"privilege" doesn't have to be a dirty word.

“Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do.”

~Peggy McIntosh

The word “privilege” is being tossed around a lot these days, for good reason. There is a cry for justice, for equality, for systemic change in big ways right now and there’s no way around talking about privilege as part of the conversation.

Some people say it doesn’t exist (don’t get me going on this one). Some say it isn’t fair because they’ve worked hard to get where they landed. Others simply feel an overwhelming sense of “just can’t win” when it comes to these conversations and want to change the topic to something more palatable. Many feel guilty or even mad when the topic comes up because it’s like we’re being punished for something that we didn’t even ask for or attempt to have.

But the truth is that no matter how uncomfortable we feel, we have to keep talking about privilege.

Yep, it’s going to be hard.

However, privilege doesn’t have to be a dirty word.

In fact, the more we embrace it, wrestle with it, talk about it, process it, acknowledge it, and get it on the table, the more healing and change that will happen over time.

We’ve got to quit making it a dirty word, a word to avoid, a word that divides.

White privilege, male privilege, straight privilege, economic privilege exists. There are things that certain people automatically “have” because of the color of our skin or our gender or the economic realities of the family we were born into.

It just is.

It does not diminish the reality that many people with privilege worked their butts off to get to new places in their lives. It does not mean that everything is handed over on a silver platter. It does not mean every door opens wide and they get to walk easily through.

It just means that because of privilege, there is greater access to possibility than certain other groups.

That shouldn’t be quite so hard to talk about and acknowledge.

But it often is.

As a white woman with education, I have an amount of privilege that certain people I know don’t. It doesn’t mean my education was handed to me just because. My mom was a single mom struggling to pay the bills and I was on loads of financial aid and scholarships and worked like a crazy person to pay my way through college. But the truth is that I am white and American and was raised in a home that worked hard to adhere to middle class rules. I automatically had it easier than some others without some of the same privilege.

I keep thinking about why it’s so hard to talk about, why when the subject of “privilege” comes up, so many people bristle and get defensive and weird and protective.

I think a lot of it comes down to denial.

It’s painful to talk about the reality of our jacked-up systems and the ways many of us have benefitted while others have suffered.

It’s painful to talk about the ways we have huddled in our churches and homogeneous groups and protected ourselves from the realities that are now making their way into our living rooms and Facebook feeds and TV screens at such a rapid rate.

It’s painful to acknowledge how little we actually know about peacemaking and participating in systemic transformation after years and years and decades and decades of “going to church.”

It’s painful to begin to bear the burden of our brothers and sisters without privilege and begin to embrace their stories as part of ours and honor how our freedom is all tied up together and there are an awful lot of knots to untangle.

But oh, how we need to live with the pain instead of run from it.

To make “privilege” a part of our vocabulary instead of a dirty word we want to avoid.

Please know that I am not sitting here going “oh, I love conversations about privilege, they are so fun! Why don’t more people want to play?”

This stuff is brutally hard to talk about.

I hate it, too.

But if we are going to be makers-of-peace and ambassadors of Christ and participate in bringing heaven to earth, then we are going to have to talk about privilege.

We are going to have to put down our swords and our defenses and our pride and our protections and our fears and our justifications and ask God to move in our lives.

To turn our hearts of stone into hearts of flesh.

To help the scales fall of our eyes.

To allow our souls to get stirred.

To live in the discomfort because transformation never happens in the comfortable.

I’m almost positive that as we open ourselves up to talking about privilege, we’re not going to hit every conversation right.

We’re going to stumble and bumble and feel inadequate and weird.

We’re going to have a hard time articulating what we are feeling inside.

We’re going to be irritated with God for stirring this up and wish we could go back to the good old days where we got points for memorizing scriptures instead of having to actually apply them.

But that’s okay. We have to start somewhere. We have to practice. We have to try.

Privilege, privilege, privilege, privilege.

Here’s to more and more conversations about it–not for the sake of more conversations. But so that we can open the door to transformation and healing and action and systemic change and “on earth as it is in heaven’ in all kinds of beautiful and surprising ways over time.


ps: This month’s SheLoves Magazine Down We Go column is up this week. It fits into this conversation as well–Our Freedom is Tied Together.

As always, I would love to hear your thoughts.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • Thank you for opening up the conversation and insist that it’s talked about. As in every aspect of our lives, the only way to truly begin to change is to first acknowledge the problem! Thank you, Kathy.

  • I love this…as a white, middle class, UK citizen I have so much privilege. I don’t want to pretend I haven’t and I want to help even things up if possible. I sometimes wonder if privilege is ‘finite’. Does having privilege mean someone else has to lose out or is there enough to go round. I think in the kingdom of heaven there’s plenty for all, but it looks so different on our messier planet!
    Here’s to ‘on earth as it is in heaven’.
    And thank you for raising the topic.

    • thanks for taking time to share across the miles. your thought makes me think of an old post i wrote–power is not like pie. i am nots sure if it applies to privilege but it is the first thing that came to mind 🙂

  • As a white, American male who lives with the poor in a Catholic Worker Community, I have found privilege something I have had to face. I have had many conversations with a black friend of mine about racism. I have learned that white people do not have to face racism unless we open up to conversations about it that can be uncomfortable because we don’t know much about it by experience. People of color face it whether they talk about it or not. It is just their reality. I think talking about privilege is a discipline I want to practice more. I like what you said, Kathy, about how transformation never happens when we are comfortable.

  • Amen! I think recognition and conversations about privilege are crucial. Not to try and make people feel bad and like their work in life has been discounted, but so we can address society’s current situation and move forward together. Thank you for your words!


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