppression and has no objective way of relieving himself of this supposed crime, but must await exoneration by some unknown means (an opinion poll of non-white people, or non-white academics), and consider himself morally beholding to members of another race, even those who have achieved millionaire status. It is this kind of thinking that permits an Al Sharpton (with all his financial success and well-known fraudulent shenanigans) to be a judge based solely on the color of his skin and completely severed from the content of his character. Of course black lives matter. But, barring a supremacist philosophy, their value is no less and no greater than those of other races and they matter because of their humanity and not because of the pigment of their skin. Your worldview conflates the "preferential option for the poor" with a "preferential option for the non-white" and I think you use the latter as a shorthand for the former, when it would be far more just and efficient and objective to focus on a person's/family's economic status and seek to correct that, with the added advantage of not perpetuating racist talk and categories. With the rising trends in interracial marriage, and greater immigration of Hispanics and Asians, I hope that the US government will soon stop counting (judging/favoring) people by race completely, and we will look at the whole counting-by-race as a residual component of Jim Crow discrimination. Along the same lines of the racial thinking, I think it would be far more just and persuasive to drop the use of the "deniers" pejorative in such discussions. It is used in a similar fashion as the word "creationist" by the new atheists, where a whole slew of opinions is thrown into one, and always in a pejorative context. So, anyone who believes that God created the world is lumped in with those who think He did it in a few thousand years, and anyone who objects to any part of the IPCC conclusions or solutions (even those later repudiated by the IPCC) is lumped in with those who deny all of the data. I will leave it for another time to rebut the racial assumptions in your climate arguments, apart from noting that the CO2 trajectory is dropping fastest in the USA and rising fastest in China. I recommend the Copenhagen Consensus http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/post-2015-consensus - see 3 min video) as the most sensible way to approach the great challenges that face the human race.
Dale Lature
1 year 11 months ago
Tim, the "Copenhagen Consensus" is a perfect illustration of why you are , in fact, a "denier". Copenhagen Consensus operates under the assumption that the Climate is not really a serious problem (and can be dismissed with the assumption that it would just not be "cost effective" to pay it any heed). That assumption simply denies the conclusions and findings of the scientific community, and in doing so, is economically and scientifically naive, the latter of which causes the former. The costs of ignoring it would be catastrophic, and well beyond anything we've ever faced as an economic crisis, since economies will be in ruins as the climate consequences snowball. So, sorry, you embody the denier "pejorative" well, since I am indeed being "pejorative" regarding the efforts to discredit, minimize, and basically IGNORE the dire warnings of the very people who scientifically study the ecosystem and the effects of our "age of economic exuberance" which ignores limits.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Dale - So, your definition of denier includes people who state that global warming is mostly related to anthropogenic CO2 production and believe it is a serious problem yet believe current proposals are insufficient at solving the problem as well as likely to endanger the economic situation of poor underdeveloped societies. You are making my argument for me.   To quote from their site "In 1992, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was created to agree binding international treaties to ‘avoid dangerous climate change’. The past 18 years of climate negotiations have shown that establishing such an agreement is a highly challenging task. Since 1990 the globe has witnessed a steady rise in emissions, only halted by the global recession, with carbon dioxide emissions having increased by more than 46%. Since 1990 the world has witnessed a steady rise in emissions, only halted by the global recession, with carbon dioxide emissions having increased by more than 46%." http://www.copenhagenconsensus.com/publication/post-2015-consensus-climate-change-assessment-galiana   I do not agree with everything the Copenhagen Consensus states (for example, they do not deal sufficiently with the so-called pause in global warming - but then no one has explained it adequately so far (one theory says the missing heat might be at the bottom of the ocean).   But, Dale - do you deny the pause in global warming over the last 15-18 years? Here is an IPCC member claiming that he predicted this pause and that he thinks it could last another 30 years.http://dailycaller.com/2014/10/27/ipcc-climate-scientist-global-warming-pause-could-last-30-years/. Most climate change models failed to account for this. Or do you deny that too? I just wonder how much scientific data you deny? But, maybe, you also include yourself under the denier pejorative (as in "we are all racists" --> "we are all deniers").
Martin Eble
1 year 11 months ago
“This is a dangerous position for us to take, morally.” A position which states that a Catholic, to be moral, must accept white guilt and embrace the climate change mantra has the same chance of winning people over as a snowball has of existing in Hell. The logical error in the climate change camp is that, ever since Man has been on the earth, much much greater increases and decreases in temperatures than anything we are seeing now have occurred, sometimes in very short timespans. Computer models cut to fit the data are not evidence of causality. There are more than a few scientists who have tried to point this out, but they cannot get published, have no fora in which to speak, and are getting drowned out by the chorus of True Believers.
Roberta Lavin
1 year 11 months ago
One of my students is a young leader of the protests and she once referred to the faculty as white and privileged. Some in the community were angry, but I had to admit that I am white and privileged. I think, that privilege all too often blinds us to the harm privilege does to others. What I take for myself is being taken from what is available. It is easy to recognize my privilege and much harder to let it go.
Vince Killoran
1 year 11 months ago
My problem with the use of the label "white privilege" isn't that I don't think that there is deep, systemic racism (there is); rather, it's that it's thrown around far too easily in conversation, often as a shortcut to serious debate. It's become a kind of "gotcha" device to thwart someone who is engaging in honest dialogue. This creates resentment and serves no real purpose. (Ditto for "heteronormativity"!). I've long thought that search for ego renewal animates may fellow progressives who spend too little time creating bridges and developing cross-racial strategies for change. Whites and blacks should be unafraid to weigh in on issues of racial justice. I'm not convinced that there is "white silence" of which Garza writes. We must be vigilante not to fall prey to a kind of festishization of black people like the New Left did in the 1960s with the Black Panthers.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
I hear you, Vince. The harm done to black Americans is so great - captured from their homeland, 300 years in slavery, continued bias - that we can not even look at it honestly. Do you know that recently the 1st museum specifically for slavery was opened in Louisiana? It was financed by an individual (white) man for $8 million dollars. But we have a on our national square (the Smithsonian) a $168 million dollar tax payer funded museum commemorating the victims of the Holocaust. I'm not saying that the Holocaust victims do not deserve this museum, but how important, especially to our collective history, is not the institution of slavery? The contribution of black Americans to our nascent nation? The terrible fate and hardship that they endured for centuries? Beaten and killed, their families torn apart, they were considered less than human. This is not fetishization, it is an attempt to shine light on something that we don't want to see. The torture of black Americans continues today, especially in our prisons. There is an undercurrent of legitimate anger and guilt surrounding the race issue in America which scares the hell out of us. It's impossible to keep it all at the superficial, "intelligent" level of building bridges or developing strategies. This is dark soul space. We need to weep, first, white and black.
E.Patrick Mosman
1 year 11 months ago
"White people have managed not only to reap the profits from climate change" What climate change? The 18 years of warming between 1980 to 1998 were only a blip in the earth's lifetime, see my comment above about the Sahara. How about the last 18 years or so of a hiatus in warming, does that indicate a coming Ice Age as was predicted in the1970s. Furthermore search "Climate change evolution" and you will find scholarly article such as this: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/how-climate-change-may-have-shaped-human-evolution-180952885/?no-ist. and many others. Without climate change humans as we may never have evolved. Concerning "No White man is innocent" this is the same gospel that the "Reverend GD America" Wright preached to our President for 20 years and continues preaching today. It is the same gospel that the "Reverend" Sharpton has been preaching for 30+ years in New York and is now sits next to the President as his advisor on racial issues. Stringfellow,Wright and Sharpton make strange bedfellows.
Dale Lature
1 year 11 months ago
~
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
Why is ok for the Jewish people, within their faith communities, to remember their oppression and get the world to support their right to "never forget", whereas in the United States of America this is virtually criminal for black Americans?
Martin Eble
1 year 11 months ago
I don't see why anyone should have a problem with Jews, Assyrians, Gypsies, Ukranians, or descendants of American Confederates remembering their heritage and vowing to never forget. Of course, if descendants of American Confederates do it .... well, we all know how that plays out. Where the problem seems to be is going to the next step, walking up to someone who was not even born when the event or events took place, and saying "You owe me." That rubs most people's fur the wrong way.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
Do you know that more than 4000 blacks and 1200 whites were "lynched" (executed by public mob) from 1882 until 1968? Yet there are only a handful of American Lynching Memorials ( https://www.google.com/maps/d/viewer?msa=0&mid=zOzRD0e6goZk.kPtKxv5zFI2g ) to mark these sites, even with just a roadside sign. And though almost every county in the American South flies a Confederate flag and has a statue of a Confederate soldier on their public squares, very few of them (almost none) mark the sites of slavery or lynching. There are plenty of plantations surrounding that one lone small museum remembering slavery in Louisiana. They are fancy places, big houses remembering the hooped skirts and mint juleps and fine life of the antebellum time of America. They are now places used for weddings and other celebrations. I don't know about you, but this all strikes me as weird. Talk about denial.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Beth - lynching and any form of murder is a terrible thing (as are the 500 murders each year in Chicago - you can look up the ethnicity of the victims and the perpetrators if you like) and I didn't know 25% of the lynchings were of "whites" but the issue on this blog is whether the "white man" alive today (possibly excluding those "whites" who speak Spanish, and excluding white women, and any other subset of "whites" that can get a pass) is uniquely responsible, retrospectively, even if they never even lived in America. For example, my ancestors were too busy trying to find food in the Irish famine and didn't arrive in the USA until the middle of the 20th century. By they way, to be consistent, I do not blame the current British people for the repression of the Irish by their ancestors. They were not born then. But, even if I did blame them, what good would it do? I wasn't the victim (except in some self-serving "missed opportunity" way). Those who were are already dead. Why should I try to benefit from their misfortune? And, it would be un-Christian not to forgive even the ancestors. As to your complaint below about the Jews remembering the Holocaust, well of course, African-Americans can and should (and do) remember both slavery and discrimination. We just had a remembrance of the Selma protests (the NYT cropped out former president Bush from the photo - possibly because he was "white") and we have a special holiday every year for MLK. And the Irish should recall their 400 years of repression by the English. But, I would not welcome some hard-done Irishman try to pin his misfortune on an Englishman born in the last 50 years. It makes no sense and is unjust and pointless. Group guilt thinking is a form of vengeance (Old Testament) thinking. It institutionalizes an endless cycle of blame and retribution (also called reparation) and, like a dragnet, grabs mostly innocent people along with it. Far better to leave racism and racial categories behind.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
Tim, you don't get it. You are taking personal offense at an insight ("we are sinners") that can help us to see better the situation (stalemate, racial tension and unrest) we are in now. You (and I) are exactly what the writer of this article (and Jesus) is trying to tell us. We are blind; we don't know what we are doing. Recognizing and acknowledging this stubborn blindspot in ourselves (liberal and conservative) is the only way through. None of us are innocent (back then or now).You (and all of us) are still trying to weasel our way out. Won't work. This is not group guilt thinking, it is freedom from lies that we tell ourselves.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Beth - why put a racist sexist slant on the "we are sinners"? Would you have commended this article if the title was "no white woman is innocent" or "no black woman is innocent" and then a discussion of abortion or divorce ensued? People often say "we are all sinners" when they might mean it in theory but then quickly shift all their examples and outrage onto someone other than themselves or their identity. What they really mean is "we are all sinners but it is men who are white who I wish to focus on (because they are worse than me)" Isn't there an inherent self-serving blindspot in this thinking? It is just at a deeper level and needs to be expunged for the light to get in.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
This is a strange loop, Tim, and you keep digging yourself deeper into it. You are doing just what you claim others are doing. We all do this. I am doing it as I respond to you. We see in others what we don't want to see in ourselves. That's the point.
Beth Cioffoletti
1 year 11 months ago
PS. I really do like white men and don't think that they are worse than anyone else. But the white man has been top dog for quite some time now, and as such is much more prone to not being able to see things as they are for the whole pack.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
Great. We can agree on that. No racial subset should be singled out for guilt.
J Cosgrove
1 year 11 months ago
Actually, it is not whites per se who are guilty but white liberals who are responsible for the plight of black Americans. It is they who instituted policies starting in the 1930's and especially during the 1960's which led to the creation of the under class we see today. They are the real racist of today. They prevent a real discussion from taking place. Instead we get the nonsense in this article which can only inflame, not help. In the 1930's there was no problem with marriage in the black community. Then a series of policies were implemented that led to a large increase in black children born out of wedlock. By the 1960's it was over 25%. Now it is over 70%. Why? White liberal policies. White liberals should look at themselves in the mirror and say I am guilty of the incredible dysfunction that takes place in the black community and it has spread to Hispanic and White communities. Until that happens this nonsense about white guilt should be tabled. Or better yet, buried.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 11 months ago
How do white liberals cause divorce rates to run 25% higher in deep red states than in deep blue states?
Roberto Blum
1 year 11 months ago
It seems there is an incredible strong resistance by many of us Caucasians to admit the existence of a collective guilt arising from the more than 300 years of slavery and racial discrimination of the African-american population in the U.S. This is undoubtedly what is called a social sin that cannot be forgiven unless a real conversion happens. As Stringfellow said, weeping because of the pain inflicted and the pain of guilt felt may be just the beginning of our social redemption. If the comments to this piece represent the sentiments of our white Catholic population, we are still far from realizing the magnitude of our collective sin and thus far from redemption.
Tim O'Leary
1 year 11 months ago
I for one reject the title "white man" and any guilt for crimes committed when I wasn't alive or even remotely involved. I have enough real sins to ask for forgiveness without making ones up. That would be a sin against the eighth commandment. But, I do agree with J Cosgrove that some liberals (of any hue) should look into their hearts and see if they need forgiveness for some of the policies they supported that have destroyed the modern black family. There is a lot of denial in progressive factions about this, which is sadly preventing a true conversion. Just think of the number of African-American babies killed by abortion through liberal policies - more each day than all the lynchings in US history. A warning of where this argument ends up. It was this collectivist guilt thinking that was behind the charge that the Jews are collectively guilty of killing Jesus and all the pogroms of the past.
Chuck Kotlarz
1 year 11 months ago
How do liberals cause black incarceration rates to run 50% higher in deep red states than in deep blue states?

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