“Just because I’m privileged and other people aren’t doesn’t mean that’s my fault.”
This. This was said to me last weekend, word-for-word, in the context of a conversation about some people being unprepared to go to college due to poor literacy skills. I was trying to explain the root causes behind low literacy. (Ya know, because I work at an adult literacy agency and all.) When I stated that people like us who are born in middle-class families with long histories of educational success have a leg up in life, my conversational partner made the statement above.
What d0 I mean by privilege? “Privilege exists when one group has something of value that is denied to others simply because of the groups they belong to, rather than because of anything they’ve done or failed to do. Access to privilege doesn’t determine one’s outcomes, but it is definitely an asset that makes it more likely that whatever talent, ability, and aspirations a person with privilege has will result in something positive for them.” ~Peggy McIntosh. If you are white, if you are middle-class, if you are straight, you are privileged.
I walked away from the conversation, and I kicked myself later when I thought of all the things I should have said.
I should have said, you’re right, it’s not your fault that you’re privileged, but it’s also not other people’s fault that they aren’t.
Rather than being merely a difference in where you happened to be born, attitudes that blame the less fortunate for their misfortune say this: You have a hard life because something is wrong with you. You (or your family) did something wrong and you deserve what you get.
I should have said that just because you, like me, happened to be born a white girl in an upper-middle class family doesn’t mean that you are somehow better than those who struggle.
I should have said that this statement ignores the existence of structural inequities in society that are oppressive to low-income people and minorities.
The”pull yourself up by your bootstraps” story that Americans idealize is a myth, most of the time. Ours is often not a country of equal opportunity, and to say otherwise is to ignore reality. For example, the gap between the rich and and poor is larger right now than it’s ever been. It’s much easier for people who are born with tremendous privilege to succeed than those who are born below the poverty level. This is just common sense.
I should have said that this statement absolves the fortunate from any responsibility to advocate for the less fortunate.
As Christians, we have a biblical responsibility to work for a just society. For racial justice, gender equality, equity of educational access, and in general, equal opportunities for all no matter the circumstances into which they were born. For gun control, so that people who are known to be troubled can’t walk into clubs and movie theaters and kindergarten classes and kill large numbers of people with freaking assault weapons.
Fellow Christians, we’re falling down on the job. Rather than saying, “I’m privileged and those other people aren’t, lucky me,” why not use that privilege to help those who don’t have it? To make the world better during the time that we are here? To tell people about Jesus, sure, but also to act like his hands and feet by making lasting changes in society?
I just can’t with the world right now.