To my white friends on the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd—I want to ask us to think about the idea of giving up some of our white privilege. Peggy McIntosh first defined the term in 1988 as “an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day…” These assets are not awarded because we have earned them, or deserve them. We are born with them simply because we are born white. Many of us never even realized we possessed these assets until we learned what it is like to live as a Black, indigenous or person of color in America without these assets.
If we are ever going to achieve equality in this country, if we are ever going to make progress in ending racism, then we who are privileged are going to have to set aside some of these assets and learn to live without them.
We have a model to follow in giving up privilege—Jesus Christ. Consider this passage from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (as suggested by a Black friend).
Philippians 2:5–8 (NRSV)
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.
Jesus enjoyed all the “privileges” of divinity, and yet stepped down from that position, emptying himself, to be born as a human. Jesus gave up privilege for our benefit. Are we willing to give up even a little bit of our privilege for the benefit of our Black brothers and sisters?
What might it look like to give up some white privilege, to empty ourselves of some of these assets? It might mean making financial donations to Black charities. It might mean supporting reparations. The Northwest Washington Synod of the ELCA has started a Racial Equity and Reparations fund. You can learn more here. You can donate here (click Give Online Now and instead of General Fund on the donations page, choose Synod Racial Equity and Reparations).
Giving up privilege might look like purchasing/renting a home in an integrated neighborhood, and sending your children to integrated schools and becoming seriously involved in building relationships in those neighborhoods and schools. It might mean giving up some of your time to join discussion groups, and service groups, and serving alongside Black community leaders. It might mean giving up your traditional white church to worship with a more diverse community.
It might mean giving up our privileged, white-centered, understanding of American history and re-learning that Black history, Indigenous history, and Asian-American history ARE American history. It might mean recognizing and celebrating our American heritage on Juneteenth (June 19) as well as on the Fourth of July. Learn more about Juneteenth here.
It could mean working in prison ministry. It might mean giving up some white comfort and standing on a corner with a sign that says something like “Black Lives Matter more than White Comfort.”
I have taken some small first steps in some of these areas. It is not much, but it is a beginning. What first steps could you take? What unearned assets can I challenge you to recognize and to set aside? Jesus is certainly our leader and example. How can you follow Jesus in this way?