Opinion Columns & Blogs

Kent H. Little: Fear of losing privilege drives tensions

All that seems to be coming unhinged once again in our communities, country and culture is a painful reminder that though we have made some progress on race relations we still have a long way to go.

Recently it seems the globe has been on a backspin to the 1950s and ’60s. Perhaps, though, what has happened is the superficial pseudo-community, crusty overlay of denial and privilege has been broken open and the nasty reality of bigotry, racism and fear of the other has once again crept out of its hiding place to stain the landscape of who we could be and who we should be.

I believe we find ourselves in an opportune spot. In a stress-filled, tension-filled, injustice-laden broken system, we must begin in earnest to talk about racism, abuse of authority, violence, life and needless death.

I know the majority of our law enforcement officers are excellent and put their lives on the line in ways I can only imagine. They risk and lose their lives on a regular basis, fulfilling their commitment to serve and protect those who rely on them for safety and security. I also know there are consequences to actions and behaviors to what we do. That being said, my primary focus here is on privilege.

Columnist Leonard Pitts recently compared two scenarios (“‘White privilege’ shown in videos,” Dec. 22 Opinion). In the first, Pitts referred to “Joseph Houseman, a 63-year-old white man who, back in May, stood with a rifle on a street in Kalamazoo, Mich. When police arrived, he refused to identify himself, grabbed his crotch, flipped them the bird and cursed. They talked him down in an encounter that lasted 40 minutes. Houseman was not arrested. The next day, he got his gun back.”

Pitts’ second scenario concerned “Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old black boy who last month was playing with a realistic-looking toy gun in a Cleveland park. When police arrived, an officer shot him at point-blank range. There was no talking him down. Indeed, the entire encounter, from arrival to mortal wounds, took about two seconds.”

There is something desperately wrong when we lay those two scenarios side by side. We have a race, racism and racial prejudice problem in our country, and it is systemic. That being said, I believe it goes much deeper than that.

I believe it is a systemic issue around most, if not all, of the “isms” and many of the phobias of our country – sexism, ageism, homophobia, classism and a fear of the other. At the risk of self-incrimination, it seems to me that white, male, straight Christians – who have been the majority and in power for a long time and who are realizing they are no longer the majority and their privilege is being threatened – are those most afraid. Some respond with all they know – power and control.

This fear and abuse of power and control are the same fear and abuse of power that drive not only racial tensions but oppression of the gay community. The same fear and abuse of power drive the demonizing of feminism as well as oppression of the poor.

As a Christian minister, I believe this is a justice issue. Oppression, abuse of authority and power, fear, “isms,” phobias, unjust stigma, and injustice will not be and are not part of the world envisioned by the God in whom I believe.

We need to begin again the difficult work of listening together, the difficult work of hearing one another, the difficult work of collaboration with people of all races, ethnic backgrounds, sexual orientations, genders, religious and nonreligious affiliations, and find the common ground of humanity and a common planet in which we inhabit.

Kent H. Little is lead pastor at College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita.