If you had ever told me 20 years ago that we would be where we are now in America, I would have told you that you were crazy. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe that all of the reconciliation and bridge building we had done sine the 1960’s regarding race would be undermined and agitated in a brief 8 years. I have been inspired living in an era when the first black supreme court justice was appointed, the first black US Senator was elected, the first black TV stars rose to fame, and countless other academic, social, and cultural achievements were reached. When the United States elected Barak Obama president in 2008, I shed tears at the magnitude of the moment on the day he was inaugurated, even though I didn’t vote for him. The power of that moment showed us, I thought, that there is NO place to which people of every race, creed, and color cannot ascend.
Unfortunately, the beauty and hope of that day’s impression quickly disintegrated into bitter polarization. I am currently seeing a racial hatred and strife in this country like I have never known in my lifetime. Recent police incidents have become politicized wedges intended to drive people apart, and everyone has a strong opinion.
Someone I cherish shared their strong opinion days ago on social media, siding with #blacklivesmatter, swept up in the emotion of both what happened this week as well as the personal experience of being bullied as an immigrant. This dear one then went on to lament how many of their friends are ignorant because of their “white privilege.” They also intimated that unless a person embraces #blacklivesmatter, they were fomenting hatred, ignoring oppression, adding to the problem, being unreasonable, and acting in an unloving fashion. Wow! That is some strong, angry language!
To say this was hurtful would have to be an understatement. It immediately created a divisive us-them situation. It ascribed motives and professed to know a person’s heart based upon the embracing of a hashtag. That hashtag was started by a specific organization that is known to promote violent protests and the killing of police officers. Too many people I know don’t have the awareness of all that envelopes this seemingly harmless hashtag. Why WOULDN’T you want to tell a black person that their life matters? They quickly jump to the conclusion in their self-righteousness that it can only mean that you are racist or blind to your own racial bias. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I immediately messaged this person asking if this was truly what they thought about me. The response was to tell me that they really didn’t want to talk about this via social media. Due to meet soon, I pressed that I needed to know this person’s thoughts before we met face-to-face. I received a phone call, and we were both tearful. I emphasized how sorry I was for the inexcusable racism and awful hurt that this person had endured. It breaks my heart. Even so, that precious ones hurt does not define who I am as a person of Irish, Polish, and Slavic descent. Thankfully, we love each other enough to have talked it out.
I pointed out that they had tried to label me with “white privilege” simply because of the color of my skin. Isn’t that the very thing anti-racism is trying to decry? I emphatically reject that label.
I explained to this individual that they had no idea of my background, upbringing, and current day-to-day life any more than I did about theirs. I am not saying that there is no such thing as privilege. There is. I live in an extremely affluent community, and I see it nearly every day. However, my life has never been privileged and it still isn’t to this day.
I could go into great detail about his humble 3 bedroom flat I was raised in on the south side of Milwaukee, with my 5 siblings and 2 parents crammed in. I could talk about the poverty I grew up in that affected everything from the way we dressed, to our transportation, to the meals we ate and the schools we attended. I could tell of my father being the minority in the area in which he worked, targeted by black kids in that neighborhood simply because he was white. I could share the story of the teen in the neighborhood where he worked who loosened the lug nuts on one of his rims in hopes of hurting him on his way home from work. He could have been killed. I could go on about the fact that my father never had anything more than a high school degree and at one point worked 2 jobs just to care for his family. I could even continue on about my diverse group of friends during my school and working years, who always knew love from me, no matter their race, creed or color.
Additionally, I could share the horrors of my life disproving my “privilege.” Never popular, I was mocked because of my red hair, my clothes, and flat chest. The kids were relentless. The boys were especially cruel, never easing up on their constant badgering. I remember coming home one evening with my family to find a swastika burned in our back lawn with fertilizer. We never figured out who did it, but I can recall the terrifying feelings as if it was yesterday. I was scared for our safety. Another time, a red-haired doll with a noose around its neck was tossed on my front door step. It was another eerie, frightening situation that kept me from feeling safe in my own home. None of those things felt too very privileged.
I could bore you with more personal stories of fear, harassment, and struggles, but the point is this…
It is racist to malign people for their supposed “white privilege” because when you use that terminology, you are doing the very thing you claim to be against. You are painting with a broad brush, labeling all people of a certain ethnicity to be of a certain lifestyle, background, mindset, behavior, and life experience. You assume they don’t face any of the struggles you do, simply because of race.
I could tell you that there are some people of different racial backgrounds who are FAR more privileged than I am, who have traveled more than I ever will, who have received scholarships that I could never receive, and who have also been considered for awards or jobs that I never would be. Some come from affluent, highly-regarded families, landing them in a social strata I could never achieve.
I could also share personal stories of reverse racism, of having a friend denied a job on a short-staffed police force because he was a Caucasian male; of a loved ones co-workers who were doing terrible work or who weren’t doing their jobs at all, being protected from reprimand because they were minority. I could also tell of someone who sued an employer for terminating on the basis of race, when the true reason for termination was because they weren’t performing the duties clearly set forth in their job description. The case was settled out of court with a tidy award because the company didn’t want the bad publicity of being labeled racist. I would never be afforded such an advantage in a job loss. I could tell of someone I love recently put through a #blacklivesmatter sensitivity training at college because someone else in their dorm had erased the saying from an African American student’s white board on their door. The real reason it was erased was to get back at the girl because she and her lesbian lover were having sex in the dorm showers, which repulsed all of their fellow students sharing that bathroom. It had little, if anything, to do with race.
Each of these situations bred resentment, not equality. It is hard not to have bitterness when others hide behind race to defend the indefensible. And it demeans and desensitizes people to true racism, which really DOES exist, when everything becomes a racial issue. It divides the Body of Christ.
God has told us through His apostle Paul,
You are living a brand new kind of life that is continually learning more and more of what is right, and trying constantly to be more and more like Christ who created this new life within you. In this new life one’s nationality or race or education or social position is unimportant; such things mean nothing. Whether a person has Christ is what matters, and he is equally available to all.
Since you have been chosen by God who has given you this new kind of life, and because of his deep love and concern for you, you should practice tenderhearted mercy and kindness to others. Don’t worry about making a good impression on them, but be ready to suffer quietly and patiently. (Colossians 3:10-12, TLB)
Instead of encouraging people to choose love of black people and their challenges, the language of “white privilege” sows disunity in the Church. This language creates a twisted dichotomy putting everyone on edge and only validating some. What would you say to your brother in Christ who is a police officer or even more, a black police officer? Would you expect them to feel at ease with you when you use such racially charged language? How does this language solve the problem of serious racial issues? Does it lift others up or tear some down?
We are also reminded by Paul’s words, when he was in a foreign land, preaching to the men of Athens,
He made from one [common origin, one source, one blood] all nations of men to settle on the face of the earth… (Acts 17:26, AMPC)
Not every white person has “privilege” any more than every black person is a gang member. Not every white person is racist simply because they do not embrace the agitation and narrative of #blacklivesmatter. People’s hearts hurt from racism as much as they do from drug violence or anti-police violence. We are ALL created in the image of our Maker to be one family, one Body. What is pointing out the differences doing to build that family bond?
Rather than such divisiveness, how about we embrace hashtags like #lovelikeJesus? How about instead we become people of peace like Jesus describes in Luke 10:3-11? How about offering a gift that can never be repaid, the gift of time, sitting next to another who is hurting, listening and discussing tough issues rather than puking polarizing rhetoric on the internet? How about strengthening a person who has intense fears without demeaning another? Honestly, the world needs much less of our words and far more of our practical love.
So, stop telling me I have “white privilege,” because regardless of your intentions, IT IS MEAN. It pulls people apart rather than bringing them together. Stop reading racial hatred into everything and reacting before all the facts are revealed. Love people well from situation to situation. My husband and I work 3 jobs between us, living at 150% of Federal Poverty Level, hated by almost all our neighbors, raising 3 kids with medical issues and challenges. I have fought all my life for acceptance and every scrap I have. I still drive a hoop-dee (car), hoping that it will continue to run. I have been subjected to hatred all my life, yet attempt to love more and more like Jesus every day. I have given all of my kids “The Talk” more than once because EVERY child, no matter the ethnicity, needs to know and be reminded how to cooperate with authority, especially if they have social processing deficits like my youngest. I love my African American friends, my Asian friends, my Mexican friends, and yes, even my Irish and Caucasian friends, not because of their race, but because each of them is a unique child of God. I love them for them. Maybe it’s time you get over your prejudice too.