We live in a fallen world because of sin–our own sin, the sin of others, and the sin of principalities which govern it. Whiteness is a principality. It is the belief that white people are more intelligent, more beautiful, harder working, more honest, and more deserving. In the U.S. it has also been embedded with an ideology of equality and meritocracy; the idea that all of us are created equal and have the ability to pursue happiness and the American dream if we apply ourselves. The result is that while some of us benefit from being white, we don’t ever have to acknowledge it. We are able simply to believe that because we have worked hard and stayed out of trouble, we have earned the advantages we have. At the same time, we also can believe that if our sisters and brothers of color don’t have certain advantages it is because they have chosen not to work hard or stay out of trouble.
Whiteness, then, allows those of us who are white to rest secure in the false belief that because we are good and deserving, it is appropriate that we will be given the benefit of the doubt as we navigate society. Whiteness gives us agency to walk through any suburban neighborhood without raising suspension and to never have to fear for our lives when we encounter law enforcement. In fact, once we start to truly examine it, we can see that whiteness benefits us in multiple ways every day, including where we go to school, where we live and work, and what opportunities we have access to.
When white people begin to confront whiteness, we are often thrown into a moral crisis as we come face to face with the fact that it wasn’t just our ancestors who benefited from the principality of whiteness; we do too. As we come to see how we benefit from it today as well, we can begin to ask ourselves…Where is God in this? How has whiteness blinded me to who God is and who I am?
In racial reconciliation we talk about how racism defiles the imago Dei in people of color. It’s pretty easy to see; dehumanizing people by taking away their dignity and self-determination does not honor them as children of God. But how is the imago Dei defiled in white people? Because as Frederick Douglass said, “No man can put a chain about the ankle of his fellow man without at last finding the other end fastened about his own neck.”
As I have wrestled with these questions, I have come to see that whiteness puts up a barrier between God and me. Whiteness is like the sin in the garden of Eden. It allows me to distort who I am by making me believe the false notion that I am more important and more deserving than others and consequently…more like God. Simply put, whiteness distorts the humanity of people of color by making them less than who they really are as children of God. At the same time, it perverts the humanity of white people by making them more than they really are.
During this season of Lent, we have acknowledged, confessed, repented, and lamented the sin of racism—which is driven by the principality of whiteness. Today is Good Friday–a day set apart by Christians as a time to soberly reflect on the crucifixion of Christ. As you do so, I invite you to spend time in prayer and ask God to show you any racial distortions you may have about yourself and others. Afterward, thank Christ for his redemptive sacrifice, which is restoring us to right relationship with God and with each other at the foot of the cross.
Liz Cornell holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Pomona College in Claremont, California. She earned her California teaching credential in 1988 and has over 34 years of experience teaching children and adults of all ages. During the past 20 years Liz has worked in ministry–as a children’s pastor and with adults as a speaker, Bible teacher, and small group leader.
Liz’s journey in racial reconciliation began in 2000 when she and her husband added to their family of four by adopting two African American brothers. Liz is currently a racial reconciliation speaker/facilitator for Fellowship Church in Monrovia, California and has presented at churches throughout Southern California and across the country. As a Free Methodist, she also works in developing and growing the denomination’s racial reconciliation ministry and is taking seminary classes at Azusa Pacific University as she pursues ordination in the Free Methodist denomination. She is the author of The Love Required of Us: A Small Group Discussion Guide to Racial Understanding and Reconciliation published by Light and Life Publishing.
Prior to COVID, she taught hospitalized children with life threatening cancers at the City of Hope in Duarte, California. She has been married to her husband, Brad, for 36 years and has four children and three grandchildren.
Liz has a passion for speaking out against racism and injustice and for helping others to understand the impact these wrongs have on our society today.