Privilege is what we have to share

Privilege comes in a variety of areas of life and is not the same as “perk, benefit, blessing, gift, or unearned anything.” Privilege is potentially damaging to the people who have it if they don’t handle it appropriately, which is why it’s important to some of us to talk about it. It isn’t anything to feel guilty about. It is simply the reality that within cultures there are some things that come with inherent value that the people who have it enjoy without thinking about it but those who don’t have it are aware that they don’t have it. That isn’t an excuse, or a justification for being a victim, etc. Usually it’s in the area of the things that we wake up not having to think about or be aware of. We may or may not have done anything to get it. But we have it and it has value.

One example (and by no means a defining one, but it is a relevant one and it resonates with me because my undergraduate degree is in theatre) is how represented you are in media. White men are everywhere — they are the majority of heroes, main characters, romantic leads, historical characters movies get made about. Prior to discussions about privilege and representation most black characters were slaves, bad guys, minor characters or not represented at all. The impact of growing up seeing yourself as the hero and the main character in every setting has an affect on you — just like growing up not seeing yourself adequately represented, or only represented in relation to the main character, has an impact on you. It’s not white men’s fault that they were the ones most represented, but they benefited from that. That benefit is the privilege. All they did was watch the movie — and they got to see themselves portrayed in amazing ways. All the time — every movie.

This is a systemic issue — and there are lots of privileges that are granted to all different people depending on their subculture and personal accomplishments. But the issue isn’t about blaming privilege or people with privilege — it’s about what we do with our privilege. And until we acknowledge the areas where we have privilege we are not doing anything productive with them. It takes humility to consider where we might have been granted something unearned, undeserved, and unsought that others had withheld. And when we engage honestly and humbly with the issues we see that there are ways that we are empowered to help others.

Just as an example, if I’m in a group where someone makes racist jokes I tell them it’s not okay. I don’t expect any person of color present to stand up for themselves because clearly the person telling a racist joke isn’t interested in hearing from a person of color. There is no respect there. There is no privilege granted them in that position — they could speak up, they have every right to speak up, but I’m not in the group being demeaned so I’m going to say something. In the same way, when people are denigrating women I don’t hesitate to speak up but I’m also grateful for the men present who step in and call it out. A man who demeans women is less inclined to listen to a woman than they are a man — so when a man says it’s not cool that carries more weight to someone who listens to men and not women.

Think about the Beatitudes — they aren’t just words of encouragement to those who are down on their luck until God sees fit to bless them and change their circumstances. They are pearls of wisdom for how we are to live. Meek, humble, merciful, peacemakers.
When it comes to privilege if we can stop being defensive and honestly and humbly consider the areas where we are privileged we can engage with meek humility and seek mercy for all as we try to be peacemakers. Jesus had the privilege of being the Son of God and he did not think it worth holding onto but he came to earth and endured what humans do when we’re confronted with holiness — and died for us so that we might live. He laid down his privilege.

Privilege is what we have to share

Privilege is what we have to share

So this isn’t about victimhood anymore than acknowledging our struggle with sin is victimhood. And I don’t personally need anyone to acknowledge their area of privilege in order for my life to go on exactly as it has and will continue to go on. But I know from experience that when we can acknowledge our areas of privilege and lay down our lives for those who don’t have that privilege, and if we all did that for each other, we’d be living in a much better world. I know that because it’s following the example of Jesus.

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