Privilege. . .or blessings?

White privilege. White fragility. White rage. White guilt. White supremacy. All of these contain a truth too deep for understanding outside a state of grace. When I read these words from “experts” who use their scientific or academic authority to identify one of these sins as a sociological or historical label, something seems profoundly missing. What’s missing is a grace that needs to be made visible as a sacrament. Something makes me want to see these authorities fall to their knees (metaphorically anyway) and confess this sin from their own hearts first. Only then can this powerful naming recover its spiritual dimension. At least give us the appearance of humility, or if coming from a place of personal injury, share that with us as an injured friend might.

“Privilege,” to the audience that matters in these times, simply looks like what they call blessings, the gifts of God in daily life, family, jobs, meals around the kitchen table. To understand these things as “white privilege,” as an actual shame and a sin, requires seeing them as inherently unfair, unjust. And that requires a certain knowledge (a privileged knowledge, at that) and the grace of compassion and shame. It requires empathy for those who are denied the public goods that provide institutional support for those blessings: trust in a fair court system, in law, in the police, in having a decent job built on a good education. It’s not that those things should be taken away from anyone (fear interprets those words that way). It’s not that those things have always been available to white citizens, to the unlucky and the unprivileged. These things are blessings – they are how God would bless America, but not if they are denied unfairly, particularly if the withholding of these public goods is based on deformed ideas of race and a denial of the racism that has sickened America since 1619.

About Doug Cumming

journalism professor at W&L
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