If someone had me guess what the most offensive "P" word was to people in my social circle, I would have picked something anatomically related. What I wouldn't have guessed would be the word "privilege." Yet, from conversations in person, online, and overheard through break rooms and church hallways, the word "privilege" is the one that offends most. Every person has an opinion on it. If you're white, like I am, your opinion is often that privilege doesn't exist. Or at least, is highly overrated. I've heard people laugh when white privilege is brought up.
"I worked hard for everything I ever had," a white man said to me, "and in a lot of ways, I think if I had been born black things would have been easier." This opinion is one that can only come from someone who doesn't truly understand what privilege is, and how it affects every part of our experience. If you grow up within the majority, it's incredibly hard to identify with the experiences of the minority. But what is privilege -- that dreaded "P" word no white person wants to admit they possess?
- It's going through life never having to wonder if you didn't get that job, relationship or opportunity because a person made assumptions about you based on your skin color.
- It's not having to worry when you're pulled over or approached by a police officer if you'll be seen as a threat, simply because of the color of your skin.
- It's having teenage sons and not fearing every time they leave the house that if they wear a hoodie, or listen to music too loudly, someone will shoot them (and get away with it) because of their skin color.
- It's the ability to enter a department store without having to be watched suspiciously, as if you're going to shoplift, because of the color of your skin.
It's being able to deny privilege is a thing, because you've never once experienced any of the above scenarios, and probably never will. Privilege is being so far removed from racism that you can deny it, or lessen it or think you deserve to have just as respected an opinion on it as someone who's actually experienced it. Empathy can only take us so far; while we can sympathize with someone who's experienced discrimination, at a certain point we have to admit that we have no idea what it feels like to be dehumanized because of our race.
That's not all privilege is though; it's also a separation. A distance from the "thing being discussed" that reduces issues of systematic racism to a "topic." Only people who have not been affected by racism have this luxury of choosing whether or not to engage.
And as hard as it is to admit, there is also a certain privilege that covers you, when your church, faith community and spiritual advisors are all people who have never had to experience the above. Privilege is not having a spiritual heritage marred by slavery, or reconciling your faith with a church that, in many places, condoned the owning of your ancestors.
My privilege smacked me in the face when Jordan Davis was killed. It was in my city... on a street I drive often... at a gas station I've been a patron at. This wasn't something I was removed from. It happened in my hometown.
It was hard for me not to imagine how different the scene could have been had Michael Dunn encountered teenage me and my friends at that gas station, that night. We would have had loud music playing too, because we were teenagers and that's something teens do.
Would Dunn have even cared if it was white kids blasting rap from the next car over? Had me and my white friends mouthed off at him when he asked us to turn it down, would he have felt "threatened?" I doubt it. Seventeen-year-old white kids are not usually threatening to grown men with guns. Would Dunn have assumed that we were carrying a pipe or a shotgun, a bunch of white kids on a busy street far from the "bad parts" of town?
The most important question though, the one that kept me up at night, was "would the jury have taken three days to return no conviction for first degree murder, had my white, upper-middle class 17-year-old friend been murdered?" We can't definitively know the answer to that, but my gut says no. They would not. Because it wouldn't have taken them three days to argue over whether or not a grown man was "justified" in feeling so threatened by a white 17-year-old kid, that he fired 10 shots into the vehicle he was riding in.
You know what privilege is? Privilege is being able to talk about the death of Jordan Davis in hypotheticals. It's not wondering if you, or your child, could be next.
As a white person, the death of Jordan Davis has me mourning for my city, my state, my nation, and my fellow citizens. As a Christian, Jordan Davis' death has me mourning the lack of response from the church. There is something wrong with our priorities as Christians when we can go to the leading Christian magazine and type in Jordan Davis' name and get back zero results, but type in "Miley Cyrus" and get 37 articles. It points to the fact that for so many white Christians, this isn't something we care about, really. We might shake our heads in sadness at the picture of Jordan's face on the news, or sigh when we drive past the protest at the gas station where he was killed, but that's all we do. We're not getting out of our cars and homes and joining our black brothers and sisters in protest. We're not speaking from the pulpits, to our white congregations, about the tragedy that the leading cause of death of young black men is homicide. This is being talked about in black churches, absolutely, but not in "ours." Which just points even further to the racial divide that exists not just in our country, but in our Christianity.
Maybe that's because 50 years isn't long enough to erase the hurt done by white Christians who fought against segregation in our churches and schools. Or maybe it's because white Christians are not talking about the deaths of young black men, because these deaths haven't affected us directly.
Yet they do. As Christians, every young black man that's killed for being "threatening" affects us, because this loss of life is an injustice. Part of our role on this Earth should be fighting injustice, and standing up for what's right. We should be rallying against laws that protect people with impunity when killing unarmed victims, because every life is sacred. If we're serious about believing in the value of life, above all, why are we not protesting Stand Your Ground with the fervency that we protest abortion? Life is life. If we stay silent in the wake of these deaths, we only lend credibility to the belief, held by many, that black life doesn't matter.
Black life does matter. Jordan Davis' life mattered. Trayvon Martin's life mattered. The lives of little black boys in Florida who will grow up to be teenage boys matter. It's time that more white Christians start acting like they realize this and believe it. It's time that we stand up not just for our own "rights not to be discriminated" against, but the rights of those whose lives are literally being threatened.
Why should you care about Jordan Davis? Because he was someone Christ died for, just like you and me.
If you want to do something, here's a good place to start.