Pondering Privilege – Toward a Deeper Understanding of Whiteness, Race, and Faith* by Jody Wiley Fernando could not come to us at a better time. As media and newsfeeds fill with images and stories, many of us who are white really want to know how to do things better. Many of us, as uncomfortable as it is, are beginning to acknowledge a system that benefits people based on the color of their skin.
Into this conversation and thought process comes Jody’s thoughtful, challenging, and well-written book.
At the very beginning, Jody states that the book “was born out of my life’s circumstances.” Jody is white, raised in the midwest, the place that some describe as the “heartland” of the United States. She married a Sri Lankan and through marriage and being accepted into his entire family, continues to encounter a completely different view of the world, a completely different way of being and of seeing.
A couple of years ago, Jody wrote a blog post called When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White. The post went viral, a clear indication that there was a lot to discuss and a single blog post was not enough. This volume takes the idea of the blog post and expands it exponentially, giving us relatable experiences and stories coupled with questions that challenge and convict. This makes it ideal for a small group discussion.
Pondering Privilege begins with something the author believes is critical to the conversation – and that is cultural humility. She gives several examples: “Instead of ‘get over it!’ cultural humilty responds ‘I don’t understand. Can you help me understand more deeply?” or “Intstead of replying with some variation of ‘quit whining’ to someone who feels wronged, cultural humility responds ‘I’m so sorry this hurts you. How can I walk alongside you in this? What do I need to learn?'”
This first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book. Jody gently but persistently challenges those of us who are white on how we are relating to those who don’t share the same skin color, and how we can do better. She addresses things like the reality of white privilege, why we need to talk about race, myths and emotions that prevent us from having these conversations.
Through out the book, Jody doesn’t cast stones, instead she walks the journey with us. She acknowledges the hard work involved and how inadequate and insecure we often feel. Significant in the book are the practical tips that she gives. They are invaluable, particularly the “21-day Race Challenge.” The challenge is a gold mine of resources, including films, books, articles, and practical steps toward further understanding.
I highlighted these words at the end of the chapter on Tips to Help White People Talk about Race, words that are deeply transformative when lived out:
“There’s a final tip that I’ve found the most transformative. It’s not so much a tip as it is a magnificent gift because it cannot be forced or created but rather arises organically and unplanned. By far, the most life-changing way I’ve learned to speak of race is under the umbrella of love…..When you love someone of a different race, part of the process is listening, learning, accepting, and affirming this part of their experience as well. When we love well, we offer the words I’m listening and I’m sorry to each other without reservation.”
Jody’s humility and heart are evident throughout the book. In a small section towards the end of the book, she writes about speaking from our scars instead of our wounds. Her words deeply moved me, and I offer them to you here:
“While the scars remain, the wounds no longer gape. In fact, as I speak from my scars, I find a strength within them born from the painful process of healing. If only more of Christ’s followers would understand the same from this broken racial road we walk – that when we admit weakness to one another, and walk toward each other in humility, Christ’s Kingdom grows stronger, and so do we.”
…understanding begins with learning and practicing a discipline of cultural humility and seeking to understand another’s experience without judgment. May more of us boldly begin to walk on this long and winding path.
Note: This book is written for a Christian audience with the hope of increasing productive conversations and action within largely white churches.
You can purchase Pondering Privilege here.
*I received and Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) of this book for review.