When I was growing up, I didn’t have a picture of Jesus in my house. There were definitely no portraits of God or Vishnu or any other deity. The only thing I can remember were a few crosses sitting here or there and maybe an old family Bible out on a coffee table. My catholic grandparents had a letter from the Pope framed and hanging on their living room wall and a picture of the beautiful Jesus profile portrait hanging close by. Jesus and the Pope were sort of equal.
I did however go to Sunday school and Vacation Bible School at a Baptist and Methodist church from time to time. Thinking back on it now the portraits I saw of Jesus were of a white man with long dark hair and a nice beard very similar to the one my grandparents had. In fact everyone I can think of in those children’s stories were white. I was raised with this notion that God was white because he was Jesus’ father and Jesus was white so… you understand the correlation.
Here’s the deal. Kids often will place physical attributes to God because that is how they need to describe and understand the concept of a deity for their brains. As we grow older we mature to a less physical deity to more of a less physical, more spiritual being. Christ, and therefore God, is almost exclusively portrayed as a man who looks like he is white. Still to this day this is the case. One does not have to be religious to see these images; they are everywhere.
Why is this important? It’s important because it sends a message to children of color from a very early age that they are not as close the image of the divine creator than white people. This doesn’t have to be taught because it is soaked up by what kids are exposed to through our culture. This image of a white Jesus is practically everywhere. I recently walked into a Christian university in Texas, which had portraits of the 12 disciples hanging around one of their administration buildings. All 12 men were different variations of white skin tone and their features and physical attributes were Caucasian. They did not reflect the historical heritage scholars would trace these men to. This idea that the great men of our Christian religion are white is represented and accepted. It’s being accepted less but we still won’t recognize the racist elements to the system that put it in place.
The reality for us white folks who go to church, who identify as Christian is this… when we read the stories of the old testament of the nation of Israel, we identify as the nation of Israel. But we aren’t Israel. We are Egypt. We are Babylon. We are Rome. We aren’t the oppressed. We are the ones in power in that story. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow but in our narrative, we look more like the oppressor than the oppressed.
We white folks don’t like thinking about these things. However, we would rather deflect and get angry about what Beyoncé is doing and what she wears at her concerts that resembles a black panther outfit. We need to deflect because we are scared.
The culture is shifting. Our nation is becoming a more diverse nation than it was 40 years ago. Therefore our pop-culture icons are changing. Leave It To Beaver is no longer our model. You have young white kids looking up to black men and women as their role models. This scares the shit out of a lot of white people. This is “white fragility”. White Fragility is when any amount of racial stress results in defensive arguments or postures often with anger, fear or guilt. The culture is shifting and we need to be aware and truthful with how it makes us feel as white people. We need to learn how to process it.
Moving forward, we must ask the question, “Why do we value what we value?” We must have time for introspection and determine how we are being shaped by our cultural narrative. Is this narrative one of truth or one which we white folks can remain oblivious to the plight of the people of color in our country?