Our Place At The Table: An Interview With Doug Schaupp
Our Place at the Table: The Role of White People in Racial Reconciliation
An Interview with Doug Schaupp, Co-Author of Being White: Finding our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World
Interviewed by Glen Kinoshita, Director, MultiEthnic Programs.
In any given Student Affairs department, the discussion about diversity and racial reconciliation resonates. From student orientation to residence life, people from diverse backgrounds can be seen intersecting and hence interacting. One of the major themes crucial to racial reconciliation is the role that White people in America have in this process. But not only is it crucial, it is also one of the more difficult issues. Some of the challenges that arise in this regard are the problems of guilt and shame, that White people don’t share a clear sense of their culture, and how do we deal with power and White privilege in America.
Those who identify with such scenarios have found the recent release, Being White: Finding our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World by Paula Harris and Doug Schaupp (InterVarsity Press, 2004), a breath of fresh air. This is a book that seeks to assist White people to engage in a lifelong journey of self-discovery, as well as to help people of color understand some of the challenges White people face on this journey. In this interview, co-author Schaupp shares his thoughts regarding the role White people play in the reconciliation process. Schaupp has served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) for over fifteen years. He served as a campus minister at UCLA from 1989 to 1999 and is currently a regional director for IVCF over Southern California. Schaupp and his family reside in Los Angeles, CA.
Glen Kinoshita: Tell us a little about yourself and some significant aspects of your journey as it relates to your own white identity development.
Doug Schaupp: I was born and raised in Chinatown in San Francisco. Growing up I was the only White kid in a class full of Chinese Americans. When I was ten we then moved to Palo Alto which was mostly White. Here my world changed from urban to suburban. I then moved to Los Angeles in 1985 and I became a follower of Jesus at the end of my freshman year in college through InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.
In regards to the development of my White identity, the first significant factor was when my family took a trip to Germany, which was the Schaupp homeland. We visited the small farming province in Southern Germany where my ancestors left to come to America in the early 1800’s. Another key piece of the journey occurred just after the 1992 L.A. riots. My wife and I read a quote in a book that said, “If you are not part of breaking down ethnic divisions you are reinforcing ethnic divisions.” We realized that we were not being proactive in breaking down ethnic divisions. We then made a decision to join an African-American Baptist church. That experience was enormously transformative for me because almost everyone else in the church was African American.
Through this church I was eventually ordained and served on the ministry staff. After three years of serving at this church we then took a ministry in a Korean church located in Koreatown. My wife and I were ministers of the English Ministry of about twenty to thirty people at this church. During this time, we also wrestled with how to make our campus ministry at UCLA more inclusive and how to have a multi-ethnic community that is characterized by love, justice and reconciliation. As a White person I have been shaped by all these experiences.
GK: You are the co-author of the recently released book, Being White: Finding our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World. What prompted you to write the book?
DS: Joining the Black Baptist church took my commitment to racial reconciliation from theoretical to practical. Through this I made a deeper commitment to making reconciliation a reality for our campus ministry at UCLA. These two realities, being a member of a Black Baptist church and the campus ministry at UCLA, forced me to ask personal questions that I wouldn’t have had to explore otherwise. Within our campus ministry at UCLA we held discussion groups called “race matters.” In these meetings we would first separate into our own specific ethnic groups and have an hour discussion about matters specific to our group. Then we would come together as an ethnically diverse group.
We learned that in order for multiethnic groups to function well, we needed to be intentional about getting together and having dialogue; hence, this is what we did once every three months. In the “race matters” groups, we would have an hour set aside for White people. These discussions led me down a great path of self-examination. I initially thought I would write a book on racial reconciliation. However, what InterVarsity Press really wanted was a book on the White experience. I laughed at first when I heard about it, but then I realized that if I found a co-author this would be a great experience.
GK: How has the response to the book been thus far?
DS: As expected there are varied responses. The most negative are from those who reject the worldview that the book offers and thus categorically reject the book. An example, one critic said the job of White America is to teach immigrants to be American like us so we have to mold them to be people who live and function like us. When I hear statements like that, it sounds like they want to form others to be “White like us”, despite the fact that those were not the words this critic would choose to use. These are the people who think this is all just political correctness and we should not be about this topic.
Then there are those who are indifferent. These are the folks who say we are all one in Christ so let’s not raise problems here. Thirdly, there are people who are zealously supportive. These are the folks who see the book as a paradigm-changing book. It is for these people that we have included discussion questions so it could be used as a guide for further process.
GK: You write in your book about the concept of “displacement.” Could you explain what is “displacement” and why is it significant as it relates to White people in America?
DS: Using Jesus as an example, displacement is the path of the cross where He left heaven and came to earth. He gave up what was rightfully His and became a servant to us. Jesus displaced Himself by coming from heaven to earth. Taking His model we are saying we should leave what is ours and enter another’s world. Acts 1:8 tells us to move from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria and then to the uttermost part of the earth. Displacement is built into that calling. If you look at the progression of Acts, particularly in regards to the church in Antioch, the experience of displacement was evident where the Jews and Gentiles were commanded to love one another. That became part of the Christian norm. God wanted to break down those walls.
In the United States we have a challenge to not just stick to our own, but to extend across ethnic lines. It might be tempting to stick to our own. As White people slowly become the minority in this country we can embrace that reality as a gift from God and reflect the reality in Acts and love across ethnic lines.
GK: Why do you think it is so difficult for white people in America to grasp the fact that they have a culture? How do you address this in your book?
DS: One of our key values as White people is individualism. We see ourselves as a group of individuals and not a collective entity. In other words, we have a values Catch 22 to seeing ourselves as a collective entity because of our commitment to not seeing ourselves as a collective entity. Secondly, we see ourselves as a blended people from all across Europe and so therefore it is strange to be a mutt people. Most White people cannot point to one European country of origin. That leads to dissipation and a vague sense of having a culture. In globalization much of our cultural values have been exported all over the globe. Everywhere you go you can find influences of America and hence it makes it more vague as to what it means for us to have a culture and to see what is unique about ourselves.
We are not affirmed or allowed to explore our culture in a Christian context. What I have been trying to do is to ask White people to tell their story and identify cultural values that have been passed on to them. It has been healing for White people to learn about their culture. Ethnic identity is really important for racial reconciliation. If you have White people with no sense of their culture it is going to limit how far they can go in reconciliation because they feel inadequate. Part of the reason we haven’t advanced is we haven’t endorsed White identity as part of the racial reconciliation journey.
GK: Could you address the issue of power and privilege, especially as it relates to the White experience in America?
DS: Again, this is a tough issue for White people because, as I have mentioned in the prior question, we see ourselves primarily as individuals. We see our society as a group of individuals and not in terms of systems and privilege.
In my understanding of privilege there are three levels. First, there is an awareness that privilege exists. Using myself as an example, based on the color of my skin and no other reason, people will give me the benefit of the doubt. It might be when I walk into a bank or into a store or when a police officer sees me in a car. I have the benefit of the doubt based on the color of my skin.
Level two is standing against racism. It is not just that I have privileges but, where I have access to the system, I stand against the racism. Some call this the anti-racist movement.
Thirdly, our book goes a step further to what we describe as plundering white privilege for the sake of justice. We are not just aware of privilege, we are not just standing against it, we are proactively expanding our understanding and use of privilege so we can increase others access to resources.
GK: Generally speaking White people and people of color differ in how they define racism. What is your definition of racism and why do you think we have such difficulty defining it?
DS: Racism is historically a sociological term. We prefer to use the Biblical term, “partiality.” In Acts 10 and 11 Peter realizes that God does not practice partiality and James exhorts us not to practice it either. In the New Testament church there was a huge issue when the Gospel was made available to Jews and Gentiles. God wanted to break down the walls between the two. Partiality is the preferring of my group or comfort over another person’s group or comfort. Partiality is the root of racism. Racism at a societal level is partiality plus power. This is how things that are biased in our heart get codified in our society such as in our economy, our school system, our government, and our churches.
We take a twofold perspective to racism. First, there is an internal investigation and a rigorous self-examination, which is on a personal level. The second perspective is a societal systemic look at racism and adding power to the partiality picture. When I talk to people I ask them which are they more aware of, the personal bias in their heart or is it the systemic power in our society. It is usually a mixed response of one or the other. We are asking people to recognize and deal with both.
GK: What do White people in America today have to offer in the ministry of racial reconciliation?
DS: Biblically speaking, God has called all people to the process of racial reconciliation; White people are central to the process as well. This is true not because we know all the answers but because we are the majority in this country. If we don’t have a biblical seat at the table then the movement won’t get very far -- you need to have the majority to have a reconciled people. One of the failures of the politically correct movement is that there isn’t a clear definition for where White people should fit in. We have tried in our book to present some clear biblical parameters for white people’s place at the table. This would be one of humility and of confidence; of being a learner, and yet a contributor; of being blessed and being a blessing. A reciprocal seat.
GK: What do you offer as the goal or vision we should be looking toward on this journey?
DS: For the kingdom of God to be reflected in our world we need the power of the cross to break down the walls between us. That includes gender walls, class walls, and ethnic walls. The New Testament teaches us that in Christ these walls have been torn down when it says that there is neither male nor female (gender), slave nor free (class), and Jew nor Greek (ethnic). Jesus is able to solve theses social issues. As members of these Christian communities we can take a proactive posture or a reactive posture. If we are not proactive then we allow the status quo to shape our ministries. I am suggesting that we become proactive and, in love, press through the walls that divide us. The cross will be exalted in our midst as a result. As non-Christians see us working on this the gospel will be shown in its fullness. People want this good news today.