Thoughtless Privilege and Racism

Kirsten Powers, white journalist and recent Christian convert, commented last night on TV that most white people are racists! My guess is that there are substantial numbers of people who believe this as stated. But what is it they believe? It reminds me to remind others that the first duty of a person who wants to persuade others is to define terms.

What is meant by racist? It can mean so many things, from being blinded to one’s own privileged position and the enjoyment of that privilege without thought for those who do not possess it to being an outright hater who wishes harm to others. If you have not been on the privileged side of the divide, you can see that privilege operating everywhere and in virtually every way. It has to be a wearying thing, knowing that much of what you must deal with is due to the genetic lottery.

Privilege is one thing, but blind privilege can be a most irritating and grating thing. And ultimately it can make the outsiders to it really angry.

Along the way as a Pastor I have seen the unreflective rich lose any consciousness of the struggles of those without. I have seen women lead Bible studies and share their vacation cruise trips to the Holy Land and churches of Asia Minor complete with their Power Point slides without even a thought that they are talking to women who can’t imagine a weekend on Cape Cod, much less a cruise in the Mediterranean. I have seen many a time people who will not go to a particular home for Bible study because of the painful reminder it is of their own economic struggles. I have talked to people who told me that they had wanted to visit our church but the numbers of beautiful cars in the parking lot told them they didn’t belong. It’s subtle, insidious, ever-present and creates unspoken and invisible divisions.

Simplicity of life is urged upon all Christians in Holy Scripture so that our common brotherhood is not diminished or threatened. We must do our best not to create the “ins” and the “outs.”

Let us use Facebook in a wise way, too, knowing that the biological genetic lottery some of us have won that adorns us with what the world calls beauty can create distance from others. Let us talk about (or not) our possessions and experiences in a way that demonstrates our stewardship of all for the common good. Everyone is responsible for their own spiritual health, the “outs” as well as the “ins.”

But thoughtless privilege is the bigger of the battles we fights.

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