I’ve been waiting for the courage to pen these thoughts to find me. She must be on an extended vacation.
When did “privilege” become such a nasty word? Rarely do I see more defensiveness rise up from the bowels of its existence than when a well-meaning person is called on their privilege, and I think it stems from a foundational lack of understanding about what people mean when they say “privilege.”
So, with all due respect, and with the prophetic discomfort that is sometimes needed to stir us to think more of others, here is a little insight into what I mean when I encourage someone to check their privilege before jumping to a conclusion, or assuming that “the right way,” to do something in this country is equally accessible to everyone.
But Sara, I don’t have privilege. I work two jobs to make ends meet. Trust me, I understand. My husband and I do too. We are still privileged, and though sometimes we struggle, we still come out on top.
Our privilege means that:
– We had access to the educational opportunities that made our employment or further study possible.
– We can go to our jobs and return home from them correctly assuming that we are safe. We will not be pulled over in route to work or home, or play, for the color of our skin. We will not be gunned down while presenting license and registration, just for reaching across the car.
– Were we to have children and in a world in which we would let said children play with toy guns (said world does not exist), our children could do so freely, without fear of being gunned down for playing with a toy while black or brown.
– We will never be asked for papers to legitimize our time out at a restaurant with friends.- We can wear hoodies in public and it’s not a big deal.
– We can be affectionate in public and it’s not the end of the world, an affront to someone else’s comfort, or a reason for us to fear violence being thrust upon us. When we go out on a date, I can hold Andrew’s hand.
– We can be ourselves in public, be who we are out in the world and no one will try to colonize us into a box that fits the mainstream, because we are cut from the cloth that did the colonizing in the first place.
– We can cross borders without having tear gas thrown in our faces.
– We aren’t personally afraid of ICE.
– We can practice our faith in the way we choose.
– We can talk about our faith out in the open.
– We are insured.
– We are employed.
– We can pay our rent each month.
– Someone taught us how to drive.
– I can cook. (Note how I said “I.” Bless his heart, he is learning)
– Our history, unfortunately, has not been erased or whitewashed like that of Native Americans and people of color.
– We can get our groceries, clothes, etc. without being eyed suspiciously by store employees or being asked to present our receipts on the way out of the store.
– And if we were foreigners, coming into this country from a more acceptable nation than non-Castilian Spanish-speaking ones, we would be able to follow the process, because we do not look foreign. We look like the people who wrote the laws, not the ones who break laws that were deliberately written in such a way that the “unwanted” would not be able to keep them.
Conversations about privilege are always hard, and always sting a little. That sting means the work of empathy, understanding and reconciliation is moving in our hearts. I encourage all of us to stick with the sting, to side with the oppressed, to reach out with understanding, and to look with the eyes of the other. This is the only way we will rise above the toxic divisiveness that permeates the world around us. May we all do the hard work of loving others, welcoming the stranger, and being always on the lookout for planks in our eyes. Amen.