I am a middle-class, Christian, American, heterosexual, white male. In every respect, I am the privileged. And I’ve spent my whole life taking that for granted and abusing the power that comes with that. I’ve never been denied a job because of my race. I’ve never been paid less for a job because of my gender. I’ve never received hate mail or been refused services or suffered persecution. I’ve never really struggled to pay my bills. I am the privileged. I am on the side of the powerful and my voice is never silenced. So, what can I write here that is worth reading? What can I write that doesn’t merely regurgitate the message of the powerful that already consumes the vast majority of the writings available to us?
The only thing I can say that might be of any value is “I’m sorry.” I’m sorry that my privilege takes a voice away from others. I’m sorry that my privilege guarantees me preferential treatment over others of equal skill, intelligence, and education. I’m sorry that my privilege impedes the growth and education of others. I did not ask to be born into privilege and power, but I was and I must use that, not for my own benefit, but for the benefit of those who my privilege oppresses. But that’s hard. And when you live a life of privilege, you’ve been trained that you don’t need to choose the hard way. You’ve spent your life taking the easy road.
That is the reason why I believe Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” It’s hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven because people of privilege have a hard time relying on others, including God. We are not used to relying on others. We are used to simply having what we need.
I am the privileged. And most of the time, I enjoy that privilege. And I fight hard not to do anything to lose it. That is perhaps the thing I work the hardest for…to maintain my privilege. I’m afraid to rock the boat, to say anything that might compromise my stability and status. So instead, I waste rather than give. It is ingrained in my upbringing. I waste money. I waste food. I waste time. I waste all the resources that could be used to help break down the system of privilege that has given me those resources in the first place. But I waste them rather than use them to help because I am afraid…afraid to lose my wealth…afraid to lose my position in society…afraid to lose my privilege. And in doing so, I aid the system of oppression that holds so many others down.
The time has come to make a change. I need to do it, not for myself, but for all those who are continually oppressed because of my privilege. It’s time to stand up for justice. This step will not be easy. It will require me to do some things that I’ve never done before…to put my privilege in danger…to use the voice I’ve been granted by birth to speak on behalf of those who are ignored and silenced. It will require me to sacrifice a great deal. It will require me to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.”
If you are like me, a person of privilege, then you are probably wondering, “Where do I even start?” We must begin with small steps. The Christian Reformed Church recently published a great post on their website for Lent. Written by Rev. Kate Kooyman, the article proposes 40 small steps people of privilege can take during the season of Lent to open themselves to change and point them in the direction of justice. I know that we are already part of the way into Lent, but it is never too late to begin something like this. These steps will not bring the change that is needed by themselves, but they can serve as a springboard for that change. I invite you to consider joining me in taking some small steps like this to begin the process of change.
I am the privileged, but perhaps I’ve been given that privilege for a reason. Perhaps God desires for me to use that privilege, to use the voice I’ve been given, to help those who have no voice. Doing 40 small things during Lent is just a first step and it mustn’t end there. Let’s work together to fight oppression and seek justice. I invite you to comment and share with me other steps you think we could take on this journey. I am the privileged. May God grant me the courage to use that privilege for the benefit of others rather than myself.