I’ve heard from time-to-time that much of the “social justice” work done and the “social services” given by “White folks” to the “needy” (who in these instances generally mean Hispanics and African-Americans) are nothing much more than attempts at expunging their “liberal White guilt” and in the end accomplish not so much the “empowerment” of these groups but actually contribute to continued “dependence” on these “good White folks.” The “good White folks” feel all good about themselves because they’ve helped the “poor people who cannot do it for themselves due to so much institutionalized injustice and oppression” (which does exist!, but perhaps not as the imaginations of those suffering from liberal White guilt conjure up).
As I’ve heard, what these “good White people” do is not so much enable poor or disadvantaged people to fish, but just give them fish so that the downtrodden people have to continue being dependent on and accept the “good White people’s” pity. This kind of thing, this way of “helping the poor and disadvantaged,” smacks too much of paternalism and “liberal White hubris!”
Is there truth in this kind of accusation? Well, that is debated, but when “good White people” suffering from “liberal White guilt” need ways to alleviate their guilt feelings and find ways to make themselves feel good about themselves, it isn’t beyond the pale that even subconsciously there are devised methods of keeping the status quo as it is in order to continue to provide relief for “liberal White guilt” for those who suffer from it.
I really don’t know, but I wonder! I have seen such things in action, particularly in Academia. I do think there is legitimacy in the idea, whether or not a majority of “Liberals White people” act out in this way is up for debate.
But, the question arises – What is authentic service, or Good Works, from an enduring Christian understanding? The following is quote out of the book I’m reading entitled, Growing Souls: Experiments in Contemplative Youth Ministry, by Mark Yaconelli. The particular chapter, thus the quote, is actually by Frank Rogers, Jr. as he details the real-life experience of the Youth and their sponsors from Lake Chelan Lutheran Church. They were on a youth ministry trip to Nicaragua.
Their first three days in the Nicaraguan capital only solidified their concern for the poor. They saw firsthand the insidious web of social structures, bureaucratic process, and cultural prejudice that conspired to bar the peasants form access to universities, opportunities in the business world, or voice in the government. By the youth were bused to the countryside for three days of living with peasants in their homes, their indignation was high and their sympathy deep as they burned to made a difference.
When they pulled into one struggling settlement, the teens were horrified to see a group of women, some pregnant, some elderly, hacking through hardened soil in the day’s heat to dig trenches alongside withering coffee plants. Moved by their plight, the teens swarmed over and insisted that they relieve the women and dig the trenches themselves. The women, surprised at the youthful zeal of the Norte Americanos, stepped aside. Some of the teens were athletes strengthened by modern regimens of weight training, most were amply well-nourished on North American abundance; all were bolstered by the nobility of their Christian convictions and the invigorating rush when taking care of those in need. Within an hour they were ready to pass out. Exhausted by the labor and beaten down by the heat, they guzzled draughts of water, then napped in the afternoon shade. The peasant women smiled as they refilled the teen’s buckets. They they retrieved their tools, and dug throughout the rest of the day.
Their discussion that evening reflected upon the paternalism that permeates U.S. attitudes toward the poor, particularly within the church. A conversion of thinking took place among the teens. Their notions of poor and wealthy, service and empowerment, were turned upside down. They saw how taking care of another, however well intentioned, can mask arrogance and reinforce dependency. For the rest of the trip, the young people allowed themselves to be served by the vibrant Nicaraguan people, sharing in the wealth of the Nicaraguans’ culture and sense of community, their dreams for a better world, and their hopes fueled by festive faith and active organizing. The teems no longer tried to rescue the peasants. They simply asked how they might become their allies. They were learning about authentic action – action spurred by visions of justice and mutuality, chastened by the shadows that motivate us all, and energized by a commitment to birth power, not dependency. By maintaining hearts that were attentive, open, and vulnerable to the Nicaraguan people and their situation, the youth of Lake Chaelan gained a new awareness of both the struggles of the poor and their own privilege.” [Yoconelli & Rogers, pp. 175-176]
What can and should we learn from this? When I think about Good Works for the Red Hook Project and the Imago Dei Society, it is authentic ministry coming from a Christian perspective – not fueled by “Americanisms” but as much removed from our American enculturation as possible. How are our Good Works to come out of the Kingdom of God rather than the Kingdom of Man?