Christians should rise above identity politics
Regular contributor James Knight feels that people should be treated and valued as unique individuals, rather than allowing their membership of any ethnic (or any other) group to take precedence.
London is caught up in fractious Black Lives Matter (BLM) demonstrations, and social media is awash with people targeting what they call 'white privilege', 'male privilege' and the 'patriarchy'. It's almost impossible to turn on the TV or have an account on social media and not to have encountered some hysterical assertion that if you're white and male you somehow have an advantage to laud over minorities.
Just this week, in the midst of BLM taking to the streets in mass demonstrations, I've had three friends message me privately and tell me that right now they are feeling judged for the colour of their skin even though they have always tried to be kind, tolerant and opposed to all forms of racial hatred.
Instead of using a term like 'white privilege', I think there is a better way to look at this situation. I hate racism as much as the next person, and wholly support all efforts to combat it, so I hope you'll hear my good intentions when I tell you that I don't think looking at individuals through the lens of the particular group identity you perceive them to be part of (white, black, male, female, straight, gay) over and above their identity as an individual is the best way to treat humans.
I don't think we are at our best when we engage in identity politics. In a world of 7.5 billion unique people, the primary consideration of any person has to be at the individual level above all else. Groups of people of any category are a diverse set of individuals far more than they are a group, and people who see the world through the hostile lens of identity politics cannot easily love people as individuals, because they see the individuals through the lens of the perceived in-group or out-group, not the group as being comprised of individuals worthy of love and self-determination.
Even if you're right that someone has 'privilege' because they are white or male, or even if it's true that they are part of an ethnic group that historically committed acts that contemporary folk rightly find abhorrent, there is still, I think, a better way to treat them than to lump them into an artificially constructed 'out-group' where their individuality gets diluted in the collective wash.
The idea of using the term 'privilege' as a weapon against someone being white or male or part of a patriarchy is actually deluded and reprehensible - it comes right up from the bowels of critical incompetence, and it will turn us into rogues if we are not careful.
The human race is complex, and because there are all sorts of advantages and disadvantages based on countless criteria - intelligence, sex, geography, personality, size, looks, genes, age, and several more - I think humans do each other a grave disservice when they talk of 'white privilege' and try to make white people feel uneasy about their whiteness on the basis that racism exists.
Tell the white boy who is currently under 25, lives with his parents, anxious, unemployed, depressed, addicted to porn and in an abject state of inertia that he has white privilege - I'm sure he can feel it really acutely right now. Tell the thousands of white Christians being persecuted in Muslim countries that they enjoy white privilege.
The truth is, when any tribalistic force gravitates together, the humans involved have been pretty dreadful to each other - white on white, white on black, black on black and black on white - there have been European atrocities, American atrocities, Mongol atrocities, Ottoman atrocities, Persian atrocities, Arab atrocities, Ancient Egyptian atrocities, the list goes on. The biggest truth here is that, except for certain biological limitations, there are no good or bad qualities that are uniquely attributable to any group identity - be they male, female, black, white, European, African, Asian, or any other - and it is ignoble to try to tar any group with any kind of collective guilt.
Finding our individuality in Christ
Instead of 'privilege', I think using the term 'advantage' is better - it's less emotionally connotative. It is an advantage being born in London, comparatively to Mogadishu. It is a disadvantage being born severely disabled in England compared to being able-bodied in England. If you are born in Mogadishu and born severely disabled, that's a double disadvantage. But the upshot is, there are actually countless (literally countless) ways to measure advantage in the human species, because everyone perceives the world differently enough for those differences to matter, and similarly enough for the similarities to matter - and there are an infinite number of ways to perceive reality and all its complexity.
The differences between women and men are such that both males and females will have advantages over the other - but the intra-differentials between the set of all women, or all men, or all white people, or all black people, or all gay people, or all straight people, or all bisexual people is going to be far greater than any kind of group identity differential. I've said all this not to perpetuate further division, but to explain that I think anyone who sees the world narrowly in terms of group identity and seeks to pit one against the other or foster resentment towards other groups is missing the most rewarding element of being human - the sovereignty and worth of the individual as an agent of value.
Christianity means many good things for humans - and one of its best qualities is that it is the great vanquisher of unfair prejudice, and the great purveyor of personal responsibility, autonomous agency, and individual sovereignty over the in-group mentality.
You're an individual member of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:25-28, 1 Peter 4:10-11). The only Biblical mandate for group categorisation is between those who are saved and those who are not (1 Peter 2:9). As Galatians 3:28 makes clear, there are no other conditions under which God's creatures should be judged according to distinguishable group identities that are outside of their control - "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."
We are all one in Christ, we are all equally forgiven sinners under the love and grace of our Lord Jesus, yet we are all uniquely made individuals. When I think about all the elements that make up my self-identity, I find that I am numerous things all at once: I'm a man, a son, a Christian, a manager, an employee, a writer, a weight trainer, a cousin, a libertarian, a Darwinian, a Humean, a Jungian, an egalitarian, a white person, a tall person, the list goes on.
Unless we treat each other as though our individuality, our feelings and our unique personhood take primacy over any shared characteristics we have in common with others, we are not being fully appreciated for the whole essence of our distinct self, and we can't thrive as well as uniquely created people of God with a distinct purpose and an exceptional individuality.
This article is a shortened version of an article I have published in my Philosophical Muser blog post entitled Why It’s Time To Bring An End To Terms Like ‘White Privilege’, ‘Male Privilege’ & ‘The Patriarchy’ – which can be read in full by clicking here.
Image by Patrick Behn from Pixabay.com
James Knight is a local government officer based in Norwich, and is a regular columnist for Christian community websites Network Norfolk and Network Ipswich. He also blogs regularly as ‘The Philosophical Muser’, and contributes articles to UK think tanks The Adam Smith Institute and The Institute of Economic Affairs, as well as the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC).
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