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Tom Nash

March 15, 2013  2:09am

Whether privileged or unprivileged, we all need Jesus. It's nice to know that a poor, untalented, underprivileged ruffian can become a joint heir with Christ through simple faith. Of course, this simple faith can do the same for a wealthy, talented, privileged snob. The ultimate privilege is becoming a born again adopted child of the living God. All of us fall woefully short of God's glory, yet because of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross we can become God's cherished kids through faith. Sure, those who have been blessed with earthly goods are expected (by God) to give more. Our model is Jesus, who came to serve and give his life as a ransom for many.

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carlene byron

February 23, 2013  4:16pm

We don't talk about privilege because our national myth is that it doesn't exist in the US -- even though a child born in this country is less likely to move up to an income quintile higher than that of their parents than a child born in much of Europe and Latin America. As Christians, we can't afford to talk about privilege because then we'd have to look hard at texts like Deuteronomy 15, where God said that he would provide in such abundance that his people could provide generously to those in need, so there would not have to be any in need -- as long as his people obeyed Him. But, God noted, there would always be those in need. So God offered both the solution and the reality in just a few verses. An obedient people of God would always be lifting up those who needed a hand; the people of God would never be obedient; as a result there would always be those God had blessed who enjoyed privilege and held it to themselves. A sad picture of God's people through all times, I'm afraid.

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Grady Walton

February 14, 2013  9:09am

My brother-in-law is an attractive man. (No, I am not coming out of the closet . . . I’m not even in the closet.) He looks more like a blonde-haired surfer than the owner of a landscaping company. But tell me, ladies, if you had to choose a landscaper to remodel your yard would you pick the gruff middle-age guy sporting a pot-belly and a bald head or the gorgeous sandy-haired dude with a disarmingly laid-back personality? I’m just saying. Anyhow, when our President uttered his infamous “you didn’t build that” campaign jab at successful Americans, it rankled a tender nerve for many. Why? Because wired into our DNA is the uniquely American legend of poor immigrants who came here to make a fortune through hard work and persistence. It is the ideal that America is a place where a person is not doomed to their status through birth. I know such stories of success are true, but in reality there is more to the magic formula of success than hard work and putting in long hours. A woman born with physical beauty has an advantage, but so does a person born with a personality type that helps them form relationships with key individuals. Some skills are developed, others are due to privilege. How should Christians treat the sensitive subject of privilege? We can reject envy and do the best we can with the cards we were dealt. We can recognize that bragging about our hard work and persistence is vanity. Being born with a privilege is one thing, but Christians should be cognizant of the difference between a God-given privilege and a man-made privilege such as nepotism and favoritism.

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Brint Keyes

February 07, 2013  9:00am

Thanks for a great article, Caryn. Esther, I think you point out a salient and important phenomenon (the arbitrariness of social values), but I don't believe it negates Caryn's analysis. The truth is, EVERY society chooses physical traits that it admires or lifts up as "superior." You write "Being created white is not a privilege. Society has awarded value to that physical attribute." But that's precisely the point. In popular US culture today (and even moreso in the past), being created white IS a privilege, because it automatically confers a greater level of power and desirability than what people of other races enjoy. Social privilege is, by definition, determined by the dominant culture. Those who happen to be born with traits that the culture (arbitratily) values are, as Caryn points out, the beneficiaries of certain blessings, though they've done nothing to merit those blessings. The Christian's responsibility in these circumstances is to acknowledge this grace.

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Esther Cow

February 01, 2013  6:32pm

Hi Caryn, I think you missed the point with Cameron Russell's Ted Talks. I feel that you fail to address a very important point that the model was making in her presentation. The privilege she experiences is because of a culture that has taken her whiteness (which one would argue is merely a biological trait etc.) and ascribed a certain value to it. This is not a God-given value but a value that we as society have placed on whiteness in terms of what is considered the standard of beauty. Why don't you directly address and unpack this socially constructed privilege? Being created white is not a privilege. Society has awarded value to that physical attribute. How can Christians address it? Secondly, Ms. Russell provides an example of using her beauty to get out of a speeding ticket. Is that good privilege or bad privilege? Is it morally right for 'beautiful' people to get a free pass? I don't think you dug deep enough.

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Mark Neuenschwander

January 31, 2013  1:13pm

Great article. Makes me think of how God forewarned his people before entering the promised land. Deuteronomy 8:17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today.

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Adam Shields

January 30, 2013  10:21am

As with most discussions of privilege, it is hard to have the conversation if the people having it do not have a diverse enough experience to understand that people get different results from similar amounts of work. I grew up in a home that valued education, encouraged me to read and even if they didn't pay for my education they supported me as they could. I know have a pair of graduate degrees. I live a good life without a lot of physical labor. I am not overworked. I have choices about what I want to do. I consult with an after school program that has a gang war happening the past few weeks outside its doors. 10 people have been shot, four of them killed. Of the 3 three have been current or former members of the after school program and one of the killed was a recent high school grad from the program that had just gotten a good job training program. My point is that it is easy to suggest privilege doesn't exist when you aren't getting shot on the way to and from school.

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Nancy Lee

January 29, 2013  6:55pm

I have had to explain certain kinds of privilege to my children already -- the privilege they have of being raised in a home that values books and learning, and the privilege of the good minds God has given them. School comes easily to them, and I want to make sure they give credit where it's due -- as well as compliment them when they work hard. Not every child has access to books, even in our city with its excellent library -- if their parents don't take them there, it may as well not exist. If we have trouble acknowledging the concept of privilege, it's usually because we are part of the privileged group. Ask any friend from a different ethnic group -- every single one of my friends of color has multiple stories about being harassed in stores, being pulled over, hearing racial slurs, etc. And those incidents are the overt ones that are measurable -- things such as not being considered for promotion, not being considered for scholarships, etc. are much harder to measure.

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Christian Lawyer

January 29, 2013  6:45pm

I think Caryn is right that "it's in denying privilege and blessing that I really make it all about me." But, I don't think we fear talking about privilege because we believe it's self-centered. I think it's hard to admit it ISN'T all our own doing and we are sometimes clueless to understand how so much of what we take for granted doesn't exist for everyone. A friend and I sometimes co-cook dinner for friends. First time was at my house. I put the food in my best serving pieces out on the table. As we sat, my friend stood, took each dish, served everyone a portion, and returned the empty dishes to the kitchen. That seemed oddly bad mannered. Shouldn't he have let everyone "help themselves" to however much or little they wanted? There was plenty! Plus, leave my pretty bowls out to be seen! It took me awhile to realize that "help yourself" and "leftovers" were manners/habbits that assumed abundance, but dividing food among guests to see they got enough was a habit born of scarcity.

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DiverCity Jones

January 29, 2013  4:03pm

Nah, Jack Ratekin, I just reject egalitotalitarianism. And, rather than a belief that God has blessed me with my station in life, evolution of a decidedly non-teleological bent informs my conception of my place in the world. And ever so shall it be.

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Jack Ratekin

January 29, 2013  2:52pm

Divercity points out how privilege is perceived by the privileged: "We are normal and decent. we deserve our blessings. You, however, are neither. That's why God gave us the money and the power, and you get what spills from our table."

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Karen Smith

January 29, 2013  2:23pm

@DiverCity Jones - Again you pray for Odin (aka Woden, aka Wotan)'s aid. Toss it out? No. But at the same time, it shouldn't be assumed that it's been the same for "thousands and thousands of years", either. Proverbs 31 describes a worthy woman: A hard working, business owning, practical woman that refuses to be a man's arm candy. That certainly wasn't the description we had last century! Even now, people rail against the idea of allowing women to work out of the home when they have children. You don't need to make everything "normal" suspect; rather, we should be called to suspect why it is considered "normal", and reject the notion of "abnormal" being "bad". Christian's aren't called to be "normal"! We're called to be "Christ-like", which is certainly abnormal - humans are normally selfish, jealous and violent. We're called to rise above that, and to show others how to do the same.

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DiverCity Jones

January 29, 2013  2:04pm

Oh yawn. Yes, everything that people believed about men and women for thousands and thousands of years is casually tossed out the window and relegated to antiquated notions of gender privilege, white privilege, or hetero privilege. Everything normal must be made suspect, everything decent made somehow unclean (you know, “under the surface"; it’s there even if you can’t see it!), everything healthy made into an excuse for some malcontent’s disaffection. Save me, Wotan, from this insanity that infects the western mind. It's surely ascendant, and yet I can foresee its downfall, destruction and utter ruin!

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Tim Fall

January 29, 2013  1:44pm

Caryn, thanks for pointing out that everything we have is an indication of God's blessings, and I'd say that it starts anew each moment with the very breath we presently breathe. Looks, smarts, strength are all prized one way or another. Sure a supermodel has to work hard at success, but the basic qualification of looking like a model is something that precludes most of us from even entering that work force no matter how hard we may work at it. Same goes with intelligence for other professions, and strength for still others, etc. It's only by God's grace that any of us can do anything. And it's only by his grace that we can do so for his glory as well. Cheers, Tim P.S. On models, etc., and how God sees us: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/seeing-me-for-who-i-really-am/ )

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Karen Smith

January 29, 2013  12:48pm

(...cont. from below) I, personally, AM a self-made woman (almost literally!) - mostly. My wife is self-employed, and has a booming business (busy enough that she's considering hiring help). I'm a high school dropout, a college dropout, and I work in a field where that's considered impossible by most people. I'll probably have a 7 figure income by the time I retire. And you know what I ascribe it to? The fact that my father was well known in the field. The fact that God saw to it that my resume made it to the right person at the right time - I had mailed it to a completely different company. The fact that I survived to be an adult through the support of the government and legal restrictions that allowed my parents to keep their home through bankruptcies brought on by three major surgeries I had. I started out lower-middle-class, I'm currently in the top 20% and I should be in the top 5% before I pass away... and yet, other still suffer lack needlessly.

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Karen Smith

January 29, 2013  12:38pm

As for boot-strapping Americans, very few Americans I know are actually all that boot-strapping. Yes, there are absolutely those that grow up in poor neighborhoods, manage to get out of them and make some money. That's bootstrappy! Going from a family that was dirt poor (or close to it) to being moderately wealthy, on one's own power, is amazing. But that's not the common truth about building a business. The common story is a person with middle class roots (most likely of European descent, since a higher percentage of Europeans are in upper brackets) that goes to college, gets a degree, pays off their debt, and starts a business. Alternatively, it's a story of a person that doesn't go to college, gets a job via connections with wealthy and/or well-established people, starts a business with a loan (from family or otherwise), and manages to make it a success via the connections they have. (It also ignores God, but that's another matter...) (cont.)

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Karen Smith

January 29, 2013  12:30pm

Here's a prayer that I think we can all get behind: "Lord, please open the eyes of those that run the Christianity Today website, and give them the knowledge they need to provide us with formatting tools. Amen. (First world problems, right?)

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Karen Smith

January 29, 2013  12:29pm

@DiverCity Jones - if you're praying to Odin, I think you're on the wrong blog. As for white privilege being a thing - it really is. I haven't (myself) experienced issues with white privilege, but I know those who have. What I have experienced is cis-, hetero-, and male-privileged issues. See, I started life looking like a guy. I grew up believing I was a guy. I *got married* believing I was a guy. In the three years since I came out (publicly) as a woman, I have been asked for "one of the ****" (a person that holds my position), even when I've already identified myself as one - I work in a male-dominated field, and he didn't believe me. I've had people refuse to disclose information generally releasable to spouses under HIPAA, because they refused to acknowledge that we were still married. And I've had people deny me access to female-only events and call me freak, because of my medical history.

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DiverCity Jones

January 29, 2013  12:19pm

Oh Odin, deliver us from the stupid leftist meme of white privilege that is so fashionable these days.

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Jack Ratekin

January 29, 2013  11:10am

I don't think it's all that hard to "unpack" the privileges received by a white male senator from Wisconsin.

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Gina Dalfonzo

January 29, 2013  11:00am

"Of course, there's a reason we don't tend to accept our privileges. We risk appearing arrogant or self-centered." Very good point, Caryn. I've noticed that lately, "privilege" is used like a dirty word. It seems to carry with it the connotation that anyone who has it is evil. No wonder we're afraid to talk about it or acknowledge that we might have it. Thank for a good, thought-provoking piece.

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Jordyn Lindon

January 29, 2013  9:44am

I like this article, and I think that the topic of privilege is one that is important for us as Christians and people in general to discuss. However, I am a little wary of the fact that the author seems to compare the privilege of being a "tall, thin, blonde woman" or a "white man" to God given talents. Although I do not think that the author meant it that way, some people could take it that being blonde and white are God given privileges (over being Black, Hispanic, or Asian) rather than advantages gained from years of discrimination and prejudice. So, although I applaud the author for foraying into this topic, I would caution her to be careful in making these inadvertent correlations, and to make it clear that white privilege is not the same as God given talents. :)

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