| Chase Tibbs |
The western hills of Pennsylvania were a wonderful place to grow up. I spent the first eighteen years of my life loved and supported by people who invested deeply in me. Some of you will undoubtedly resonate with my story. Some of you will not. Because, what I did not recognize were the other factors that played into my life. I did not see the privileges that brought my goals into closer reach.
In awakening to my privilege, I can’t say as soon as I realized it I was very comfortable with it. In fact, I’m still not. To be male, to be white, to be heterosexual, to be Protestant Christian, to be born into a middle class family, to be American; to say that these parts of me (and I say parts) are major influences of where I am today would not have made sense to me when I was growing up.
Why would being a male give me more opportunity, more freedom, more power than if I was female? Why would being white bring me a level of privilege that is not offered to people of color? Being romantically involved with the opposite sex, to be Protestant as opposed to Catholic, Christian and not Muslim, middle class and not lower class, to be influenced by Western culture more so than Eastern; why would any of this make living easier for me while making living more difficult, if not unbearable, for others?
Being born into a life of abundant privilege was not my intention. I was not thinking to my platonic, pre-this-world-self, “When I’m born I want to have access to things and people and opportunities and wealth and security that few people who are born will ever have.” There was no conscious choice to be born where and to whom I was born. But almost twenty-four years ago today, I did begin to make choices that brought me benefit.
I chose to accept the clothes my parents could afford to buy - the warm clothes in the winter, the stylish clothes in the summer. I chose to apply for leadership opportunities in my community and throughout the country, and accepted the time and attention these opportunities provided. I accepted the money my parents were able to give me for college and the help with the 0% interest loan on my car. I selected between the numerous job opportunities consistently available to me, including internships my connections presented.
I accepted all of these opportunities, these benefits, these privileges, unaware it was often at the expense of others.
Privilege is not to bring shame. The awareness of privilege should be difficult and uncomfortable, challenging us in what we do with our privilege, but it is not a reality that necessitates shame. I cannot rid myself of waking up every day in a world where masculinity, heterosexuality, a particular religion, a specific race, is valued more so than others. I cannot reject my privilege and deny the benefits given to me without choice.
I can, however, utilize my privilege in a way that is not just beneficial for me. I can live in a way that uses my abundant privilege to bless others and bring others opportunities that would never have been accessible before. This is the responsibility, the challenge, the call, for persons who benefit from privilege in any way, shape or form: To bless others. I can choose to channel the benefits of my privilege toward bringing opportunity and power to those who have been kept from accessing such power.
The conversation of privilege is not a conversation about or for one person. This is a conversation for everyone about the way human beings relate to one another, societal systems and the entirety of the cosmos. We cannot do this alone. We need each other and we must deeply listen to one another. Privilege bestows upon us the responsibility to listen and respond in ways that benefit all, rather than the few.
Particularly coming from a Christian perspective, a way of being centered in love for my neighbor has opened my eyes to my privilege and calls me to make freedom a reality for all of God’s creation. I could refuse, but I pray my life is an acceptance of a life lived for the freedom and blessing of all.
May you use what you have to bless all of God’s good and wonderful creation.