Wielding Privilege in the Age of Trump
On the day after the 2016 US presidential election, I had an early morning flight from Orlando to Nashville, and during those post-election pre-dawn hours at ORD the atmosphere was palpably somber.
I know I probably wasn't the only straight, white, evangelical male in the airport. But, I felt like I was.
Most of the people who crossed my path that morning were Hispanic or African American. I could see and feel their concern, worry, disgust - and fear. And I felt like I was the problem
I mean I personally did not vote for winner. But the incoming administration - the source of their concern - had just been elected.
By people like me.
A couple of weeks ago the disturbing video of the shooting of Philando Castile was released. The video was troubling, not because it showed a police officer shooting a young man at point blank range for absolutely no reason. We see that on TV all the time. Nor was the real issue because it showed a little girl getting out of the car - and the same little girl crying in her mother's arms saying, "I wish it didn't have to be like this" and "I wish this town were safer" and pleading with her mother to cooperate because "I don't want you to get shooted."
Heart-wrenching, yes - but this was not what I found most disturbing.
The video is disturbing because a jury apparently watched it and acquitted the officer of any wrong doing. Apparently he was afraid (that was clear from the video). But of what? Perhaps he was afraid of Philando's complete cooperation with his instructions or the fact that he was driving in the car with his girlfriend and her daughter?
Or maybe he was afraid because Philando was a black man and that's scary-as-hell enough to shoot someone dead - and not be in the wrong.
Either way a jury (made up of 8 white people, and 2 black people) apparently felt that fear is justification for shooting someone, and accountability for the training the officer was supposed to have received was not a factor.
But the officer was acquitted, nonetheless.
Mostly, by people like me.
If I've learned anything over the past few years it's this: you've gotta own your stuff.
Here's what I own today:
I am a straight, white, male, evangelical.
And that makes me a person of privilege.
Period. I can't change it. I have to own it.
I have a position of privilege and power in my country - and, frankly, in most countries - because I was born in a certain place, at a certain time, to a certain family. It had nothing to do with me or anything I earned or deserved. It just is.
Therefore, I don't worry about police officers shooting me point blank for explicitly following their instructions.
I don't worry about the Trump administration deporting me, or passing legislation to discriminate against me. Then again - I haven't had to really worry about that in any administration.
Privilege is real.
The current shift in global politics has been in favor of the privileged.
The question I have is this: what do we with it? What do we do about it?
I don't like the general way those with power treat those who have little power - or who have no power. I don't like the fact that there are people who will suffer and possibly die because people with privilege - people like me - are doing whatever it takes to protect their own.
I really don't like the fact that much of the church in America is on board with so much of this global trend, much of which is blatantly against the teachings of Jesus.
However, most of this is really not an issue I can do anything about. Not really.
Here's the issue I can do something about: What do I do with my privilege? This is perhaps the most important question for every straight, white, American man today.
I have a running list. It's not complete. I'm keeping it in an Evernote file. I've condensed my list to four things for the sake of a blog post.
What does one do with privilege?
"I have worked hard for everything I've achieved" - that's the first objection that usually comes up with white men when talking about privilege.
Privilege is not about how hard you work. Privilege is about getting an often imperceptible - yet significant - head start on most people in the world. It's operating in a system where you will win, if you're of a certain race, gender, and social class.
Hard work is a reality for everyone. But think about it - a young girl in India doesn't have the same opportunities I do. Not even close. A young African-American kid has to overcome WAY more than I will ever had to overcome in order to succeed in America. Most women will have to overcome WAY more than I will in order to attain the same things I have, only because she was born female and I was born male.
Yes - things have changed, and are even getting better. Kind of. In places. But privilege is still real. I have it. And I have it because I was born - not because I did anything extraordinary to achieve anything.
Believing in privilege and owning it is first base, really. I believe we'd get a lot farther, faster, if privilege's reality were more widely recognized by those who possess it.
Talk about it.
One person owning privilege probably won't make a lot of difference. But what if entire communities understand the significance of privilege? What if workplaces and churches and community organizations began to understand the inevitability, realities, and consequences of privilege? Conversation brings deeper understanding and light - and light reveals racism, classism, sexism and a thousand other "isms" with all their subtle edges. When a person of color or someone in a minority culture talks about privilege, it's often viewed as whining, at best.
But if those with privilege begin having conversations about its self-owned reality and consequences, I'm convinced real change in mindset can and should take place in our communities.
Nothing changes if we don't talk about it. This should be coffee shop and pub conversation. Churches should do Bible Studies around this topic (Having a Masters degree in Theology and Spirituality - I promise you - t's there). Ignoring the reality of privilege will have the same harmful results as denying it exists. Those of us in the place of privilege need to talk about its implications.
A solution to social inequality is empowerment. I understand social inequality is a highly complex, global issue. But we can start simply. Those of us who have privilege, who have blessing and abundance, who are in a place of security and wealth - we have a responsibility. We need to think about ways to empower those who don't have the same advantages. This can start with simple things like frequenting minority owned businesses and seeking ways to assist those who may not have the benefit I was born with.
We've inherited an unjust system - this world system we were all born into - and there is a strong Biblical theology for this. I believe it's important to break this system moving forward.
I believe this particular responsibility is heaviest on those of us who lay claim to the Christian faith.
Unfortunately, that's not been our characterization.
I also believe that's something we will have to answer for.
I want to better engage people different from me, and not walk by them as if they don't exist. I would encourage you to do the same. Talk to people of color. Talk to minorities. Talk to people not like you. And - more importantly - listen.
Listen to their struggle.
Listen to their fears.
Listen to what makes them happy.
Ask questions. Listen well.
I left Orlando and arrived in Nashville that morning after election and picked up my rental car. Two African-American ladies were helping me at the Enterprise office. I hadn't talked to anyone all morning, and I finally felt I needed to engage.
I said to them: "As a straight, white, evangelical male - I want you to know that I'm so sorry. I didn't vote for the man, but a lot of us did. I want you to know that I am for you."
I got a little teary as I verbalized my concerns, and the lady behind the counter came around to the front and we hugged it out, right there in the Enterprise Rental Car office at the Nashville International Airport.
We had a moment.
And I realized: for me, this is exactly how privilege should be wielded.