The Correlation Between Privilege and Pressure
According to a December 2014 article in The Economist, there is a “distinct correlation between privilege and pressure.” We may earn more money, but we can never earn more time. And because we’re working jobs that are less physically taxing, we actually enjoy and find more fulfillment in our work today.
This leads us to finding our identity in our work and allowing it to bleed out inordinately into other parts of our life. Time, then—our least renewable resource—feels all the more valuable (and elusive). What we are really feeling is pressure. We aren’t actually busier. We want to maximize everything, milk it for efficiencies. Opportunity cost rises the more you have access to. To choose nothing feels ungrateful and unwise. Our privilege causes us to have anxiety over the seemingly endless ways we can mess up.
The Justice System for the Rich and Poor
Robert H. Richards and Ethan Couch illustrate how opportunity bends toward affluent white males. Richards was found guilty of raping his three-year-old daughter, but because of his connection to the DuPont family and its vast fortune, his legal team was able to mount a defense that spared him spending any time in prison.
The judge stated, “The defendant would not fare well in prison,” agreeing with Richards’s attorneys that an inmate of his status is not a good fit for the penitentiary. Similarly, Ethan Couch stole beer and took his parents’ Ford F-350 out for a ride with seven friends. Tragically, he struck and killed four pedestrians.
He pleaded guilty, and at sentencing his lawyers argued that because of his wealth and poor parenting, prison should be out of the question because he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions. He was sentenced to rehab and ten years’ probation. Both of these cases argued implicitly that “affluenza” was the culprit, not the individuals themselves.
The word affluenza was popularized by the 2001 book by the same name. It was used to bolster the argument that their wealth, resources, and position in society caused these men to do such harm. Thus, they should not be punished harshly, if at all. It is safe to assume that if these two men had not been white, wealthy, and defended by well-funded legal teams, their sentences would have been significantly different.
For the framers of our nation to say that “all men are created equal” is a lie. We profess to be kind and value equality and fairness, but the dominant culture encourages pursuing what’s better only for me and mine.
Taken from Twelve Lies That Hold America Captive: And the Truth That Sets Us Free by Jonathan Walton Copyright (c) 2019 by Jonathan Walton. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
The Power of Privilege
In January 1999 I was flying on Saudi Arabian Airlines from Mumbai, India, to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then onward to London. I arrived at the Mumbai airport to find a long line. Perhaps seventy-five people were waiting to check in, and nearly every one was an Indian man with a very small suitcase…Like all lines in India, this one was packed closely together, and we were all sweating in the mid-day heat. But I was fairly sure the plane would not take off without us, so I was in no great hurry. As the single ticket agent checked in each traveler at the far-off counter, I prepared myself for a long wait.
I had been in line for under five minutes when the agent came out from behind the counter, walked down the line until he came to my spot, and said, “Come with me.” When you’re several thousand miles from home and an airline agent says that, you obey…So I followed him, up to the front of the line, past all seventy-five Indian men with their suitcases…Without another word he took my passport, examined it, printed out a boarding pass, and said, “You may go.”
…When I realized that I had just been singled out and effectively ordered to cut in line, I was shocked, not to mention embarrassed. I felt a momentary urge to make a small speech…“I didn’t ask for this!…Flushed with surprise and embarrassment, I could not detect the slightest surprise or discomfort in that line of men. It gradually dawned on me that not only were they not surprised that I had been ushered to the front of the line—they had expected it the moment I arrived. They knew about something I was only beginning to understand: the power of privilege.
Recognizing Privilege (is Hard)
Talking about affluence and privilege is hard, but it doesn’t have to be. I am continually grateful for the perspectives of people outside my own fold. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, for instance, who turned the discussion of consumerism and affluence upside down. Dr. King didn’t talk about guilt, instead he loved to talk about how before we even get to work in the morning we have already lived a globalized life—our coffee grown in Latin America, our soap made in France, our bread grown by farmers in the Midwest.
I think about Dr. King, his head and heart full of the troubles of his country in the 1960s, himself and his family under the constant threat of assassination due to his work trying to get America to provide equal rights to all citizens, especially Black folk. And he took the time to consider the small aspects of his life—the coffee, the soap, the toast—and asked us to do the same.
This is the language he used—behold, dependent, interconnected. Right after talking about coffee and soap, Dr. King said, “All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought until you are what you ought to be.”
Richard Rohr on White Privilege
White privilege is largely hidden from our eyes if we are white. Why? Because it is structural instead of psychological, and we tend to interpret most things in personal, individual, and psychological ways. Since we do not consciously have racist attitudes or overt racist behavior, we kindly judge ourselves to be open minded, egalitarian, “liberal,” and therefore surely not racist.
Because we have never been on the other side, we largely do not recognize the structural access, the trust we think we deserve, the assumption that we always belong and do not have to earn our belonging, the Ve set the tone” mood that we white folks often live inside of—and take totally for granted and even naturally deserved. Only the outsider can spot all these attitudes in us. It is especially hidden in countries and all groupings where white people are the majority.
“Richard Rohr on White Privilege,”Interview by Romal Tune, Huffington Post, January 15, 2016.
Understanding How Privilege Works
The creation of a white standard in the world during the age of exploration, and the white structural privilege prevalent for so long in America, led to what is often called “white privilege”. This is hard for many people to fully understand and believe. Some point out that a steep decline in life expectancy is happening right now among poor white men due to suicide, liver failure from alcoholism, overdose from opiates, and more.
Many white people are struggling financially and simply don’t feel like they’re experiencing any privilege. Earning power has stagnated, and the cost of living is increasing. Many people, regardless of race or education, are feeling hopeless.
Is talking about white privilege just a way of making white people feel guilty, responsible for what is happening to poor people of color, or does it imply that there is some expectation that white people are not living up to? How are we to understand white privilege?
I often find myself in conversation with a hardworking American, someone who has struggled to make ends meet, and having to insist that white privilege is real.
On one such encounter, I was talking with a young white man running a landscaping service that constructed backyard landscapes, ponds, and fountains, He was very proud of his work ethic and told me that nobody had ever given him anything in life. In short, he believed he hadn’t benefited from any privilege.
I asked him in what part of town he did most of his work.
“In the suburbs,” he said.
I then asked where, specifically, he did his work.
“Mostly in people’s backyards,” he answered.
I asked him when he did most of his work.
“Well, during the day, of course,” he quickly retorted.
I asked if I could pose one more question, and he said yes. So I asked him how he got most of his business. He responded, “I put flyers in people’s doors and sometimes knock at houses where I think there’s a particular opportunity I can offer them.” Having gathered all this information about his business and how his work functions, I asked, “If you were a young man of color in those mostly white suburbs, is it possible you would be received differently by some of the potential clients?
“For instance, if you were a young black man proposing to work in the backyards of those suburbanites during the day when they’re not home, is it possible some of your clients might show a degree of suspicion or bias? If you were Hispanic, talked with an accent, or looked like you were from a culture unfamiliar to the suburban communities where people can afford backyard ponds and fountains, do you think it might—even if ever so slightly—affect how successful you are when you knock on doors to talk to people about possible yard projects?”
He nodded, and I could see from the look on his face that he finally understood white privilege. White privilege doesn’t mean your life isn’t hard. It means that if you are a person of color, simply by virtue of that, your life might be harder.
Taken from The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma Copyright (c) 2017 by Ken Wytsma Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com
Still Looking for inspiration?
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