My Dirty, Not So Secret, Secret
I have a dirty secret.
Honestly, it’s not that much of a secret.
I am white, American, and male. Those three facts alone mean that I experience on a daily basis a level of privilege that many people don’t.
OK, many of you are about to stop reading and your eyes have rolled into the back of you head. I actually heard them roll. I have a teen-agers, trust me I can see an eye roll a mile away. Please keep reading. This is going somewhere. It’s not another “white man self-loathing” kind of piece.
My parents were divorced when I was nine. My mom worked multiple jobs to make ends meet and provide for my brothers and I. Unlike many, my Dad was present in our lives. We saw him every other weekend and he always paid his child support. If we needed money for sports or a school trip he provided it when we asked. I am confident that if we were ever in major financial trouble he would have made sure that we were taken care of.
My mom was a teacher and had good health insurance. When we were sick we could go to the doctor. We went to the dentist regularly and got braces too. My parents provided for my two brothers and me to attend four years of college.
My grandparents provided a relational and financial safety net. When our home was unlivable due to a broken pipe we didn’t become homeless. We were able to live with my grandmother. We we are able to continue going to the same school because my mom and I both had cars.
Was life easy growing up in a broken home where money was always tight? No. Did I have everything I wanted? No. Did I ever go without something I needed? No.
Was I privileged? Yes.
I am a 40 year old man and I have never been stopped by a police officer unless I was breaking the law. Every time I have been guilty of the offense, every time. Every time I have been pulled over I have been nervous, so nervous that my heart was in my throat and my hands shook. But, I can honestly say that I have never been afraid. I have never been followed around in a store. I have never had another person switch to the other side of the street when they have seen me coming. I have set off the security alarms at stores and nobody even cares to check my bag, they simply wave me on through. My son and I have never been kicked off a ball field (this did happen when we were there with four black players). I have never worried about getting a loan.
Am I privileged? Yes.
Am I ashamed of my privilege? No.
I am grateful. I am grateful to be who God made me. I thankful that he saw fit to provide these tremendous blessings to me. I did nothing to earn my status in this culture. God, in his grace, made me who I am.
I am not ashamed, but I am humbled. Have I worked hard in life? Yes. My parents taught me a work ethic that never quits. I continue to work hard. But, I haven’t worked any harder than friends of mine who are people of color. Yet, certain opportunities have eluded them. Why? Most likely because they did not get to start life with the same kind of cultural position that I did.
If life is like a race, then I got to start a lap ahead of many of my friends. Is it fair? No. Did I do anything to deserve it? No. It’s grace. I am grateful. I am humbled by the reality of all that God has provided for me and my family. His generational grace to us is overwhelming.
Many people see “privilege” as some sort of shaming that is being done to those of us in the majority culture. On the contrary, I think if we can recognize that it is grace and blessing then we can take this privilege and begin to use it. We can use our place in society to try and bring justice to those who desperately need it.
Micah 6:8 says,
“He [God] has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Those of us who have been graciously given a position of privilege in this culture have an opportunity to use that privilege to “act justly”, “love mercy”, and “walk humbly with” God.
As I read through the Acts of the Apostles I am struck by how Paul leveraged his privilege. He was a Roman citizen, and a Jew. His privilege came from his citizenship. Throughout his story he leverages his privilege to bring justice, mercy, and spread the gospel.
It is my great hope that I will embrace the grace that God has extended to me and that I might follow Paul’s footsteps. It is my prayer that I would be one who acts justly, loves mercy, and walks humbly with God.