Privilege and Race

The horrific events of the last few months; Ferguson, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and more is hard to talk about.

It takes a lot of work to find hope for a positive outcome, but my hope and prayer is that important conversations are again taking place that will create lasting changes and move us closer toward a restored world as God created it to be. I can understand the skepticism someone who has lived under oppression would have about the likelihood of that statement.

The events and news of the last few months did not create a racial divide in America, it merely revealed that the country is not as far along in racial unity as those of us in the privileged category would like to believe.

It is oversimplified, inaccurate and a missed opportunity if we make this exclusively about race and racism in police officers and not about all of society. There is a dark history in the relationship between people of color and police and this history makes this a particularly complex relationship, but this is a society wide conversation.

I have been afraid to say anything publicly in part because I hear and understand the people who think words are cheap. I believe it is legitimate to ask what are you going to do about this? Talking, writing, reading, posting on social media is not enough.

I don’t have an answer to what I am going to do about this yet.

I was encouraged by a friend of mine that this legitimate concern does not trump the need for the voice of the privileged to speak up alongside the voice of the oppressed. In order for change to take place the people in the categories of privilege must care enough to do something and say something.

Following the grand jury decision in Ferguson Christena Cleveland tweeted: “If you are a pastor in America and you are not preaching about this on Sunday you should not be a pastor in America” I favorited this tweet and thought I was spared the responsibility of acting on it because I am not a pastor. But I have other platforms and I must use those platforms.

Change begins with acknowledging the reality of privilege. 

The term “White privilege” is used a lot. We must acknowledge the reality of white privilege as I believe it is the category of privilege that has done and continues to do the most severe and the most widespread harm of any form of privilege.

I have intentionally used the more general term privilege because all forms of privilege have inherent power that is capable of abuse. In the book Privilege, Power and Difference (and I am sure many other places) the author identifies 5 categories of difference that lead to privilege and power; Race, Gender, Sexual Orientation, Class, Physical ability.

The denial of privilege must stop.

A restored, united and just community will not happen if those of us in the categories of privilege deny the existence of our privilege. The acknowledgement of this reality does not need to elicit guilt. It may for a time, and it will take some work to wrestle with how we deal with our position that we were born into a society that puts us in a place of privilege through no doing of our own. It is the definition of privilege that we even have the choice whether to wrestle with these realities or simply avoid them. I have listed some resources below to start the process.

Our responsibility as a member of society, and certainly as followers of Christ is at a bare minimum to do this work.

“Nice is better than mean, but nice can be the enemy of action because it keeps its voice to a whisper. What we need is less nice and more truth.”  – Tim Wise


I am in no way the best resource or even the best at pointing you to resources to begin or continue this journey but here are a few recommendations;

  • All things Christena Cleveland in particular her book Disunity in Christ. Follow Christena on Twitter. “Disunity in Christ” This is a book by a sociologist/thelologian but is very readable for anyone who is exploring this topic for the first time or has been passionate for years.
  • Privilege,Power and Difference by Allan G Johnson. A secular book written in an academic style that explains just what the title implies.
  • Being White by Paula Harris and Doug Schapp
  • Tim Wise Podcast: A good friend of mine shared this with me. If this is your first time exploring the possibility of white privilege this podcast will be very challenging.
  • Nikolas Kristoff article
  • The Case for Reparations – A long sobering article on the long term effects of systemic housing discrimination.
  • All things Efrem Smith  who writes and speaks about reconciliation especially in the context of church.
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