Some call it privileged. I call it blessed. I am thankful for the advantages I’ve had in my life, each provided to me by the culture in which I was raised. I don’t take for granted that I was brought up by two parents who loved me and gave me healthy boundaries that kept me safe, but allowed me to become my own person. I know not every person gets to have an extended family of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and more to make them feel loved, appreciated and part of something bigger than themselves. I understand that because of my heritage I was able to learn things faster than some, and because of prayers that were lifted for me generations before I was born I am now living a life that some call privileged. I am humbled and in awe of this blessing I’ve been given, and I try to pass along my blessing to others when I’m able.
Not long ago I read a blog post by an African American woman. It was very well written. She had a healthy view of what she called white privilege. It was in response to a question a white male friend of hers had posed. If I could find the link again, I’d share it. She was eloquent in helping her friend understand his white male privilege.
Then yesterday I watched a video of what I assume was a professor attempting to teach a college aged group of individuals about privilege, and he had me clear to the end.
He started out with everyone in a single line facing him with a hundred dollar bill offered to the one who could get to him the fastest. Then he gave “advantages” to show what “privilege” is. Those who were raised in a two parent home were allowed to take two steps forward. A father being present, never having to worry about where the next meal was coming from and more gained each of the qualifying participants two steps toward hundred dollar bill. It was a beautiful example of privilege.
Then he lost me . . . at the very end he brought color and ethnicity into it. And while I will never deny these factors seem to effect some people groups more than others, these cultural differences defy color and ethnicity, and to bring those factors into the mix brings division where division doesn’t need to be.
Additionally, he missed an opportunity to show these folks how they could give themselves a boost when their culture tries to hold them back. Some of the young people took advantage of the two steps and made them leaps while others just took two normal steps forward. Several who got an advantage couldn’t have run fast if their life was on the line, while some left at the gate could have potentially passed even those who had a head start.
And life is like that. There are as many with “privilege” who take it for granted and waste it as there are those with none who use every speck as an opportunity to advance.
The professor also neglected to demonstrate that each of them have a bit of advantage over most of the world simply because they were raised in the United States of America. He didn’t ask who had running water and electricity. Some of those kids need reminded that as bad as they think they have it, there is always someone else who has it worse. And a few of those raised in those other countries have taken advantage of what they do have and have made it big in American sports, taking their new privilege back to their village and paying it forward.
I get it not everyone has all of the same opportunities as others. And I believe those who’ve gotten any blessing at all need to learn early to share those blessings with those who have less. Plus, I don’t want to minimize the despicable thing called discrimination, I realize it still exists, and it’s wrong . . . it’s just wrong. No one should be judged on the color of their skin, their gender, their religious or any other preferences. Every person who has integrity and is qualified and willing to do the job and work hard should be giving the same consideration.
However, I wish the media and those who are passionate about the discussion would start calling this divisive new title they’ve created what it really is . . . cultural privilege. And I wish they’d stop making it sound like a bad thing. It’s a beautiful gift, one that should be cherished, not one to be ashamed of. It’s a gift that comes with a lot of responsibility, including the responsibility to help the less fortunate and treat every person with dignity and respect.
You see when we call it by what it is, we make it something that can be changed. If it’s white male privilege, I can’t overcome it. I can not change my gender. My black friend can not change his skin. But a family can change their culture. They can refuse to embrace those stereotypes which hold them back. They can put higher expectations on their children, and make them believe they can attain those expectations. Integrity can be taught and caught. Having a good work ethic can be instilled, and molding a person who believes He is a person of value can be accomplished. It’s more difficult when you are forced to live in a downtrodden culture, but it can be done. I know sometimes they’re hard to find, but there are churches who embrace every person who walks through the door and are just itching to help a family who wants to change their culture. One of my goals for my children was to surround them with a lot of adults who shared my values so they knew it wasn’t just me who had high expectations for them, and every mother in America can do that same thing.
It’s not white privilege. There are a lot of males of European descent who are living in poverty in America. Too many are caught in the culture of single parent homes and a latchkey lifestyle. More and more young people of every gender, color and ethnicity are turning to drugs and making unhealthy choices, and often it’s not their fault. They are being raised in a culture that cultivates unhealthy choices.
I personally wish I could do more, but I do what I can. I try to mentor the young people Christ allows me to encounter, and I sponsor a couple of kids from other countries so they too can be raised out of the culture of poverty and realize someone from across the world cares.
It’s an elephant sized problem, but I believe it begins by taking the focus off of color, ethnicity and gender. Don’t tell kids they are automatically limited by things they can’t change. Help them to see that all of their limitations are just roadblocks, things that can be conquered with hard work. Yes, they may have to work harder than others, but changing color, ethnicity and gender are impossible, so let’s not give these any attention. The roadblocks the underprivileged face are not insurmountable, but they are roadblocks. There will be climbing, pushing, moving and hard work needed to get past them. And perhaps a little reminder of the proper way to eat an elephant . . . just one bite at a time.