I’ve been rolling this post around in my head all week. It has followed me around like a toddler who will not be ignored. It’s not that I don’t want to write it, because I do. I actually do a lot. It’s that I fear I will not do it justice. I fear that my words will fall far short of what I want them to be.
Because this is something that has weighed heavily on my heart long before white men and women decided to spread hate in Charlottesville a week ago. This concept of my privilege has been swirling through my mind over the past few years as men of color are shot when they should not have been, when police officers are shot in retaliation, when I see friends struggling with chronic illnesses knowing they don’t have the extra money in their budgets to see a doctor who could really help them. I see it when my son is playing with his best friend, and I wonder how old he will be when someone distrusts him for how he looks for the first time.
I haven’t wanted to write this, because the heartache is too big. I want to pretend there is less hate, and more love. I want to pretend there is less fear, and more acceptance. More acceptance for the differences. More celebration of the difference. Not acceptance that says you’re only okay if you look, act, or speak more like me.
I’ve seen a lot of memes recently that say something along the lines of “children aren’t born racist” accompanied by a picture of a white kid hugging a black kid. That is true: kids aren’t born racist. But we are physically drawn toward people and things that are similar to us. That is a scientific fact. You can find studies that show that babies are more attentive to face the same color as theirs. You can find studies that explain why we are more comfortable with people who sound like us. There are all sorts of debates about genetically/physically why that is, but the truth is just because there’s a reason for it, doesn’t mean it’s right.
What happened in Charlottesville? That kind of racism is taught, but people of color, overweight people, disabled people, and the list goes on and on face a much more subtle form of prejudice in their day to day lives that comes from “good people” who don’t believe they contribute to the problem.
You see, we all carry some level of privilege through our lives, and some of us have more of it than others. I made a list of the forms of privilege I enjoy that I’m aware of:
There are probably even things on that list that I’m missing. But here is the important thing: As someone in privilege, it is mine, and it is your responsibility to be a part of the solution. By their very nature, privileged voices carry more weight than non-privileged voices. Privilege carries a power that can help others to join us, or can keep pushing them down so that we don’t have to share the benefits. A black person pointing out a white person’s racism is never going to carry as much weight as a white person pointing out another white person’s racism. It just won’t.
Jesus suffered a lot of injustice in his life on earth, but he also walked with privilege. He was a rabbi, he was a man, he was a member of the dominate race of that region. Jesus never used his privilege to boost his own position. Jesus used his privilege to help those that didn’t share it. He ministered to women in public when it wasn’t socially acceptable to even talk to them. He saved a woman from being stoned for adultery when her male bed partner was free to leave. He ate with tax collectors who were considered the lowest of the low. Every time he did one of these things, he modeled to his disciplines and followers that these were people with value. They were people worthy of love, and acceptance who deserved to be treated with dignity and respect.
My heart aches, and it should. Your heart should ache too, because a spirit of love should always find a spirit of hate repellent. My privilege allows me to ignore what’s happening if I so choose. I could leave the news off, and pretend that all is right in my corner of the world. It would be easy. But that’s not who I want to be.
Where does it start? I don’t have all the answers for this. My head and my heart swim with questions. The one thing I do know is that it starts at home. It is not enough for me to refrain from teaching my kids to hate those that are different from them. I need to watch for opportunities to point out their privilege that allows them to take positions that have hints of thinking they are better than someone else who is different. I need to have hard conversations with them about what is happening in the world, and how they can be part of the solution, and not take up a position as a neutral bystander. It is my job as a parent to create an atmosphere the celebrates differences instead of simply tolerating them.
They will walk into their adult lives with all sorts of privilege, and I’m happy they have it. My prayer is that they do something good with it. Something that will bring justice where it is lacking, and love where it can’t be found. I pray they understand that helping people share the benefits they have doesn’t take anything away from what they have. That starts with me.
I found it super eye-opening, and helpful to make a list of the privilege I wear as I walk through this world. I invite you to do the same. Pay attention to what you have the privilege to not pay attention to, and decide what part you will play in standing up for the ones who need it the most.
Listen. The truth is that those of us with privilege don’t have to listen. It is easy to assume that someone else is overreacting to a situation, because if you were reacting that way it probably would be an overreaction. Listen to the stories you hear from people of color, and others who don’t enjoy the privilege you have with compassion; with a desire to understand how their experience impacts them emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Start with the assumption that what they are saying is the truth even if it goes against your experience of the world. Someone followed them through a store to make sure they didn’t take anything? Don’t excuse the employee as just doing their job. Think about how that would feel every single time you went somewhere. Listen with a heart that says, “I see you. I see your experiences, and I honor how they made you feel.”
Privilege comes with perks, but it also comes with responsibility. Use your privilege with the people who share it with you. Yours might be the only voice they listen to.