The first time I heard the phrase “white privilege,” back in middle school, I didn’t really understand the term.
I knew that I was white. And from brief encounters of teachers mentioning the history of race relations in the United States, I had a little bit of an understanding about how racism still seeped into our culture and world today. But because I grew up in a predominantly white city, and school, we didn’t often talk about the phrase “white privilege”. And until I went to college, I hadn’t engaged with the term as much as I should have.
First of All, What Is White Privilege?
We certainly are familiar with the term privilege. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor.” In other words, a certain group of people receive benefits that others do not, due to some unifying factor.
We may have heard the term privilege used in other contexts.
For instance, we may have encountered “male privilege” in the workplace. Where a woman may have to fight for equal compensation or may have to temper her words in a job interview to not come across as arrogant, what a male counterpart may not have to measure his tone as much.
In that example, we encountered male privilege. But what about white privilege? How would we define that?
White privilege, according to Racial Equity Tools, is, “Preferential treatment to people whose ancestors came from Europe over peoples whose ancestors are from the Americas, Africa, Asia, and the Arab World.”
In other words, simply by one’s ancestral heritage and the amount of melanin in their skin, a person receives preferential treatment in terms of being favored by authorities all the way down to being a default type of character the media chooses. For instance, most books, movies, and TV shows have a predominantly white cast.
This means that someone who does not have white privilege has to try significantly harder to earn respect and equal treatment in academia, the workplace, in a court of law, and just about everywhere else.
So what do we do, as Christians, who have white privilege? Does the Bible have anything in particular to say how to use privilege well?
Let’s dive into this issue.
What Does the Bible Say about Privilege?
In the Bible, we don’t encounter Caucasian people. Most of the events happen in the Middle East, and we don’t really encounter a specific verse in Thessalonians that would say, “This is how you handle white privilege.”
Nevertheless, we run into countless examples of one person (or people) being favored over another. Jacob loves Joseph more than any of his sons (Genesis 37:3), simply because his favorite wife Rachel had Joseph, instead of Leah bearing him. Paul is relieved of a flogging when he mentions his privilege as a Roman citizen (Acts 22:22-29). Romans got preferential treatment over the Israelites. Peter gets uncomfortable and doesn’t sit with the Gentiles. He literally grabs another lunch table far away from them (Galatians 2:11-14).
The Bible has plenty to say about how we should treat one another as well. Everyone is made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), and time and time again, Scripture condemns partiality (Romans 2:11).
And yet, we live in a broken world, where groups are marginalized from personal all the way up to a national, institutional level. For those of us who have white privilege, what do we do? How can we help those who have been marginalized and unfairly treated?
It may be easy to try and deflect.
Some tactics of deflection I’ve seen are people saying, “Well, I’m colorblind in terms of race, so I see everyone as equal,” or people saying, “Well, I’m white, but I’ve encountered hardships, too. Does that make my trials less valid?”
The discussion at hand is not whether our lives are hard, and it’s certainly not to draw attention to our own seemingly virtuous thinking. What we’re encountering here are people who are hurting, brothers and sisters in Christ who are hurting. We’re seeking to find ways to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.
Let’s address how to do that with white privilege.
Step One: Listen
Many people tend to be turned off to the idea of white privilege because they may not have experienced discrimination before.
They may never have walked into a classroom and been the only person of their race, or they may never have been profiled by someone before who harbored assumptions. For instance, being asked, “Do you play basketball?” instead of “Do you like to play sports?” was a question one of my black classmates was asked back in high school.
Let’s look at the example of Job. His friends actually started off in the right. After Job encounters disaster after disaster, they sit with him in silence in support (Job 2:13).
Where they go wrong is when they start to talk. They try to explain everything to Job by blaming it on sin, telling him that it’s all his fault that these horrible circumstances have befallen them. This earns them a mighty reprimand from God.
When we realize that we do have privilege, it’s best we listen to those who have experiences outside of ours and not explain it away. That only serves to invalidate their experiences and make them feel more isolated and hopeless.
Listening and choosing to suffer with your black brothers and sisters is the essential first step.
Step Two: Recognize
In order to alleviate injustice, it is essential to recognize the injustice exists.
I’m reminded of the story of the Good Samaritan. How a man was left half-dead on the road, and the Priest and Levite passed by on the other side. They pretended not to see the injustice done to the man (Luke 10:25-37).
If we want to help in ending the injustices that racism causes, we need to be aware of some of these prejudices that are woven into the very fabric of society as well as our own minds. We cannot turn a blind eye on those that are calling out in suffering around us.
Educate yourself about why they are suffering and how our society got here. Research the hardships black people have to go through simply because of their skin color. Read books like White Fragility or Stamped From the Beginning in order to better understand your implicit biases and how you got them--and what your part is to help.
Step Three: Help
Micah 6:8 calls us to do justice. We cannot do justice if we do not do. This may look like having conversations with marginalized people in your church community and asking what are the best steps in alleviating this divide or better include those who have been forgotten by our church.
It may look like asking God what are the best courses of action you can do to combat the sin of racism in your church, in your community, and in your own personal lives.
Proverbs 31:8-9 tells us to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy."
Jesus was an amazing example of loving action. He sought out the ostracized and hated, the lepers, tax collectors, and prostitutes. He looked out for the poor and told his disciples to do the same.
It’s not often easy to recognize one’s privilege, and often these topics and talks may make some of us uncomfortable. But because we are all made in the image of God, we should make an ardent effort to make sure that everyone is treated as such, that no one is left out, and that we play an active role in helping heal a scar that has hurt the lives of so many for centuries.
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Hope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.