privilege.

blog image privilege* this post is part of the june synchroblog, which was focused on “what is in our invisible knapsack”–the unearned privilege that many carry and how we can participate in changing deeply grooves systems that are built on it. i wrote this post almost exactly a year ago, previously called white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege, but thought i’d repost it as part of this conversation. other links are at the bottom of this post.  my feeling on the topic is still the same–any  hope for change starts with listening, really listening, to each other.

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i 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 female leader in a man’s world.  what it feels like to be excluded. what it feels like see doors open & checks written & support given to men-with-the-connections while i struggle and scrape.  what it’s like to be on the underside of power and how it creates a lot of shame.

and those who are men in similar positions 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.

it’s dangerous to 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.

and 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.

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here’s the link list:

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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.

24 Comments

  • You are right, Kathy. These privileges are real and haven’t really shifted significantly, despite what straight white men like to argue. As one who fits all those labels, I never realized how much privilege I had in society by virtue of that until recently. The more I listen, the more aware I become and the more I am trying to make place for voices that do not enjoy these privileges. I’ve got a lot more listening and learning to do, but I’m convinced that this is the right direction to move.

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    • thanks andrew, yes it is so true, how we just often aren’t aware of it. it’s just been part of us. that’s why i like the title that liz used of the “invisible knapsack”….thanks for sharing.

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  • This is so true Kathy! It is an ugly thing when we are blind to the privilege that many of us are born with and others are not! I join you in this prayer! “we will have to create containers for understanding & love & hope & possibility of a better way–together.” Oh yes Kathy, that is the essence of the Kingdom of God! Simply beautiful, thank you for sharing! 🙂

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    • yes, may the scales keep falling off our eyes and our hearts!

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  • in the kingdom of God there should be no white privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege. 

    Love this !! Privelage is such a sticky, tangled up collection of values, perceptions, and stigma. Sharing whatever privelages we possess is also tricky, for we don’t want to be patronizing to others.

    I have recently experienced the deep grooves if Privelage versus under privelaged in that our daughter–smart as she is– did not secure as much money for school as we had hoped. Our middle class white privelage seems a liability when it comes to scholarships. She and I have had many conversations about this. The systems we find ourselves in are flawed and though it is tempting to remain frustrated with the various inequities we all find ourselves in, I am commited to owning the story that us mine and helping my daughter own hers. I am with you, though, in that the kingdom if God is truly a Society of equals where Privelage does not exist.

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    • i really love what you said here about learning to own our story, whatever that story is. it’s so important that we don’t dismiss our privilege or feel ashamed of it or, in this case, recognize how it has affected real circumstances about college. to honor the truth and reality, the goods & the bads from all perspectives is so important. i have been thinking of this a lot since we were together–the owning of our stories.

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  • Saul of Tarsus was a man of privilege. He was well educated and revered within his community. He went about murdering and hurting people prior to his conversion experience because he knew in his mind he was right. But then an interesting thing happened on the road to Damascus; he and the world were changed forever.

    Bottom line is that authority and power do not look the the same in the Kingdom of God as they do in the world; it is reversed, i.e.: the wealthy are poor and the poor wealthy and those with wordly power are empty handed in the kingdom. Only a few people got it back in Jesus day and only a few people get it now.

    But God is not finished yet and that gives me hope.

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    • thanks so much for sharing, ellen. i think of that story all of the time, too, the radical conversion when an entirely new lens was created for him to look at the world. i am glad that God is never finished with us and keeps trying to restore our sight and soften our hearts!

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  • Kathy, your emphasis on careful listening is key, and I really appreciate that, but I also think the circle needs to be broader than listening to friends and family, to include also those we may not know personally. I’m relatively new to social media, but it’s seems that’s one of the benefits, to widern our circles of conversation.

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    • thanks, april, i completely agree. we have to keep broadening our horizons and hearing from all kinds of people, not just those in our circle.

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  • Kathy,

    Thanks for posting this. I think all of us are privileged in one way or another. Maybe being the one who is “not privileged” in an area that’s important to us will make us kinder and more understanding to others going through “the same — but different — thing”.

    linda marie

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    • thanks, linda, yes, it reminds me of what happens when we understand pain more deeply. we may not be able to understand another person’s exact circumstance if it is different from us but pain is often a common denominator that we can all connect to.

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  • Thanks for the link back to our post “the kingdom of God won’t just drop out of the sky.” I have a vision for what the kingdom will look like -but sometimes draw back from the hard work of helping make that visible. And thanks for that earlier post – some of your quotes from Alexie Torres-Fleming are very applicable to this synchroblog topic: “when we are silent we stand on the side of the oppressor.” strong statement. i know that it is often no one’s direct intention, but i believe that silence is not neutral.”

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    • thanks, carol. yeah, her stuff really impacted me when i heard it a few years ago. all kinds of gems in there.

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  • Lately I’ve been convicted at how privileged my husband and I are, but how the Church in the U.S. so often lauds using/dismissing/holding tightly onto this invisible knapsack because it’s so, so much harder to get out of our comfort zones, listen and not just hear people’s stories, and intertwine our lives with those without privilege. But sometimes we (and I think others in the Church) just want to be comfortable.

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    • thanks for sharing. oh yeah, i am very convinced that our gravitational pull toward comfort is what is ruining so much of “what could be” when it comes to the church. it’s in our DNA to want things easier and on our terms, etc. so we refuse, really, to engage in the mess and beauty of relationship with people who aren’t like us. i ramble on about this here: http://kathyescobar.com/2010/06/08/the-gravitational-pull-toward-margin/, a post from 2 years ago.

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  • I have read several of the syncroblog posts, and a couple of other things that are making a point to my middle-class, white upbringing and how I can possibly relate to others that aren’t what I am. Surely opening my heart to what Jesus is trying to tell / show me is the very starting point.

    I was a bit disappointed to read “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.” If it is God’s kingdom, he is the one to create it, not us. We can do nothing in and of ourselves. If it is to have any value whatsoever, it will have to have the Holy Spirit’s leading and our listening and following. Dare I say ‘obey’? I don’t disagree with the other words, just ‘create’.

    Changing the world is not the point if we, ourselves, are not changed first. And I pray often, that God will change me, that I will allow and accept whatever change he may want to make in me.

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    • thanks for highlighting what that stirred up in you. to me, that is of course underneath everything–the Holy Spirit at work. i don’t have trouble with the word “create” because God uses us, his hands and feet and hearts and eyes and ears. our fuel isn’t us, though, our fuel is God.

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      • I, too, like “create”, for when I am working through the Spirit hand-in-hand with our Creator to restore a little corner of Creation near me, I like sensing the powerful image of my creating along with Him. As I was recently giving a chair massage to a Haitian refugee … as the image of Christ in my eyes reflected the image of Christ in his, we created something. We created a bridge in spite of a language barrier. We, together, brought a little of heaven deep into our earthiness. God breathed His life into both of our souls, renewing and restoring a little of what was broken. I held up the clay, as I was led to, and God breathed into and through it giving it new life.

        Reply

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