White Privilege: The Elephant in the Room

White Privilege: The Elephant in the Room

In this time of change, the ideological underpinnings of White Privilege continue to constrain us at an institutional and congregational level.
A tree in a field covered with snow.

The system of the supremacy of whiteness was created to serve white men who were heterosexual, able bodied, Christian, wealthy landowners, to keep power and control in their hands. If we truly want to understand white privilege, the intersections of identity elements on which privilege systems are based and how each serves to support the others are an essential puzzle piece. (Kendall, Frances E. Understanding White Privilege)

That our United Church of Canada is undergoing change goes without saying. As generational and demographic experiences of church have shifted, the church has been exploring many matters which centre on diversity and inclusivity. For many, 1986 (Apology to First Nations People) and 1988 (in which sexual orientation was determined not to be a barrier to Ministry) are the moments in which the momentum of theological analysis, which began in the 1920s around gender and women’s role in society, began to bear fruit.

Where the church now finds itself, enmeshed in structural change, has left many feeling disconnected from a sense of purpose, even identity. Though we have done well in academic analysis around culture and colonialism and our complicity in Empire, there seems to be an underlying floundering as to who we are in a world that is foreign to our modernist structures, processes and polity.

As I begin to translate my current PhD studies into practical denominational applications, I would suggest we must confront our White Privilege. In this time of change, the ideological underpinnings of White Privilege continue to constrain us at an institutional and congregational level. Though we have begun some work, in respect to Intercultural Ministry (2012), we may be unable to embrace the potential that lies before the church as it journeys further into postmodernity.

As we wrestle whether we will divorce ourselves from the trappings of power, about which some still romanticise, I invite us to explore that Empire is grounded in White Privilege. In this male centred preference, as the opening quote summarises well, we might begin to revisit seriously the early church’s metaphor of the body: it is whole only when all members are afforded dignity. Regardless of the structural change ahead, until congregations find ways to have challenging, and yes difficult, conversations, we will continue to flounder as we long for identity.

To learn more about White Privilege see:

See also, Richard’s two-part blog series exploring racism: Holy Saturday #1 and Holy Saturday #2


By Deacon Richard Manley-Tannis

Richard’s family arrived from the Ottoman Empire in the mid-19th century. Richard endeavours to merge his practical conflict resolution & organisational development experience with appropriate theological & academic explorations. In 2014, Richard continued his ongoing studies by beginning his PhD with The Taos Institute & Tilburg University. In this next journey of learning, he is endeavouring to explore the connexions between Social Construction & Practical Theology. Richard’s blog is A Deacon’s Musing.  

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The views contained within these blogs are personal and do not necessarily reflect those of The United Church of Canada.


I am grateful to have been invited to share in the conversation "At the Heart of Justice." I look forward to any dialogue in which we might explore new meaning. Formulating innovative understanding that will allow us to be creative and generate shared understanding in this time of change feels most important. The irony is that I suspect it may very well echoes the wisdom that we have inherited from our Christian tradition, specifically that which remains to be remembered from the Early Church!

There is another privilege leavening the lump. This privilege is manifest in diverse persons and associations of persons. It is the privilege of solvency in a world of abject poverty. We will do well to ask how the deployment of our "gifted" resources will serve the new imagination and practice for which creature and creation long. Once determination is established, person by person, a process of sanctification will be set in motion, what we call transformation. Resources required for market solvency will be considered of secondary priority. The prime priority will be for the deployment of our available resources in the service of justice in our homes, our neighbourhoods, our towns and cities; our world. Jesus turns folk ensnared in the economies of Jerusalem and Rome to consider an alternative economy. At the outset he attracts attention mainly with the socially excluded. He draws some common folk into the project and serves them as a exemplar of the new reality. A reality which then and now inverts the pyramids of power. In effect, Jesus mobilizes a popular movement of Exodus from the domain of power. Imagine a percentage of the United Church population declaring a fast. We may think of Jonah and the king of Nineveh or Gideon and the three hundred who confused and confounded the perennial foe. A fast in which we limit ourselves to the bare necessities of daily living. Such as we might experience in a wilderness journey to a promised land. But.... brevity is the heart of clarity. Thank you for providing opportunity for reflection on a matter of ultimate concern. George

Thanks for your reflection George. I think the theological underpinnings of your challenges are helpful. they also seem to me to be one of the threads that is connected with the normative nature of White Privilege. Text is always awkward with such rich conversations and I am grateful for your offering a little more depth to the blog itself!