Today we’re continuing this conversation on privilege with Brett! Check over here for part 1.
How do you feel about the idea of privilege now?
i find it so frustrating seeing people who don’t ‘get’ it. Partly because i feel like i have to some extent ‘got’ it for a while now and been talking and writing and engaging with it for so long and so it always surprises me when i come across people who react so negatively to the idea of it. i completely believe that for the most part people have a wrong understanding of the concept of white privilege when they get so defencive. Feel bad for being white is the message they hear. White guilt is another one. You are bad because you have this white privilege thing is another.
But when people take time to listen [and we had a very frustrating but ultimately fruitful conversation across about 8 blog posts in a series called ‘What about Bob?’ on my blog which started with a friend of mine anonymously asking as a white guy living abroad a bunch of the typical white questions and a few of my other friends really climbed in and let him have it – but he continued to engage and by the end of it it was so amazing to see the difference in him]. So it is frustrating but i am also committed to the long haul and so i tend to be a lot more patient with people than a lot of people i know think i should be. But as with this conversation with ‘Bob’ it can just take time and slowly chipping away at the wrong ideas for the person to finally be exposed to their privilege and start to notice it and what is meant. One really helpful idea is mentioning the fact that if you’re black and go watch a movie the likelihood is that you will see people who look like you as the bad guy or the servant with few exceptions. If people are able to stop their disagreement and think about that for one minute and then think about what people that look like them are portrayed as, it can be a lightbulb flash and the conversation starts to change. i have found some really helpful articles online and have a lot of the links on my blog to hopefully help interested people to really find their way there.
It does get a little overhwhelming personally though because as a white, heterosexual, able-bodied, Christian male i pretty much tick all the boxes. So racism and sexism and the LGBT conversation and disability all need me acknowledging my privilege and walking with them to see greater equality and that can get tiring. But then i remember that it is a hell of a lot more tiring to have people be racist to you or to be treated like an object [as a woman] or to not have access to places and things i easily do. And that helps me keep on. i am exploring the idea of being an ally at the moment [a term i really love] and how do i walk alongside the black person [because this is a not another something that needs a white person in the lead] in terms of seeing what needs to take place happen, in terms of educating and empowering and engaging and so on… i can use my privilege to advance that conversation and action sometimes and so it’s a case of figuring out how privilege can be used for good…
How does the gospel impact (or reshape) privilege and how you think about it?
i think an ongoing message through the bible is to take care of the poor and marginalised – the bible does suggest that being rich is harder because of temptation and stuff without outright condemning it, but it does seem to suggest that being poor or rich is not so much the issue as what you do with what you have – the idea of Jubilee in the Old Testament, which although apparently was never practices, looked to redress privilege and help make things a lot more equal – Jesus admonition to serve rather than be served and His demonstration at the Last Supper that as God He should have been the last person to be washing feet, but He denied His privilege to serve those around Him – lots of examples of being counter culture and swimming against the flow of how privilege normally works. The Matthew 25 story of the least of these giving us all some idea of what we should be engaging in and the Good Samaritan who we should be engaging with and to what extent.
What would you say to someone who feels like conversations about white privilege are putting unnecessary shame on white people, and are prejudiced against white people? i would encourage them to look behind them and see the trail they have walked and look behind someone of colour and notice that it is about time we started owning that and realising that we have had it good for so long and for others to catch up a little we will have to slow down a bit or have it a lot less good for a bit [maybe a long bit] – the difference between conviction and condemnation is that one empowers and one defeats and so either of these can be your response to a conversation on white privilege – oh woe is me, i am so bad, i can’t do anything, versus the realisation that unjustice has happened and i can be empowered to help make it a thing of the past – it feels completely like a thing of perspective and there are many exciting conversations to be had and sitting carrying white guilt is not a helpful situation in any way, shape or form.
What would you say to someone who only sees themselves as an individual, so white privilege doesn’t really connect with them?
White privilege is double-edged – it relates to the benefit we received and it also relates to the benefit someone else lost and so even if someone is suggesting they didn’t receive any benefit well that doesn’t impact on the benefit that was lost and so there is still a need for them to get into the game and own the responsibility of what needs to happen for greater equality to happen. With x billion people on the planet at the moment i don’t think there is much chance to be only an individual in this unless you truly are living in a cave somewhere – if you are eating meat, if you are using electricity, if you are driving a car then you are having an impact on other people and you may as well own it and be part of engaging greater solutions that will help and affect everyone. Let’s be clear that apartheid didn’t only affect black people negatively – perhaps in terms of money and things – but white people lost so much in terms of their ability to be human if they didn’t do anything and just thumbed up a cruel and unjust system – there was a cost to everyone involved, some just more evident than others.
Any last words for us white people in SA and the USA before you go?
Engage. Have a conversation. Hear someone’s story. As concepts, ideas like ‘white privilege’ and ‘racism’ and more can easy and quickly elicit defensiveness because they are issues and issues are easy to coompartmentalise… but the moment the issues take on the form of people because of a conversation or a meal or a joint project then suddenly it is a lot easier for you to realise what is happening and what the cost is to someone you hopefully care about and to get involved – it makes it more personal and real and urgent. If the issues remain issues there is not a lot of hope. Once people are involved and children and dreams and opportunities, well then there is so much hope and opportunity. Take time to LISTEN without talking without answering without explaining or justifying or anything – just LISTEN and then go away and think about it and consider what is truth in there and react accordingly…