Yesterday I took one of those Buzzfeed quizzes. “How Privileged Are You?” presented a list of options that I was supposed to check off if they applied to me.
I’m white. Check.
Never lied about my religion or been called a terrorist because of it. Check.
Never been sexually harassed, catcalled, or assaulted. Check.
A stranger has never asked to touch my hair, or asked if it is real. Check. (And not just because I don’t have much hair anymore.)
My ultimate score was 66, “Quite Privileged.” Like most Buzzfeed pop-pychological evaluations, this one is lacking.
The quiz is helpful as a pretty comprehensive list of types of privilege, but the scoring is suspect.
I definitely shoulda scored in the top category, “Most Privileged.”
I am a prototypical paragon of privilege (and alliteration). I am a white cis-male straight American-born product of an intact middle class family. And that’s just some of my privilege.
So, do I feel guilty about that?
Attempts to get those who are privileged to acknowledge their privilege are often met with resistance. A common response is “You want me to feel guilty for being white/male/straight/American? Hell no!”
The “conversation” ends there.
Those of us who recognize the existence of privilege have done a poor job of initiating actual conversations (you know, the kind with talking AND listening) that lead to introspection. Mostly we’ve just pushed folks into a corner where they feel their options are guilt or fight.
And we’re surprised when people fight. Or when they choose a third option – to totally ignore us and the entire concept of privilege.
We often wield privilege like an accusation of wrongdoing. Or at least we give that impression to the person on the receiving end of our “lesson.”
Who wants to feel guilty, especially for something(s) that are not their fault?
Notice, those things I listed as components of my privilege – white, cis-male, straight, American-born, etc. – are things over which I had and have no control. I didn’t ask for any of them. I didn’t earn them, or work to get them.
They are just who I am.
If guilt is our real or perceived goal in our discussions with privileged people, then we are doing nothing more than shaming.
We have often failed to articulate a positive response to the recognition of one’s privilege.
There’s got to be a better way.
Instead of guilt, what if we suggested responding with GRATITUDE, HUMILITY, and RESPONSIBILITY?
When I receive something(s) I didn’t ask for or deserve, the only proper response is to say “thank you.” As a Christian, my gratitude for the good things in my life is directed to God.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I thank God for making me male or white or any of those other things.
But I am certainly grateful for never having been followed with suspicion in a store because of my skin color. And for not being paid less because of my gender. And for never having to wonder if I didn’t receive a response to my job application because of my ethnicity. And for never having to hide my sexuality for fear of losing my job, friends, or even family. And so on.
That kind of gratitude could easily turn into the kind of superior attitude we hear from the Pharisee praying in Luke 18:11 –
The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.
That is why humility is so important.
Ideally, humility follows gratitude. When I am grateful, I admit that I am not the source of my privilege. To paraphrase the memorable words of Ann Richards, I don’t believe I hit a triple when I was born on third base.
Christians believe that every good gift originates with God (James 1:17). Therefore, all the opportunities and advantages I didn’t earn or deserve are gifts of God. They are not things to feel guilty or proud about but rather sources of gratitude and humility.
So what do I do with that? Gratitude and humility are nice, but at best they are catalysts for action. For response.
Once I acknowledge my privilege – which becomes much easier when it’s clear that I don’t have to feel guilty about it – I need to move to responsibility, a word that comes from the Latin for “to respond.”
As a Christian, I look to God’s Word to find the appropriate response. And there it is, in the parable of the talents. I love the clarity of The Message translation of Luke 12:48:
Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!
It is the responsibility of those with privilege to use that privilege to lift up the less-privileged. To me, that seems pretty simple. The life and teaching of Jesus makes it clear that rather than denying privilege or being frozen by guilt, we are called to empathetic action – not just to advocate for those who are less privileged, but more importantly to stand with them as brothers and sisters.
That starts with our own gratitude, humility, and sense of responsibility.