I have never been looked at as a suspect while browsing in a retail store.
No one has ever called me out for being the only member of my race at a gathering or event.
My motives are never assumed to be nefarious.
I have never feared for my life during a routine traffic stop.
Generally, people in power have always been willing to help me.
And when they did so, they didn’t assume they were doing me a favor.
When I share my experiences, people believe me.
My experiences aren’t excused, diminished, or otherwise dismissed based upon other plausible explanations.
I have never been in a position where I did not see ample representation of people who look like me in positons of success, wealth, power, and prestige.
I can choose to think about these issues. Or not.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, but it describes some of my experiences of “White Privilege.”
Now many would push back against that term. The argument goes something like this: “I’ve worked for everything that I have”, “I haven’t received any special treatment” “I’m poor, I’m not privileged.” But I think all of us can agree that we have blind spots, we all have a certain inability to see things that are true about ourselves, because we have an inherent bias in favor of ourselves and our circumstances. In short, we are the heroes of our own stories. So, it is possible, whether we embrace the term “White privilege” or not that there are blind spots about ourselves, of which we need to be made aware.
In the book White Awake, the author Daniel Hill is confronted by his friend. His friend reveals to him that “White has a culture” and that when that culture comes into contact with other cultures it usually wins. Daniel then embarks on a journey of self-discovery and arrives at the conclusion that the United States has a “normalization of whiteness”, in other words every culture in America is expected to conform to normative notions as established by white people. There is an unspoken expectation of white supremacy that has existed in our culture predating our Revolution and continuing to this day. Hill quotes, Rev. Julian DeShazier, who defines white privilege as “the ability to walk away.” Hill observes, “This is one of the essential truths we as white people need to remember (or become aware of, if it’s new) as we contend with the normalization of whiteness. When the journey begins to feel like any combination of scary, confusing, disorienting, or even painful, we have a privilege that people of color do not: we can walk away; we can go back to ‘normal,’ if we choose.”
So what do we do about it? White normative culture always demands an action plan. And this may miss a crucial step in bringing about effective change.
Daniel Hill writes,
“It became abundantly clear that the dichotomy between a triumphalist and lament approach to church is more than an interesting theological exercise; it has a tremendous impact on how we process pain and suffering in the world. When we’re under the influence of triumphalism, we search for ‘success’ in virtually every circumstance, so when a societal problem surfaces, it must be fixed so we can feel a sense of achievement. Therefore, an unresolved problem poses a threat. We don’t know how to manage the dissonance created by the unsolvable problem, and we struggle to understand the nervous energy created by that tension. Lament, on the other hand, doesn’t function according to the rules of success. It sees suffering not as a problem to be solved but as a condition to be mourned. Lament doesn’t see the power of salvation as being in the hands of the oppressors; instead it cries out to God for deliverance from the grip of injustice. Lament is a guttural cry and a longing for God’s intervention. It recognizes, as the psalmist so eloquently stated, that hope is found not in chariots and in horses but in God alone. (Psalm 20:7) Lament gives us permission to admit that we aren’t capable of fixing (and may have been part of causing) the problems we’ve suddenly become awakened to. Lament gives us resources to sit in the tension of suffering and pain without going to place of shame or self-hate. Lament allows us to acknowledge the limitations of human strength and to look solely to the power of God instead.
To lament is to ask God the haunting questions ‘Where are you?’ ‘What are you doing?’ ‘How long must we wait?’ To ask these questions is not to doubt or challenge God. Instead, as Dr. Dan Allender eloquently states, ‘It is crucial to comprehend a lament is as far from complaining or grumbling as a search is from aimless wandering. A grumbler has already reached a conclusion, shut down all desire and postures with questions that are barely concealed accusations…A lament involves even deeper emotion because a lament is truly asking, seeking, and knocking to comprehend the heart of God. A lament involves the energy to search, not to shut down the quest for truth. It is passion to ask, rather than to rant and rave with already reached conclusions. A lament uses the language of pain, anger, and confusion and moves toward God.”
We cannot change what we refuse to acknowledge.