“I want everyone to know that the acts of the defendant is not a reflection of the Puerto Rican community here and in Puerto Rico.” Cleveland Chief Assistant Prosecutor Victor Perez, at a press conference announcing initial charges against Ariel Castro.
When you are White, you never have to apologize for what another White person does, especially the really, really, really bad stuff. That is White privilege.
If you are White in America you are assumed to be an American. Not a U.S. citizen. Not naturalized. Not a legal resident of “fill-in-the-blank” descent. Just American. That is White privilege.
If a young White American bombs a federal building killing more than 160 people or guns down 20 elementary school children and 6 adults, no White American, male or female, in fear of retaliation, gets in front of the media and apologizes for White people. No officials during a press conference remind the audience that the acts of the defendant are not a reflection of White America. That is White privilege.
The kidnapping/rape/sick-to-your-stomach case in Cleveland is both unbelievable and hopeful. I desperately want more hopeful. I hope people like Charles Ramsey are in every neighborhood. I hope more missing children are found. I hope for justice and healing.
But I don’t know what to feel after hearing Maria Castro-Montes’ apology on behalf of the entire Castro family. I don’t know what is appropriate after hearing Cleveland’s chief assistant prosecutor address the pall of suspicion that falls over an entire community because of one person’s actions. (BTW, I can’t find a link to Perez’s comment I use at the start. I heard it on NPR this morning.)
Anger? Confusion? Disappointment? Resignation?
Why aren’t law enforcement officers and neighborhood religious leaders in front of the media apologizing for failing these three women, their families, the neighborhood? The women and a child were enslaved in their community. This didn’t happen in Puerto Rico. This happened in Cleveland. In America.
When news of a shooting on the campus of Virginia Tech started poring out, I remember emails and calls from colleagues and friends. We held our breath until the identity of the shooter was confirmed. And then we kept holding our breath. Koreans and Americans of Korean descent apologized. Young Asian American men were told in hushed voices and in knowing looks to lay low for a bit – retaliation doesn’t necessarily distinguish between Korean American and, say, Chinese American. We felt under suspicion by the way media coverage used words to distinguish, differentiate, and define, reminding us that we were actually the “Others”.
I can’t do this turmoil in my heart justice. I can’t. I can’t believe Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were enslaved and hidden in the middle of a neighborhood. I am amazed at their courage and at the story of their freedom. I am thankful Charles Ramsey didn’t ignore a woman’s scream for help. And I can’t stand that Ramsey’s past became part of the story and his words are becoming a minstrel show. I can’t stand that Perez felt it necessary and then publicly distanced an entire community from one person’s sins.
It’s only in God’s presence I can know deeply in my soul that my Asian-ness, what I often feel is my other-ness, is a reflection of God’s image. It is part of the plan. Just a part of the whole. We are all human, created male and female, in God’s image. Connected. Castro’s sin isn’t mine or Perez’s or anyone in the Puerto Rican community, but we are connected to one another through our humanity and our brokenness. We all sin.
In that way, my disappointment lies mostly with Christian leaders who stay silent on the issues of racial and social injustice, claiming those issues are not the gospel. How can what is happening to my brothers and sisters of any race or ethnicity not be a part of me and a part of how Jesus’ Good News changes the broken into wholeness? How can we as believers not come alongside Perez and Castro-Montes and say this isn’t about you being created in God’s image, your ethnicity and your race, but is about a broken majority culture our Church has both ignored and embraced?
That, my friends, is White Christian privilege.