As a nation and perhaps somewhat less as a church, we are suffering from the infection by this virus of privilege. The symptoms include the great divisions we are experiencing. Other symptoms include the use of language and terminology that demeans and denigrates those who do not happen to be white. Our immigration policies reflect this virus. We would not have nearly the hand wringing and angst (or nasty language) if those seeking refuge among us had lighter skin tones. We, of course, do not talk much about these issues, but it doesn’t take much to discern that from the words that get used.
Privilege makes us think we are entitled to more than we are based on our skin color and our gender. We have been conditioned (brainwashed?) into thinking that there is some inherent superiority in being white and male. It makes me wonder how much of that type of thinking went into the pictorial depictions of Jesus as having blond hair and blue eyes. Did some folks have a problem relating to a Savior who had the olive skin, brown eyes and black hair of an ethnic Jew from the Middle East? I suspect so. Why else would be create such fantasies?
Is our notion of white privilege what prompts so many to say with some bitterness “ALL lives matter” when brought face to face with the necessity of someone else simply stating that “Black Lives Matter?” Why would we jump to such an impulsive and poorly thought out response if we didn’t somehow believe in such privilege? When a Black woman comes to tears when considering bringing a child into this world, we should open our eyes and take notice. I do not think I have ever heard a white parent speak about having to warn a son about what to wear, how to drive, how to speak, how to carry themselves for fear of being arrested, shot at or even killed because they came across as some racist stereotype of people of color. Dirt poor white parents do not feel a need to have those conversations. Very wealthy Black parents know how necessary such conversations are to survival.
I am painfully aware of how the color of my skin has benefited me in my life. I know that God has indeed blessed my life. At the same time I am keenly aware that some of what I might mistakenly call a blessing are more evidence of the ingrained nature of white (male) privilege.
I am trying to learn how to respond in a Christ like manner when a straight white male tells me how I should or should not feel or react or handle something. The stark reality is that however well intentioned such “advice” might be, it comes from those who have absolutely no clue what being queer is all about AND who have absolutely no authority to tell a queer person anything at all about responding to prejudice, bias, homophobia or the like. At times the best response is to just walk away. Then I have to remind myself that walking away does nothing to correct the ignorance that warranted such “advice” in the first place.
Even though most of my comments have been about males, females are not immune to the virus of white privilege or straight white privilege. My suspicion is that the observations I have made about women is that they are more prone to think before creating a situation where they might find their foot in their mouth up to the knee. However, I’ve also had more than ample evidence to the contrary as well. I have been sorely disappointed when straight white women exhibit the same or similar infection with the virus of white privilege.
We are called to responsibilities in helping insure the creation of the beloved community. We are also called to try and bring some bridges to place across the divides among us. That is the Gospel message. The unfortunate, dare I say tragic, circumstances in our nation make this a more difficult task than it has been in many decades in our nation. Bubbling below the surface has always been the spectre of slavery, Jim Crow, the KKK and all sorts of incarnations of hatred and racism. We find ourselves facing a daunting task, a task for which we are equipped by our faith if we will only speak out. In my part of the country the standard response to these issues has often been: “We don’t talk about such things.” Well it is now time to talk about “such things.” How much further must our moral compass drift before we do engage in such discussions?
What has our privilege done for us today? Hopefully we used it to benefit someone else.