Last night, I was privileged to attend a lecture, at St. Thomas University, by Dr. Diana L. Hayes, Professor of Systematic Theology at Georgetown University.  Dr. Hayes shared about recognizing the image of God in EVERY person and the ongoing problem of personal, systemic, and institutional racism in America.

As a white, straight, middle-class, college-educated, male, Christian, southern-U.S. citizen it’s taken me a while to grasp the place of cultural privilege I’ve been afforded.  I never did anything to earn or deserve the opportunities I’ve had, simply because of the life I was born into.  Nor have others, more marginalized by society, necessarily deserved the challenges they’ve had to bear because of their skin color, nationality, gender, sexual-orientation, or socio-economic status.

Even though public education is available to everyone in the United States, there’s no denying some schools are better than others, and some homes are more advantageous for learning.  I’ve never had to worry about being harassed by police for my skin color, or objectified for my gender, or condemned for my sexual orientation.  I’ve never had to worry about my personal safety, or where my next meal might come from.  I’ve never worried, for a moment, about being the victim of a hate crime.

I was, and am, fortunate.  I’m privileged.

I recently read Ta-Nehesi Coates’, Between the World and Me.  As a white man, it wasn’t easy to read.  But, I’m so glad I did.  Though we are, more or less, contemporaries, both having grown up in the United States in the same generation, our life experiences have been radically different, for one reason – the color of his skin, and the color of mine.

Through the years, I’ve denied my privilege, arguing, “Everyone has equal opportunity in America,” blind to the enormous head start I was given, and the myriad obstacles others have had to overcome.  For a season, I was apathetic, thinking, “It isn’t my fault I was born white and male.”  I remember resenting Affirmative Action and “Equal Opportunity,” foolishly presuming others were getting what I worked for.

For a time, I felt guilty.  Maybe I still do.

Now, I would say, I increasingly realize I need to use my place of privilege to speak, act, vote and pray for those less privileged in our world, facing much greater and much more unfair challenges than I’ve had to contend with.  I need to take off my blinders, do my homework, and seek to better understand other’s challenges.  I have a role and responsibility to play in advocacy for those on the margins, who do not have the positional advantages I do to leverage change.

And – let me be clear – I have much to learn from people who have lived on the margins.  And, I have much to honor and respect.  What has been handed to me, has been hard-earned by others.  Opportunities I’ve squandered, have been cherished by others.  Though the reasons are deeply unfair, those who’ve lived on the margins have a greater strength from the battles they’ve fought, have greater perseverance from what they’ve endured, greater wisdom from what they’ve witnessed, and a very different perspective on faith and spirituality.  Though I’ve no claim or right to their earned life lessons, I want to learn and I want to show respect.

Dr. Hayes specifically offered the following “Four Corners of Racial Reconciliation”…

  1. Develop the ability to hear and be present to black anger, seeking to understand, without becoming defensive.
  2. Create safe spaces that allow for different perspectives.
  3. Cultivate genuine friendships with people of different cultures, ethnicities, and life experiences.
  4. Develop a willingness to act on behalf of justice.

Though it’s been a journey, and it’s taken me longer than it should have, I am increasingly aware, increasingly open, and increasingly willing to do my part.  Though I still have a lot to learn, friendships to develop, and cowardice to overcome, I’m starting to get it.  I’m starting.

I’m sorry it’s taken me so long!


2 thoughts on “Privilege

  1. Dear Brother Vance,
    Once again your brave courage and willingness to openly share your journey towards illumination and awareness to truths you were previously blind to I want you to know that you are not alone on this journey! I to am a white male 60 y.o. who when I was 19 years old was a Ministerial Student at a Baptist college back in 1970. I was called into the ministry and served in the youth mission field for 2 summers. My last year of college I was raped by another male student and back then it was quietly and descreately brushed under the rug. I turned my back on God after this life changing event…..I could not understand how He the God i loved and adored and worshiped with every fiber of my being could allow this to happen to one of his own children.

    Many years later…i walked back into a church again and there in front of me above the alter was a magnificent statue of our Lord Jesus with his loving arms extended wide open and below Him was a woman pastor preaching all dressed in white and she was glowing and the most beautiful thing about her was….she was signing in American Sign language. She was raised in a home with 2 deaf parents so signing was her first language. These images of Christ’s arms wide open and her signing brought me to tears that flowed like
    the river Jordan! You see God reminded me once again of the deaf roommate that I had back in college when my rape happened and he was the only one who would listen and console me.
    I have been living my life as a gay man every since that day. I have NEVER been denied anything …a job, a home, friends nothing. Because you see Jesus opened my eyes to ALL those people hurting and being judged and mistreated for their skin color…their political beliefs…their country of origin or sexual orientation. I am a proud US Army veteran and I have served overseas and have known true freedom by uniting with others around the world in the love of Christ.

    Thank you for sharing your amazing journey with those of us out here in cyberspace!

    Liked by 1 person

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