Call and Response: Journeys in UU Lifespan Faith Development

A White Privilege Wake-Up Call

By Pat Kahn

alarm clock

alarm clock

A wake-up call, according to the Urban Dictionary, is “when you've been doing something self-destructive for some time (perhaps without realizing it) before something serious happens that forces you to come to terms with what you've been doing and that you need to stop.”

“Something serious” happened to me last summer when I read the book, Waking Up White. Debby Irving, the book’s author, explained, "Exploring one’s relationship to that (dominant) culture is where the waking-up process begins."

The book had a profound effect on me. As I read, I saw myself over and over again in Irving’s story. We come from similar backgrounds and went to the same college; the list of commonalities went on and on. Irving was 48 when she enrolled in an anti-racism class that would start her awakening. I was 45 when I attended the Multicultural Religious Education Renaissance module at The Mountain camp and conference center in North Carolina and was first introduced to Peggy McIntosh’s essay Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. It was the first time I had ever heard of “white privilege”.

Toward the end of her book, Irving asks,

How can racism possibly be dismantled until white people, lots and lots of white people, understand it as an unfair system, get in touch with the subtle stories and stereotypes that play in their heads, and see themselves not as good or bad but as players in the system?

I have been asking myself these same questions, and it reminded of another wake-up call I experienced at General Assembly 2015 in Portland.

During the Starr King President’s lecture, Rev. Rosemary Bray McNatt introduced us to the term white fragility and spoke about a paper on the topic by Robin DiAngelo. She said, “I believe that whites who are serious about countering oppression and doing the work of liberation will first need to build their resilience to combat this culturally supported state of fragility, and Robin DiAngelo will do for this next generation of anti-racist work what Peggy McIntosh’s famous essay on white privilege did for the previous generation of anti-racist work.” She’s right, it’s a very powerful article.

Rev. Bray McNatt asked at the end of her talk

What are you willing to do? Are you willing to give up your silence and your complicity? Are you willing to be less fragile in your whiteness and more resilient? Are you ready to face the voice that is planted in your head and maybe your heart, and repent, turn away from the white supremacist culture you were taught not to notice, and turn toward a new way that we could build together?

Are you ready?

Next Steps!

Here are resources for you to read, reflect, journal, share, and talk about with trusted friends. Toward what actions does your reading and reflection guide you?

Towards the "Other America:" Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter, is a call to action to end white silence and a manual on how to do it. The e-book and discussion guide are provided, at no charge, by Chris Crass, an organizer, educator, and writer. He is also the author of "We Must Weather the Storm to See the Rainbow: An Open Love Letter to White UUs Struggling with Their Commitment to Black Lives Matter," published on the Standing on the Side of Love website.

About the Author

Pat Kahn

Pat Kahn served as the Professional Development Programs Manager in the Faith Development Office, with responsibilities that include the RE Credentialing Program, the Music Leader Certification Program and the Renaissance Program. She worked for the UUA in November, 2011 until June, 2019 as the...


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