Author discusses racism, privilege


Jim Wallis, a bestselling author and political activist, appeared Sunday at Gesu Church for a discussion about white privilege in America. 


The presentation, co-sponsored by UDM’s James Carney Latin America Solidarity Archive, and the Michigan Coalition for Human rights, was based off his latest book America’s Original Sin.


“The original sin isn’t slavery,” Wallis told his audience, explaining the original sin of America in slavery, was the dehumanization of black slaves for money. It is true that slaves in America were counted as three-fifths human; and it is very true that slavery made America the top economic power in the world, he said, making them worth more than gold.


“Race is just a construct we invented,” said Wallis.


He said the view of blacks being less than human still stands in society, and that whiteness has been, and is just an ideology that is idolized.


“In America the biggest political fact is within a couple decades there will no longer be a white majority,” he said.


Wallis spoke of the changes in the demographics to come, and whether whites will receive the “New America” as a blessing or a curse. Wallis discussed the importance at this time in history to really confront racism, and know that racism is everyone’s problem to help fix. 


“If you benefit from oppression you are responsible for changing it,” he said.


 Dennis Jackson, a former UDM student, liked how Wallis acknowledged the problem of white privilege and that we need to find a solution.


 “In case you are one of the privileged ones, that didn’t understand that there was a problem, after you realize there’s a problem you can’t just go home and say ‘it’s not me’ and it’s all of us together, and that biblically racism is wrong,” Jackson said.


            Dr. Anne Sullivan Smith was glad to be in the audience with like-minded people, and agreed with Wallis’ message, but found it a bit problematic.  Smith liked that Wallis mentioned that we need a conversation about the problems with race, but she didn’t hear a solution to the problems.


“I never heard the plan of action,” she said “We can have these conversations over and over again…it would have been really helpful to have an action plan.”


            Rev. Kevin Johnson of Calvary Presbyterian, who introduced Wallis, pointed out another problem that Wallis didn’t.

“Privilege has not just been a benefit to White America, privilege has also been a benefit to Black America,” he said. “While White America has to have this conversation, there’s a conversation that Black America needs to have as well.”