Burying White Privilege

Resurrecting a Badass Christianity

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Miguel De La Torre
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
    , December
     2018.
     162 pages.
     $22.00.
     Hardcover.
    ISBN
    9780802876881.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

If Rage Against the Machine wrote a theological text, it would be Miguel A. De La Torre’s Burying White Privilege: Resurrecting a Badass Christianity—and for those not familiar with Rage, that’s a very good thing. De La Torre states in the preface that he worked on this book day and night for thirty-two days, and this is evident in the passion and force that drives this text. A book written by a trained academic, Burying White Privilege aims, by design, at a much broader audience and will be of interest to a wide cross-section of readers beyond the academy—ranging from trained theologians to clergy to educated and interested lay readers. De La Torre writes in an engaging style while largely avoiding complex technical vocabulary and theological jargon, and the critical apparatus for the book is scaled down and unobtrusive. While this book’s incisive treatment of issues of race, racism, and Latinx identity will lend it crossover appeal to those with an interest beyond Christian theology, those critically engaging the Christian theological tradition, particularly as it expresses itself in the contemporary US context, will be the book’s primary audience.

De La Torre’s text is challenging and provocative in its utterly uncompromising condemnation of White Christianity. His thesis is simple and direct and, for precisely this reason, immensely powerful and provocative. De La Torre argues that White supremacy is not an accretion on Christian theology, institutions, and practices, but rather that it represents the essence of these as they have developed in their historically dominant Euro-American forms. White racism, colonialism, and supremacy have been at the historical heart of White Christianity (89 ff). Reflecting on widespread White Christian support for Donald Trump which, De La Torre reminds us, is not limited to White evangelicals; he writes, “support for Trump does not waver because Euro-American Christians are aligned—and historically have always been aligned—with his racist, white-nationalist viewpoint” (82). White Christians, in their present incarnation, “can profess their belief in Jesus while refusing to ‘be Jesus’ and create a more just social order, or worse, can engage in activities diametrically opposed to Jesus’s life and teachings” (96). As such, White Christianity cannot be redeemed, it can only be rejected as a form of idolatry. Advancing a form of radical counter-faith, De La Torre suggests, “our first act of love should be to reject Eurocentric Christianity in the many forms it has taken. And out of an act of love, we should evangelize those still mired in the sin of this nationalist Christianity with the hope that they will repent” (108). He forcefully rejects any accommodationist account, according to which Christians of color, and particularly Latinx Christians, can level critiques of White Christianity, just so long as they ultimately accommodate those critiques to its well-established forms. For De La Torre, White Christianity cannot be accommodated, it must be displaced. There is no place for a “but not all White Christians” response.

This is a bold, provocative, and indeed prophetic presentation. Despite the book’s rapid pace and relative brevity, there is also significant depth to De La Torre’s critiques. This is perhaps on display most clearly in his presentation of Whiteness. He deftly avoids falling into the trap of equating racism or racial identity with something so trivial as skin color. As he makes clear, his target is “ontological whiteness,” which “has nothing to do with the color of one’s skin.” On the contrary, “it has to do with worldview, a way of being, thinking, and reasoning morally.” The result is that “a white Christian can be black, Latinx, Muslim or atheist,” given that “those of us who would never be considered white by our physical appearance have also had our minds so colonized that it is difficult to break free from this white, Christian milieu” (4-5).

If Whiteness is not fundamentally about skin color for De La Torre, then neither is the “badass Christianity” he advocates as an alternative to the spiritualization, abstraction, and the supremacy of White Christianity. De La Torre insists that Christian theology rooted in Eurocentric philosophy is beyond reform, and that the God of White Christianity must be “killed” (118), concluding that “no other global worldview has caused more death and destruction” (117). Summing up his theological counter-vision, he writes, “salvation is not an abstract concept, nor an acceptance of Jesus, nor a personal warm, fuzzy feeling. It is a state of being which encompasses rescue and deliverance” (145). De La Torre’s is a theology firmly rooted in the thought and experience of those who have suffered the effects of White Euro-American theology. As such, he provocatively advances a theology rooted in hopelessness and desperation, which “propels one toward concrete actions, because there is nothing left to lose” (136). Grounded in an “ethics para joder,” a phrase that can be translated as “‘to f*ck with’” (142), his theology intentionally and unapologetically aims at socially disruption, for precisely the reason that the dominant political, social, and religious structures and institutions in the Euro-American world have been designed to systematically empower Whites at the expense of all others.

As with all manifestos, the strength of Burying White Privilege, the energy of its presentation and the full-throttle force with which it assaults the reader, is also its central weakness. Virtually every topic in the book would benefit from a fuller and more technical development, as well as further expansion. This is perhaps most truly the case with De La Torre’s treatment of White feminism and the #MeToo movement. While the criticisms he raises are not unique—having been leveled in other quarters as well—the brevity and force of his treatment risks inviting critiques that he is oversimplifying, or painting with an over-broad brush, for the sake of his own theological manifesto.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Daniel Miller is Associate Professor of Religion and Social Thought and Chair of the Department of Liberal Studies at Landmark College.

Date of Review: 
November 20, 2019
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Miguel A. De La Torre is Professor of Social Ethics and Latinx Studies at Iliff School of Theology in Denver. A modern Amos-like prophet who speaks out against myopic American Christianity, he has published over thirty books, including Liberation Theology for Armchair Theologians and Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins.

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