I am Privilege

Beard FaceThis is what privilege looks like.

I am not silenced for speaking out of turn. I am not heard with automatic bias against because of my gender or my race. I always have a seat at the table, always have a default place of somewhat belonging in the American power structure. My voice is heard, and my voice and position isn’t challenged just because I choose to speak.

This is what privilege looks like.

No one assumes I am too emotional or uneducated. No one assumes I am an immigrant much less illegal. No one assumes I am a criminal. No one assumes I am incapable of a job, decision, or way of life. No one assumes I have nothing of importance to say. No one assumes I am one of “them” or that I don’t belong here.

This is what white, male privilege looks like.

I am what white, male privilege looks like.

I get to choose whether or not I want to talk about race issues. I get to choose whether or not I want to confront sexism. I can excuse myself from these conversations because they are not my life, my personhood, my existence. I don’t live in a racist or sexist world. No one is bothering me because I have a penis or because my skin is white. Racism is not my story. Sexism is not my story. I have the privilege of not having these issues touch my life. I can choose to ignore them without hurting one thing in my life.

My voice is heard when I do choose to speak about these things. People pay attention because I am a man, because I am white. There is no bias against me in the overall power structure of American society. My women friends may say something and get shot down, ignored, or berated. However I can say the same things and it’s accepted. My friends of color can make a point which is ignored, misconstrued, or turned into a personal attack against them. If I make the same point, people listen and respond with much more ease.

I am privileged.

Own It.

Sometimes, I feel like privilege gets treated like an insult. People who are “privileged” are really just spoiled, uncaring, unaware people who have everything more or less handed to them. But that’s not the reality of privilege. I struggle with money. I am mentally ill. I don’t have the luxury to chase my dreams fully right now, I’m too busy working. Even with the hard realities of my life, I am still privileged. In all actuality, my privilege is simply the reality of living as a white, 30-something, male in American society.

In other words, privilege isn’t a bad thing; it’s just a real thing.

I have to accept that this is the reality of my life. I have to acknowledge that I have the luxury to walk away from racism and sexism because those things are not directed at me. I have to accept that I have a cultural “step up” from others because of my skin color and genitals. I may not like it, but I have to accept it. I may not enjoy the label, but I have to own it because it is the reality of our society.

My privilege is mine to own, and if I don’t own it, it will own me. If I don’t accept the reality of the situation, my privilege will blind me to the oppression, the struggle, the reality of living as a non-white male. If I don’t admit my privilege, I will never understand justice because I can choose to ignore the issues that cry for justice. If I don’t embrace my privilege as my own, I can never use it for something greater than myself. With privilege comes a place at the table, a voice people will listen to. How will I use that voice? What will I do with the place I am given by default in culture? These are the real questions that those with privilege should ask. After all, they are the questions God asked.

The incarnation was male for a reason. God, creator of time and space, chose to have the begotten Son take on the flesh of a man in a patriarchal society. Jesus had privilege. What he did with it is fascinating. He owned his place in society, and from that place willfully used his voice for justice. He spoke against the oppressive religious corruption. He spoke to a Samaritan woman with a bad reputation. He spoke from a table where he invited prostitutes, tax collectors, and other culturally unclean people to eat, to fellowship with him. He treated women with dignity, touched lepers, and willfully walked in the margins of society. He owned his privilege, faced sexism, classism, and institutional racism, and used his position in society – his position at the table – as a tool of love and grace.

What Will You Do With Your Privilege?

Best description of a life.The fact that I can say what I say on my blog here and not deal with comment trolls, arguments, or insults while friends like Natalie Trust can’t speak volumes to the reality of my privilege. I think it’s messed up and wrong that I can say something about slut shaming and the church and receive pats on the back, while other women use far less offensive language and are told they are blowing things out of proportion. It’s messed up, but it’s the reality we live in right now. Maybe I can use that reality to stand with my friends, women, people of color, immigrants, the mentally ill. Maybe I can use my privilege the way Jesus used his, as a tool of grace.

I have to be careful though: I never want to speak for others or drown out their voice with my own. I want to hear the voices of the marginalized, the voices that live with sexism and racism. I need to hear those voices. Using my words to speak with them is not me coming to the rescue to save them. That is abusing my privilege and marginalizing them in a different way. No, I need to hear their voices, to listen, and use my voice to point to theirs. I need to speak words alongside, maybe at times bowing out and giving my place to the marginalized and the oppressed. If I am going to use my privilege as a tool of love and grace, the way Jesus did, I must first be willing to be silent alongside the marginalized, letting them speak for themselves that I may hear their voice and learn how to add my own.

I can’t get rid of my privilege. I can’t deny it. Privilege is a reality of my days, my voice, my position in culture. I don’t have to be blind to it, letting privilege own me. I can embrace this reality, learn from the incarnation, and use privilege as a tool to lift up the oppressed, to bring justice, and to let the voiceless be heard.

This is what I pray my privilege looks like.

  • Thank you for owning what is yours, and for listening to those that don’t have, as you say, an automatic seat at the table in Christian culture ( or many, many other places). Your acknowledgement means a lot to me.

  • Aaaron, I really appreciate the recognition not only of your place of privilege but of your acknowledgment of the need to listen and not speak on behalf of others. Your voice is heard differently because of your gender and I’m thankful for your willingness to speak up.

  • Aaron, I also appreciate your comments. That said, I must humbly disagree with you. Privilege looks like this: http://gph.is/196ghuC .

    • Green_Eyed_Leopardes

      That image made me laugh. For me I agree and disagree at the same time. I know plenty of white men who aren’t “privileged”.

  • Would love to communicate with you. People see me as a Latino professor at a conservative Christian university. Personally, I’m a scuba diver that was born and raised in SoCal. I also teach culture and intercultural studies at said university where I have been labeled a socialist, marxist, racist, by Christian students. Though in secret, many come to me and say, “thank you” for what I teach.

  • Excellent. Thank you.

  • Tamara Rice

    This was great, Aaron. Thank you.

  • Steve

    Pointing at Jesus is helpful precisely for the reasons you list, but also because he was an oppressed Jew as well as a member of the lower-class region of Galilee. I really appreciate your perspective, but ask (not rhetorically) whether over-selling our privilege might hurt the conversation? Again, white, middle-class, American, men; we have plenty of privilege. But we also lack plenty of it too. Maybe this is contextual? Where I live I have access to lots of power, but I also am viewed suspiciously and barred from certain places of cultural power (until I earn them) simply because I am white, or a christian, or a man…

    How problematic is it for this conversation if we recognize that we aren’t at the top, or the bottom, of the pyramid of privilege. In fact, there are multiple overlapping pyramids, aren’t there?

    • I don’t think you have to say privilege is something only people “at the top” have. Recognizing my position, my power, my place isn’t about seeing how much I don’t have. that just creates victims who excuse their own responsibility. We have to own *our* place, top, middle, or bottom.

      You are correct that there are overlapping pyramids, that still doesn’t excuse what I have right now, even if I’m not at the “top” of the food chain. I still have defaulted power and place that others don’t.

  • Steve

    I agree, that’s the point I was attemting to make…

    I don’t want to ‘excuse’ my privilege, but rather I want to use it. (I thought that was one of the points you were making in your post, but maybe I misunderstood.) But my question is, if I own a place of cultural privilege that I don’t actually have, or fail to acknowledge the power and privilege that I am ‘under,’ isn’t that equally obfuscating?

    That’s what I’m curious about…

    • abi

      This post from a year and a half ago explains that nicely, I think: http://whatever.scalzi.com/…/straight-white-male-the…/

      In other words, it’s not that being a white straight cisgender* English-speaking able-bodied Christian American male means that all doors will magically be unlocked or everything will always be easy or there isn’t someone who has it easier than you. But *as a general rule* white-etc. men are treated as the default, the norm; and deviations from that norm add layers of difficulty and challenge that aren’t the standard experience for white-etc. men. Make sense? And while it’s certainly true that there are many people who are privileged in some ways but marginalized in others — e.g. I have white privilege, among others, but am still marginalized for being a woman and a fat person; for further reading, google “intersectionality,” a term that black feminists and womanists came up with to describe how social injustices overlap and interconnect — the truth is, white straight men are the normative privileged class in American society. Make sense?

      As for your point about Jesus: I agree with you that in the context of the Roman Empire, yes, Jesus was oppressed; he was a Jew who was subject to Roman rule. But within that context, he was still incredibly privileged: a man, a rabbi, a Pharisee — that’s what gave him the standing to speak the truths that he did to the religious leaders in power alongside him, and to use his position of privilege to work towards a better way for the marginalized in his society. I suppose if you wanted to make Jesus’ privilege analogous to your typical American man’s, you could draw a correlation between the Roman rulers of Israel and “the 1%” – those very wealthy Americans who hold a great deal of economic and political power. Nevertheless within the subset of people who are underprivileged in comparison to the 1%, white straight men are heavily privileged.

      *Not to veer too far off topic, but “cisgender” is an unfamiliar term for many people; it means that you identify as, and are read by others as, the gender that you were assigned at birth. In other words, if you see yourself as a man, others see you as a man, and when you were born the doctor said “It’s a boy!”, you’re a cis man.

  • Shared this today on the Despised Ones Facebook page 🙂

  • Selena Hoye

    Thank you for this…two years later…..our society needs to hear this my friend. Bless you.

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