I just finished reading a series of blogs by Christena Cleveland about listening well as a person of privilege. You should go read them here. Christena has a unique point of view as a black woman who is also well-educated – she is simultaneously a person of privilege and an oppressed person. On a related blog from her website, she lists a bunch of things that privilege says. I want to zero in on one that I think is especially important given the President’s State of the Union Address and a particular plan that he is trying to set into motion (as a privileged oppressed person himself).
“Privilege says I’ve earned everything I’ve got”.
While this may or may not be true for people like me, people of privilege (you might read people who were born and raised white and lower-middle to upper-class) tend to think that what they have is their right due to the hard work that they put into getting it.
President Obama wants to provide free access to college education to the poor and oppressed people in our country. I’ve heard some incredibly disheartening venom towards this idea from some of my privileged friends who have ‘worked hard’ for their degrees. The opposition sounds like this: I paid for my education and am still paying for it, why should the poor and oppressed get it for free? The problem with this logic is that it is based on a few faulty presuppositions.
The first is the myth of equality. Despite the hard work that was done and continues to be done to increase access to education and services on behalf of minorities, the reality is that its just easier to get higher education if you are white. If you don’t believe that, you’re probably white and have a college degree.
The second is that the privileged opposer believes that it was/is simply hard work that led to his/her ability to complete college. While this is somewhat true, the fact remains that a good credit score and a limited amount of liability leads to the ability to receive loans for college (if you’re privileged). Yes, you couldn’t ‘afford’ your education, but you received it as a result of your privileged status in society. Many minorities are caught in a cycle of poverty that leads to bad credit and to an inability to get the same loans that a person of privilege has access to.
This is why it is so important for us to understand that one of the ways that we can change this pattern is to increase access to education to all people, both privileged and oppressed. It’s not a solution, but it’s the beginning of a potential to change an entire narrative and status of a group of people who are virtually hopeless without it.
We can’t afford to continue to live by the narrative that says, “If they only were willing to work as hard as I do/have, they wouldn’t need my (tax) help to receive the opportunity to change their story.”
Perhaps the most troubling thing is when my white, privileged, Christian friends are opposed to changing this narrative. It is troubling because it denies what is foundational to what it means to believe in God as we understand him through Jesus. God is always on the side of the poor and the oppressed – which by implication means that he is often (if not always) against the privileged and the oppressor. Are we on the side of God? Do we believe that God wants to vindicate the poor? If so, are we willing to participate in that? If not, what god do we believe in?
Cleveland says it very well when she writes,
“After years of inequality, reconciliation often requires more than the establishment of equal status between the groups. A further step is needed – one that requires that the privileged folks relinquish their high status and adopt a humble position that elevates and honors the oppressed people at great cost to the privileged folks…For an excellent example of this self-sacrificial reversal of power, we need look no further than Jesus, who abdicated his ‘rights’ in order to honor the image of God in oppressed people and build a bridge to them.”
Are we willing to imitate Jesus? You might object to this line of thinking/questioning because President Barack Hussein Obama is suggesting this course of action, but again you have to ask yourself if your politics is more important than your relationship to your Creator.
Before you object, you might want to check out Cleveland’s Privilege Says blog and ask yourself if you, though you don’t want to admit it, are indeed a person of privilege.