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

16 thoughts on “Waking Up to My Own ‘Blind Privilege’

  1. Hi Mark, this is by far your most non-polite (for want of better words, my brains tired) post, not saying it was rude, I’m saying it was great! Your readers can hear your heart and your challenge to us.

    I have ethnic parents (Polynesian and European) as a part Polynesian I have been at times treated kinder in Tonga and in PNG (in PNG being served at small shops before locals who were in line first to which I pointed to the locals to go ahead of me). I have felt embarrassed and guilty.

    1. Hey thanks, Priscilla. Hopefully these comments will add to the conversation. It is so easy to ‘assume’ about other people and not take the time to hear their stories and understand their perspective. However, when we do, things usually change for the better. Hope you and the family are well 🙂

  2. Wow- captivating and VERY TRUE. I am black African. Lived in the UK for 8 years and been in Australia for the last 16 years. Thank you for your honesty.

  3. Hi Mark, I really enjoyed your open and frank encounter with your own ‘blind privilege.’ My story is very similar, except for the tall bit. I first began to become embarrassingly aware of my own blind privilege having done a lot of travel in third-world countries over many years, and experiencing the deference often given to whites, for no good reason other than having white skin, which is not a good reason in and of itself. I found Paulo Freire’s writings, a Brazilian Adult Educator, very helpful in coming to the realisation that I had to be willing to place myself in the shoes of the other, as much as that is possible, in order to begin to comprehend their perspective. Like the old hit song said, ‘Walk a mile in my shoes.’

    1. Excellent comments, Adrian. Thanks also for the suggested reading. I am sure, like me, you were often teased as a red head (!) growing up. Yet systemic racism is far more sinister and damaging.

  4. I had a similar epiphany by living as a tall, white Australian in Hong Kong in the 1980s. Proved useful later in the gradual awakening of blind racism in AFL.

    1. Yes, it really is an awakening. Sad to see some co-called ‘Christians’ missing the point in all of this and seeing it only as politics. Thanks for sharing Philip.

  5. Excellent insightful writing Mark.
    Similar background, except that I’m not super-tall, but more critically I was internally-wired differently! Raised in a Melanesian culture (ni-Vanuatu), and speaking a few languages wired me differently, resulting in a tough time @ High School, where I looked ‘just like’ other kids in an Aussie high school … but I functioned from a different set of internal cultural software. Age-defering; communitarian rather than individualistic; more relational intelligence (EQ) and cultural intelligence (CQ) than IQ-oriented, et al. My point?
    We can change / expand our primary cultural orientation!
    By authentically listening to & to whatever degree possible, experiencing others’ lived-experiences, embedding ourselves incarnationally in their world. Self-awareness can lead to increased empathy and understanding, and intercultural competence.
    Racism is the biased application or the ‘theoretically-out-of-favour’ concept of ‘racialism’ – that a person’s genetic physical appearance is the critical derminant of their capacities, behavioural traits and capabilities. Taken one step further, racialism was supposed to, & used to determine the ‘superiority’ of one race over another.
    I can’t change what I was assigned by birth (my physicality). As a child, I can’t immediately change the worldview into which i was enculturated as a child. I can however make those deep-level attitudinal changes as I mature into adulthood, & in particular as I mature into an authentic Christ-follower. As deeply share in another’s / others’ worlds, and process these through the assumptions, values and allegiances of Christ’s ‘upside-down’ kingdom I can be changed.
    We can develop and learn to live out of a ‘third-culture’ reality, in a Christ-follower’s case, a ‘kingdom’ reality, as a ‘third-culture person’ that parallels that of a ‘third-culture kid’ (http://www.crossculturalkid.org/) on a human cultural level.
    Thanks for your post Mark.
    I’m energised that we live in a time when the global church is 75%+ ‘non-western’ & expanding. This means that the ‘southern’ church challenges ‘us’ to de-racialise, deconstruct & hopefully re-envision what it means to be a follower of Christ in a church that is increasingly non-white, poor, and living as a minority faith in pluralist adverse contexts!
    Our future is diverse, inclusive and multilingual (Rev 5:9b-10; 7:9b-10), & not latte-coloured, English-speaking, so we need be cleansed of our racist biases now, and welcome Jesus ‘next’ kingdom into our ‘now’ here on earth. Shalom.

    1. Hey thanks, Ian. Good to hear from you … and thanks for your personal sharing, as well as the resource tips. Appreciate it!

  6. When I volunteered in Vanuatu for one a year I keenly felt my white developed country privilege. In the office I worked in, I was the most highly educated, the wealthiest, the most highly travelled, and the healthiest due to vaccinations and diet. I had done nothing to earn these things, they were given to me as I was born white in a developed country.
    If there was a conversation in the office and people were not sure of something, they all looked at me, ‘do you know Liz’? The embarrassing thing is, that usually I did. It was often a simple question about where a city was, or about the human body. My advanced western education, access to the internet and connections to the wider world had given me advantages unknown to the people i worked with, on small island in a developing country. These privileges were all unearned and it wasn’t until I lived with people who didn’t have them, that I noticed them and felt quite uncomfortable with it.

    1. Thanks so for sharing your story, Elizabeth. Such a profound example of the blind privilege we all have. Hope you and Peter are well.

    1. Good to hear from you, Vickie. True, privilege is not limited to a particular colour (white or otherwise) and it can be linked to matters other than race. Becoming aware of the privileges we do have, that others don’t, is what is important. Hopefully, that will lead to greater awareness, empathy, love and unity in diversity. Thanks.

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