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.