By Seth Busetti
In the fall of 1997 I experienced a cultural wakeup call, which I promptly muted. That was my first semester at college, and it offered a chance to break free of the only mold I knew, which was my 99% white, rural community. College promised the opportunity to experience new people, different cultures, and a way of thinking that was different from my upbringing. So what did this enlightened 18 year old do? I joined a 99% white, socioeconomically middle class, good ‘ole boys club, a.k.a a fraternity full of 40 other privileged young men who basically looked and behaved just like me. This was effective for locking in another four years of cultural quarantine, way to go, young me!
I really am proud of what I accomplished, the hurdles I overcame, and the growth I experienced to get to where I am today. But when I reflect on it, I have to accept that my path was not terribly tortuous. My family wasn’t affluent, but I always had clothes on my back, shoes on my feet, meals in my belly, books in my school bag, and a safe and quiet home in which to find shelter. My parents worked hard and had steady jobs, just like their parents, and their parents’ parents. For example, my paternal great grandfather was an Italian immigrant, he was a very hard-working coal miner, which was a rough and super dangerous job for sure, and no doubt miserable work by today’s standards, but he was a free man with a future.
The same bright future could not have been said for my youngest son, now 4. Moise was born in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. DRC has been a mess for a long time. The country is run by a dictator. It is lovingly referred to as the rape capital of the world and the worst place on earth to be a woman or a child. In the deeper past there were cannibals, and the occult and witchcraft was ingrained. Throughout history, things only got more complicated, never resolving in a happy “yay, democracy!” moment. Enter the Arab slave trade. Enter European imperialism under a Belgian monarch. Enter ivory and rubber trade. Enter blood diamonds and mining for rare earth minerals. Enter the Hutu and Tutsi conflict and unceasing militant warfare. Enter armies of children stolen from their villages during raids, given machine guns, and forced to fight. Enter a succession of dictators. Today we see the results of old Leopoldville having grown into booming, Kinshasa, a city of 12 million, full of beauty and music, chaotic warfare, a strong sense of national pride, debilitating poverty, vibrant culture, and widespread corruption, all mixed together.
By God’s grace, this boy, one of approximately 3 million orphans in DRC, is now a member of our family. The statistics are bleak for young children in Congo, there is a good chance that our boy would have died before adolescence, or even the age of 5. But now, his family tree has expanded, and his destiny has changed. He has a future.
My 18-20 year old self (let’s be honest, more like 18-30) didn’t believe in “white privilege” in America. But bringing a little, bright eyed, energetic, smart, funny, strong, laughing brown boy into my family tree shakes my former perceptions. Transpose time frames a little. Had it even been possible for my hard working American grandparents to adopt a boy like Moise (it wasn’t), he wouldn’t have been able to attend school with his siblings. Crosses might have been burned on their front lawn and a noose with our boy’s effigy hung from their tree. Forget about private education or college. What about simply the ability to safely walk down the street in his own neighborhood? Or drive a car anywhere in the city? Or be out after dark without being suspected of a crime? I am aware this is still a problem today, but let me be honest in admitting I personally don’t experience it (I’m white, if you hadn’t noticed).
A few weeks ago Alexis was talking with our kids about Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. She wrote about the discussion on her Instagram page as follows:
At dinner my husband asked our kids if mommy taught them about Martin Luther King, Jr. today. For sure I did. As the conversation continued and we talked about segregation in language that our kids, all 8 and under, could understand, my daughter nailed it.
“That’s sin!” She said.
“Yep, it sure is.” Was our answer.
It is sin. It’s sin to judge someone by the color of his skin. It’s sin to take what doesn’t belong to you. It’s sin to be mean to someone for no reason at all. It’s all sin.
We can talk about race and bias and class all day, but the bottom line is our history and our present are full of people sinning against each other and God. And it won’t get better until we choose to repent, call the behavior out for what it is, and make a change.
Well said, wife! Is it a sin that while growing up I was spared significant obstacles to my success? No, that’s a blessing. Is it a sin that my parents and grandparents were hard workers, and in some way we all had to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps? No way. But it definitely was a sin for my ancestors to turn a blind eye to the injustice of slavery and segregation in America, just like it was a sin to close our doors to Jews fleeing the Holocaust. And it is still a sin to turn a blind eye to injustice around the world today.
Consider the Lord’s word to the prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 22:13) considering fair wages (and I’m not talking about the minimum wage debate in America, I mean the more severe problem of underpaid and mistreated workers in fields and factories globally):
Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice,
who makes his neighbor serve him for nothing
and does not give him his wages.
Consider the command to Moses regarding fair legal treatment and giving political favors in Leviticus 19:15:
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor.
These issues are so real that the Bible speaks of them, not merely as abstractions in a fallen world, but as problems with specific actionable solutions. “Do something about it.”
The cultural placebo effect is what happens when we say, “oh, that stuff in the past was sure bad, good thing things have gotten better.” That misperception says sixty years ago the problem of injustice was in someone else’s neighborhood, or on the other side of the tracks, or “down south.” That same attitude says today the problem of injustice is in somebody else’s country, or in the bad parts of Detroit (or Houston!) nobody wants to go to anyways, or it is a thing of the past. For many of us, particularly those with resources and means to really help, the attitude can easily be that social justice doesn’t really effect our lives. Not because we don’t care about injustice, we are aware, but have no power to affect change – it is someone else’s problem.
This, friends, is my white privilege: the ability to go about my life without the troubles of injustice, immune to racial conflict and mistreatment of people who don’t look like me. If you can avoid racial and deep-rooted socio-economic problems simply by turning off the news, then you probably have privilege too!
Alexis and I aren’t claiming to have answers for the problems in the world. We are definitely still learning. But we are trying to get the point across that you and I have been given immense power and opportunity with education, resources, finances, health, and freedom. We are not called to bury all those things in the sand of our own lives just to look out for our own wellbeing and satisfaction.
How is God asking you to use the gifts He has entrusted to you? Is He asking you to donate to your church missions board, or support an orphanage, or combat homelessness, or stand against modern day slavery, or start a business that gives generously from its proceeds? Your journey will be different than ours, and that’s okay. But we all must look outside of our own lives if we want to experience the fullness of God’s blessings.
We can help you take control of your finances so that you have freedom to pursue God’s greater calling on your life. That could mean changing your family trajectory and overcoming past hardship. Maybe it is getting a plan in order for the next task He’s asking you to perform. Perhaps it is accountability to start tithing again. Big or small, we want to help you grow your family and grow your family’s positive influence in your community and around the world.
Get in touch with us! We want to hear what is on your heart, maybe we can help you get there, or just provide some encouragement.
Here are some other blog posts you might like.
5 Ways to Tithe When You’re Between Churches
Photo by Doug Linstedt on Unsplash