Deconstructing white power and privilege

By Diana Swift

General Synod Communications and the Anglican Journal, the church’s editorially independent newspaper, have entered into a partnership to distribute stories of national significance. This story is shared through this arrangement.

The essence of church is threatened by racism, says a Canadian Council of Churches book. PHOTO BY KAARSTEN
The essence of church is threatened by racism, says a Canadian Council of Churches book. PHOTO BY KAARSTEN

The Canadian Council of Churches has published an in-depth exploration of colour-based power in Canada. With the unwieldy title of Cracking Open White Identity towards Transformation: Canadian Ecumenical Anti-Racism Network Examines White Identity, Power and Privilege, the bilingual book offers a kaleidoscope of perspectives by writers lay and clergy, white and non-white, from different Christian denominations.

The book’s premise is that the dissection of white privilege and is a fundamental requirement for the success of anti-racism efforts. Since racism is one obvious expression of systemic white privilege and supremacy, “It is impossible to do anti-racism work without examining white identity and the unearned power and privilege that flows from that identity,” write the editors in the foreword.

This large-print, easy-to-read, soft-cover resource raises questions about oppressive hierarchies, social structures, worldviews and paradigms and demonstrates how we all unwittingly participate in them.

Each chapter ends with a section connecting its content to a relevant biblical text and providing questions and learning activities to provoke reflection and stimulate change. These workshop exercises will help participants dig deep and recognize their own subtle-even occult-race-based assumptions and actions.

One interesting resource is the Power Flower, a graphic tool for self-awareness developed by Canadian social-change educators in the 1990s. The multi-petalled image is designed to help different people identify where they stand in relation to the dominant and powerful identities in our society.

Many readers may find the excavation of their biases painful but perhaps purgative. In one chapter, for example, Sue Eagle, a white Mennonite married to an aboriginal man with whom she has two daughters, was shocked and disbelieving when a Mennonite acquaintance pointed out to her an act of unwitting racism. She had played the white-privilege race card to prevail over her children’s aboriginal rhythmic gymnastics coach during a disagreement about the appropriateness of certain choreographic moves in a dance routine.

In another chapter, the Rev. Jonathon Schmidt, now an Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor, recounts how, on a student road trip in a friend’s car, a garage mechanic asked to fix the disabled vehicle addressed all his remarks to him, a white person, rather than the car’s owner, who originally came from India.

In his afterword, the United Church of Canada’s Michael Blair, who is of black Jamaican descent, argues that failure to address white power and privilege threatens the very core of the Christian church. “…I would say the very essence of what it means to be church is at stake…The traditional marks of the church-one holy, catholic and apostolic-are challenged,” Blair writes.

The example of Christ must always remain at the heart of the church’s work. “Certainly the model of the ministry of Jesus was the dismantling of systems of power and privilege-particularly within the context of institutionalized religion,” Blair writes.

The book also includes a glossary of relevant terms and a list of further resources.

For copies, send your address and number of copies desired to admin at Each copy costs $10.

For more information, contact the Canadian Council of Churches at (416) 972 9494, ext. 22, or email hamilton at

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