Privilege

It is fashionable these days to heap scorn and guilt on those whose favorable social or economic status is seen as the result of unearned “privilege.” Being Caucasian leads the list of unfair life advantages, of course, but being male, employed, having two married parents, and being comfortable with your birth gender also counts against you in the “privilege” department.

The leading champion of “privilege studies” is Prof. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College, who has been writing about this type of inequality since the 1980s. A new voice is Princeton freshman (er, freshperson?) Tal Fortgang, whose essay “Checking My Privilege” has been getting a lot of clicks and likes. Buzzfeed.com will provide you with a checklist to see how privileged you are.

“Privilege” can be understood in a number of ways. On the one hand, it cannot be denied that being born Caucasian will bring some “unearned” benefits. If I am playing golf with a friend who has an expensive club membership, I can walk around the clubhouse and nobody looks up. Maybe not if I were Hmong. In grade school classrooms, kids simply assume that the white kids will get the best grades.

One year our church’s gospel choir was on tour in the upper Midwest, and we stopped in a small city. Two of the African-American singers went shopping but noticed to their dismay that they were being followed around the store, presumably to make sure they didn’t shoplift something. They were mortified. Most of my male black friends can tell stories of being pulled over by a patrol car. Their infraction? DWB. Driving While Black.

It seems to me that there are some advantages to being a minority, however. If you are Caucasian, you carry around with you forever the guilt of slavery. It just never goes away. If you are black, you live on the moral high ground. Second, minorities always have a richer life than the majority culture because they benefit from two cultures, not just one. Black folks know far more about the white folks’ world than vice versa. Knowledge is a form of wealth.

But here’s my beef with today’s grievance industry: advantages given to children by the thrift, vision, and industry of parents and grandparents are not something to shame and scorn. They are priceless inheritances. Those behaviors should not be shamed. They should be imitated. Parents and grandparents can give children the basics of the Christian faith, money sense, a decent education, work ethic, self-discipline, respect for law, and starter capital.

Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan once said, “My education began a hundred years before I was born.” Just so.

 

Pastor Mark Jeske has been bringing the Word of God to viewers of Time of Grace since the program began airing in late 2001. A Milwaukee native, Pastor Jeske has served as the senior pastor at St. Marcus, a multicultural congregation on Milwaukee’s near north side since 1980. In addition, he is the author of six books and dozens of devotional booklets on various topics.


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