15 August 2017

The One about Privilege


As I write this, the country is still stirred up about the Charlottesville race riots. A terrible tragedy, and yet another display of just how low the depths to which humanity can sink.

I'm seeing a backlash of white guilt getting slung around on social media, albeit mostly by people who weren't directly involved in or affected by the weeks' events. Case in point, someone in one of my Facebook groups posted this rumination and immediately garnered a whole handful of thumbs-up: “I used to be SO LOST in my comfortable white privilege.” The post went on at some length, lamenting “my privilege, my disgusting self” and “how fragile white people are when others find fault with them.”

Name-calling and over-generalizations aside, I have to wonder what this type of self-loathing accomplishes, other than giving the poster the feeling of having the moral high ground. How exactly does that benefit people of color? Of course, wrongs should absolutely be made right, and unfair systems done away with, but I don't see that making a lot of fanfare in the meantime about how awful white people are, plays a constructive role in this effort.

Besides, I have to wonder if "privilege" is really deserving of all the hype it gets, anyway.

Now, before you stone me for that, let me say something. I am white -- for those of you for whom that matters -- but I am also a woman, a woman who was preached at in the church for many years about my inherent female inferiority and my "rightful place" as a subordinate to men. I do know, on some level, what it's like to be discriminated against. Hopefully my perspective will still count for something with some of you.

It's rather enlightening to consider how the Bible addresses those with “privilege.” In the Ancient Near East, it was men, and rich men in particular, who held most of the privilege. The apostles, under the Holy Spirit's guidance, attempted in several New Testament passages to equalize this unbalanced power structure within their Christian audience. Paul tells men to love their wives and sacrifice themselves for them (Ephesians 5:25-28). Peter exhorts husbands to show honor to their wives as weaker vessels (1 Peter 3:8). Their respective messages are not, “Husbands, shame on your for your male privilege!” but rather, “Husbands, use the privileges society has bestowed on you to build up your wives and raise them up to a place of honor.” Similarly, Scripture's instructions to rich people in general are not, “Thou shalt not have money or possessions”, but rather, “Use your money and your possessions to help others in need, and don't let those things control you.” In situations where one party has advantages that others don't, the onus is always on the advantaged ones to lift up the disadvantaged ones. Not much is said about how guilty the advantaged ones ought to feel because they have advantages.

I often hear people ask, "What would Jesus say about racism (or sexism, or bigotry, or homophobia, or any one of a hundred other issues)?" Well... to tell you the truth, I don't think He would have much to say that's different from what He's already said. "Treat others the way you want to be treated." Too simple? Or could it be that we haven't given it a fair try? Who knows what would happen if everyone actually did that -- personally, in churches, in schools, at every level of government? I bet I can guess. We'd suddenly be left without a reason for most of what we fight over.

There are two necessary conditions that make this idea unappealing to many people, though. First one is, the Golden Rule applies to everybody equally. That would mean that it's not acceptable to generalize about, insult, make fun of, or hate on anyone, period. Not even members of "the dominant group." Not even if you think they deserve it.

The other thing is, treating others the way you want to be treated is a highly personal effort. It doesn't entail policing others' behavior, or taking responsibility that doesn't belong to you. You can only control yourself. This means that if you've hurt someone else, you should make amends for that, inasmuch as you can (you can't apologize for the actions of an entire group). Decide that your own actions and attitudes will be different from now on, and make it so.

And then... get on with your life.

Will I share this on Facebook? Heck, no. I'm not ready for that big of a barrage of rotten tomatoes. You see, it being the middle of tomato season here, I already have more than enough tomatoes (and going-rotten tomatoes) hanging around. I don't need any more!

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