Since I published my previous post in which I wrote about being faced with my own privilege and prejudices on a daily basis, I have had so many people ask me, “What should we do about this?” or “Which organisation can we donate money to?” How do we respond in the face of our own privilege?
For a long time my response was one of guilt. Guilt that I have been given so much and others have so little. Guilt that I have unduly benefitted from a system that have taken so much away from others. I spent a long time dealing with that guilt which still pops its head out every now and again. But guilt, as my friend, Christie, said in response to the previous post, is not a productive emotion. In order to rid ourselves of the guilt, our response is very often to donate money to a charity, give away (second hand?) items of clothing, drop a couple of coins in the beggar’s hands or give the car guard R10 instead of R5. Whilst there is not necessarily anything wrong with each of these things, it is what is at the heart of this giving that concerns me. Giving from a place of guilt, rather than a place of compassion, is not the answer. Random acts of kindness, even though we can never underestimate the fact that it can make a significant difference in someone’s life in that moment is not the answer. Besides, privilege in this country is about more than just having more money than others…
I cannot remember who I heard this from, but someone once told me that the true meaning of justice is “right relationship”. Justice is not simply defined by some kind of abstract system involving economics. Justice is not simply “outreach projects” by rich people into poor communities. In a meeting last week, someone made the statement that making the poor our “Christmas Day project” is an insult to them. It is incredibly patronising. It does not set relationships right. Justice means doing things in a way that will set relationships right.* Yes, “outreaches” and “hand-outs” may bring relief, but does it rectify the power dynamics of the relationship between the privileged and the poor? Or does it sustains them? Those who have privilege still remain the “saviours” and the poor still remain victims needing to be “saved” which only serves to perpetuate the privilege in the minds of everyone involved.
Shane Claiborne says,
I had come to see that the great tragedy in the church is not that rich Christians do not care about the poor but that rich Christians do not know the poor.
It is so much easier for those of us who are in privileged positions to give our money or time to a cause or a project than it is to sit down and have a conversation with a poor person. It is easier to donate money to a feeding scheme than it is to visit a poor family and share a meal with them. It is much easier to give the car guard R10, than to take 5 minutes and ask her something about her life.
Nigerian author, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, made the following statement,
While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary
The path to this world in which charity has become unnecessary**, a just society, certainly has economic implications for those of us who are privileged. But perhaps it starts with us sitting down and getting to know the people around us who are in positions of less privilege. In that space, from building those relationships, we come to a place of understanding – understanding our own privilege, understanding the depth and complexity of privilege and it’s impact on this country, as well as understanding the real needs of those who find themselves positions of less (which in fact may be surprisingly different from what we would assume them to be).
So when you are confronted with your own privilege this week (and I hope you will be), rather than merely flicking a coin into a hand, make eye contact and greet the person. Rather than merely dropping a few items of tinned food in the charity trolley at the shop, visit a poor person’s home and share a meal with them.
Here are a few other suggestions that might help:
- Do you have a domestic worker? Or a gardener? Have you been to their home for a visit?
- Instead of having lunch with your colleagues, have lunch with the cleaner at your work place this week.
- Instead of giving the security guard in your road or your complex left overs from supper, go outside and have supper with him or her.
- Sit down with someone in a position of less privilege and ask them about their childhood. (What was their home environment like? Did they have a relationship with their father? Who helped them with their homework? Did they have access to computers (or the internet) growing up? How many people had cars in their family and how did they get to school in the mornings?)
*I believe that the way to right relationship is not paved with feeling sorry for the other person or judging them or making judgment calls on their behalf, but through deep reconciliation with each other and our identity as image bearers of God – being able to see Jesus in the other person and treating the other person accordingly. Would we treat Jesus in a patronising manner…?
**Sounds like heaven doesn’t it?