Examining White Privilege: Inventory

This is the 3rd installment of examining white privilege as a spiritual discipline. I’ve talked in previous posts about the “why” of examining white privilege as a spiritual discipline and the “when.” This installment focuses on the inventory phase that traditionally begins spiritual disciplines, including that of examining white privilege.

How do Spiritual Disciplines Work?

I was trained in spiritual disciplines during my years with the Memphis School of Servant Leadership. A discipline was an activity that brought you closer to God, and closer to who God wanted you to be. Examples I practiced over those years include keeping Sabbath, daily Scripture reading, an intentional prayer life. Being aware of my footprint on the environment (what we now call Creation Care). Writing my racial autobiography. Practicing silence. 

The first step in each new discipline was a personal inventory. Where were we as we began this new journey? What was already part of our life? What wasn’t? The list of questions below is that personal inventory equivalent in examining white privilege. It’s a beginning-beginning. It doesn’t ask the hard questions about privilege (did your parents inherit wealth? were they able to buy a house wherever they wanted, etc.) It’s more basic, starting with the adjective “white.” These questions ask us white folks, in effect, how white is your life?

Community in Taking Inventory for Spiritual Disciplines

All of the disciplines during my time at the School of Servant Leadership were undertaken in community. This happened both in group classes and in one-on-one meetings with my Covenant Partner, which changed each semester. We also had end-of-the-semester parties where we shared our learnings over a meal.

I’m going to suggest that this session of examining the whiteness of our lives might be best done in community. If you don’t have a current Covenant Partner, maybe ponder these questions with someone else undertaking this journey. 

Tips on this Spiritual Discipline Inventory

A couple of things before we begin.

Please note: race is a social construct. There is no scientific designation , for example, of “Black” and “white.” But the effects of these and other racial constructs are not just real—they tend to dominate life in America. In answering these questions, you might feel uncomfortable “labeling” people by their race. But we need to recognize that racial constructs might be the root reason our answers to these questions are as they are.

Attribution: these questions were inspired by a more limited questionnaire I was given by Coming to the Table or the Episcopal Church’s Beloved Community or somewhere—so sorry, I read a lot of this stuff and I just I don’t remember. Most of the questions are my own.

Another tip: my knee-jerk reaction in taking this test is to magnify those questions where I like my answer and gloss over those questions where I don’t. I would recommend you save this list, print it out, or whatever. Then take your quiet time with your journey partner and write down the specific answers to the questions. Spend honest time with each one. There is no “pass” or “fail” score. This step in examining white privilege by taking an inventory is for your own awareness on how you’ve built your day-to-day, week-to-week, year-to-year life. 

Final tip: Don’t do this entire list at once. If you’re white like me, at some point, you may get discouraged by how white your life is. In your discouragement, you might begin scanning the list, giving it short shrift. Don’t do that. Take, say, five questions at a time and write out your answers. Put the list down. Come back later. Remember: disciplines aren’t timed, competitive events. 

Okay. Let’s begin.

White Privilege as Spiritual Discipline: Personal Inventory

What race are your neighbors?

What race was the last person you went to dinner with?

Is the person sitting next to you in the theatre your race? 

What faces are in the paintings on the walls of your home?

Who is in line behind you at the coffee shop?

Does the store where you buy greeting cards also carry cards that don’t look like you?

Of the last five authors you read, how many were of your same race?

Is the music you listen to written and performed by those of your same race?

Is your accountant your same race? Your yoga teacher? Trainer? Kids’ babysitters? Your thesis advisor? Your pastor?

How many of your home repair folks work for businesses owned by those of a different race?

Do folks of a different race go to church with you?

What was the last restaurant you went to that was owned by someone of a different race?

What race are your physicians? Your nurse practitioners? Your acupuncturists?

Look at your social media Followers and Following: are these folks of your same race?

What shows do you watch featuring a lead character of a race different from yourself? Is the cast predominantly or race or of a different race?

How many of your news shows offer an anchor of a race different from yours?

Do you get morning emails from news outlets that focus on news affecting a race different from your own?

How many charities do you support headed up by someone of a race different from yours?

Are the bookstores you frequent owned by a race other than yours? The pharmacies? The car wash? The appliance store? The pet store?

How many of the contacts in your phone are of a different race than you?

Inventory Over!

Okay. that’s it. It’s over. Give yourself a hand!

In the comments below, please add additional questions that came to you as you read this list or worked on it. I’ll add them to the list.

Finally, remember: we are all in this together.

Calm photo of sun setting over a wide river in hopes it will relieve any disquiet about the questions in the personal inventory to begin examining white privilege as as spiritual discipline.
Don’t let these questions upset you or depress you. Taking an inventory is only the first step in a spiritual discipline. We all have the right to start somewhere!

Examining White Privilege as Spiritual Discipline, First steps in examining white privilege, Personal inventory as part of spiritual discipline, Spiritual discipline and personal inventory, the spiritual discipline of examining white privilege

Comments (8)

  • I recognize those pretty flower leaves. 🙂
    Recently I had a conversation with someone who lives in Idaho. He is among the Arian nation folk up there. So sad how bitter and unhappy he is. Needless to say, it was not a long conversation. His wife is a long-time friend and I was actually asking about her, but he wanted me to justify my blog post on something Heather Cox Richardson posted in one of her emails about what extreme right wingers really want. He could not have a convo on that at all due to his anger at his feeling of being dismissed and devalued as a white male. I think I can understand that. That’s not a ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ feeling. So I read your questions above and wondered how I would answer most of them. How he would answer those same questions. The answers to them are not easy in our culture. There is no way to tally an answer, nor am I interested in doing so. At my advanced age I am satisfied that I’ve done the best I could. I probably have experienced many more different racial and cultural interactions than many of my friends, but I do not stop to put labels on this or that person as Brown, Black, White, Mixed, Asian or whatever. I suppose like most questions such as these, the ones reading them probably do have a wide cultural experience. The ones who do not either will not be interested or will never read the questions. (I guess I’m in my cynical phase this week!)

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      They’re from your tree! The first time we came home when they were shedding, I thought, someone has sprinkled our house in rose petals! 🙂

      I was talking to some Mississippi folks recently who were in the process of thinking through some dialogues or panels or conversations for folks in Mississippi who might’ve lived in bubbles then realized it. Not racial dialogue as such, more action inspiration, they weren’t sure what. In the course of the conversation, one of them mentioned that problem of “the people who need to be in the room but aren’t.” After I left, I called back. I told her if I had one recommendation it was not to bang their heads against the wall trying to get folks who don’t want to come to come. If it’s change they’re interested in, give action plans to those already motivated to come. They’re a liberal organization–they’re not going to attract the uncommitted (not like the Days of Dialogue, for example). So I guess I’ve tipped over into the cynical slot too. Or maybe not cynical, but believing each of us has a role to play, and it’s all we can do to focus on that (like writing into our strengths rather than spending all our time trying to fix our weaknesses). I also really feel sorry for Idaho. My sister loves its mountains.

      Hope to see you in person soon!

  • What I find most interesting about the inventory questions is how I would answer them differently if I still lived in CA as opposed to FL. And also because I no longer work in an office. I’ve only scanned the questions (for now) but, currently, most of my answers would be “White.” Some of that is because we rarely go out now. And when we do go out, well, I do notice people’s race … or actually the color of their skin because, really, the color of skin doesn’t tell me what race a person is. I think some of that is because I grew up where there were few if any people of color and I think that’s always made me curious. But I’m also curious about what it might be like to have blond hair or to be obese or to be statuesque. I’ve always been curious about people who don’t look like me. As a kid, I think it was because I was unhappy and thought if I looked different, I’d be happier.

    Anyway, I sometimes find it ironic that here in north Florida, I have a lot less interaction with people of color than I did when I lived in CA. In fact, the most interaction I did have was at my workplace where most of my coworkers were women and quite a few were Black women (and some Asian, Latin and Indian, but mostly Black women). At least there, I would see women of color in leadership positions. Since I’ve left employment, though, I’ve only been keeping company with my husband and a couple of friends.

    I’ll spend more time with the inventory questions later 🙂

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I have thought, Marie, how much easier it is for me living in cities with majority-Black citizenship. More Black-owned businesses, more professionals who are African American. More folks of color in leadership, as you say, and living in historically-mixed neighborhoods. I appreciate your sharing your thoughtful consideration of the questions. (I think some folks think that my publishing the questions means my life isn’t overwhelmingly white–not so.) And so sorry to hear about your unhappiness and desire to be different as a child. But grateful it engendered a curiousness in you, which is an approach to life that so many people believe leads to a happy, engaging life.

  • Just seeing this post and realizing that I really don’t get out much! Living in a place that is not urban and still dealing with a lot of pandemic issues makes social interaction difficult. Given that a large majority here are White, I have to assume most of the businesses I go to are owned by Whites but I don’t really know who owns most of them and some of them are chains, so presumably they are owned by stockholders. For example, our only bookstore these days is a Barnes & Noble.

    Most of my interracial interactions are with family, which includes Black and Asian members. Unfortunately, none of them live locally. Life is just very different here than in a big city with lots of diversity.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      How interesting it’s been to realize how many more options I have regarding choosing doctors who are African American and supporting Black-owned business and such simply because of where I live. (I, too, thought of the chain problem). Of course, that means it’s more on me if my life remains whiter than I would wish.:) I guess there are always the non-physical, like books and music and newsletters and such. But nothing substitutes for one-on-one interaction, which you have in your family (though not as often as you wish <3 ).

  • Ellen, This is extremely and uncomfortably thought-provoking. Thank you!
    Have you heard of, participated in, REI Groundwater Training? I’ve had an invitation to join a 3-hour training by Zoom and after reading about them on their website and trusting the person who invited me, I plan to do it.

    Keep us engaged! L, marsha

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      How did I miss this comment? I don’t know–it’s been a bit hectic around here (a week of grandparent camp to a 3-yr-old, for one thing. ) I don’t know REI Groundwater, but I just looked it up. It looks really interesting (you gotta love a training method based on a metaphor.) Pls let me know how it goes. We’re all in this together.

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