White Privilege as Spiritual Discipline

White people hate the term “white privilege.” Why? Because life is hard for all of us. “Privilege” implies ease, and our lives have not, in fact, been easy. Also, as Americans, we value rugged individualism. Only those who made their own way in the world count as successful. No silver spoons for us, thank you very much. You tell me I have white privilege, you might as well tell me I cheated. Instead of this instinctive kickback, why not consider examining our white privilege as a spiritual discipline?

White Privilege as the Wind

I’ve written about white privilege on this blog before. I used the analogy of the invisible wind that makes it easier to bike down-wind along the beach. The wind is a helping hand that I can’t see but from which I benefit. The main point is this: I cannot see the helping hand until I change directions. When I turn up-wind, my silver-smooth progress turns to slogging-through-quicksand. My self-congratulations—I’m so strong; look at me fly down the bike path!—dry up. Oh. You mean that wasn’t all wonderful me? But I cannot know how much harder it is in this direction unless I take that different direction.

Why are we unwilling to change directions and listen to those whose life has been harder because they are not white? Ego, pure and simple. We want to be the author of our success. Me, alone. Don’t talk to me about a damn village, there is no damn village. I did it. Which is what makes sitting with our white privilege the perfect spiritual discipline.

The Spiritual Discipline of White Privilege

I admit it: I am not humble. I’m also steeped in Christianity as servanthood. This puts me at odds with myself. Trying (and trying and trying) to practice humility is an ongoing, unending, largely unsuccessful process. That makes examining my white privilege an amazing opportunity for spiritual growth.

If we choose to sit with our white privilege, we run a very real risk. We might identify experiences where we absolutely know we had an unfair advantage. Hired at a prestigious law firm because the partners knew “my people.” Watching a white teacher, who had gone out of her way to help me, berate a too-bright Black student. Safely popping off at a cop who turned in front of my brother than arrogantly stopped us to soothe his bruised ego. In each instance, my being white set the outcome.

If you’re like me, an emotional kick-back against a suggestion often indicates the presence of the Spirit. God is whispering, “You need to examine this.” If you’re hearing the swishing of that wind, join me this January in sitting with our white privilege. Maybe we’ll both emerge in a different, better place.

A scene of the beach that encourages us to see white privilege as a spiritual discipline
Treating white privilege as a spiritual discipline can help us see the world—and ourselves—more clearly.

antiracism, spiritual disciplines for the new year, white privilege and christianity, white privilege as spiritual discipline

Comments (9)

  • I am really interested in where this is going. bring on the next part quickly please.
    Meanwhile I add only that life itself is a spiritual discipline, whatever form it takes.
    And a blessed and serene New Year to you and yours.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      Hey, Joe. I didn’t realize there needed to be a “next part” until I told Tom about this post and he asked, so how do you actually use white privilege as a spiritual discipline? So, together with the comments it has generated, I shall proceed. Hope your New Year has begun well.

  • And? This is click bait for a lecture on white privilege. I thought I could get to the part about spiritual discipline. How, when, where? Do you at least have a Christian proverb or two to direct a personal reading?

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      I’m kinda impressed you think I know how to write click bait. 🙂 I didn’t realize there was a question on the “how” (when/where) of doing this until I got the comments. So I will proceed with a Part II (maybe III?). I hope you’ll stick around for that. (I can’t promise a Christian proverb, but it will be based on my learnings about spiritual disciplines that I received at the School of Servant Leadership.)

  • I don’t think spiritual discipline is particularly religious. Rather it would be organized and orderly and a means of spiritual nurture.

  • I am particularly drawn to the individualism aspect that you identify as an underlying dynamic in examining white privilege. The fallacy of being “self-made” underpins so much of the power dynamic and arrogance that we see in wealthy people, especially men. Everyone is and always has been dependent on their family and communities, from the local through the national and global. The world would look very different if we acknowledged the depth of our connection with one another.

    • Ellen Morris Prewitt

      “The world would look very different if we acknowledged the depth of our connection with one another.” Such a wise statement.

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