By birth, I am a cis, hetero, white man. By choice, I am a Christian. I see a lot of people that look like me angry about their lot in life right now. I know that these feelings rise up once every four years in everyone because of the presidential election, but that doesn’t make it any easier to see.
I don’t often think about the cis, hetero, white male part of my identity. Part of my privilege is that I don’t have to. Those parts of my identity are not under attack by anyone; my body is not in danger due to prejudices against my skin, or my sexuality, or my gender.
I do think a lot about that last identifier — the Christian one — a lot, though. And it’s that identifier that helps me understand what I’m supposed to do with all that privilege I take for granted.
What am I supposed to do? I’m supposed to give it up.
Why? Because it is quite literally what Jesus would do.
I went to a Christian college. I can’t say I recommend it, and I can’t say I can’t recommend it, either. To say I’m conflicted about it is an understatement. Hell, I started a podcast [and this site, natch] to try and work out my feelings about it in public. But here’s one thing I will always be thankful for, and it won’t make sense until a bit later:
I spent a long time learning to read the Philippian Hymn in Greek.
The Philippian Hymn refers to a passage in the second chapter (of four, it’s a short book) of the Book of Philippians, one of the letters the Apostle Paul wrote that is included in the New Testament. Some scholars believe it is an early testament of faith that was declared by the first Christians.
Here it is, in full:
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in very nature[a] God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
Keep in mind this is the Christ that all Christians claim to serve. But this is not the Christ that is presented to the overall culture, and often not by white men.
This Christ didn’t seek power. Or seek to keep power. Rather, this Christ was power, and gave it up. Godhood and authority wasn’t the goal; “it was not something to be used to his own advantage.”
It goes on.
Christ made himself nothing, and took the nature of a servant, became human, and died.
This person at the center of the Christian faith, who was not white (we cannot claim that with a straight face), had the ultimate privilege — godhood! — and gave it up.
How could I be expected to do anything less?
I know that this is easy to say. And come on, let’s be practical: what does ‘giving up privilege’ really look like? Here are a few ideas I’ve had:
- Don’t expect the world to owe you anything for being male,
- Or white,
- Or Christian.
- Don’t expect your opinion to matter “more” than anyone else’s.
- Respect other people.
- Stand up for other people’s right to voice their opinions and perspectives.
- Lend them support, but don’t try and talk for them.
- Shut up and listen.
- Pay attention.
- Be like Christ and find a way to serve people.
If you’re looking for a text to proof-text from, let it be this one.
So. White, cisgender, hetero, Christian men like me still have a lot of power and privilege in the world. And we can feel it waning, as the power becomes more evenly distributed.
The Christlike thing is to give the rest of that power up of our own volition.