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White Privilege

I grew up in a loving family.  My dad worked hard hours to make a living for us.  My mother scrimped and saved in order to provide good food and warm clothes for my sister and me.  I had grandparents who doted on me, included me in their lives, took me fishing and camping, and participated in my upbringing.  My parents picked me up from elementary school, went to school conferences, and monitored my schooling as needed.  It was a privilege living in my parent’s home.

The church my family attended was a short drive from our house and peopled with folks who loved children and committed to their success.  It was not uncommon for one of the older adults to offer encouragement or suggest a life dream to us.  Parents and other volunteers took us kids on camping trips and invited us to their homes for group activities.  Church leaders made a place for us kids and taught us to participate in the church’s life. It was a privilege to know the people in our church.

I attended the best high school in town and had good friends who because of their character provided motivation to make good choices.  I was also a member of Key Club, the high school version of Kiwanis.  Our teachers were hard on us, but by so doing they helped us craft our character.  One of our graduates became mayor of our city, later in his life.  Another went on to create A Sharper Image.  No doubt, our schooling had something to do with a can-do belief.  It was a privilege to attend that school.

I worked hard through high school but that too was a privilege.  My work life began when our family’s newspaper carrier came to me one day and said, “I’m about to quit delivering papers, and I want you to take my route.”  I had never ever even thought about being a paper carrier so this was a matter of having the right friend and living in the right place.  The paper route resulted in my winning a contest for a two-week trip to Italy.

One day when collecting my paper route I met a man on my route that was in management at a local Kroger grocery store.  I told him I was looking for a new job, and this  resulted in very good employment at Kroger through high school and college.  With this job I bought a car and paid for my four years of college.  It would be naive for me to say I won the job strictly on my merits.  Yes, I was a hard and persistent worker, but I was also white, lived in the right part of town, and had access that many in my town didn’t.  This was a privilege.

After graduation from college, my first church to pastor had a stated policy of not allowing black folk to worship there and therefore sent them 40 miles away to the closest black church.  In the next town we lived in there was a private school system called “white citizens council schools.”  I wouldn’t say it was a privilege to live in these places because of their oppression of minority people.

I’d like to believe that my master’s degree, paid-for house, wonderful family, and position in life are all mine because of my effort and intelligence.  But if I’m honest I have to admit that much of what I have experienced and benefited from is due to friends, family, social standing, gender and race.

What am I to do with this privilege?  If I think of privilege as a commodity, then it becomes easier to think of it as something I can break apart and share with others.  Share social connections I have.  Share ideas.  Share financial assistance.  Share, share. share.

Then access becomes generally more available.  And others become privileged.