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.
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?
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.