I’ve been going back and forth in my head trying to decide if I was actually going to post about this or not. I’d been planning on talking about this lofty and touchy subject in some form or another “eventually”, thinking that Martin Luther King Day would have been a good, albeit cliche, opportunity; then I thought about posting the day after MLK Day in order to make a point about how MLK’s legacy should not be confined to a single day’s acknowledgement.
But now I realize that some things cannot be cleanly planned out or organized. And, more importantly, some things just simply need to be talked about. And this is one of those things.
(ASIDE–A BRIEF INTRODUCTION TO THE “PRESENT DAY JUSTICE ISSUES” SERIES)
To start off, hopefully I’ll get back to trying to post on this blog semi-regularly (though I’ve obviously not been doing a very good job so far), and among the plethora of ideas I have for this blog, one of them is to write a series of posts on justice issues that are in effect in our world today. These could be anything from global issues to national ones. Ultimately, I understand that I am not the leading authority on any of these topics, but I still hope to provide a voice that matters and raises awareness for (and perhaps even offers some critiques on) these issues. Posts will be riddled with links to news articles, videos, and other blog posts, with the goal of being as well-rounded and factual as possible.
I will not promise to be unbiased, however, for two reasons:
- I am a blogger, and not a journalist. I firmly believe that journalism should be as unbiased as possible. It is not a journalist’s or a news source’s job to tell readers what or how to think, but rather to present readers with facts including all sides of the situation that is being reported in order to allow them to come to their own conclusions. In the blogging world, however, people are encouraged to share their own beliefs and opinions and can hopefully provide thought-provoking material based on their own words. I will certainly do my best to be well-rounded as well and look at all sides of the situation, and I also understand that the situations I discuss will rarely be black-and-white (no pun intended). What I hope to do is offer a platform for myself and others to voice our own opinions in respectful and non-hostile ways.
- As a Christian, I will a) often approach things from a “Christian” perspective (though I understand that that is a loaded statement) and b) do my best to lift up the voice of those who have no voice, because I believe that is what Jesus did in his own ministry and called his followers to do. Again, our world is full of issues with complex layers and sticky situations, and I will do my best to form my opinions only after I’ve looked at all the facts and have heard from both sides. But oftentimes, my biases will unapologetically be in favor of those not in power, those who are being oppressed, and those who are, well, under-privileged.
Now, back to your previously scheduled blog post.
PRESENT DAY JUSTICE ISSUES, PART I: WHAT IS PRIVILEGE?
I cannot emphasize enough that I know how touchy of a subject this is today. “Privilege” is a word that has been thrown around so much this past year and a half and beyond that it often gets lost in translation, and many people have already decided their opinions on the matter. It’s a word that repels many and causes them to automatically form strong, negative feelings toward whomever is using the word, and yet for others it’s one of their go-to words: something handy that many protesters pull out of their back pockets (often succeeding the words “Check your”) whenever they feel like someone is being intentionally ignorant.
But what does it mean?
The most concise definition I can give of the word is this: Privilege is a position of power, be it great or small, that is automatically or subconsciously placed on a person or on a group of people despite the fact that they did nothing to deserve such power.
So, say you hear someone talking about another person having “white privilege” (as I’m sure most of us have heard before). When they use that term, they are saying that because of our society’s traditionally biased view in favor of people with fair skin, white people are more likely to obtain certain “gifts” that they might not have necessarily earned, while non-white people or people of color (POC) will be forced to work harder and even manipulate a part of who they are in order to show the privileged and powerful that they are worth something of equal value, as well.
One would be hard pressed to try to legitimately call white privilege a myth. Here in America, as well as in much of the rest of the Western world, we can see that our history has been created and formed by mostly fair-skinned folk. This is evident in everything from our history books (which many people would rightfully say are often biased themselves towards retelling history from the perspective of white people), to our line of presidents [up until 2008], to the movies and shows that garner the most attention, to our economic situation. And, of course, let us not forget the blatant oppression and racism behind slavery in the 18th and 19th century and the Jim Crow laws that were in force in America for almost 75 years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
“White” has been the majority [power] in America for the past 300 years. White is what is normal. For many, white is what is comfortable. But the reality is that now there are almost as many non-white people in America as there are white people. And the even harsher reality is that many white people are reacting rather roughly to this change, despite the fact that America has been unashamedly becoming more and more racially diverse since the late 19th century, with little sign of slowing down.
Along with white privilege often comes the notion of “male privilege”, which has an even deeper history as it stretches back basically to the beginning of human existence. Throughout different ancient cultures we see a lot of things that are seemingly run almost exclusively by men. Men are the head gods, the philosophers, the warriors, the writers, the politicians, and the actors. Men are the ones making headlines and making history, while women are often seen on the sidelines (if they’re seen at all).
And the same is often still true in our society today. When we talk about doctors, lawyers, engineers, philanthropists, or politicians, more often than not we tend to think of men holding a place of power in these positions rather than women. While many of the so-called “lower” positions: the nurses, the paralegals, the secretaries, and so on, are often attributed almost exclusively to women.
But the shocking reality (hold on to your seats and tuck your kids in before you read any further) is this: women can do all these things as well. Unfortunately, much like the case with whiteness, the idea behind males holding the positions of power has been normalized in our society and we have kicked off our shoes, grabbed our favorite beer, and settled into this idea without giving it a second thought. So when a woman starts showing strength, intelligence, or power, the men who had once been the epitome of those characteristics start to push back. They retaliate and respond with arguments that tend to essentially always be a reiteration of the same idea that, “This is the way it has always been… I like things the way they are… I don’t want things to change… I don’t want anything to put my position of power at risk.”
While that may sound harmless enough, in reality this message is often communicated through violence and language that demeans and belittles women, and that is not okay.
This is a matter of justice because, simply put, things have been split in two between the party of the oppressors and the party of the oppressed. Yes, slavery and the Jim Crow laws are no longer mandated in our country today. Yes, women can vote and a lot of them can work anywhere they want. Yes, we see both women and people of color (and, of course, women of color) in positions of power. But while those major systems of power are thankfully behind us, this does not mean that racism and sexism no longer exist in our nation and in our world today. As I’ve said before, because people are being oppressed, we, as Christians, should care. We cannot remain complacent about matters of justice in the world.
ADDRESSING THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
As you could guess, this puts me in a bit of an awkward situation, as I am both white and male. For the longest time, I didn’t see any problem with the way things were in the world because I was never directly affected by it. And I am often still lukewarm about these things because of it.
But it cannot be this way. For those of us who are privileged, we need to look at the world around us. We need to be self-aware. We need to acknowledge our position of power and seek humility and justice, losing our life for the sake of others and, if we are Christian, for the sake of the gospel (Matthew 16:24-27).
Even so, I often have trouble trying to figure out my own role in this. I do not know what women go through every day; I do not know what people of color experience every day. How can I possibly understand? How can I possibly relate? How can I help stand for justice without further perpetuating injustice?
These are all tough questions that perhaps even deserve their own blog posts, but I will not address them just yet. I will, however, suggest that the next step is to talk to the people who are not like you. Reach out to them and ask about their experiences. And most importantly: listen to them. Listening leads to understanding and understanding leads to setting the foundation for real, genuine change to occur. You may not end up agreeing with everything they say, but at least you have placed a stepping stone on the path to reconciliation.
One more thing: I know again that this is a rough and controversial topic. It’s layered and complicated, like rock-paper-scissors[-lizard-Spock] on steroids. Believe it or not, I have only barely scratched the surface on this issue, and many of the sentences I’ve written in this post and be replaced with blog posts (or entire books) for themselves. But in the midst of it all, I want to urge everyone reading and everyone involved to love one another. Seek peace in all situations. And approach everything with patience and, if you’re a person of faith, prayer. Change starts in your heart.
Below are three videos pertaining to the subject, all revolving around the theme of white guys just trying to understand the complexity of privilege (specifically white privilege) and desiring to be understood themselves. I hope you enjoy them.
Thank you for reading. Until next time.
STEPHEN COLBERT INTERVIEWS/IS INTERVIEWED BY DERAY MCKESSON, A LEADER OF THE BLACK LIVES MATTER MOVEMENT (COPYRIGHT CBS 2016)
SONG: “WHITE PRIVILEGE II (WARNING: EXPLICIT)” BY MACKLEMORE (COPYRIGHT 2016)
SONG: “AMERICAN PRIVILEGE (WARNING: EXPLICIT)” BY ALLEN STONE (COPYRIGHT 2015)