Why is it that sometimes we have to spin things in order to talk about what we really want to talk about? What is undeserved disadvantage? It’s often the recognition that some folks just have it worse off because of their station in life, or because of the group they have been identified with or identify with themselves.
The other side of this privilege. I can already hear people clicking off with just the mention of the word. Privilege doesn’t mean that life is hunky dory. It means that you benefit from a system. It’s likely you didn’t set it up. You may not even know it exists. It’s designed to be like that. It’s designed to make it seem like what you are experiencing is normal and the norm that others should be measured against.
You aren’t good or bad because of privilege or being undeservedly disadvantaged. Both are caught in bondage to a system that is not good. And both suffer as a result. Yes, even the privileged person. They just may not realize the damage that is being done to them.
Here’s how I’ve encounter privilege. Privilege means not having to respond to things – either because you don’t think they impact you (and that’s all that matters), or you don’t believe they exist (because you haven’t experienced it first hand).
Undeserved disadvantage means you have no choice but to deal with things because they do impact you – very directly. Often there is no escape for you either. You are stuck. And often there are no good options, maybe just less worse options.
Privilege means you don’t have to do the work – you expect someone else to do it. But you expect to receive the benefit.
Undeserved disadvantage means that no one else is going to do the work for you. And most likely, you won’t even get most of the benefit. You feel fortunate when you receive some of the scraps for your work.
Privilege means you expect your ways will be followed, but you don’t have to be transparent about it. Why would you? Because that would mean you might have to take responsibility for the result, or potential conflict that might arise. Instead privilege allows you to use indirect means to communicate what you want. And others will follow.
Undeserved disadvantage means that you have no voice and no one will listen to you. You’ve most likely been screwed over many times and so you have trouble trusting other people as a result. Often those who screw you over say one thing, but act differently. What do you actually believe when someone tells you something? Should you actually believe them?
Privilege means being able to avoid discomfort in life.
Undeserved disadvantage is about being uncomfortable and seeing that as the normal in life. You try to find ways to soften the pain.
Privilege means being able to silence conversation that you don’t like by claiming that it’s impolite, or too political, or something else because you don’t want to talk about it. It’s really about not having to examine what you believe because, why would you – you’re right after all – you know it and the other person should too. Privilege means being able to avoid conflict. Privilege is about insisting on your way, and if the other person won’t give in, you’ll walk away quietly. Again, you can avoid the unpleasantness of conflict. Plus there’s always somewhere else where you can try to get your way.
Undeserved disadvantage means having your voice silenced, that your experience doesn’t matter or count, and that you are considered lesser than others because of your economic status, your race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and more. And there isn’t somewhere else to go where you can be heard or acknowledged. Your life if often filled with conflict because if you don’t struggle for what you need, you’ll never get it.
I don’t pretend to have the answers of how to deal with this. I have my own privileges too. And I try to figure out ways to use those privileges to benefit people. Why? Simple. One of the basic tenets of humanity and my faith is this – we are supposed to care about other people. We are supposed to learn and find ways to correct wrongs – even wrongs that we were not responsible for. We are supposed to have empathy for people. We’re supposed to see the image of God and see people’s humanity. We are supposed to love people.
Privilege, at its core, blinds us from all of that. It lies to us and tells us that we are somehow different than other people, whispering in our ear that we are somehow better. But really all privilege does is distract us from the pain that we feel from how we feel worse that other people (no different than an underserved disadvantaged person does to ease their pain).
When I come across privilege I go through a range of emotion. It ticks me off usually. And it causes me to shake my head. It often leaves me speechless. And I have sadness because folks are trapped in the bondage of privilege and often don’t even know it. And they are suffering and don’t know it. I want better for them. And it’s frustrating because I don’t know how to even communicate with someone like this.
When I come across undeserved disadvantage I go through a range of emotion. It ticks me off that this still goes on. It causes me to shake my head. It often leaves me speechless. And I have sadness for folks who are trapped in it. And I want to do something. I want better for these folks. And often I don’t know what to do, and feel as though I can’t do anything. And sometimes it feels impossible to make any impact at all. And I wonder if I am listening enough to actually hear these folks, or am I too deaf to them?
So what am I called to do when I encounter privilege and undeserved disadvantage? Go through the emotions I feel – I need to acknowledge the reality of these things and that I am impacted by them. That’s for starters. Second, where is the humanity? Where can I see the image of God? I have to see the image of God and the humanity, or else I’m just contributing to the pain and suffering by dehumanizing people. Third, find other folks who see it for what it is, are moved by it, and act together. We can’t overcome it all. We may not even make a dent. But we can do this – we can act in the way that we ought to, seeing the humanity in others. And we can act with care and concern. What others will do is on them.
Scripture tells us – Let those who have eyes see, and those who have ears hear. That’s not just about listening to God. That’s also about how and where we see and hear God in our midst, and respond. I can’t change anyone else. No matter how hard I try, complain, yell, attack, or anything else. It just won’t work. All I can do is proclaim a different/better way and invite others to live into it and act in accordance to this better way. All I can do is be congruent with what I claim to believe in and how I live it out. All I can do is act with integrity and honesty. All I can do is be the best version of me that I can be. And I can celebrate each person who does the same. That’s how the world changes for the better. It starts with you and with me. And even if no one else does so, then so be it. The world is already better because you and I have decided that there is a better way, and we’re living it. That’s how I know how to deal with privilege and undeserved disadvantage. Is it right? I don’t know. It’s what I’ve got right now. So I’m going with it.