Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Role I Play

I have been asking several people along the trip what they think the role of people of privilege is. I ask it, knowing that the term privilege is subjective and perhaps telling of the actual systemic perception of a off-balance, arrogant culture. Still, the question has been one that I have asked several people.

And it's led to some interesting conversation...most of the time frustrating my simple mind, shaking me from my simplistic understandings of the world and its systems.

I hear a guy say, "I aim to make as much money as I can so that I can help give it away to people." I stare at him and wonder if he's serious. And perhaps he is. And perhaps he's goodhearted about it. But I can't help but think people who gather riches are inclined to protect them. Perhaps I am him in more than a few ways. "What good is a poor man to the poor? The Gospel is good news to the poor." I wasn't quite sure what he meant, but he seemed convinced.

I heard a friend say that we as white people in America are not necessarily people of privilege. That perhaps, as some conservatives have suggested in converesations past, the scales are tipped not in our favor. Perhaps the liberals have slighted the common white man.

Is there a marginalized people? I think so. Do I think the poor should be bumped up to middle class, enjoying the things all normal American folks enjoy?

I hope that's not the point. I think the masses could learn something from the working poor...that you don't need everything you want.

But where am I in all this? I am among the richest by the world's standards. Ought I pull a Sidhartha and leave it all? Isn't that what Jesus essentially did? And perhaps what he commanded some folks to do?

Is it a command to all of us? It was for Sidhartha's early disciples.

Or perhaps my question of privilege doesn't have so much to do with money as it has to do with power.

What is the role of a person of power, I could ask. In our globalised world, do I make bigger decisions in the fate of the world than my Thai friends who are fine to live day to day, concerned with their families and country.

Is it American to be concerned with the fate of the rest of the world? A western thing? A Christian thing? A rich, white thing?

Or is it best to avoid money and power at all cost? To go away from the power centers?

My friend Hugh says, "Change yourself and you change the world." He might just be right...or is there more?


Jason Evans said...

We'll have to get some coffee and talk about this when you're in town. It is something I have been asking myself as well. Two things stand out that have been answered back to me:

1 - "Give that power away as often as you can to people who don't have it."

2 - "Tell others like you about this. They will listen to you. They will not listen to me since I do not have the same priviledge and power as you do."

Miss you.

Michael said...

The message of the Kingdom of God is not "You thought it was all about money and power, but I tell you it is all about not having money or power". We do not want to let money and power be the idols that measure us -- and ascribing value to me becaue I am poor is feeding the same idol that ascribes value to me when I am rich.

I like Jason's comment about giving away, but to give away just to give away is to miss the deal. You give away because that's what it means to hang with Jesus. Otherwise its some empty ritual where I give stuff away to the empty space and hope that my karma, or the worlds karma, will magically increase. The cross was not a random act of kindness.

Emma said...

'what good is a poor man to the poor?'

I am not sure what that means either... but it seems Jesus was a lot to the poor whilst being poor.

I guess if the only thing we have to offer people is money, then I think we are in need of some serious self-reflection.

Jason Evans said...

To clarify, Michael, I wasn't speaking of material things as much as opporunity... freedom. Often people of priviledge and opportunity fail to realize the upperhand they have, employing the idea of "just-pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps". It's important for us to acknowledge and let go of those things if it hinges on the oppression of someone else. We aren't free unless we're all free. I agree this has to be done intentionality, not randomly.