I am white, I am male, I am tall, I am middle class, I am educated, I am straight, and I grew up in a Christian home. All of these things were given to me by birth, not by choice. I did not earn them or do anything to acquire them – other than live out the life I was handed because of my family upbringing and contextual circumstances beyond my control.
I represent the dominant culture.
I have no idea what it would like to be black. To have a taxi driver slow down, notice the colour of my skin then keep driving. I have absolutely no idea what it would be like to be a woman. To work my butt off then be paid less and then be overlooked for promotions simply because of my gender. I have no idea what it would like to be short. At 197 cm (6′ 5″), I see the world from a different perspective than most – from above looking down not below looking up.
I have no idea what it would be like to be poor, homeless and wondering where my next meal is coming from. I haven’t a clue what it would like to not be able to learn whatever I want … because I am illiterate. I haven’t a clue what it would be like to ostracised by my faith community because I am gay or have a different sexual orientation. I also have no idea what it would like to be from another religion. To be in the minority … like Muslims, Hindus or Jews living in Australia today.
Only recently have I learnt about ‘blind privilege’ which simply means to be totally unaware of (‘blind’ to) one’s own privilege. We become so accustomed to our own state of affairs, and life experiences, that we fail to realise or acknowledge our own inherent biased perspective, judgements and evaluations.
When I walk down the street or through a crowd, everyone moves out of my way. In fact, my family often walk behind me, because I make somewhat of a ‘wake’ in which it is easy for them to walk! This ‘privilege’ of walking so freely has happened through most of my adult life and I have never thought much about it because this is what life is like for me. I have never thought that it could be otherwise. In contrast, my wife, who is shorter than me, regularly has to dodge people who are about to walk right through her or step aside for others, mainly men, who don’t have the courtesy to make room for her … because they have blind privilege just like me.
If you are having trouble understanding the current “Black Lives Matter” marches around the globe, it could be because you, like me, have never been the target of racial discrimination. Recently, this movement has accelerated because of the death of George Floyd, an African American man living in Minneapolis, Minnesota, whose neck was held under the knee of a policeman for almost 9 minutes , resulting in his death. Why all the extreme outrage? Because the ‘knee on the neck’ has 400 years of history attached to it. It’s called ‘white privilege‘ and this kind of racism is systemic in our society (please read Peggy McIntosh’s confronting article White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack). As an Australian, I was confronted afresh by this last year when I watched the Adam Goodes’ documentary The Final Quarter.
“… ‘Black Lives Matter’ simply refers to the notion that there’s a specific vulnerability for African Americans that needs to be addressed. It’s not meant to suggest that other lives don’t matter. It’s to suggest that other folks aren’t experiencing this particular vulnerability.”Barack Obama
“In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist. We must be anti-racist.”Angela Davis
Back in the first century, Jewish men would often begin the day by praying, “Thank you God that you have not made me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.” Racism, elitism, and patriarchy in full bloom. The apostle Paul would have prayed this prayer many times himself as a religious leader. Yet, because of his encounter with Jesus (one who radically included everyone in his new community, especially those on the margins), he radically confronted this blind privileged thinking. In fact, he turned it upside down. In his letter to some churches in Galatia, he wrote this:
“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”Galatians 3:28. NLT
For Paul, God was building a new family with NO divisions. It’s meant to be ONE family in Christ. Racial, socio-economic, and gender distinctions still exist but NOT as a basis for discrimination, oppression or exclusion. Each human being is to be treated with great value, as someone made in the very image of God.
Most importantly, those with privilege (in Paul’s case, the Jews, the well-off, and the men), have the bigger responsibility to treat with love, respect and honour those without inborn privilege (in Paul’s case, the Gentiles, the poor, and the women).
What have you inherited by birth that is a privilege? Are you aware of it? Or blind to it? Have you considered what it would be like to NOT have that privilege? To be someone different? To be born somewhere else? To grow up in a different family? Take time to listen to the stories of those who are not like you. Put yourself in their shoes. See the world through their eyes. Then think about how you would want to be treated if you were them … then grab the initiative and treat people that same way (Matthew 7:12).
May we all work for restorative justice, compassion, and peace in our world, starting right where we live.
“We must have courage — determination — to go on with the task of becoming free — not only for ourselves, but for the nation and the world — cooperate with each other. Have faith in God and ourselves.”Rosa Parks