Thursday, May 14, 2015


So, now that I'm using this blog for my personal reflections and utilizing other media for communicating about the ABLE program, I'm going to take the liberty to go a little "off topic." Even as a personal post, I really don't like to comment publicly on politically charged topics because I think there's so much opportunity to be misunderstood and I would so much rather there be dialogue than to try to just make my point. But some things have been running through my mind that I hope might be an encouragement toward peace and loving attitudes towards brothers and sisters in Christ and toward fellow human beings in general. People have been talking about "white privilege" for a while and it makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Being that I'm white, I could be one of those uncomfortable people. I could feel defensive about being labeled as having an advantage simply because of my lineage, and insist that the claims of injustice from people who have lived a very different set of experiences from my own are overstated.

But living in Cambodia, I can't help but see that I have been privileged. It's humbling. I recognize the expectations that I have, the sense of entitlement I often have, that are in contrast to so many of the people around me, and sometimes I feel like a spoiled brat. My upbringing has taught me to view a refrigerator as a necessity, but many Cambodians I know don't have one. I have a bathroom right off of my bedroom. Many Cambodians have to walk several houses away to use a bathroom, if they have one available at all. Even while living in Cambodia I have access to so many things that many Cambodians do not. What choice did I have in being born to American parents rather than to Cambodian parents? What have I done to warrant this status? Zero. Absolutely nothing.

Why do we chafe at the thought of being called privileged? Probably because we like to think that we deserve what we have and it irritates us for others to say that we had an unfair advantage. I'm sorry, fellow white people, but we have had an advantage. And, no matter what your skin color, if you've grown up in the developed world, you have too. I've seen the contrasts both in the U.S. and here, and I can't ignore the reality that is plainly before my eyes.

"For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)

Brothers & sisters, can we recognize that we've all received blessings we didn't deserve? Can we also accept that any of us can also be subject to negative influences, systems, and conditions that we had little to no control over? 

I think another reason people don't like being called privileged in light of another's claim to injustice is that they feel they are being blamed. I'd like to propose that, while you may not be directly responsible for the problem, as believers, we have a responsibility to be part of the solution. The first step seems to me to be a willingness to reserve judgment & really listen to other people's experiences and think of what it would be like to be in their shoes. Thank God that Jesus did that for us. He didn't just think about what it would be like, He emptied Himself and walked in our shoes.

Black lives matter. Police officers' lives matter. Cambodian lives matter. We all matter to Jesus and, for that reason, we ought to matter enough to one another to drop our pride & defensiveness, drop the blame game, and work together for justice, having concern for the things that affect one another. Jesus had the privilege of being the divine Son of God. He didn't pretend that He wasn't, but He willingly laid aside the benefits of that privilege to save us. Being aware of being privileged, I'm continually confronted with choices about what to do about it and I invite all of my brothers & sisters to do engage in the same honest reflection.

I had already written this when I stumbled across this video. I think it may help to make the point. 

(I will make the disclaimer that I am not a fan of everything on the website, but I thought this one was worth sharing.)


Bill Ball said...

Thanks Lisa.

Sherri said...

You bring in a different perspective on privilege that helps me understand it more. But I think what bothers me most about the choice of the word "privilege" is that, to me anyway, it implies that the problem is that white people have it too good and the solution is to bring us down a few notches. In some cases that is appropriate--if we're acting like spoiled brats, if we're profiting from injustice to others, if we're consuming excessive resources. But in many other areas--education, treatment by police and the law, medical care, to name a few examples--the goal is to bring everyone up to the standard that white Americans have come to expect. Right?

Lisa Y said...

Hi Sherri,
I appreciate your comments, particularly because I know you to be one of those people actively working toward the solution. I agree with you that the point isn't about taking people down a few notches. For me, it has everything to do with empathy and taking seriously the concerns of others. I see so many people who want to see white privilege as entirely a myth and I want us to be willing to recognize that the reason some people don't "see" it is because of the fact they are living it. They haven't had the experience, for example, of someone pulling them over specifically because their skin color arrouses suspicion.

Sherri said...

I agree that the phenomenon of black people and white people being treated differently is real, and I'm glad you wrote this blog to address it. It's just the word "privilege" that doesn't seem quite right. Is it a privilege to be assumed innocent until proven guilty, or to be protected instead of harassed by the police? I would say those things are a right, and our task is to make sure all our citizens' rights are being respected.

Sherri said...

Sorry to badger you--I'm just airing one of my pet peeves in what seems like a safe place (-;

Lisa Y said...

Hi Sheri,
You make a great point. I guess the term has probably been used to add a bit of shock value for so many who have been oblivious to those discrepancies. Difficult to know to what extent it helps or hurts, but, since it's out there, I just hoped to shed a little different light on it.

Bill Ball said...

Lisa I really thank you for posting this. It takes courage to speak on this issue. I have learned many of the things you spoke about when I taught in a Bible College where most of my students were African American. Even many of those white people who served their black brothers and sisters often showed signs of paternalism.
And Sherri, I don't have a problem with calling it "white privilege" because that's what it is.

Bill Ball said...

Lisa would you mind if I shared this on my blog?

Lisa Y said...

Bill, feel free to share on your blog. Thanks!