Some of my best friends are dead white guys!
This blog’s delivery problems had the silver lining of hearing from a lot of subscribers about your appreciation of its posts. Thank you!
But I received one negative comment, and of course, like Jesus’ parable of the shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to pay attention to the one, I felt compelled to respond. It stuck in my craw, as a grating grain of sand an oyster defensively covers with pearl. Well, this post ain’t no pearl.
This live white guy wrote, “Your blog is a real low point for ‘progressive.’ How about sourcing it with someone other than dead white men?”
He did not sign his name, but I had his e-mail, and could figure out who it was. I waited a day to respond, considering whether I should. But I wrote back that actually I did “source” it with other than dead white men, offering multiple sample names he could find using the blog’s search engine in its upper left corner. Then I wrote:
I also think dead white men have much to offer, especially as I am nearly one myself. And they include Jews, gays, and other marginalized groups that have perspective on the spiritual life.
I could have added the many who died of AIDS, perhaps my single largest source of contemporary spiritual wisdom and inspiration.
Of course he had struck a nerve. Believe me, I’ve noticed how much a product I am of my European/British/American heritage. But I read outside that genre, and sometimes others’ words and actions stick and sometimes they don’t.
I also think it’s a mistake to think of dead white men monolithically. It reminds me of my church during college years thinking the Chinese family and the Korean family would want to sit together at social functions—after all, both families were Asian! Church members were blissfully ignorant of their (sometimes hostile) differences historically, culturally and ethnically.
Neither are dead white men of one piece. I’m not even of one piece. My Irish ancestors were treated harshly when they immigrated to the U.S., giving me empathy for immigrants today. “The luck of the Irish” was among the ethnic slurs used to describe them—after all, an Irish man or woman could only achieve success through luck because we didn’t have the skills or brains to do it on our own.
My German ancestor left Germany in the 1800s, because, he wrote in a letter, Germany was becoming too militaristic and he did not want to serve in its armies. Given my last name, I wouldn’t be surprised to discover that he was a Jew who felt compelled to assimilate when coming to the U.S.
My Swedish ancestor came to the U.S. because she fell in love and married someone of the “wrong” class, unacceptable to her family.
And I’m a gay man, meaning I have always viewed the dominant culture as an outsider and as one who doesn’t meet my gender “specs.”
Obviously the person I “source” most is Jesus. To some he’s just another dead white man. But for most of us, each of those designations is up for discussion.
P.S. The subscriber responded to my e-mail with a thoughtful and considerate one that included some thought-provoking questions about my beliefs, which I happily answered in kind. All’s well that ends well! (I know, quoting another dead white guy named Shakespeare!)
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