White Privilege — The Godly Response Of Good Men

The privilege-bloated Doug Wilson will have you believe that the reason he and other affluent, white men of power are, well, privileged white guys isn’t because God is particularly, specifically pleased with him — and I find that easy to accept — but because it’s simply God’s will to prosper some and not others, thus ensuring a society of haves and have-nots.  Doug is firmly encamped and enthroned among the haves, and he’s florid in his thankfulness to God. 

But what is he thankful for, and is it from the God of all righteousness?

As a woman married to a white man whom God has prospered in business, I understand some of what Wilson says.  I know my husband’s relative prosperity, enough to keep us doing well and able to give with an open hand, is a gift from God, and I know that both because I know my man and I know my LORD.  God truly honors good, decent, hard-working men, gifting them with business acumen, physical strength, and uncommon wisdom; Jeff is a good, decent, hard-working and gifted man, impeccably honest and near-maniacal in his level of energy.  God sees, and he responds graciously.

But we all know that many, many white men have prospered through a toxic stew of avarice, selfishness, graft, manipulation, and indifference to the plight of others.  Their prosperity argues against Wilson’s easy handling of the Proverbs that promise that in a simple, agrarian society, the righteous man will (generally) prosper, and it points to Wilson’s failure to give voice to the Scriptures that observe the prosperity of the evil man and the apparent “victory” of the unrighteous.  Further, he presumes, as he cherry-picks through the Proverbs (something a trained theologian wouldn’t do when establishing a theological point, but which is a favorite tact of Wilson) that the poor are poor largely because of their own doing and that their besetting sin, should they clamor for help or justice, is that of envy.  Wilson rightly notes that the prideful smirk of the privileged man at the top of the ladder is wrong, as would be, if it were truly the case, the envious scowl of the man on the bottom.  From his lofty perch, he sees, and can afford to see, an awful lot of what he presumes to be — since it’s not him — nothing more than sinful envy.

Unfortunately, Wilson’s writing doesn’t give me much hope that he could even recite his phone number without a prideful smirk.  More to the point, his dismissal of the poor and the under-privileged is precisely what illustrates the reality that when white skin, American parentage, and a penis all converge at birth, even to the boy-child born to a poor family, a tremendous manifestation of a fallen world becomes almost immediately evident.  It’s reasonably easy for most people to grasp that girl babies, when not selectively aborted, are considered far less valuable in many countries than boys, but Wilson, steeped in the patriarchy he wrongly wrings from the Scriptures, sees no such gender bias in the U.S. — women, born as they are to benefit from the initiating, “protective” leadership of their husbands.  He does, however, acknowledge that he is a Privileged White Man, anointed in the delivery room for unearned, unrighteous, un-Biblical advantage as soon as the doctor announced he was a boy.

It would be a great day if Wilson recognized not only that certain, specific, and significant privilege is accorded to him because of his skin color, nationality, and sex, but also recognized that societal advantages established on the basis of skin color and sex are sinful.  He’s not “halfway there” in acknowledging that he is, indeed, a man cloaked in white privilege.  He’s several steps behind righteous consciousness because in acknowledging such, he presumes that this advantage, accorded him on the basis of white skin and male genitalia, are entirely themselves in accord with the will of a Righteous God. Wilson isn’t in sin because he’s a white male; he’s in sin because he so readily accepts that skin color and male anatomy are impeccable — sinless, even blessed — attributes used by the Lord whose very Gospel smashes sinful societal divisions of race, gender, and social class. 

Does God work through individual and societal sin?  Certainly; how could he not?  But the man who insists on celebrating the sinful privilege he inherits at birth can’t be an instrument of God’s righteous overturning of principalities and powers.  He sees nothing in need of change; his conscience is informed by the world that beckoned him into the halls of power at birth, and he rather likes the company.

All white men, and especially all white men of power and position, and irrefutably all powerful, privileged white men who call Jesus Lord, have a duty to use what sinful society has crowned them with for the uplifting, empowering, and bettering of those men and women left behind by society — cast off, hobbled, dismissed, and oppressed as the Lord’s “least of these” by the best and brightest.  The man in stormy waters who possesses a sturdy boat doesn’t honor the Sovereign One with the false humility of insensate gratitude — God gives all good things, and isn’t this great for me! — but uses his boat sacrificially to bring ashore those not gifted.  And if that boat was won, as is so often the case, through cooperation with a sticky network of avaricious and foul privilege-bearers, it can still save lives, and should, but accompanied, then, with the splintering grief that unGodly gain ought to cause.

I married a white, American-born man; I’ve raised two more, now 23 and 19.  From the moment I knew I was pregnant with Anthony, my husband and I discussed how to raise sons.  That they would be cloaked with white, male privilege gilded by their birth into a reasonably educated, middle-class family was a given.  And for us, it was also a given that they be raised to be aware — young men who recognized that while it’s a perverted society that bestows unmerited favor on white-skinned testicle-bearers, it’s a Godly man who recognizes that he benefits from injustice and calls on the Lord to use his privilege to lift to stature, security, power, and position others around him.  My kids grew up with scores of Mexican immigrants; they knew that racism and classism privileged them even over the boys, and more so over the girls — not just in Monroe, Washington, but everywhere.  They know, my sons do, that they are not the standard by which all others are measured; they live life in full embrace of the “others,” are entirely comfortable when they’re “the others,” and aren’t burdened by their privilege because they wear it lightly and give of it so freely. 

There’s no guilt, no shame, no sin in being born a white male, just as there’s no original sin on my part because I, as a white woman, have greater unearned, sinful advantages than my sisters born in Mexico, Cambodia, or Ghana.  The guilt is to revel in it.  The shame is to blissfully presume that privilege accorded at birth is one of God’s “good gifts.”  The sin is to rest in, hold tightly to, that privilege while blithely tossing off admonitions and rejoinders about contentedness, laziness, and “envy” to those whose oppression has benefited you.  Wilson loves to repeat the old “privileged guy” chestnut that “he was born on third and thought he hit a triple,” which, he says, is not what privilege means.  But to address the not-privileged, the people perennially marked for second place, by reminding them that if they’re born on first, they ought not clamor for third base, is an example of typical Wilsonian blindness. 

The playing field on which Wilson excels, for which he was born, isn’t level.  It hasn’t been since the history of this country, largely because of the Christian church, and any privilege conferred by gender and race is evidence of that sinfully rutted, weed-choked, swampy, and unplayable field onto which others were born and expected to compete.  To whom much is given, much is expected, the Lord says.  I think he means something more than “much unthinking gratitude and grabbing of all brass rings possible,” and I suspect and pray that will be made clear to Wilson some day. My hope is that it’ll be before he faces a Great White Throne, from which the Judge will demand an account of privileges embraced and celebrated and privileges sacrificed and spent for the good of others. 

I promised to talk about my father, a white man who took the privilege society gave him and used it for good, and that will be in my next post. 

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