The concept of white privilege has become a political hot potato. Strangely, our Black brothers don’t seem to find it as strange as those in the White church. In fact, many reject any talk of “privilege” and will too often respond defensively when someone points out their privilege, as if they are being accused of something that they are not responsible for. The political landscape has muddied the water by coupling white privilege to demands for reparations, guilt about historic injustices, and affirmative action. We need to step away from the political discourse and return to a biblical understanding of privilege.
Caitlyn is my granddaughter, and she has Downs Syndrome. When you meet her she has the most infectious giggle and gives hugs that just melt her grandfather’s heart. She has no formal educational qualifications and cannot perform any occupational tasks. She also has some medical issues that require daily medical interventions. In contrast, I have a PhD, a history of professional occupational accomplishments, and I’m as healthy as a horse! The point that is important here is that I was granted enormous privileges at birth that was not something that Caitlyn enjoyed.
Privilege is Everywhere
Privilege based on inherited differences is something that is found everywhere, we just don’t always acknowledge that it affects our perception of reality. As every professional woman will tell you, men too often get preferential treatment in the workplace over similarly qualified women. Tall people have an advantage over short people. Able-bodied persons have an advantage over persons with disabilities. Good looking people have an advantage over homely looking persons. Being born in America has huge international advantages over being born in Africa.
When I was a kid, the TV ad for women’s hair coloring asked the question, “Is it true blonds have more fun?” And the answer was easy, “Why not be a blond and find out?” Their point was, that some of the perceived disadvantages with which we are born can be changed. But recently, Caitlyn’s 8-year-old adopted little brother Zachary got off the school bus and insisted that his mom go to the store and buy some white paint because he didn’t want to be black anymore. We all wept when my daughter Michelle shared that story with us!
The question that confronts us is not whether privilege as a result of differences exists, that is a given. The discipleship question is what do I do when someone is different and experiences disadvantages that our society projects onto them? Zack’s can of white paint solution is just not possible. It is also not helpful for me to get defensive and deny that Zack is different or that I’m not the one who is racist and makes him feel inferior. It is also not helpful for me to feel guilty over the privilege that I enjoy! Guilt implies that I had something to do with creating the difference.
Let us start with some basics. It is important for me to realize that I am privileged because I am not Zack, and I am not Caitlyn. This is not something I earned, or that was somehow owed to me. I did not choose my parents, or their race, or their medical genetics. So, what is the discipleship response to my incredible privilege?
We all wept when my daughter Michelle shared that story with us!
How Can We Change the Narrative?
When the kids visit us and we go out to a restaurant, I make a point to go and sit with Caitlyn. When we walk in the park, go somewhere public, or buy something at the stores, I try to be with the children. I hold their hands, or engage them in a discussion, or poke fun at their antics…anything that could create the impression to the world that these are MY GRANDCHILDREN. I use my privilege to SERVE THEM so that the world will know that they are important to me.
When there are public conversations about disabilities or children of color, I make sure to insert my comments that make it clear that I count it a privilege to be a grandfather to those who are less fortunate. In this way I use my status of “ascribed superiority” that my broken society created, to be counted with “the least of these”. A reaction of denial or some form of (neurotic) guilt over something I had no control is not helpful. Caring for the issues of those who are marginalized in our society is what Jesus did. He laid his privileged position aside and humbled himself to such an extent that it actually led to his death (Philippians 2)!
The DDA outcomes promote discipleship as also caring for the marginalized and learning to be grateful for our privileges. The DDA is a set of discipleship tools and represents our vision for the Discipleship Revolution!