The White Blessing: How White power and prosperity is the White gospel.
About 3 months into the International COVID-19 lockdown, 3 weeks after George floyds almost 9 minute long asphyxiation under a cops knee on ‘pay-per-view’ and the world erupting in protest under the banner of #blacklivesmatter, there was a white evangelical scramble to be the leading voice on yet another national conversation about strained race relations. After seeing a few misfired attempts I remember reluctantly watching the recorded playback of Pastor Louie Giglio, rapper Lecrae and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy having an “honest conversation about race and the Church” on the 14th of June 2020"
Giglio had this to say about slavery which torpedoed through social media bringing much critique and rebuke while shattering the mask that white Evangelicalism has adorned concealing its conviction that white privilege is it’s religious birthright:
“We understand the curse that was slavery, white people do, and [we] say ‘that was bad’. But we miss the blessing of slavery, that it actually built up the framework for the world that white people live in and lived in.”
He expressed that ‘White Privilege’ is difficult for whites to get their head around as a term to describe their collective advantage so perhaps it might be better to frame the advantage that white people have as a result of slavery as The White Blessing; the silver lining to the dark cloud of its brutal atrocity.
I think in a rare moment of white Evangelical clarity about its inheritance, Giglio told the truth about how white infrastructural advantage has been sanctified and legitimised through religious sentiment and conviction for centuries.
In Giglio’s own words, the very framework of the white world, the capitalistic wealth, its social/class hierarchy, the past and continued exploitation of Africa, and the so called land of the free and the home of the brave, was all established and funded through the machinations of the transatlantic slave trade, and is what whites have largely benefited from at the expense of black and indigenous people for time immemorial.
Giglio is no innocent bystander and victim of a clumsy choice of words as he might have some convinced some of in his subsequent attempted apology under duress, his remarks were viscerally offensive to the souls of many black folks who descended from enslaved Africans including mine and centered whiteness as the beauty that emerged from the darkness. Further reflection and attempting to navigate through the soul wrenching pain of his remarks led me to the soul-bearing realisation that this is the kind of white radical truth-telling that needs to happen on purpose for the church and wider society to grapple with and investigate the ways that our modern way of life and way of understanding our wealth disparities are indelibly linked to the harrowing institution of slavery. So perhaps there is a “blessing” in Giglio’s revelatory renaming of white privilege as The White Blessing.
The White Blessing:
I reminisce on the evangelical anthem of the lock down, penned by Elevation Worship — The Blessing. Thousands of churches around the world contributed in creating several virtual collaborative recordings of this song that no doubt was a comforting balm to many believers. The lyrical excerpt below explained who were the recipients of this Blessing:
“May His favor be upon you
And a thousand generations
Your family and your children
And their children, and their children”
I can’t help think that this song tells us tacitly who were the ongoing recipients of the white blessing too. Who for thousands of generations have inherited the protections, the dignity, the assumed indigenousness of whiteness.
The term blessing conjures up many immediate thoughts and it could provide some context to consider it’s etymological roots to palpate it’s discomfort in my imagination as I explore how it applies to the white blessing.
According to etymonline.com the word bless derives from the Old English terms bletsian, bledsian, which mean “to consecrate by a religious rite, make holy, give thanks,” and is also linked to the Proto-Germanic *blodison which means to “hallow with blood, mark with blood from the sprinkling on pagan altars.
The White Blessing thus feels like a divine consecration and purification of white supremacy, including the many means it has conferred advantages to those with white skin, through the ritual shedding of the blood of “pagan” blacks and indigenous people on the altar of their sacred lands. This viscerally autopsies the hidden anatomy of the “blessing” of whiteness by shining a light on the bloodletting of the black body as the required sacrifice.
The concept of blessing is also rooted in the biblical narrative that informs the religious and socio-cultural framework of White western societies.
First, a biblical blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. This is most certainly echoed by the many ways that whiteness mediated that favoured status through history. Whiteness conveyed the divine stamp of approval, the characters of scripture, especially the key character Jesus was codified as white which functioned to confer the white race with immutable access to all the resources that God created and the authority to hoard and distribute it as it saw fit.
Second, the biblical blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In the same way, the white blessing speaks of white power, white prosperity and white success.
White power is undeniably genocidal based on the historic record. A close examination of white power has demonstrated that it has used every conceivable avenue available to exploit, divide and conquer all in the name of accumulating more power at the expense of indigenous life and violating earths sacredness. White power also wagers war on its own constituents as seen with the Inter-european, imperial race to “discover” and colonise the world throughout antiquity. In modern times, white power is varied in the way it’s constituted and operationalised. Whether that’s through white nationalism which seeks to develop and maintain white racial purity and national identity. They hold that whites should preserve their majority in majority-white countries and conserve their cultural, political and economic dominance, They are often against interracial marriage, multiculturalism, immigration of nonwhites and low birth rates among whites as these are perceived as threats to white racial purity and survival. White power is threatened by the very existence of black lives and thats why it mediates violence against the black body as a duty, which is the most compelling explanatory power for police brutality with impunity. The xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment of white nationalism is again demonstrated by the way white America flexes in the ballot box and engages hostility towards those who are considered hyphenated “Americans” rather than just plain Americans. I’d also argue The low birth rates in white America is probably the driver for the moral anti-abortion emphasis that takes political priority in fight for maintaining white power strongholds and this is mostly observed in the religious context.
Another manifestation of this white power is in white Evangelicalism, where white power is explicitly sanctified, gospelized and immunised from attack:
This iteration of white power, is mediated through theological gatekeeping, where white theologians get to arbitrate the borders of orthodoxy and orthopraxy but their theological work and conclusions are seen as culturally neutral. This serves to exclude and marginalise black and brown theological contributions and faith expressions or appropriate their voices under the guise of diversity but only to serve the advancement of the white evangelical status quo and influence. This stifling of the black voice within the evangelical landscape is further demonstrated in the race conversation aforementioned featuring Lecrae and Giglio. White power always controls the narrative, decides who sits at the table, defines the terms and even redefines terms based on its own determination of what is suitable and comfortable to white sensibilities.
Black Christians are expected to uphold the political priorities of white evangelicalism almost automatically and are expected to champion those loudly to prove our allegiance within the white evangelical power structure. We feel compelled to conceal our true political ideals in order to remain accepted ambassadors to our communities. You might notice how all of a sudden we seemed compelled to criticise government assistance programs for the socioeconomically disaffected, support excessive border control and restriction of immigration with the xenophobic rhetoric all in service of white nationalistic ideals.
Black people have learned to be expert assimilators in white spaces by sanitising our culture origins and exalting white cultural sensibilities which further strengthens white power. We will argue that in appeasing and appealing to the white normalcy in all arenas of religious expression and living, we optimize the effectiveness of the witness of the church.
These even plays out in how black moral sensibilities are often hijacked and utilized to garner and intensify white evangelical political power and influence. Only the moral issues that matter to the white majority are we demanded to politicise for the benefit of white power, but the moral issues that disproportionately disaffects minorities are considered divisive and a distraction from the gospel. This is exactly why abortion is uniformly politicised and racial justice is so controversial and divisive in white evangelicalism, racial justice threatens the very heritage and foundation of the entire cathedral of white power.
Tokenized Black gifts and talents are celebrated and bartered in the temple courts when in otherwise good standing, often the centre piece attraction with high platform visibility for the white gaze, but this utility doesn’t tend to earn leadership or decision making power that might upset the power balance.
In this space the black prophetic voice that enable us to speak truth to power and challenge the way that The White Blessing creates unjust disparities in socioeconomic, judicial and health outcomes, is silenced, frustrated and atrophied. This perhaps partially explains Lecrae’s pre-destined failure to theologically engage more courageously on that white platform when he was told about the white blessing of slavery.
Further to this idea of white theological gatekeeping, the gospel mission and social justice towards the needs of the black communities are deemed mutually exclusive and we are expected to declare that a social justice oriented gospel is heresy when the justice is for our black communities. This further insulates white power and prosperity from any critique from those who care about social justice which is undeniably in the scope of biblical justice.
White Evangelical power is starved of reasons to lament and creates little to no space for black lament which leads to an impaired capacity to deal honestly and sensitively with black cultural pain and discomfort. This failure accumulates as white guilt that occasionally drives these white-led “racial reconcilation” conversation blunders.
White prosperity and success:
3 You will be blessed in the city and blessed in the country.
4 The fruit of your womb will be blessed, and the crops of your land and the young of your livestock — the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks.
5Your basket and your kneading trough will be blessed.
6 You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.
7 The LORD will grant that the enemies who rise up against you will be defeated before you. They will come at you from one direction but flee from you in seven.
— Deut 28:3–7
White America considers its prosperity a sign of Gods divine decree and approval. It has woven itself in the Biblical narrative, as a modern reincarnation of The Chosen People. It additionally imagines its wealth is indicative of its righteousness and this is why it largely valorises its exploits in the world and can casually see the bright side of slavery as a white blessing. The prosperity gospel which unsurprisingly has become much more visible in the mainstream, advocates explicitly this idea that the blessing of God maketh rich and spiritualises the goal of the American dream as a core tenet of its faith. This compounds the difficulty for those who have inherited a white blessing, to honestly acknowledge, engage and exorcise the flip side of that which is the black curse that they fabricated to make white blessing a reality. The white blessing is something that you’d want to pass on to your children and their children, to gospelize the message of God’s favour and the benefits of that blessing in every way. It leads you to retell history in way that sanitises the costly sacrifice of that blessing, to scrub down the bloodied pagan altars where these blessings were wrought with the battered black body as past and ongoing payment. The White blessing is also believed to be protected from attack and scrutiny. Just like the 7th verse of Deuteronomy 28 promises the defeat of the enemies of the blessed, White America continues to resist any efforts to deal honestly with the plight of black people whom they have arbitrarily deemed their enemies, and will continue to kneel on the gangrenous wounds and disparities they face, even as blacks fight back for complete liberation.
The White Blessing simply put, means they believe God has made it clear that He is on the White side, the Right side.