“Check your privilege” has been surfacing a lot lately, especially in conversations on racial inequality. It’s prompted me to probe the word “privilege” and ask questions.
How do our advantages affect others? Are all privileges bad? Will some inequities always exist? I think they will, for better and worse. We need to assess individually, and as a society, how the privileges we’ve inherited or acquired can help or hurt others.
Privilege comes in many forms. Recent conversations have focused on skin color, mainly what’s been referred to as “white privilege.” But money, education and class can be other sources.
In elementary school, I was accused by some of my peers of thinking I was better than others because my mom was a teacher. My perceived advantage came, it seems, because Mom worked just down the hall. I’ve heard it said, “A child’s home is where her mother’s arms are,” and I’ll admit to appreciating that my “home” was nearby. It bolstered my extreme shyness. But I can only see this “advantage” as a blessing. Certainly, I wasn’t the only one who benefited from my mother’s love.
Looking back, it’s possible that, as a white girl growing up on the Fort Peck Reservation, I was perceived as having advantages underlying that more obvious one. The thoughts that ran through our young minds are not easy to fully unpack, even now.
I have memories of feeling disadvantaged in that setting, too, though in other ways. I didn’t have a plethora of cousins nearby like many of my peers, and in a place where family was so valued – one of the riches I brought from childhood – I experienced this lack of extended family as a deep loss. Yes, family can be a privilege, too!
There were other beautiful aspects of that world in which I had been placed that I could observe, but not fully participate in, simply because I wasn’t part of the majority culture of the reservation. So, I understand being on the outside because of my heritage. These experiences have given me a sensitivity that continues to remind and inform me.
But I don’t want to make too much of these differences, either, because for much of our moments together, the advantages and disadvantages my peers and I experienced in different ways were inconsequential. We were all just struggling through life together, and needing each other as we did, regardless of our culture, skin shade or family origins.
There’s a final privilege I want to mention, and it’s one anyone can access: being a child of God. In this utmost privilege, I am not raised up, but bowed down, knowing I’m eternally loved and cared for by a father who sees me and all his children as unique masterpieces.
Privilege does exist, but we have choices. We can use our advantages to diminish others or draw them alongside us on life’s journey. I pray God will help me use whatever advantages I have been given to, above all, sow love.
[For the sake of having a repository for my newspaper columns and articles, I reprint them here, with permission, a week after their run date. The preceding ran in The Forum newspaper on July 20, 2020.]