Briefly Noted: On Affirmative Action and “Wishing You Were Black”

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on December 9, 2013.]

In a recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education Angela Onwuachi-Willig argues that many whites do not understand affirmative action because they do not understand racism.[1] Moreover, she claims, some whites do not understand race itself. The occasion for Onwuachi-Willig’s essay is the recent Supreme Court decision on Fisher v. Texas involving the student, Abigail Fisher, whose initial complaint resulted in the case.

Fisher sued the University of Texas for denying her admission. She claimed, “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin.” To this comment, Onwuachi-Willig responds: “ . . . many whites spend so little time having to think about, much less deal with, race and racism, that they understand race as nothing more than a plus factor in the admissions process.” Whites such as Fisher fail to see the various systemic disadvantages many black students face simply for being black, according to Onwuachi-Willig.

Onwuachi-Willig details how she encountered a student who lacked this understanding. “During my senior year,” she states, “a classmate who had the same SAT score as I did remarked, ‘I wish I was black!’ after he learned I had received.” She recounts her shock and explains how she actually had a better GPA, more leadership positions and student activities, and had a job while he did not. Rather than list these, however, Onwuachi-Willig corrected him: “‘I wish I were black,’ I said. ‘And, no, you don’t.’” The correction reveals the fundamental point of Onwuachi-Willig’s argument. Her classmate did not understand, or was not aware of, the realities: the reality that she had worked harder than him; that she had spent weeks researching and applying for scholarships.

Furthermore, “my classmate failed to think for even one moment about what being black may have meant for his life. He never considered what it would have meant to sit all day in classrooms where he was the only white student in a sea of black faces.” As such, Onwuachi-Willig claims, he distorted her achievements, ignored her fortitude, failed to see her cultivating extra skills, and ignored the extra work she had to put in because she did not have a parent with “college knowledge” to guide her through the process. Because he did not recognize these realities, he ignored the broader disparity between whites and blacks.

Onwuachi-Willig finds the same sort of unawareness in the comments of Fisher and the Supreme Court decision on Fisher v. Texas. She argues that Fisher has an assumption that reveals her lack of awareness. Fisher thought her better resumé put her in as good or better standing for admission to UT than her black counterparts. For Onwuachi-Willig, Fisher overlooked the privileges that made her resumé possible, and that these privileges are not accessible to many students, especially to many blacks. Cello lessons, volunteering, and even AP courses are privileges not universals. So Onwuachi-Willig avers, “Nearly 25 years after my own high-school experience, we have not moved much beyond the ignorance reflected in my classmate’s remark about wishing to be black. . . . It is disappointing to think that students have learned so little about white privilege . . . that they still continue to wish that they were black.” In sum, privilege should beget at least awareness of the situation of those who are less than privileged.

In response to Onwuachi-Willig’s article, I wish to affirm her observations that many whites do not understand racism nor have we given much attention to privilege. (I’m not attempting here to weigh in on the merits of that particular Supreme Court case, as I know there is a good deal of complexity going into these issues. What I do wish to affirm is how many whites are blind to privilege.) We misunderstand racism in many ways, but in no way more than when the scope of racism is restricted to individual offenses committed by one person against another person. Racism is certainly perpetuated by individuals, and sometimes by one person against another. But it is not limited to that. Racism also can be structural. Societies can organize themselves in ways that their cultural institutions exclude, marginalize, and otherwise handicap and denigrate those of a certain race.  Furthermore, the same structures that marginalize some simultaneously offer advantages and privileges to others in the same society.

In addition to misunderstanding racism, often we have not even reflected on race itself. A good place to begin is with creation, where it is made clear that God’s creation is good, and it contained within it a diversity of colors and kinds. His creation order issued forth in a profusion of races, and those races are beautiful and good. In fact, in the aftermath of the fall, God crucified his Son in order to provide salvation for people of every tribe, tongue, people, and nation. In so doing, God leveraged his divine privileges in Christ on behalf of those in need. Thus, he undercut hierarchies of racial pride and made clear that he does not elevate any tribe, but is Savior of all. In fact, we will not know him in his full glory until we know him as the king of all nations.

All of which brings me to my final point. “Colorblindness” is not the best model for dealing with race. Colorblindness assumes that race is a value-neutral, but in God’s eyes race is a value-positive. For this reason, it is not inappropriate for churches or seminaries to recognize and place value on a person’s race. Predominantly white churches, for example, might actively look for non-Anglo candidates pastoral and ministerial positions. A pastoral leadership team composed of white, African-American and Hispanic leadership is much more likely to be able build a multi-colored church, and a multi-colored church is a resplendent picture of our eternal state with our Savior. Likewise a predominantly-Anglo seminary is well-served to recognize the value of a potential faculty member’s cultural heritage in the spiritual and ministerial formation of its students. That’s a type of affirmative action that doesn’t get much “air time” but that we can and should support.

[1] Angela Onwuachi-Willig. “‘I Wish I Were Black’ and Other Tales of Privilege,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education (November 1, 2013: B20–21).

David Alan Black on Global Missions

David Alan Black elevates from banality the description, “what you see is what you get.” Although he is a popular classroom instructor at SEBTS and is the author of more than 15 books on New Testament, Greek, and linguistics, he is perhaps best known on our campus as a passionate proponent of global missions. And he doesn’t just talk the talk. Dr. Black takes 3-4 mission trips per year, has adopted nearly ten Ethiopian children, and keeps an open office door for students inquiring about missions.

His most recent book, Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? (Energion, 2012), seeks to do the same for an even wider audience. Here is how Dr. Black’s publisher describes the book:

The church in America has come to depend on professionals to ‘do ministry.’ In many churches, the pastor, paid to do the job, is the one who is expected to carry out all functions of the church.

But it was not always this way. Jesus came as God-in-the-flesh. The pattern portrayed in the New Testament is that every Christian is part of the body of Christ, and the function of Christ’s body is to be incarnational, to be Jesus Christ for the world (John 20:21).

Dr. Black takes on this attitude of outsourcing our mission in his shortest book, yet one he has said might be the most important that he has written: Will You Join the Cause of Global Missions? Dr. Black calls for us to replace outsourcing with insourcing. Instead of looking for professionals to do the ministry while the rest of us fill the pews, he is pointing us back to the Gospel Commission and the call on every Christian life to fulfill that Commission.

Black’s book is not an academic treatise, but a personal challenge: “will you join the cause of global missions?” It is written in such a manner that it will connect not only with pastors or seminary students, but also  Sunday schools and small groups who are seeking to better apply their lives to the Great Commission.

You can pick up a copy of Dr. Black’s new book here.


Book Notice: “Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary”

This year marks the bicentennial anniversary for Adoiram and Ann Judson’s departure from America to Burma (now Myanmar). For this reason Jason Duesing has presented the world with an edited volume, Adoniram Judson: A Bicentennial Appreciation of The Pioneer American Missionary (B&H, 2012). In this volume, Duesing reflects upon the significance of Judson’s life and ministry and holds hope that the Baptist and evangelical world will continue in Judson’s tradition. The structure of the book, included below, guides the reader through learning from Judson and inspires one to follow Judson’s lead in living a life fully devoted to Jesus Christ. Included among the contributors to this volume are SEBTS’ very own President, Danny Akin, and brilliant historian Nathan A. Finn.

Here is the outline of the book:

Introduction – “From Judson’s Prison to the Ends of the Earth” by Paige Patterson

Historical Foundation

Chapter 1 – “Just Before Judson: The Significance of William Carey’s Life, Thought, and Ministry” by Michael A.G. Haykin

Chapter 2 – “New England’s New Divinity and the Age of Judson’s Preparation” by Robert Caldwell

Biographical Presentation

Chapter 3 – “Ambition Overthrown: The Conversion, Consecration, and Commission of Adoniram Judson, 1788–1812” by Jason G. Duesing

Chapter 4 – “‘Until All Burma Worships the Eternal God’: Adoniram Judson, the Missionary, 1812–50” by Nathan A. Finn

Chapter 5 – “So That The World May Know: The Legacy of Adoniram Judson’s Wives” by Candi Finch

Missiological and Theological Evaluation

Chapter 6 – “The Enduring Legacy of Adoniram Judson’s Missiological Precepts and Practices” by Keith E. Eitel

Chapter 7 – “From Congregationalist to Baptist: Judson and Baptism” by Gregory A. Wills

Homiletical Interpretation

Chapter 8 – “Marked for Death, Messengers of Life: Adoniram and Ann Judson” by Daniel L. Akin

Conclusion – “Please Come and Dig” by Jason G. Duesing

In my endorsement for the book, I wrote “Jason Duesing’s Adoniram Judson is a book of historical, theological, missiological, and pastoral consequence. The all-star ensemble of authors for this edited volume provides essays that appreciate Judson’s monumental life and work, but do so in an appropriately critical manner, avoiding the hagiography often present in missionary biographies. In this book, the reader is provided with an excellent and concise biographical treatment of Judson in historical context, followed by a theological and missiological evaluation of his life and ministry, and finally concluding with a homiletical interpretation of Judson. I highly recommend this book.” I stick with the endorsement, and add to it an encouragement for our readers to buy the book, read it, and allow the lessons from Judson’s life to instruct and encourage.