White People Need to Talk About Privilege… for White People’s Sake.

There are good reasons why white people need to talk about privilege. And by good, I mean moral, conscious-driven reasons why we should be discussing what author, Tim Wise, describes as “any advantage, opportunity, benefit, head start, or general protection from negative societal mistreatment, which persons deemed white will typically enjoy, but which others will generally not enjoy.”

But because of denial, shame, and an unwillingness to forego these disadvantages, we have yet to talk about privilege. To say it is the “right” thing to do and to suggest that it is our “moral” responsibility, has thus far not been compelling enough as an argument. To this point, we have denied, defended, or ignored our privileges because we do not want to talk about it.

But we sure have been talking about guns lately. And we will again and again. On the heels of (this week’s) latest school shooting we will debate gun policies and school policies. And we should. Because gun violence is a major problem.

Privilege is a major problem too.

And here’s the thing. The two major problems are undeniably related.

Mass shooters have been OVERWHELMINGLY white. And OVERWHELMINGLY male. They are then, OVERWHELMINGLY at the most privileged intersection one could be.

I should know, I was born at that intersection. And I’ve lived there all my life.

See, I’ve experienced privilege. And I’ve experienced how privilege becomes entitlement. And I’ve even experienced how entitlement becomes a psychosis that is hard to manage and even harder to reign-in.

In white America, our privilege has become our entitlement and our entitlement has led to a public psychosis and perhaps the worst consequence of this psychosis has been the horrifying (but not horrifying enough, apparently) rise in mass violence committed overwhelmingly by white males.

Of course, there are other horrible consequences of the psychosis as the result of entitlement as the result of privilege – a rise in other “control” crimes, white collar and self-harming, just to name a couple – but in the few days until the next shooting, we will be talking about guns. But please, white people, PLEASE. When we talk about guns, we have GOT to talk about privilege too.

Tonight, on his Facebook page, Tim Wise posted the following, most effective in its entirety:

Another mass shooting. And please note the community and school profile. Like most mass shootings the school is 85% white and middle to upper middle class. Let’s think this through shall we?…

If these things were happening in mostly black and brown and poor spaces everyone would have a theory. Conservatives would blame “cultural pathology” and liberals would point to structural conditions….

…but when they happen in places like this it’s as if the demographic and cultural issues become irrelevant. Suddenly we revert to individual pathology explanations…like mental illness or a response to bullying or whatever. Because we can’t fathom cultural pathology in white affluent communities

…because after all, folks ran to these places to get away from the “bad people” (irony)…but by ignoring the ubiquitous whiteness and relatively well off status of these shooters, time and time again (and seriously I first wrote about this in 1998) white folks endanger themselves…

…It’s one of the ways in which privilege is toxic. It builds you up and let’s u think all is well where YOU live and where YOUR kids go to school, because a) few black folks and b) not many poor people… and then u let your guard down and chaos walks through the door precisely because you thought it wouldn’t.. and here’s the ultimate irony…

Some of y’all still think that those of us talking ’bout white privilege are anti-white, when in fact, addressing white privilege and the dysfunction it spawns might save your kids’ lives …

Wake the fuck up…

Or don’t…and keep burying your children. Your call…

We need to talk about privilege, White America. So far, it has seemed as if we have refused to have the conversation because privilege didn’t seem to be hurting “us” and we lacked the goodness to care for “them.”

But it’s urgent that we talk about privilege. If not for “them”, than for us. If not for us, then at the very least, for our children.

Alice Hunt Talks Privilege

American Academy of Religion Executive Director and former Chicago Theological Seminary President, Alice Hunt, joins the podcast to discuss what privilege is and why it is so important to talk about it as Christians.