The other day a friend of mine asked me what I thought about white privilege. That’s a bit like a cop asking you if you shot your wife or stabbed her. There really is no right answer – no matter what you say some group will demonize you for it.
However, because I’m not the smartest man in the world I thought this morning I would tread where angels fear to go and address white privilege from both my perspective and what the Bible says.
Let’s see if we can define white privilege first. Here’s a good explanation from Wikipedia of all sources!
“White privilege (or white skin privilege) refers to societal privilege that benefits white people over non-white people in some societies, particularly if they are otherwise under the same social, political, or economic circumstances.”
In 2002, Francis Kendal, PhD wrote an article called Understanding White Privilege. Here’s an excerpt:
“Privilege, particularly white or male privilege, is hard to see for those of us who were born with access to power and resources. It is very visible for those to whom privilege was not granted. Furthermore, the subject is extremely difficult to talk about because many white people don’t feel powerful or as if they have privileges others do not. It is sort of like asking fish to notice water or birds to discuss air. For those who have privileges based on race or gender or class or physical ability or sexual orientation, or age, it just is- it’s normal. The Random House Dictionary (1993) defines privilege as ‘a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most.’ In her article, White Privilege and Male Privilege, Peggy McIntosh (1995) reminds us that those of us who are white usually believe that privileges are ‘conditions of daily experience… [that are] universally available to everybody.’ Further, she says that what we are really talking about is ‘unearned power conferred systematically.’ (pp. 82-83)”
So, the first question is this: Does white privilege exist?
Based upon these definitions certainly America culturally is white. And just as certainly pieces of our culture cater to the white population. I don’t think there’s a real argument there. According to the United States Census Bureau, those identifying as African American or black was 13.4 percent of the population as of July 2019 while 60.4 percent identified as white.
With a society geared toward white culture those of other cultures will not only feel disenfranchised and marginalized, but they certainly will see that their white counterpart has advantages in education, employment, housing, justice system, and more. This is what is meant by systematic racism – the systems in our nation are not colorblind.
That said, I told my friend that I also believe that the concept of white privilege is an inexact construct to express a real and legitimate concern.
Here are a couple of my own thoughts then we’ll get to scripture.
My biggest problem with white privilege is it’s just another label that divides people. Just as my African American friends had no choice of being born black, I had no choice of being born white. I also didn’t have a choice in which country I was born nor a choice in which time period I live. I just happened to be born in Chicago in 1964 and I’m white. Does society offer me advantages because of that? Probably, but that’s not my fault either. Like every other person on this earth I’m just living my life by the cards I was dealt.
Now, that doesn’t excuse me from not doing something about injustice, unequal treatment, and racism. But to be labeled means that your individual experiences in life don’t matter and you’re just “an other” that some group can stereotype. I’m white so I must have privilege which makes me an enemy of the black man. Pretty shallow stuff in my mind and certainly does nothing to solve the institutional problem and may just add gas to the fire.
My second problem with white privilege is it assumes that you are not oppressed because nobody oppresses you by the color of your skin. Not sure that’s every white guy’s experience.
Growing up I was bullied relentlessly because:
- I have a large nose because my family is of Jewish roots
- I was poor and homeless at times and had to wear the same clothes week in and out
- My dad was in jail and I was living in foster care
- I was very slight of build and an easy target
- I couldn’t read or write until the 4th grade
All these things and more were based on how people saw me. Now, I’m not equating that with walking through America daily as an African American and being abused. But not every white person is treated well by their white peers based upon their looks either. Like my black friends, I’ve also been humiliated, dismissed, verbally and physically abused, and thought of as less than everyone else. Not to the degree they have and certainly not as part of an entire ethnic group but certainly my experiences cannot simply be ignored because I’m white.
The idea that we can label people and thus take away their individual experiences and humanity is a very dangerous place to go. It sets up an Us vs. Them mentality out of which nothing good can come. All you do is alienate people – including people who would be allies in the fight!
From a biblical perspective, this labeling propensity we have is sinful and from Satan himself! Let me lay out some scripture for you:
Creation – Genesis 1:27
“So, God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
We have to start here. Every person you see is made in the image of God. PERIOD. We’re not African American, a guy with white privilege, an Asian or all the rest of that crap. We’re God’s creation, each one of us unique yet the same. To treat anyone differently for any reason is sinful.
We now have to go to Genesis 11 and the story about the Tower of Babel:
The Tower of Babel
3 They said to each other, “Come, let’s make bricks and bake them thoroughly.” They used brick instead of stone, and tar for mortar. 4 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”
5 But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower the people were building. 6 The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language, they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. 7 Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”
8 So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city. 9 That is why it was called Babel[c]—because there the Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth.
How did we end up with Africans, Asians, Latin Americans, the French? God scattered us because we were sinful. He did it for our own good. But in our sinfulness, we took those differences and began judging others as lesser than us. Groups oppressed each other and God’s family of man disintegrated, and we’ve been trying to reconcile it ever since. The idea that we are different is sinful man-made construct not one created by God.
Next, here’s a handful of scriptures on unity.
1 Peter 3:8 ESV
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
Philippians 2:2 ESV
Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.
Colossians 3:14 ESV
And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
Psalm 133:1 ESV
A Song of Ascents. Of David. Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Ephesians 4:1-6 ESV
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, …
God’s command that we love one another as we love ourselves in the basis of our entire society – the second part of the Greatest Commandment Jesus tells us! Unity is God’s call. Satan, on the other hand, does everything he can to disrupt and destroy unity. Labeling is part of that destruction. And it’s not just race! How many Christian denominations are there? Heck, how many Baptist denominations are there just within that genre? Divide and conquer is a very real tactic of Satan and anytime you label someone you are doing just what Satan wants. You are sinning.
That’s why we are told over and over again not to judge!
Matthew 7:1-5 ESV
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.
Luke 6:37 ESV
“Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven….
John 7:24 ESV
Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”
James 4:11-12 ESV
Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?
Romans 2:1-3 ESV
Therefore, you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?
Whether I label you as some stereotype or you do that to me, we are judging one another. And it’s a sin.
Lastly, let me remind us all what Jesus commanded us as he prepared to ascend to heaven in Matthew 28 starting at verse 16:
The Great Commission
16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Everyone is invited to the foot of the cross. The Jew, the Greek, the Roman, the African, the Asian, Hispanic, the Ethiopian eunuch, the crowd from all nations coming to Jerusalem for Pentecost, you, and me. We all are to be brothers and sisters in Christ.
To be clear, I don’t reject that our society has a problem – it does and a very significant one that has been caused by sin. But I do reject the idea of taking the bait and being part of that sinful problem by either labeling others or accepting labels on myself.
I absolutely can do more to help heal our land and am committed to doing so, but I believe that only Jesus can heal and that the only way to truly reconcile our nation is to do what scripture says:
- Embrace that we are all children of God made in His image
- Understand our sinfulness and recognize that sin is the root of our problem
- Seek peace and unity instead of divisiveness
- Don’t judge anyone for any reason
- Embrace that everyone needs Jesus and do everything you can to introduce Jesus to people.
That, my friends, is how you make a difference.