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”…
- Develop the ability to hear and be present to black anger, seeking to understand, without becoming defensive.
- Create safe spaces that allow for different perspectives.
- Cultivate genuine friendships with people of different cultures, ethnicities, and life experiences.
- 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!