Charlottesville Is Evil and So Is White Privilege: Why the Church Must Call Out Both

“I know this [is] hard to hear, but… White supremacy benefits all white people. Including the ones with no torches. That’s why it survives.”


Brittany Packnett


It’s Sunday, and I took a nap instead of attending the protest against white supremacy in downtown Chicago. The city is a twenty five minute train ride from my house in the west suburbs. We’d have to bring our teething fourteen month old and carry her on our backs in the Ergo carrier. It might be challenging. It might be dangerous. She missed her afternoon nap yesterday. Best just to stay home.

This is privilege.

My husband and I got to choose whether to engage, to choose safety and ease. We can walk to the park and get iced lattes at our local coffee shop and pretend this isn’t about us.

My black and brown brothers and sisters do not get to live in this fake reality. They are not safe; “good Christian” boys in khakis and white polos, alongside others in pointed white hoods, yell, “You will not replace us” in the streets. Unlike the protesters in Ferguson, those marching with Nazi flags and tiki torches are not surveilled by army tanks and cops in riot gear. They have brought the assault rifles themselves.

Unlike the protesters in Ferguson, those marching with Nazi flags and tiki torches are not surveilled by army tanks and cops in riot gear. They have brought the assault rifles themselves.

While I have the privilege to pretend my tweets will be my righteousness, my slothful passivity supports the racial status-quo in our country. And this is evil too.

Not just Nazis, me too.

Many have declared the KKK waving Nazi flags and a Dodge Charger running over peaceful protesters as evil (Donald Trump did it three days late), but persistent denial of the more subtle (can we call them subtle?) evils that occur every day paved the way for the white supremacists to march. While the church increasingly comes forward to label Charlottesville as evil, they haven’t been willing to wholeheartedly condemn systemic racism in job interviews, highway pullovers, and elementary school classrooms.

Watching the events in Virginia unfold on my Facebook feed, I think of my black nephews, and I am ashamed of my perch on the living room couch. I worry for them. I worry what will happen if Marcus drives a little fast down the highway, or wears a hoodie, or holds a toy gun in front of the wrong cop. These realities are also evil. Calling out Charlottesville is a freebie, the real work starts when we call our justice system evil or more importantly call out the evil in our passivity and iced lattes in the park while the ground shakes under the boots of white hatred.

So here is the chance for the Church, for me, to go beyond the safe 140 character proclamations and have tough conversations with family and that friend of our mom who “means well” but has a very simplified view of the pro-life ethic. Here is our chance, to categorically reject not only what happened this weekend, but also what  happens every day.

Not only decry the ideology that whites should rule the land, but the reality that they do

I commend the conservative politicians and Christians who have come forward with statements rejecting white supremacy; I truly believe this is important. Some have been accused of making these proclamations to pave the way for future political runs or to hold onto subscribers and readers. I’ll take their proclamation over their silence despite any motive. But will they go a step further and proclaim white privilege evil too? Not only decry the ideology that whites should rule the land, but the reality that they do?

Here are some other things we have a chance to call out as evil: the exploitation of people of color by companies selling them homes under contract for deed, the continued effects of redlining in cities, that the majority of drug arrests are black men (though they are not the majority of users), that the murderer of Philando Castille was acquitted. And one doesn’t have to look to the news for examples of these types of evil. While you may have a white supremacist sitting next to you at work, at church, at school, you will also find countless examples of places and people that write people off because of their race.

Another sentiment circulating pushes our responsibility to the spiritual realm. “What can we do but pray? For our battle isn’t against flesh and blood!” Some explain race issues as a human sin issue. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun, mankind has been violent and biased towards one another since the beginning. As long as we have sin, we will have racists.

Yes, it is a sin and we must pray and lament and cry out to God. But we are copping out if we don’t recognize it as our sin, today, now, and in our country. Our prayer must come alongside our work. Though hatred is not unique to white people, we are the enfranchised, the ones whose bigotry, seen and unseen, passive and aggressive, shapes the systems of this country.

My white guilt is useless, my white repentance and action is necessary.

Tonight I repent for sleeping while men and women threatened the lives of my nephews, friends, and students in the open air. Tonight I beg God and my black and brown and Jewish and Muslim brothers and sisters for forgiveness for this weekend, but also all the other weekends and years and generations of both outright aggression and passivity from a place of power and privilege. My white guilt is useless, my white repentance and action is necessary.

My friend William Stell talked about the usefulness of putting faces, stories, and relationships into the language of our activism. In a recent Huffington Post piece, he gave the example of chanting not only “black lives matter,” but also shouting the names of the black men and women in his life. And as I move forward I want to embody this individual and corporate activism.

Black lives matter.

Marcus’s life matters. I’m sorry I took a nap.

Mason’s life matters. I’m sorry for talking to the like-minded and stepping back from confrontation.

Malachi’s life matters. I’m sorry for not finding more tangible ways to call out evil and holding a latte instead of carrying the small weight of a poster board taped to a piece of wood.

John’s life matters. I’m sorry for the way my words bounce around like screws in an empty coffee can, making a pathetic hollow noise where my hands and feet should be working instead. They’re not enough.

E.J’s life matters. I apologize for any way this post serves my own catharsis more than your basic human rights or amplifies my own voice instead of your own.

Aleshia’s life matters. I’m sorry for sitting still in my safety and building fortresses out of rhetoric and academic assent to the cause of your right to flourish in this country.

Lauren’s life matters. I’m sorry. I repent. God have mercy on the church, on me, for waiting this long to call out evil.