white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege

white privilege male privilege straight privilege economic privilegei will never know what it’s like to be a person of color.  i can only listen and learn from my friends & family who are.

i will never know what it’s like to be gay.  i can only listen and learn from my friends & family who are.

i will likely never know what it’s like to be poor and live in section 8 housing.  i can only listen and learn from my friends & family who are.

but i do know what it’s like to be a woman leader in a man’s world.  i know what it feels like to be excluded. i know what it feels like see doors open & checks written & support given to men-with-the-connections while i struggle and scrape.  i know what it’s like to be on the underside of power and how helpless and dignity-stripping it can feel.

and those who are men can never know what it’s like.  they can only listen and learn from their friends & family who are women.

white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege are real.

i’ve heard it dismissed sometimes, heard white people talk about “the minorities get all the jobs and get to go to the top of the line now”.  heard men talk about “i don’t know what women are talking about, we ask them to be part but they always say no.”  heard straight people talk about “gay people have more rights now than i do” and economically stable people talk about “if those poor people would just work harder & smarter they wouldn’t have so many problems.”

it’s so easy to talk when we don’t know what it feels like to be another person, to walk in another person’s shoes.

we should never deny the reality and power of white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, and economic privilege.  the power each of these carry is real and must be acknowledged.

when we hold the privilege we must do our part to listen to those who don’t.

this is no easy task, but we will need brave men & women who are willing to lead these conversations–to provide listening posts to hear from those on the underside of the privilege.  to learn what it feels like.  to learn what might help shift things.  to learn a better way.

we do not need to do feel guilty for being white, male, or straight or having money in the bank; that’s definitely not the idea here but is the easiest place for us to default.  we each are who we are, were born how we were born.  but i do believe strongly that we need to understand the power that comes from it instead of pretend it doesn’t exist or shoo it away as someone else’s problem.  re-thinking power is important.

in the kingdom of God there should be no white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege.  Christ breaks down all of those barriers. but the kingdom of God won’t just drop out of the sky.  we will have to work hard, sacrifice our time, ego, hearts, and pride to create it.  we will have to let go of assumptions that “it’s not that big of a deal” when we’re the ones with the privilege.

at the same time, when we are the ones who don’t have the privilege we will have to be brave enough to sit at the table with those who do & listen to their hearts & stories, too.  we will have to create containers for understanding & love & hope & possibility of a better way--together.

God, show us how to listen well to each other–those with privilege to those without, those without privilege to those with it.  help us boldly act to break down the barriers that divide, oppress, and strip dignity. help us each play our part in practicing equality–not just in theory but in tangible, active ways that restore, reconcile & renew us individually & corporately.

this post has been rattling around in my head for a little while & i finally got it out.  i’d love to hear some of your thoughts….

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

25 Comments

  • I totally agree. I think too though, that often the people we think “hold the power” can actually be marginalized, or feel as powerless inside as everyone else. The power the world offers is weak and unfufilling.

    I always in my head felt like when I was married with children I would fit into the church completely and I was shocked to get there and realize I didn’t.

    I think a lot of white, male, powerful people must be insecure somewhere deep inside. Our desire for power comes from a lack of identity in Christ I think, some people may use power to look and feel secure but are they?

    Reply
    • jenn, thanks for sharing. i think you are so right about assuming when actually something else is going on inside. it’s why we need safer spaces to actually talk about these things and hear from both sides so we can really learn and understand each other better. so often what we see on the outside and what’s going on in the inside are two different things. i know this well from my own life, where outside i looked strong and confident but inside was the exact opposite.

      Reply
    • thanks my friend. thinking of you, too, with the tragedy nearer to you than to us here. yes, i think this is what i’m talking about. it’s always so interesting, too, how easy it is to dismiss the deeply rooted grooves of injustice because we are indeed seeing strides made, but for me it’s just a reminder of how deep it goes. i have no doubt that things can change, but it’s good to know what we’re up against and that it will require a radical movement of the Holy Spirit flowing through people in all kinds of ways, calling men and women across dividing lines to action in love & hope for a better way. lots of love from colorado.

      Reply
  • Daily I feel the privilege of being white in a brown world. And being reasonably rich, meaning I have a car, a house, and a passport. More than most. Today I listened to a friend who got in line for a reduced priced clinic at 6 am. She finally got an consultation for her daughter four hours later. As she explained patiently, Asi es la vida, or That’s life. By 11:30, her daughter had received her medications, recommended therapy, and an injection. Her daughter was exhausted. All because she is poor, not white, a single woman.

    Reply
    • thanks, laurie, for sharing & yes, you see so much of this up close and personal. it’s amazing what doors some of us can open when our friends can’t even make it up to knock.

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  • I was thinking about some of this just today, before reading your post. Even with toddlers, the first instinct is to get their way by saying “I’m bigger …” or “I’m older …” or “I had it first.” I was thinking of our responsibility to teach our children that the one with the “privileged position” has the responsibility to use that power/resources/influence to show kindness, love, and generosity to the one who is smaller, younger, or “wasn’t there first.” It’s a downward journey, as you so often have written about, Kathy. Not our natural instinct.

    I also heard a quote from the book Looking for God by Nancy Ortberg that affected me: “Help me not to be okay just because everything is okay with me.”

    I also really appreciate that fact that you mentioned we need to know the stories and hearts of those with the “privilege.” I have been affected by hearing the stories of abuse and wounding from those I thought wouldn’t suffer that way. We really are all the same.

    Reply
    • thanks, mar. that is such a great example. oh issues of power are so engrained from the beginning in us. i like what my friend jim henderson says (he’s quoting someone else but i don’t know who that is) “people with power never think about it and people without it think about it all of the time.” i don’t know if i agree that people with it never think about it because i think a lot of energy is spent protecting it but i do think there’s this thing about underestimating it. i like that nancy ortberg quote, so good!

      Reply
  • Kathy,

    As someone who grew up fairly poor, I never really considered myself privileged. When I began to work with people living on the streets, though, I really began to see just how many advantages I have being an educated white male. I like your thoughts about using our privilege to serve others. Some of my ministers and I have been able to gain hearing with members of the local city council because of our positions that homeless and disadvantaged people could never have. In addition to using my material blessings to bless those less fortunate, I believe I have an obligation to use my position as a small business owner, head of a minsitry, and even as a white male to advocate for justice and equality for those who do not have the same opportunities to have their voices heard.

    Blessings,

    FedEx,
    President,
    Men of Praise Motorcycle Ministry

    Reply
    • thanks fedex. i think you hit on a great point about so much being relative. i grew up with a single mom and we always scraped. no one had their college degrees. then, i went to a college that was very affluent and was one of the poorest girls there. i pretended like i wasn’t as poor as i was but boy was there a lot of money floating around there. i love what you are saying about doing whatever we can to use our power on behalf of others. i think that’s what the kingdom of God looks like…peace to you my friend.

      Reply
  • Good leaders or anyone should seek to understand each individual, and empower him or her to develop and meet their inner potential without judgement!

    Reply
  • Profound and honest. I had heard this from a female co-worker a few weeks ago. I don’t know what it is like to be female only a poor minority. I am willing to bet there is a better way together as well.

    God Bless,
    Sean
    http://myepiphanytoday.blogspot.com/

    Reply
    • thanks so much for reading and sharing, sean. i think the better way is definitely together, so much can happen when we can listen and learn from each other. i am more convinced of that as ever. it will take breaking down alot of defensiveness on both sides of all of these divides to get there so we’ll really need God’s help!

      Reply
  • Great post Kathy, as were your last two!

    Yes, all of these things (white, male, straight and rich) can confer privilege, but it seems to me that both in the culture and the church money confers the most privilege. If you’ve got big bucks they at least pretend and treat you like they don’t care that much about the rest. (Of course if you’re gay you should “be discreet” about that in many churches. But if you give them lots of money, maybe they can sorta overlook that you’re gay.)

    Maybe we can’t do a lot about how other people behave, but as followers of Jesus we can love and show honor to people who do not meet these criteria. Personally I don’t think Jesus thinks any of us are better than another based on any criteria we can think of. That said, it is so easy to defer to smart, rich, beautiful white people, isn’t it? And so easy to avoid poor, stinky, obnoxious, mentally ill people (and anyone who falls into any of those categories).

    Reply
    • thanks, sam. yeah, i think that money is the biggest one. it was interesting i was thinking today about power and how it all depends on context. sometimes the person with the most power in a certain group is a woman or a person of color or someone who is gay. but rarely, if ever, is the person with the most power in a certain group a poor person. very rarely. that’s messed up. yes, i do think unfortunately when it comes to alot of things related to church, money talks, and that is sad.

      Reply
  • I TOTALLY agree with Jenn. “Powerful peeps” always seem to be the most insecure on the inside. Why do any of us think we’re “powerful” anyway? I think we can be strong and courageous, but only in the Lord. How that happens…not sure, maybe surrender…humility? Just a thought…

    Reply
    • i always think of power as “leadership, value, and voice” and that we all can contribute in our different ways to stepping into it because of God’s image in us–and passing it on to others in all kinds of ways. and yep, like pretty much everything else it all starts with humility 🙂 i’m guessing that’s why it’s so hard.

      Reply
      • I like those words for power(in Christ/God’s image). Leadership skills develop in humility FOR SURE…when’s our next foot washing? 😉 Values seem to change here and there, but I believe are developed from our experiences with pain and what becomes important and core to what God is stirring in us. Voice…that is a WHOLE OTHER DEAL and one that I honestly believe is THE HARDEST!!!!!!!! I have received encouragement to make my voice heard, that my voice is important and that it is needed. However, once taking that step to do just that, it gets massively squelched beyond anything!!! AND, sometimes by those who actually encourage me to “speak up”?! Fear? I don’t know, but I’m sure you experienced the same thing when you started speaking up. Those around you probably didn’t like it and instead of hearing a new voice for the good of the community, change and growth, they took it personally and weren’t willing to “go down” with you. My experience too. Are we really willing to listen/hear one another? God speaks through so many…often what we dismiss SO many times…actually was His voice all along.

        Reply
  • well said, and as a white, middle-class straight male it is vital we learn to believe those who are saying they feel left out. we often first seek to defend our selves, but our listing of alternative facts will not change a persons hurt. as we say, the facts don’t matter, the feelings do.

    one day we should do an open conversation of how each segment feels left out. even though i come from privilege i often feel left out of events and conversation that are only offered to women.

    Reply
    • totally agree with Karl, too. SOOOOO many situations where the “normal” majority is left out and actually ARE the marginalized. Being left out or forgotten does feel crappy…probably most of us have been there.

      Reply
    • i think it would be so good to create a safe conversation about this. we need a more open container to hear from both sides because there are feelings all over the place. i know in some context i am on on side and in others i am on the other. i totally hear you on the reality that there are other ways that marginalized/leftout/underside of things plays out to the privileged, too.

      Reply
    • oh that made me happy today, sarah. sometimes i just feel so vulnerable, saying such hard things out loud. so it helps me to hear you say this today. thank you and i sure am glad i know you from afar. always reading….

      Reply
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