Race & Culture Devotional: Seeing and Using Privilege to Benefit Others

This is the first of our new Devotional series on “Race & Culture” where we will be covering topics that relate to Hope, Humility, & Healing as well as taking a look at some of the stories from around our fellowship. This particular devotional deals with an aspect of humility in privilege: the lowering of oneself to lift others up. Hope you enjoy!

By: Patrick Genova

The word “privilege” and especially “white privilege” can make us defensive. I know when I first heard it I immediately felt defensive. My first thought was, “are you trying to discredit everything that I have accomplished!?” and “are you saying I am a horrible person?!” This certainly could be one potential response to it, but I would like for us to just hold on a second and try to figure out a more constructive approach to the idea of having privilege based on the color of our skin. While it can be particularly difficult from a white cultural context to see privilege, and racism for that matter, fortunately it has been pretty well established throughout many years of empirical research studies that it is in fact a reality. It is the truth and we are seekers of truth as Christians. 

Here is a list of 26 ways we can identify our privilege within the white community:

  1. I can if I wish to arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time. 
  2.  If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure that I will be able to rent or purchase housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live. 
  3. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me. 
  4. I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed. 
  5. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented. 
  6. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is. 
  7. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race. 
  8. If I want to, I can be pretty sure of finding a publisher for this piece on white privilege. 
  9. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair. 
  10. Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash, I can count on my skin color not to work against the appearance of financial reliability. 
  11. I can arrange to protect my children most of the time form people who might not like them. 
  12. I can swear, or dress in second hand clothes, or not answer letters, without having people attribute these choices to the bad morals, the poverty, or the illiteracy of my race. 
  13. I can speak in public to a powerful male group without putting my race on trial. 
  14. I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race. 
  15. I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group. 
  16. I can remain oblivious to the language and customs of persons of color, who constitute the world’s majority, without feeling in my culture any penalty for such oblivion. 
  17. I can criticize our government and talk about how much I fear its policies and behavior without being seen as a cultural outsider. 
  18. I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to ‘the person in charge”, I will be facing a person of my race. 
  19. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven’t’ been singled out because of my race. 
  20. I can easily buy posters, postcards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls, toys, and children’s magazines featuring people of my race. 
  21. I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, out-numbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared. 
  22. I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got the job because of race. 
  23. I can choose public accommodation without fearing that people of my race cannot get in or will be mistreated in the places I have chosen. 
  24. I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my race will not work against me. 
  25. If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
  26. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in flesh color and have them more or less match my skin. 

(Source: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh, Associate Director of the Wellesley College Center of Research on Women, 1990.)

Thats a big list! I know we could continue to add to it as this was written in 1990! If you are reading this and happen to be white, this might be an overwhelming feeling or perhaps it is a confirmation of what you have already felt and perceived. Either way, I think the next question is what do we do? 

Here is a powerful Ted Talk by Peggy McIntosh where she discusses the importance of not having a feeling of guilt or shame when it comes to recognizing one’s privilege, but rather seeing this privilege as a “bank account” that was given that we can put into the service of weakening white privilege. She talks about how transformative and fulfilling this experience can be!

Going Deeper

In the words of Uncle Ben to Peter Parker (Spiderman), “with great power comes great responsibility

In the words of Jesus:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”

Luke 10:48b

Moses himself was faced with the decision of maintaining a position of privilege as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter or advocating for the mistreated Israelites (and ultimately being mistreated along with them). What did Moses ultimately do? The Hebrew author describes it this way: 

24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.

Hebrews 11:24-26 

I think we all know that this is a real issue because in my opinion, white people understand and have felt at one time or another, that if we advocate for the rights of minorities (referring to African Americans in this instance), we ourselves risk potential damage (socially or otherwise). This proves the point that we find ourselves in a system of racism, but it also goes to show you how much, we as Christians, can and should do to advocate. Although this advocacy will come at a cost (like it did for Moses), if we lock our eyes on the reward (as Moses did), we can stay in the fight as we take the hits. 

I also wondered why God chose Paul, a self described, “hebrew of hebrews” (Phil 3:5) to be a light to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15-16). I mean what did Paul know about reaching the gentiles?! It hit me recently, looking at our current climate, it makes perfect sense! Imagine a gentile trying to be a light to the gentiles in a predominantly non-gentile culture (the early Church), they would have been quickly dismissed. Paul, knowing the majority culture well and being respected in this majority culture, was able to advocate for the gentiles from a position of status among the majority. Paul used his status to advocate for inclusion, equality, and reformation. You can see one of many super clear examples of Paul using his status as a “hebrew of hebrews” to advocate for the Gentiles in Galatians 2:11-21 when he rebukes Peter for socially distancing himself from the Gentiles.

Of course we also have Jesus, God himself in the flesh, “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7)

Our heritage as Christians is one of people who use privilege to lift up, to the glory of God, His children, when their humanity and inclusion is being trampled. “So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” (2 Cor 4:12)

If we are all made in the image of God, it should be of great concern to us when God’s image bearers are being mistreated and in this case, and since the beginning of our history here in the U.S., those image bearers of God’s glory that are being mistreated are our African American brother’s and sister’s.

I am confident that I am not alone and many in the white community stand united in their desire to advocate for our African American brother’s and sister’s and I look forward to our continued efforts to follow Jesus’s instructions:

“first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Matthew 7:5

Some question to consider:

Q: How do you feel when you hear the word privilege or white privilege? Why?

Q: How can you use whatever position you find yourself in to advocate for the voices of African Americans? 

Q: What fears come to mind as you think of advocating? How can you apply faith to overcome?

If you need some inspiration or more practicals here is a list of 75 things you can do to help.

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