What To Do With Privilege

White privilege has been raised in our consciousness lately and reactions range from denial to melancholy to recognition.

Some people deny their privilege. They either don’t feel privileged, for there is no end to the ways people can discourage or defeat another individual, or they think that they have worked hard to overcome their difficulties and everyone else should do the same. To admit they have lived a privileged life is to denigrate their achievement, and they simply refuse to acknowledge that others have had it much tougher. It could be arrogance or ignorance or both, but they don’t see it.

Others know they have lived a privileged life and feel guilty, melancholy. They have been made aware of the vast difference between a life of privilege and a life with roadblocks at every intersection, and they know it’s not right. So, they beat themselves up.

Neither of those reactions is helpful. None of us can change the past, but we can use whatever privilege we have been given to tear down roadblocks.

Personally, I have lived a privileged life, although I never thought about it as privileged. It was just like the lives of the people around me, and I wasn’t any more privileged than anyone else. I grew up in a reasonably well-adjusted family, attended good schools, graduated college with little debt, and attained a decent job when I graduated without society putting roadblocks in front of me. Most of my friends and neighbors had similar experiences.

However, I’m beginning to better understand the difficulties others have experienced. The last couple of years of Covid lockdowns coupled with the rising awareness of white privilege have given me the opportunity to read, and I have taken it. During a time of limited social interaction, we’ve been given a moment to step back, to learn about lives that are different from ours and open our eyes to the difficulties others have endured for far too long. (Recommendations for some perspective adjusting non-fiction books can be found here.)

Every individual faces a unique set of challenges and has beautiful gifts to share. We have little knowledge of lives we haven’t lived. I cannot know what a black woman faces in this society. I cannot know what a young man who grew up with little to no parental support experiences. I cannot know what it’s like to live on a few dollars a day as many people do. I cannot understand a refugee’s ordeal. Those are not my experiences. But I can read books, stories, news reports, and articles that better inform me.

The question I’m asking myself now is: How can I best use my privileged life for the good of others and the glory of God? That’s no different from the question we should all ask ourselves, whether or not we feel privileged. I haven’t answered that question for myself yet. As a reader, thinker, and writer, it seems that writing may be the best way for me to do that, but who knows? I’m asking the question in prayer and am trusting that God will lead me in the right direction.

In our consumeristic society we’re subtly taught to ask ourselves a slightly different version of that question: How can I gain good things for myself and my family? God gives bazillions of good gifts every day. He is generous beyond belief and is happy to give us what we need for our families and ourselves. However, if that’s the end of our goal, we’ll miss something important. If we live with the glory of God as our motivation, we’ll find it.

So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Matthew 6:31-33

Read, converse with people with an ear to listen, to learn, with an attitude of openness to different perspectives, and if you have lived a privileged life, ask God how to use it for his glory and the good of others.

Photo by Ava W. Burton on Unsplash

One thought on “What To Do With Privilege

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  1. i too have lived a life of privilege and am not sure how to best give back. thanks for opening up and putting this out there!

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