The Four Stages of Owning Your Privilege

I want to do a three-part post about: Privilege, Twitter backlash from my book, and a strange saying from Jesus.

First, a word about owning your privilege.

owning your privilege

Last year I wrote this post reflecting on how being the recipient of privileges in life is like wearing different types of glasses. And each pair of glasses reduces and restricts the way I see the world. When I do the work of understanding and educating myself on other's experiences, when I listen to the marginalized and the discriminated and I become aware of my own privilege, it's like removing pairs of glasses. The effect being that I can now see a more full, detailed, and nuanced image of the world around me.

In my case, I am the owner of several pairs of privilege glasses. For instance, I'm a straight, white, cis-het, middle class male. The past decade of my life has been a long journey of developing awareness around this, and listening and learning from those who don't share in my privilege. 

I ended that post with these words:

The more I am aware of these glasses I wear–glasses that I did not earn but that were given to me simply by being born–the more I can make conscious decisions to remove them.

And the more I remove them, the more dimensions I see.

And the larger the world becomes.

And the more expansive my heart becomes.

And the more empowered I am to work towards building a world where all people have equal access to rights and a fair shot at opportunity.

So as best as I can tell, from studying the reality of privilege, there are four stages of development when it comes to owning your privilege:

Step 1) AWARENESS: accept that you might have privilege in certain areas. Educate yourself on what that means. Step 2) LISTEN: intentionally hear the stories and experiences of those who do not have your privilege. Step 3) SIT: let the reality of steps one and two sink in. Let them impact you. Let them undo you. Let them change you. Step 4) ACT: take the privilege you have been given and use it on behalf of others. Use it to work for a more just and equitable world.

Each step is important, but also the transition from one step to another isn't always obvious or clean. And sometimes you have to go backwards and listen more, or gain more awareness. And sometimes--when considering intersectionality--you might be just learning about economic privilege while at the same time you're sitting with the stories of racial injustice you've been learning about recently, all while doing activist work for LGBTQ equality.

Point being, though I've reduced it to four steps, it's really not that clean and simple.

And in my experience, there will always be people who think you should be at a different step than where you might think you should be. They might observe you trying to work out from Step 4 in your life and say, "you really need to stop and just listen," or they might not think you're doing anything and say, "when are you going to start using your platform, your influence, to fight for others less fortunate than you?"

And I get it. It's messy. Not everyone can know all the dimensions of your life. Not everyone knows how much work and education and listening you've done (or haven't done).

The truth is, you can always do more of steps 1 thru 3. For someone like myself, who has a ton of privilege, there is so much to learn. So much to try and understand. So much to just sit with.

And often times I'm guilty of rushing from step 1 to step 4. I like doing stuff. I like taking action. Whether it's trying to "fix" things in my marriage, or "solve" a problem at church, I am prone to skipping over the listening part and fly past the sitting-with-the-discomfort-of-it-all.

Just let me do some stuff!! I can help!! my inner voice constantly shouts.

So I know that's an area I need to work on.

But the two main points I want to make in this post are,

First, that there are different stages of development when it comes to being conscious of your own privilege. Eventually the hope is that you would use your privilege, yes--not for your own gain but for the benefit of others. But before you start that endeavor, it's incredibly important to listen and to sit.

Second, moving through those stages is clunky. And inevitably there will be those who think you're doing it wrong (and listen up, because maybe you are!).

In the next post, I want to talk about the only negative backlash I've received on Twitter so far from my book, UnClobber: Rethinking Our Misuse of the Bible on Homosexuality.

Clearly, someone thinks I have no business being in Step 4.