About a month ago, one of the favorite people I follow on Twitter, a missionary and rebel protestant feminist female preacher, tweeted the following:
“When you overuse “check your privilege” as a snarky blanket statement to discredit anyone you dislike or disagree with, you’re putting the validity and importance of the whole conversation in jeopardy.
I mean, I’m no who’s-got-privilege expert, but I think the goal should probably be to advance dialog and make progress, not to just shut “privileged” people down.” And I’m eager and willing to get the conversation started, rather than to listen to yet another conversation about how I’m perpetuating the cycle of privilege. Lets get this party started, shall we?
The social media world and the media world has been all a buzz about an article published by a Princeton University student who discussed the disparities present among and around the word “privilege.” It seems to be used most commonly in my very own seminary community in the classroom and in the pulpit regarding “White privilege,” and while I can respect that perspective, especially after spending three years at PTS, I would also like to respectfully introduce another perspective into the discussion.
I come from a community and a part of the world that gives privilege a different perspective. I have been well educated from the beginning, I come from well-educated parents, who have worked hard to make its such that I will have a good education and be without debt. I speak a certain way, look at the world through a certain lens, and likely dress and carry myself a certain way that is considered “privileged.”
We are all privileged in some way, shape or form. Privilege can be health, wealth, intellect, skill, tenacity, cunning, or your location in the world. But I simply refuse to say that I can “check my privilege at the door,” just as I cannot give up my physical issues, and someone else cannot put away their financial issues.
Privilege has been the source of many conversations during my time in seminary, and not necessarily the source of a positive and encouraging progress. Frequently, they have been fueled and fiery conversations, causing hurt and pain between the parties involved. Privilege is a difficult subject, especially when the church is included, and yet, no resolution is ever reached in these heated arguments. I wonder why?
My take is as follows: while privilege usually attributed to caucasian, upper middle class, well educated, protestant males, it can and does apply to other races, ethnicities and social classes, if we look carefully and respectfully. Privilege is not and should not be a derogatory term, and when it is used as such, the conversation ought not and cannot continue. Firstly, you cannot ask people to change the lens through which they examine and analyze the world as though it is a pair of glasses or contact lenses they can readily and willingly remove. To ask with hostility your conversation partner to remove the very things that allow them to see vibrant colors, sharp details and shapes so that they can see the world less clearly is unreasonable and frankly foolish. Recognize that people have lenses, and these lenses color the world through which they view the world. Yes, it may be influenced by money, culture, education, opportunity or so on. But that doesn’t mean that the lens is less valid. What matters is how the opinion is expressed. What is generally missing is respect. Jamie put it perfectly: asking people to check their privilege (or their perspective) at the door is disrespectful. Asking someone to check their life experiences, their faith, their heritage, their history, or their ethnicity is like asking someone to couch themselves to make more room for someone else – whether it be the other person in an argument or discussion, or an institution. Asking someone to couch themselves for the sake of someone else’s argument is inappropriate; rather, a helpful and productive discussion should leave room for both sides – privilege and all.
The conclusion? The world is such a melting pot – cliche, I know. But to assume that each and every person thinks, sees and perceives the world in the very same way is frankly offensive, and even I take offense at such a blanket statement. To say that a Smithie from California sees the world in the same way that I do (a Smithie from New York) is like saying apples are the same as oranges.
And aren’t we all privileged? If we take the Gospel seriously, if we believe that Christ came to reconcile us to God, and to teach us the better way of living, then aren’t we all privileged? So then where have we gone wrong? Where have we gone so horribly wrong that we are turning our swords against our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, wronging one another for the sake of claiming un-privilege? Because isn’t that what the whole argument is really about? Who has some and who doesn’t? Who is the victim and who is the victimizer? Why are we so eager to look for right and wrong, when we should be turning to God in prayer, looking to turn the other cheek, and looking for solutions and offering forgiveness?
Wounds run deep, there’s no doubt about that. And especially when it comes to matters about money, race, ethnicity, culture or language. Those types of matters run very deep, and can be passed from generation to generation. Perpetuation is not the problem. The real problem is the lack of thoughtful and respectful dialogue…on both sides, and the complete inability to come to any conclusions, regardless of what the conclusion might be. It seems to be that regardless of the fact that feelings are hurt, and trust me, they are no matter what “side” of the fence a person might be on, the feelings are hurt beyond repair. I don’t believe this is a permanent state of affairs, but rather a temporary state of pain and suffering, one that can be mended and healed – by the power of the Holy Spirit, the balm of God, and by the blood shed by Christ on the cross.
I believe that privilege exists and is possessed by all people, but is something that can be transcended and broken, or rather is something that has been broken by the cross of Christ, should we allow it to be. Frankly, there are enough divisions in the church, and in American society, why should we be allowing another thing – something that we all possess in one form or another – to be a division, rather than a uniting factor or a null factor at all? Consider that and pray about it for the sake of our unity.
If you are interested in following Jamie Wright on Twitter, her user name is: @jamieTheVWM, and her website is theveryworstmissionary.com/