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Privilege and Power

Sydney opera house


I can’t stop thinking about my privilege lately. It’s been a growing revelation for a good portion of my adult life, but everything was quickened this year at the onset of the global pandemic.

As I watched Australia beautifully handle the unfolding of the Coronavirus and manage to keep our case load numbers extremely low, (note, I said ‘beautifully,’ not perfectly), I couldn’t help but think there was nowhere else in the world I would feel safer. Even aside from the pandemic, we enjoy incredible privilege.

My family and I live in (arguably) one of the most stunning cities in the world with everything you could want in a colorful, eclectic neighborhood within a thriving urban setting, complete with spectacular beaches a few minutes away.

We have access to world class education, health care, social services, government support, goods and services, libraries, reliable public transportation, job opportunity, cutting edge research and development, a robust arts community, plenty of competitive and leisure sport, national parks surrounding our entire city on all sides, and the freedom to worship however we choose.

Australia’s nick name—The Lucky Country—is no accident. We really are “hashtag, blessed.”

It’s easy for us to see headlines announcing instances of overt racial inequality and feel like it’s not our problem. After all, we’re fairly ‘evolved’ as a people, aren’t we? All of our adult citizens can vote and marry. Even our non citizens can access education and health services. We pride ourself on being a nation of immigrants, culturally diverse in language, food, custom, religion, and more. (Even Americans like me have been welcomed to settle here.) Clearly we’re so evolved.

And yet we’re not.

Deep within the center of us is the propensity to look out for our own and to shun the image of God—the imago Dei*—within our fellow human beings. I am not exempt. Nor are you.

Humans have been shunning the imago Dei in other humans since time immemorial, and we certainly didn’t stop when we settled in “new” nations. (You can ask your indigenous friends how well that’s gone for them.) We didn’t stop when we made strides like some of the great movements of modern times: abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, marriage equality, and others. (Indigenous Australians weren’t afforded the right to vote in all states and territories of the Commonwealth of Australia until 1967; they weren’t even counted as people until the census of 1971.)

We are not evolved—not in the “arrived” sense of the word anyway—just perhaps more clever at hiding behind the various privileges we have been afforded.

This brings us to George.

Yesterday I made myself watch all the way to the end of the video of George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police officer and his coworkers in the USA. I didn’t want to; it was hugely uncomfortable. But I did because I realize it’s my privilege that even allows me to look away in the first place. It’s my privilege to not recognize that this is happening every day in numbers too high to count away from the watchful eye of iPhones and social media. It’s in our schools, our governments, our churches, our service industries, our scientific communities, our health care systems, our judicial systems, our correctional facilities, our homes, our hearts.

George Floyd’s family can’t look away from what has happened so why should I be able to?

George deserves to be humanized. His family deserves to be listened to. Generations of his people deserve to be taken seriously. Suffering deserves the dignity of recognition.

This is what the margins have been trying to tell us for so long: see your privilege, hear our cry, repent.

It’s easy for me to see there are systemic injustices in need of dismantling. I can be dismayed by the problems of war or poverty or corruption or greed. It’s much harder for me to see all the ways I’ve been complicit in the systems around me, perhaps due to privilege, lack of knowledge or exposure, willful ignorance, or the fear of what it says about me if I admit that I, too, might have my own forms of racism to reckon with.

You don’t have to wave a confederate flag or get a swastika tattoo to be racist. All you really have to do is say, “not my problem.” (Whether this is uttered aloud or under your breath is irrelevant.)

Because this is your problem. It’s my problem.

This is our problem and it’s not going away.

Anger and sorrow aren’t enough so what are you doing that’s constructive? No seriously, share with me. I want to hear. How will you address the attitudes and behaviors and biases in your life toward black people, First Nations people, Muslims, LGBTQI+ people, Asians, differently-abled people, the economically disadvantaged, the uneducated, the undocumented, the elderly?

How will you use your privilege and power to listen, learn, and do better?


*Note: Imago Dei is a Latin theological term, applied uniquely to humans, which denotes the relation between God and humanity. Christians profess to be believe that every human carries the imago Dei—the “image of God” regardless of age, gender, race, or religion.

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