The many faces of privilege: more than race and riches

I really appreciated this short article, 3 Reasons Why I Hate Diversity, from Christena Cleveland over on Ed Stetzer’s Christianity Today blog. While I wholeheartedly concur with her points regarding the discomfort that engaging with a multi-cultural body can bring, it is her point #3, “diversity exposes my privilege” that really peaked my interest.

In our stratified society, it’s fairly easy for privileged people like me to turn a blind eye to inequality. As long as I stick to certain neighborhoods and social settings, I am unlikely to meaningfully interact with people who struggle to survive underneath society’s oppressive boot. This makes it easy for me to sidestep feeling guilty about my privilege and the relative ease with which I move through life. But racial diversity has a way of bringing racial, economic and other forms of inequality into conscious awareness.

For this reason, as a person who identifies with some privileged groups (e.g. the upwardly-mobile, the educated, the mentally able, etc.) I sure as heck don’t want more diversity in my church. More diversity would expose my privileged life by bringing the inequality “out there” into the very sanctuary pews where I sit. True diversity would require me to stay alert to the reality of inequality. It would demand that I confront my privilege, recognize the ways that I benefit from a society that oppresses my brothers and sisters, repent, and join the fight for justice.

But I’d rather not confront my privilege. I’d like to keep believing that I’ve “earned everything that I have”, that “if people just work hard enough, they’ll succeed”, that “if people just obey the law, they won’t be harassed by the police” and that, frankly, I deserve to be treated better and earn more than others.

Diversity exposes my privilege, my desire to take credit for the social power that I possess and my tendency to justify holding onto the money that passes through my hands.

In our racially charged culture, when we speak of privilege, we often think of “white privilege” and for good reason since it has been the standard by which acceptability is set. However, her description reminded me that privilege has many faces. Merriam-Webster defines privilege this way, “a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage or favor.” I don’t know about peculiar, but we should not balk at the idea that sociological circumstances can exist whereby a dominant group enjoys a certain kind of power because their privilege has been deemed the norm, giving them the right to marginalize others.  Continue reading