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Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World

Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World, by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp. Intervarsity Press (September 2006). Paperback: 192 pages. ISBN-10: 0830832475; ISBN-13: 978-0830832477. Reviewed by Glen Kinoshita.

Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World is not only a much needed contribution to the dialogue on racial reconciliation, for many it is an answer to prayer. For years, in my experience and for the many I have met along the way, the voices always seem to echo where are the white people in this process? What role does the white person in America have in justice and compassion? How do we get white people to talk about power and privilege?

Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp have given the Body of Christ a gift in their recent work, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multiethnic World. The authors begin by offering us a glimpse into their personal journeys as white people in America and the process it has begun to unfold. This book is an invitation to join them in a lifelong journey of learning and spiritual growth. It is not an academic or theoretical treatise. It is a down to earth attempt to first and foremost help white people make a difference in a multiethnic context. Secondly, it is for people of color to learn of some of the internal process of white people seeking to grow in a diverse world as well as to move toward a godly interdependence with white people.

The authors Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp are both White Americans who have worked on staff for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship for many years. Paula Harris was born to missionary parents who worked to bring justice to people of color, hence her process began at an early age to live and minister based on convictions about what the Bible says about justice and shalom. Her family today is very diverse. She currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin as Senior Associate Director of the Urbana Student Mission Convention. Doug Schaupp was born in Chinatown San Francisco, California and is married to a Korean American woman. He was ordained in an African-American church and then served for a time in a Korean church in Koreatown located in Los Angeles, California. He is currently Regional Director of InterVarsity’s campus ministries in Southern California.

There are many very significant aspects of being white in America that this book covers. First, it is a Christian approach to the challenges of diversity and the role white people have in our society. For those who have worked extensively in diversity training or who have sought resources to grow in this area, it is no secret that there is a paucity of work from a Christian or Biblical perspective on these subjects. This book is replete with scripture references and puts the reader in a position to apply biblical exhortations as they face some of the difficult challenges we face in this area.

Second, the authors use their own stories to validate the process they challenge us to embark on. In other words, Doug Schaupp and Paula Harris are speaking from significant life of experience. Hence, when they speak of the pain or the joys of this journey they are speaking in the first person singular. Many may be able to relate to their stories and will find hope and comfort in the wisdom they offer. The authors do not hide the fact that it is a difficult process or that they have made mistakes. But they also offer a responsible picture of the fact that white people can make a difference in God’s multiethnic kingdom and even that they have a unique role to play.

Third, many of the issues that white people face on an individual and personal level are addressed. The authors again, draw from their own experience of their own process as well as their interactions with many other white people. Some of the topics covered in the book include: the issue of guilt over being white; the concept of color blindness; the face that white people don’t feel they have a culture; and white people just feeling bad about being white and that there are no good aspects of their culture. The authors draw from scripture in dealing with these issues and speak with candor that all of us, regardless of our culture and ethnicity, are fearfully and wonderfully made and we are all in God’s image. Doug’s chapter on “Can God Redeem White Culture?” is of significance where he outlines aspect of white culture and how scripture affirms many aspects of white culture. Another particular significance is their addressing the need to continue the journey and not give up. Paula’s exhortation at this is “People get hurt easily in the multiethnic journey, and we white people are quick to give up. We call it ‘racial fatigue,’ but that is just a fancy label for unresolved pain. The cross of Jesus is enough for all our pain. We just keep coming to Jesus and let him heal our wounds” (Harris and Schaupp, 2004:128).

Fourth, the authors do not ignore, and in fact deal with candor, the fact that white people in America do have privilege and that institutional racism is a responsibility that white people in America must embrace. Paula writes, “Racism divides us. But what is it? Whites and people of color often don’t agree. Whites have to learn to see and confront racial sin. We have to learn the truth about white history” (Harris and Schaupp, 2004:97). The fact that this book addresses that whites and people of color do not speak the same language when it comes to defining racism makes it a crucial work in order for us to deal with the pivotal issues that would make it possible for us to move forward. “For a system with racial privilege to operate once it is set up, all whites have to do is ignore it. To deconstruct it, first we have to work hard to see it. Then we have to join forces with the people of color around us to rebuild a new, more just and godly system” (103). These are hard issues for anyone to deal with, but again Doug Schaupp and Paula Harris from their own experience and study of scripture lead us in a sensitive and gracious way to confront truths that are necessary in order to bring healing and peace.