Let Me Tell You About My White Privilege
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Some individuals within a specific ethnic group have been guilty of making every person within another ethnic or demographic the same. For example, all whites are the same; all blacks are the same; everyone on the alt-right is the same, as well as those on the alt-left. When you make sweeping accusations as though they are absolute, you weaken your argument. There is a better way.
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Individuals within the Group
Most people choose who they want to hang with for other reasons than their skin color. There are black people who I would rather associate with before associating with some white folks. There are some people on the left, politically speaking, who I like listening to while there are few folks in “my camp” who embarrass me.
If you clump every person within a demographic as the same as every other person within that group, it insults those who aren’t like the stereotype you’re mapping over the entire group. If you persist with a “universal mapping” over the demographic, you will tempt those who are not like you say to fire back with an unsavory insult. I’m not suggesting their response is appropriate, but it does happen when someone gaslights another person.
I know there is white privilege. I’ve seen it. I also know there is black privilege. Either way, it does not mean that all whites are identical or that all blacks are identical. It is wrong to deny that our “privileges” exist, and it’s wrong to label everyone within a category the same. Let me share with you my personal experience with white privilege, though I’m not a fan of that term. I have benefited from living in America, and I have suffered greatly because of my sin and the sin of others.
My White Privilege
- My father was a violent, racist, drunk abuser who died at forty-two years old.
- My mother slept around with more men than I know.
- My dad spent all the money he made—when he was working—on alcohol.
- My parents bought the groceries with government assistance (food stamps).
- My parents left us five boys to rear ourselves. Literally.
- With no moral compass, we began fighting, stealing, and doing drugs before we were ten years old.
- The “good” white folks had nothing to do with us other than making sure they kept themselves from us.
- I started working as a busboy when I was twelve years old, making $1.12 per hour. I’ve been working since that time—nearly a half-century.
- When I was not busing tables, I hauled hay during the summer, which meant running alongside a trailer in 95-degree heat, throwing bales onto the trailer.
- At fifteen, I left home for good.
- At sixteen, I got a real job at a burger joint.
- Many of our teachers, black and white, labeled me as incorrigible rather than helping me.
- My seventh-grade teacher said that I had the grades to get into the honor society, but because of my behavior, they would not let me join.
- My high school principal said that I was a “Thomas! And I would never amount to anything. I was nothing but trash.”
- My high school “career teacher” said that since my “trial interview” was the same as a black student, they were going to give it to the black student because she was black.
- The police arrested me when I was fifteen years old for breaking and entering. It was five days in jail and two years probation.
- My first three brothers never graduated from high school. The first two went to prison, and the third one joined the military.
- After someone murdered my first brother, the law enforcement community did nothing, though they knew who killed him. They said it was one less criminal for them to deal with, so they let it go.
- After someone murdered my second brother, they let the murderer off with community service.
- Without a moral compass, I married at age nineteen, which was a mistake. I went through a horrible divorce at twenty-eight. I lost my wife and two children. Later, I lost my job and was penniless; I picked up aluminum cans on the side of the road so that I could buy food.
- I worked full-time (forty-five hours a week) while I went to college full-time. I was twenty-five years old.
- I graduated at twenty-nine with a theology degree, though divorced and told that I could never do ministry; I was disqualified.
- I went another year to get an education degree because I had nothing else to do with my lonely life.
- At forty, I received a master’s degree in counseling.
- I started this ministry/business when I was forty-nine years old.
Be Calm, Be Civil
I suspect if someone told you that I was black before you read the first twenty things on that list, afterward, you would say, “Yeah, that’s about right. I can see all that happening to a black kid.” But I’m not black. I’m a middle-aged, pasty white, Christian male from the southern part of the United States. Some liberal white people call me a “booger-eater,” redneck, or stupid religious type. I’m not making this up or asking for your sympathy. My primary hope is to be as clear as I can.
There are many more adverse things that I could add to the list above, but you get the point. And, yes, I know you have your list, too. My goal here is not to compare our hardships but to agree that life has not been easy for me or many of you. There has never been any privilege, white or otherwise, sent my way—at least not the way some folks accuse me. By the grace of God and a lot of hard work, I am what I am.
My point is that every white, black, gay, or [fill in the blank] person is not like you think. Every gay person is not an angry radical. Every liberal does not throw civility to the wind. There are many of us “white boys” who “don’t know nothin'” about privilege. Regardless of who you are, before you succumb to ranting about a people group, slow down and pace yourself.
- Don’t speak in absolutes.
- Don’t make blanket statements.
- Don’t think that, because the other group is yelling louder than your group, they represent everyone in their tribe.
Others in their tribe wish they did not talk so loud or make the errors in judgment that I’m addressing here. Just because someone is not like you, it does not mean that they are like them either. Perhaps it would serve you well to talk with them. If they are willing to do that civilly, maybe the Lord would use those moments redemptively.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:19-20).
Call to Action
- Are you a racist? It’s a straightforward question. I’m not asking if you hang out with a diverse group of people. I’m asking if you dislike a specific group of folks. You do not have to be guilty by disassociation, but you are guilty if you hate people.
- How do you react to folks who make unfair judgments and accusations about you? Do you feel gaslit, or is there some validity to what they are saying about you?
- Are you tempted to apologize for something when you don’t sense any guilt for doing it? If so, what does that say about your relationship with God? Peer pressure, cancel culture, and self-censoring can harm a person who does not have a robust relationship with the Lord.
- How can you change? Are you taking the time to understand the burden and pain of those who are not like you or have not had your experience? I’m not speaking exclusively of white people understanding black people, though that is part of it. I’m also talking about black folks understanding whites. There is a danger when your sympathy for someone turns into empathy. In the latter case, both of you will drown because there are no redemptive solutions.
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Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).