Our Declaration of Independence declares that all people are created equal. It proceeds to clarify what “equality” means: we are all endowed with certain natural rights by our Creator. But, though we may all have those rights, not all people start life or live it on an equal footing with others. And thus we speak today about “privilege.”
I am a privileged person. I am a white Caucasian male, born into an intact family. I have loving parents who raised me in safe, stable communities. I had access to a middle-class lifestyle, a good education from kindergarten through graduate school, and a multitude of opportunities that were not difficult to find or obtain. I never felt threatened or afraid (except by the occasional bully). I never wondered where my meals might come from. I knew I would get nice birthday and Christmas presents. I’ve always been healthy. Much was given to me before I even took my first breath, and the rest was pretty much there for the taking without extraordinary effort. Life’s been good.
My parents and grandparents worked hard to procure this life for me, but they grew up in relatively privileged, advantageous settings as well. And so it has been true for many people like me for generations.
We all know my experience is far from universal (though I conveniently forget about it often). I’m privileged to be who I am and where I am.
Privilege is not something to feel guilty about. It’s a fact. Some have more advantages than others. However, to cite Jesus, it is something to always keep in mind:
- first in terms of my own personal responsibility (“to whom much is given, much is required”),
- and also in terms of being mindful of those who’ve not had such privileges (“love your neighbor as yourself”).
It is my sacred duty to try and understand my neighbors, where they come from, and to serve them in ways that will honor their dignity, lift them up, and help them flourish. And, on the structural side, I’m called to advocate and work for a society in which the starting line and the path will be more level for everyone. All my neighbors should have opportunity and access to better lives. That is the work of justice, and it’s the only way we can all find lives of shalom together.
Now, that is about all I can say at this point regarding the current social upheaval we are experiencing after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
There is ZERO chance I can say anything on behalf of people of color regarding their lives and experiences. I can simply say I am for them. I am for justice. I am for shalom. As a Christian I believe Jesus died and rose again to break down the walls between those who are at enmity with one another. I am willing to do my part in helping us take steps toward dancing together on the rubble. However, that project first involves taking a stance of listening about 99% of the time these days. The world does not need yet another privileged white man spouting opinions about matters far beyond his experience and expertise and adding to the noise.
It’s possible that what we are seeing today is a generational moment, just like the decade of the 1960s. The strongest voices I am hearing these days are from young people. Their experience has been much different than mine. I have children who married people of color, and who now have children who will be growing up in this world. My kids and others their age are more sensitive to matters of racial disparity and injustice because they see similar faces in their own families. I’m convinced that these organic changes are integral to societal advancement.
So I am happy to let the young speak and to support them in the wisest and best ways I can discover.
My kids grew up with this album and this song playing in our home. Today they are hearing and helping the whispers of revolution grow louder.