White Privilege – You’re white? What are you going to do about that?

I have something my wife doesn’t have. No, I’m not talking about a Y chromosome (although it’s true she doesn’t have one). What I have I didn’t ask for, I didn’t earn, and I don’t deserve.

White privilege. That’s what I have.

The concept of white privilege has been around for decades:

The term denotes both obvious and less obvious unspoken advantages that white individuals may not recognize they have, which distinguishes it from overt bias or prejudice. These include cultural affirmations of one’s own worth; greater presumed social status; and freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. The concept of white privilege also implies the right to assume the universality of one’s own experiences, marking others as different or exceptional while perceiving oneself as normal.

The universality of white privilege is a controversial topic, but the existence of a privilege based on skin color is hard to deny in specific instances. When you have enough specific instances grouped together it becomes evident that people of differing skin colors experience the same social, economic, educational or political spaces in divergent ways, often to their detriment.

Here’s how that played out for one family:

Yet even though this was a moment when everyone learned something, does that make white privilege itself a good thing in this instance?

I think not. I think white privilege is an abomination to God.

White is Not the Color God Looks for in His People

God has chosen from the beginning to bring people from all over the world into his family. How else could he bring together an uncountable multitude into one nation, as he promised Abraham?

I will make you into a great nation,
and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you,
and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3.)

As Jesus said:

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (John 10:16.)

John found out just how large a multitude of people Jesus called together from Israel and from all those other places:

After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9.)

Can you imagine the skin tones you’ll see in that gathering? The colors will be staggering and, no matter what you look like, there is no privilege in God’s kingdom for people of a particular color of skin:

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Colossians 3:11.)

I am so looking forward to the day no one will need to remind whites they have a privilege and power they must exercise for the benefit of others, because the only power any of us will need is the powerful majesty flowing from the throne of God.

This is a privilege we all share in right now, as a matter of fact:

the Body of Christ,

the Kingdom of God,

the Fellowship of the Spirit.

What a blessed day it will be when all privilege is cast aside but the privilege of knowing we are Jesus’ own people.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:7-8.)

What a privilege.


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26 Responses to White Privilege – You’re white? What are you going to do about that?

  1. Bronwyn says:

    I love this, Tim. Isn’t it amazing how little we recognize bias when it is in our favor? I read this article last month and thought it was one of the most excellent things I had come across in terms of understanding bias, especially the comments about tribalism: http://www.rageagainsttheminivan.com/2013/07/what-i-want-you-to-know-about-being_25.html
    Thank God that He celebrates diversity! He bestows the very greatest privileges to His children.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for the link, Bronwyn, I left a message there for Micky.

      And on recognizing bias, I think one of our most basic biases is to assume that something good comes to us because we must deserve it, right? The article I linked above about white privilege speaks of how that occurs in race situations too.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Tim, that’s a real paradox, isn’t it: that something can be an abomination to God and will one day be done away with, yet can and must be used for good in this world now. I’m struck by your statement, “the only power any of us will need is the powerful majesty flowing from the throne of God.”

    • Tim says:

      Living in a now-and-not-yet type of kingdom seems to mean paradoxes are unavoidable.

    • Adriana says:

      I think this comment sums up Tim’s post well, Jeannie. I look forward to a time when I will no longer have to use any kind of privilege to assist others!

      A few years ago I learned that a church near my town had an unwritten policy: they refused to baptize blacks. A young black girl had prayed to receive Jesus at VBS, but when she wanted to be baptized she was sent down the road. Once I found out about this, I was a wreck. I couldn’t sleep. I had recently taken my kids to this church for a special event!

      I called my mentor and asked what she thought I should do. She told me to make an appointment to speak with the racist pastor. She said I should pray and fast in the mean time. She also sent me some verses from Scripture to present to him as part of my appeal. I specifically remember memorizing Colossians 3:11.

      Before my appointment day came, I received word that the ban had been lifted. Others had gone to see him without an appointment! The pastor had yielded under the pressure of these white Christian men.

      P.S. I wonder if this man would have listened to me anyway. I am white, but I’m also a woman! Maybe fasting and prayer was the most I COULD offer. I don’t know . . .

      • Tim says:

        I bet your fasting and prayer availed much in that situation, Adriana. You took a bold step just by preparing for the meeting even if you did not actually have to keep the appointment.

  3. Thank you for writing on this Tim! In seminary we had a Christian Contemporary Culture (or something like that) class where we talked about culture and race and touched on things like “White Privilege”. Race and culture and how it relates to our churches has always been an interesting topic to me. With me being black, raising a son that is half white has brought many experiences in my life.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Rodney. I imagine that course would have been quite an eye-opener for some of the students.

      • Yes it was! I enjoyed the class. Response was mixed between those who said it was an eye opener, to those who have been there and understand it and see it, to those who felt it was a “blame me the white guy” for all of societies issues and problems.

  4. Doug says:

    “I think white privilege is an abomination to God.” Really? God seems to have been the author of a thing called “Hebrew privilege” in my Bible. 😉 … and I bet He doesn’t feel the need to give a nod to our categories. When the notion of White Privilege comes up, I’m continually amused by the fact that those wielding that cudgel (no matter their race, sex, creed, or sexual orientation) are uniformly orders-of-magnitude *more* privileged than my (white, male, heterosexual) father was in the 1940s Alberta to which his parents immigrated.

  5. Doug says:

    Jesus “used his (Hebrew) privilege” to (for example) go out of his way to liberate an oppressed Gadarene, heal a SyroPhoenician child, and spawn a movement that appointed folks to look after Greek widows and declared that “there is no difference between Jew and Gentile in Christ”. That movement could still affirm a “Hebrew privilege” while avoiding both guilt and oppression. Not a bad model to follow, IMHO.

  6. Rev. Carlene Appel says:

    Way way back in seminary we looked at that topic too, While it still exists in places, my concern is that too often I’m seeing it used as a club to bash whites. It was wrong to oppress non-anglos back then but it is just as wrong for the oppressed to become the oppressors. I love all people without regard to what shade God decided to create ’em. I’m glad our God is an artist about variety and that He created in a rainbow of colors. What a boring world had He decided to go monochrome.

  7. Pingback: Another Sign of the End of the World – A non-white woman won the Miss America Pageant | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  8. Anonymous2 says:

    I live in a multi-racial part of the country, but my Black and Hispanic co-workers often complain about the profiling and the cold treatment they get, even if they are high-ranking executives and well-educated professionals. It breaks my heart. I’ve done two things: (1) I listen and commiserate, and (2) I don’t let it happen at our office. We’ve stopped doing business with vendors who joke around about “lynching” and “wetbacks” other inappropriate things. Beyond that, I don’t know what to do.

    Jesus said, “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

    • Tim says:

      Your efforts are bearing fruit, I’m sure. I have to stay on top of comments in the courtroom, not allowing people to characterize others pejoratively. Of course if it’s part of a lawsuit or criminal case where someone said something and now it’s quoted in court, that’s different and we have to let it be said. But if someone disparages someone else in my courtroom I put a stop to it immediately.

      • Anonymous2 says:

        Bless you, Tim. I have a lot of respect for good judges. I have found that the court system — as often as it’s maligned — is actually quite wise and fair. I appreciate what you do. But I don’t know how you are able to walk away and shake off the terrible stories at the end of a day.

        • Tim says:

          I wrote on that a while back in the context of why I am unlikely to watch certain movies. I need to leave work at work as much as possible. then again, I’m a judge 24 hours a day and sometimes even get calls in the middle of the night for warrants and protective orders, and even those require listening to some evidence about awful things that have just happened.

  9. keriwyattkent says:

    this was great Tim. I loved the video. I’ve often wrestled with that question–what can I do as a white woman to, as this woman so eloquently put it, use my privilege to right injustice? In this story, a woman who looked white was shopping with her sister in law who looks black. They were together. That togetherness is essential if we’re to leverage our privilege. In order for whites to stand up on behalf of those who are less privileged, we have to be standing next to them. Whites have to get to know people of other ethnic backgrounds, to befriend people who are different. It’s really easy to live insulated lives, to be friends only with folks who are just like us. The challenge is to first build those bridges, seek out those friendships, learn other people’s stories and spend time with them–so when incidents like the one in the video happen, we are there to speak up. (And so that our lives can be richer and more interesting–but that’s another point altogether).

  10. Pingback: Male Privilege – it’s real and it’s an abomination to God | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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