On the Journey

ncZ1nK6I spent this past weekend thinking about being white. And I wasn’t alone. I joined some 40 InterVarsity students and staff exploring what it means to be white. We spent some 36 hours learning about white culture and how we engage others a multiethnic world.

And, along the way, we talked about white privilege.

Whenever I’m a part of group of people talking about privilege, be it white privilege or male privilege, there’s always some degree of wrestling that happens. That’s particularly true when it’s someone’s first exposure to the idea of privilege. There’s struggle. Maybe there’s pushback. There’s denial. There’s guilt. Then, occasionally, there’s repentance. And hope. And a commitment to justice. A willingness to learn. And perhaps a million more responses.

All of this got me thinking…could there be a pattern of response as men engage the idea of male privilege? I’ve been bringing this content to people enough now to think that maybe there is. Here’s one draft path or pattern:

1. Blissful naïveté. This is where we start as American men. We’re are happily unaware that there is a problem, or that we are the beneficiaries of a biased system.

2. Paradigms challenged. Something happens to press our naive view of how the world works, and we experience dissonance. Perhaps this happens when we read data on cultural gender disparity. Or maybe it happens when a female friend shares their pain-soaked experience in the patriarchal church. Or, like two weeks ago at Fresno Pacific University, perhaps this happens when a guy like me gets on a mic and flat-out calls students to consider their male privilege.

3. Denial and distancing. No one likes to be told they have privilege. Or that the world is biased in their favor. So usually there is some degree of pullback that occurs. We say, “that simply can’t be true.” Or, “Well, I’m not that way.” Or, “That may be true for others, but that’s not my reality.” Let’s face it, new things are tough to absorb.

4. Second encounter. Or maybe third. Or possibly fourth. But the idea is that the topic of privilege comes around again, and there is another chance to respond. Men are once more offered the opportunity to wrestle with the concept of privilege.

From this second encounter, two paths diverge.

5a. Shutdown. “It doesn’t fit.” “It won’t fit.” “It’s part of some liberal PC agenda.” “I’m done with it.” The person shuts down and dismisses the teaching. I’ve seen it happen too often for my liking, and, when it happens, it’s a tragedy.

5b. Pressing in. After the second encounter, the man takes a learner’s posture. Lots of questions. Lots of learning. Lots of observing culture with a critical eye. Lots of seeking to see the world through another’s eyes. Over time, a continual pattern of pressing in results in things like healthy inter-gender partnerships, empowerment and advocacy.

It’s from the perspective of race and ethnicity, but I think this post, by a Fresno pastor named Brad Bell, captures the essence of this journey.

For now I’ll call this a draft, and I welcome your thoughts!

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