I did it again. I have agreed to lead a seminar about privilege. Two years ago at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Pittsburg I led this same seminar – “Crossing the Bridge of Culture and Race.” Once again I have been tasked, this time in Phoenix, with leading a discussion on White Privilege, the ultimate “elephant in the room” topic.
Talking about white privilege means owning the fact that King’s world, one in which people are judged only by the content of their character has not yet arrived. I have the privilege of leading a ministry that is diverse in almost every way diversity can be used. We are young and old –actually I prefer people with life experience and those without; men and women; American and Immigrant; conservative and liberal; married and single; white and colorful; athletic and couch potatoey; high church and earthy church; straight and gay.
Quite honestly I find this this level of diversity to be prophetic, chaotic, affirming and draining all at the same time. As the person charged with giving leadership to this organization, I am oddly qualified to talk about privilege, especially at it pertains to being male, white and tall.
Admitting that I am afforded privileges simply because of my skin color is uncomfortable. The level of discomfort increases when I think about the people I work with. I want us to be equal co-laborers in the kingdom of God. In this context privilege is not easy to talk about. On one hand I enjoy the privileges of being a white male. I have never been stopped by the police because of my race. I can travel to Arizona, where I will be presenting this seminar, without worrying about having to produce documents proving my legal status and I am not even an American citizen. On the other hand it is embarrassing to just have this privilege. I did not do anything to earn it. I was born white and will die white, this privilege just is – a type of unearned power.
How do I talk about something I didn’t ask for, but certainly benefit from?
Maybe the first step is to own the privilege.
And the second step is to create sacred spaces – to talk about the issue and hear the stories of people who have been negatively impacted by white privilege. These spaces are rarely comfortable places for white people to be. But occupying the space, hearing the stories and owning the privilege creates a possibility for a new world – a world where people are judged by the content of their character.