To follow up with more detail about my particular problem with the idea of “white privilege” being used in the ecclesiastical conversation.
My particular problem with the term "white privilege" is not its complete falsehood in every aspect that it entails. Rather, it is the way
it takes a reality and frames it in political and unhelpful ways. Let me
count the ways the term is unhelpful
1) “White Privilege” trivializes the weigh of the issue of racism and justice:
Yes, there are aspects of society where blacks (and other minorities,
depending on the area of societal life) are treated differently. This
reality is not a “white privilege” but a human right issue – a human
justice issue. It is not a privilege to no be pulled over for the color
of your skin, it is a violation of your right to be judged on the basis
of your merits and character rather than appearances. White privilege
frames such a problem as more trivial than it is (again, what is at
issue is rights, not privileges), it turns the issue on another
ethnicity in particular and feeds into the politics of resentment, and
simplifies the issue of race relations into a monochromatic frame. As
such, it is unhelpful in this second way:
2) “White Privilege” uses the politics of resentment
you may object that privilege merely means the privilege of being
unaware or lacking that experience of being the subject of racism. Are
whites (or Asians or Latinos) lacking in the experience of being treated
differently based on race? Certainly in some areas. But not in others.
And in fact, all ethnicities have their unique set of experiences that
are tied to the mere fact of their heritage and appearance. To what
degree it is reality or perception, African Americans, Latinos, Asians
and Whites all believe they have been disadvantaged in different areas
based on their race.
of the similarities of when “White privilege” is declared, as the
mirror image of the effect of labeling someone an “Affirmative Action”
exception. Over the past 7 years, I have heard a term used for our
President: The Affirmative Action President. The appellation was used
for the same reason that it was first applied to Justice Clarence
Thomas. To declare that those individuals were not evaluated on their
merits, but were allowed in by a lowered bar based on race. This is a
declaration of resentment, a feeling that certain jobs and educational
institutions discriminate against whites (again, this is perception, I
don't necessarily speak to reality). And it is used for a particular
3) “White Privilege” is used to silence voices.
reason this term “Affirmative Action _____” is thrown around is to
silence certain voices in a conversation, or delegitimize them. If you
call Obama an Affirmative Action President, you reject his positions
without having to engage the conversation. Its a shout of “shut up!” The
term “white privilege” has been used, with its roots in the political
conversation where it is borrowed from, to do the same thing. “Check
your privilege” is to say “you don't know what you are talking about, so
shut up.” This is wrong whether using the politics of resentment on the
right (in regards to affirmative action labels) or the politics of
resentment of the left (using the labels of white privilege). The
example of Joseph and his brothers should be a warning about the danger
of letting a resentment based on perception of favoritism stew and boil
in our hearts.
may protest and say that is not what is meant in this context. Yet, when
a term is borrowed from another sphere, it carries the baggage of that
sphere into the conversation. So is it true:
1) African Americans face discrimination in certain areas that certain other ethnicities do not, even still today? Yes
2) Are many other ethnicities unaware of some these injustices? Yes
3) Should this be part of what the gospel declaration addresses? Absolutely
Each of these truths can be communicated without
1) Lessening the sin of racism by lowing the vocabulary of the conversation from rights to privileges.
2) Engaging in the politics of resentment.
3) Implicitly or Explicitly seeking to silences voices in the conversation.