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I’m reading a brilliant and challenging book right now, The Sum of Us, whose author argues that white people have lost a lot more than we recognize due to the legacy of racism. We have believed in an old, powerful, and false story: the myth of zero sum.
If you rise, I fall. If you win, I lose. If you gain, it must be at my expense. The author argues that racial hierarchy depends on this premise of competition, and outlines case after case of white people witholding what would benefit them as well – from public pools to thriving schools to better wages – if it means those good things would be offered to those who aren’t white.
We have given up so much because of this lie. Chapter after chapter, the author outlines the ways that this myth of scarcity has robbed us of things we could all enjoy: affordable higher education, reliable health care, dependable financial institutions. When she points it out, it becomes so obvious. What we refuse for others, we withhold from ourselves as well.
She’s mainly talking about politics. But what I kept thinking about was faith.
Father Greg Boyle likes to talk about “the illusion that we are separate.” We live a story of individualism, but the reality is that we are thoroughly connected – or, as Scripture would say, we are one. Father Boyle calls this kinship, and says that God’s dream is that we would start to see it and to live like it’s true.
White folks like me have a lot of work to do if we want to recover from our tragic zero-sum ways. If we want to start living a kinship story instead. For one thing, we may have to stop whining when people buried in student loan debt get a small amount of forgiveness (because it benefits us all financially when half the country isn’t saddled in debt, to say nothing of the simple notion of rejoicing with those who rejoice). We may have to admit that our carbon emissions are why Pakistan is under water. We may have to recognize that it’s not only the sick who suffer when so many in our midst cannot afford healthcare.
We may have to think about the good gifts that we enjoy, and ask the real question: do they really demand that someone else go without? “Enjoy” comes from the Old French enjoier which means “give joy to.” Perhaps it’s inherently impossible to truly enjoy that which we refuse to share. “Enjoy is an odd word,” says Greg Boyle. “It is abundance, a word soaked in the resurrection.”
If there was ever a story that turned zero-sum on its head, it is the story of the resurrection. If there ever was news that could un-do the illusion of separateness, it is the Good News we profess to believe. If there ever was an time when kinship could change the world, I have to believe that time is now.