Explaining Privilege

This video tries to explain privilege, and it’s good. Most of the statements related to privilege have to do with the family in which one was born, such as whether or not your parents are still together, whether or not you had to ever help your parents pay bills, whether or not you had a father figure in the home.

There are a vast array of other factors that contribute to privilege. Some of them have to do with race, gender, sexual orientation, academic prowess, athletic prowess, age, disability, etc…

But, the point is made. There are factors that give some in our society a boost up, a step forward, or a head start. Often, these factors have nothing to do with the individual who is advantaged by them, so there’s no point in assigning blame or fault. If my parents had had the opportunity to send me to private school, there’s little say I would have in it. If I had had the opportunity to pay for college without loans, you better believe I would have taken it.

So, what is the point?

I don’t think the point is to say, “You were able to succeed because of your privilege.” Yes, privilege definitely affords those who enjoy it an advantage. But, privilege is not a guarantee of success or status. For most of us, most of that still needs to be earned.

Neither do I think the point is to say, “Because you are (fill in the blank), you must have/must not have experienced a great deal of privilege.” None of us know the struggles another has faced, regardless of what he or she look like. No one gets through many years of this life without experiencing pain, hurt, loss, and even discrimination in some way, shape, or form. The great majority of us have those places where we fit in, and those places where we fit less, and even those places where we are simply not welcome. The old adage, “Don’t judge a book by it’s cover” remains good wisdom for our day.

Neither do I think the point is to say, “I was not privileged, which is why I have not succeeded.” No. Privilege can give some a step forward and discrimination can hold others back, but most of our success or failure remains in our hands, in our minds, in our hearts, and on us. We can use a lack of privilege as an excuse for failing, but that in itself is a failing. Few of us will succeed, at least monetarily, as much as a Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos. But, is that really the goal of life? It’s still true that, for most of us, hard work and determination will almost always improve our lot, regardless of where we started. And, even if not, is that the worst thing? I don’t think so. What is worse, I think, is to be a person that other people don’t respect, don’t trust, don’t regard as possessing integrity. The worst thing, finally, is to live a life as if God doesn’t exist and to reject His grace for our salvation. His grace is available to all, regardless of our privilege or lack thereof.

I think the point is simple and straightforward. Privilege is a reality. It is simple foolishness to deny that it exists. It is simple foolishness to deny that there are those among us who are given a head start, those among us who are held back, and even those among us who are pushed back farther behind the starting line — and that this is endemic in our social and political system. Now, what are we going to do with the knowledge of that reality? Those who possess privilege, regardless of why or under what circumstances, are to assist those who do not, and to create a world where privilege is less and less a factor in who gets to the finish line first, or at all.

The point is also to remember that all that we have has been given to us by God. St. Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “Who confers distinction upon you? What do you possess that you have not received? But if you have received it, why are you boasting as if you did not receive it?” (1 Cor 4:7).

The video ends with 1 John 3:17-18: “If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? Children, let us love not in word or speech, but in deed and truth.”

All that we have has been given to us by God, and God only gives that what He gives might be shared with others for the benefit of all. This is how the disciples of Jesus lived after Pentecost. If any were in need, their needs were met by the largess of those who had more, so that none went without. “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s needs” (Acts 2:44-45). But, isn’t that socialism? No. Socialism is where the State takes from all to supposedly distribute among all, while in reality keeping most for itself. (Question: Which of Bernie’s three houses do you think he’s gonna sell to help you feed your children? Answer: None! He’s gonna sell your house to feed his children! That’s how socialism works. Ask the people of Cuba and Venezuela). What Acts of the Apostles is describing is the Body of Christ caring for its members.

Finally, I cannot in good conscience write a post about privilege without pointing out that the most terrible privilege in our society today is the power some wield to decide who gets to be born and who doesn’t. There are millions every year who are denied the right to be born. We need to acknowledge that abortion is overwhelmingly the leading cause of violent death in our country and in our world. We need to acknowledge that minorities are especially targeted by abortion. We need to acknowledge that children in utero who are identified as having Down Syndrome or some other genetic anomaly are being summarily executed – yes, that’s what it is, and there’s no other way to say it – they are being executed. We need to acknowledge that the most dangerous place in the world today is a mother’s womb. We have to acknowledge that as the horror that it is. And, we need to commit ourselves to making this world a place where such a thing is not merely not possible, but not even to be thought of. No discussion of privilege is serious without acknowledging that there are those among us who have the privilege of deciding who gets to be born and who doesn’t.

“Let it be your privilege to have no privilege.”   — St. Francis of Assisi


Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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