Privilege is something seen throughout American life by certain individuals and groups. Sometimes it comes in the form of granting someone permission to do something in particular and is relatively innocuous. If the students I am teaching at the school I work at get done with their work, I allow them to use their smart phones to play games or listen to music until class is over. This can give students who struggle with educational apathy or with adolescent rebelliousness some added incentive to learn and perform the tasks assigned to them. Too often however, privilege is attached to ” a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person, beyond the advantages of most.” (dictionary.com) In our society this type of “privilege” gets conferred upon very specific groups of people. The most egregious example of this is known as white privilege generally, and white male privilege specifically. While in seminary, in many of our classes and readings we discussed this harmful, antiquated, and ignorance-fueled societal dynamic. In one of the books we read, I remember the author saying that instead of calling this “privilege” we should call it “unmerited advantages” which are conferred to white people simply for having been born white, especially those born both white and male. White male privilege does NOT mean that white people do not experience hardship, that whites universally are better off than all people of color, nor does it mean that all white men are better off than all women. It DOES mean that by virtue of one’s whiteness, that white people experience life far differently than people of color do, or that women do than white males. For example, take the case of Brock Turner, the young white student athlete who brutally raped a young woman and was only sentenced to a few months of jail time despite the truly horrific nature of his crime, while black offenders get the book thrown at them for lesser crimes.
I experience a good deal of privilege. I am a white, cisgender male who engages in heterosexual romantic relationships, and I attend a Christian church. In our society that means that I automatically get treated differently and with more deference than: women, people of color, LGBTQIA folks, immigrants, or people whose faith is something other than Christian. These unmerited advantages mean that though I may experience some of life’s harsher realities, I am not experiencing those harsh realities because of my gender, skin color, or sexual identity. My life has been fraught with tremendous pain due to a less than stellar upbringing by my mother, who was often far too free with physically abusive punishments while also being extremely stingy with unconditional love, emotional support, and nurture. None of that has anything to do with the unmerited advantages I receive for being born a white male in America. I have never once been pulled over by the police for driving while white, never once been told that I slept my way to the top, never once been discriminated against for being a straight male, never once been offered less money because of my gender, never once been systemically oppressed for my skin color, my gender, my sexual orientation, or my faith. Not even once. The same cannot be said for my friends and family members who are gay, transgender, black, Latinx, or female.
I acknowledge that white, cisgender, heterosexual male privilege exists and that I benefit from it on a daily basis because society inexplicably places more value on my skin color, my penis and my sexual orientation than it does on others. This absurd hierarchy of privilege has no place in our society. It is antiquated and in my opinion truly satanic. As a practicing Christian who places a great deal of emphasis on the actual teachings of Jesus (and far less on the teachings “about” Jesus) I must renounce that privilege and advocate for those marginalized by our society. Because of my understanding of Jesus’ teachings I must stand up to systems of oppression and call them unjust. I must demand the EXACT same things for marginalized people that I get as an American man with white skin who is primarily attracted to women. This must extend beyond the borders of my native nation as well. I must as a Christian demand that all human beings, regardless of their ethnicity, skin color, sexual orientation, gender, faith, or nation of origin be treated with dignity, have their essential human needs met, their autonomy sacrosanct, and their lives valued as members of the human family. I must advocate for peace, ecological stewardship, and restorative justice not just for those people who look like me, sound like me, or live like me.
If your church, civic organization, or household is clamoring for people to stand for the flag and kneel for the cross, then you’re reinforcing unmerited advantages for white people. If you think that blue lives matter but black lives don’t, then you are feeding satanic racism and white privilege. If you are mad that there is no funding for a border wall, then you are perpetuating unmerited advantages for those born in America, particularly white people. If you or your church thinks there should be a Muslim ban, then you are guilty of feeding into the lie that says unmerited advantages to certain faith groups, especially white people of faith, is okay. If you think poor people should have to pee in a cup to get welfare then you are perpetuating myths about poverty and furthering the unmerited advantages for white people. If you agree with allowing men to get paid more than women for doing the exact same job, you are part of the problem. Doing anything like this is not the way of Jesus. He called us to live into his kindom, with open table fellowship, forgiveness of even our worst enemies, and unconditional love for all. He called us to lay aside our weapons, to open our hearts to love, and to extend grace to ourselves and others. In his name, I denounce the unmerited advantages given to people like me. Do you?
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