(This post summarizes an incident that happened at my alma mater about a year and a half ago. I share it here because that incident provides the context for today’s other post on white privilege – a post I originally wrote to address that situation, but which I believe has wider applicability.)
So, I want to share something that’s kind-of dominated my thoughts these past few days. A series of events has unmasked an enormous amount of ignorance and prejudice at my alma mater, Moody Bible Institute.
It started when a black student group called Embrace had their event poster vandalized. Someone intentionally cut out the word “privilege,” as can be clearly seen in the photo above. Other former students tell me that vandalism was a common occurrence with this group’s flyers over the years.
A rightly angered student posted a picture of the vandalism on a popular Moody Facebook forum saying that this was unacceptable. Shockingly, many students responding by complaining about the poster; saying it was racist against whites; that it made them feel “hurt,” and “bitter;” that all this “social justice warriors” talk tempted them toward tearing it down themselves (though they say they didn’t) and is what would be more likely to make them racist (thought they say they are not); that white privilege is not real.
Many students apparently felt that raising awareness about the very real and serious lingering problems of white privilege and racial inequality was “hurtful” toward white people and “divisive.” Many ridiculed a Biblical concern for social justice as “worldly” using disparaging language and scare quotes about “social justice mob[s],” “social justice warriors,” and “freedom fighters.” The standard academic language on privilege was mocked as “socialist,” Marxist,” and unworthy of consideration because it was from, “the syllabus of this world.” There was a Gnostic emphasis on an (apparently) purely spiritual gospel, saving souls, and talk about how this world was just going to burn anyway.
In an almost complete inversion of reality, many students felt that white people were the real ones who were discriminated against. There was talk about “reverse racism” in things like affirmative action. One student joked about how maybe Moody needed to start a “white” student support group. One student posted a Laurence Fishburne meme about how, “white people have feelings too.” Showing their ignorance of what the literature on white privilege means, many students felt that such talk implied that white people didn’t have their own struggles, pain, or deficits of privilege (in other areas).
There was attempts to minimize what happened and blame the victim. One student joked that maybe Embrace had ripped their own poster. In a separate post (that was later taken down) another student characterized what happened as a mere “scratch.” Other’s seemed to imply that the poster deserved to be defaced because it was “hurtful,” “divisive,” and “offensive.”
There was a sickening use of Christian language and “niceness” to try to deny significant injustices or the acceptability of addressing them. Language of how we are all “one in Christ” and equally “privileged” by our salvation was used in a color blind racist way as blinders to the stereotyping, discrimination, and inequality that continue to pervade us and our culture. Appeal to Christian unity was used to censure Embrace and their defenders for having the audacity to criticize this unjust status quo. (One alumnus aptly lampooned this tactic as a cheap rhetorical trick: e.g. “If everyone agreed with me, we’d be unified; so to point out where I’m wrong creates disunity.”)
Most indefensibly, one of Moody’s own professors attacked Embrace and more or less said they deserved the vandalism for posting such an “offensive” “stunt” poster. He accused them of “worldly pride” and said they ought to be “ashamed” of themselves. He not only showed a shocking ignorance of the realities of privilege and racism or the standard terminology used in academic circles in discussing that; he (and others) engaged in victim blaming – analogous to “slut shaming” a rape victim, as one of my friends observed – and an arguable abuse of his status as an authority figure on campus to try to shut down a conversation.
But that’s not all. He was later made an administrator on this supposedly student run Facebook group—something someone later tried to hide. An African American woman who was trying to share her experiences of racism had her comments blocked as too “offensive” by someone. (Those who run the student group say it wasn’t them.) She made it clear that they were not. No inflammatory language, just sharing her experiences.
A black woman is literally being “silenced” for sharing her experiences of racism after an black student group has their poster vandalized and white students make extremely offensive, misinformed statements at will—but white privilege doesn’t exist, ya’ll.
In discussing this with other alumni, a bunch of other racist occurrences were brought up. One woman who graduated in 1990 was denied an RA position by a top administrator for the explicitly given reason that she was in an inter-racial relationship! Others have said that opposition to inter-racial relationships was still quite common then. Another alumnus from the music department reported unscientific, racist stereotypes being forwarded about differences between black people’s music and vocal cords and those of white people. Another item that received much attention was a yearbook photo from 2002 that pictured a white Moody student as a sort-of white savior “giant” helping, and I quote, “black elves” (Cabrini Green kids).
But perhaps the most infuriating thing for me, apart from the Moody professor’s over the top words, was the sheer smug ignorance of most of the student comments. How is it that they live in inner city Chicago in a year that Ferguson, etc. has been in the news and they don’t think that being white brings them any hidden benefits or that being black or brown doesn’t come with unique challenges?
I and a number of other Moody students, staff, and alumni pushed back against this (ahem) privileged ignorance in the comments section. After the professor’s blatant attack, we took it to twitter and raised a firestorm there. The story got legs and the Chicago Tribune wrote a story about it (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/ct-moody-institute-white-privilege-forum-met-20150309-story.html). There is talk of a USA Today article and at least three prominent Christian blogs posted about it as well (Revangelical, Jesus Creed, and Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics).
In the end, the professor gave an apology of sorts and Moody’s president, Dr. J. Paul Nyquist, issued a statement affirming that white privilege is real, that the student group’s event was a good idea, and that it was part of a larger Moody effort to address issues of race on campus.
I and others are happy about that. But many of us feel that there are deeper underlining issues concerning race, gender, and sexual orientation at Moody. Many of us feel that specific Moody policies and an oppressive atmosphere of ignorance, Eurocentrism, anti-intellectualism, and conservative siege-mentality will continue to contribute to a culture of oppression toward Moody’s minorities. I have many alumni friends with horror stories from such experiences there.
In the end, all we can do is lovingly but forcefully resist such attitudes and do what we can to foster true Christian love and justice. Keep praying that Moody will take the appropriate steps to further those things.