a proper response to privelege and inequality?

Keith and I have been conversing in the comments of last week’s Has Obama’s election fulfilled Dr King’s Dream? post.  I want to move a portion of Keith’s latest comment to this post for your consideration.

But I had trouble coming up with why the systemic inequalities are my fault or up to me to fix (or become aware). I’m not a policy maker. I don’t have a sphere of influence as do “the privileged.” If I become aware of these inequalities, what can I do? I still believe that someone has to take responsibility but perhaps there has to be a “privileged” person to help the ones who are making the effort. A handout won’t solve systemic inequalities but maybe a handout to someone who wants to overcome the obstacles and is willing to work hard at it.

I know this sounds very arrogant (one of the many sins I regularly confess). Please disregard my sin and focus on the question. I’m truly trying to understand.

I don’t find Keith’s comments arrogant, rather I think he’s tapped into something that many of us wonder about.  I have a few initial thoughts to the “what can I do?” question, but I’d prefer to hear from other readers  first.  How do you respond to Keith’s question? Are these issues (privilege, inequality and a proper response) things you have wondered about?

Please chime in (charitably).  And to those of you who generally refrain from contributing your perspective: this would be a great time to let us know your thoughts.

I’m off to day 2 of my theology class, but hope to get back to this later today or tomorrow.

8 thoughts on “a proper response to privelege and inequality?

  1. Hi Dave – saw your request on facebook. I hope things are well with you.
    Inequality is a fact of life and is pretty way laid out in Eccl. Knowledge becomes either responsibility or negligence. We live in a country that allows us to find or own labour.

    8 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him—for this is his lot.

  2. Keith,

    That is a great question, but I kind of find it to be a little off. I did not read the context that this quote was pulled out of, but I can assure you that you do live a privileged life (as do I) to at least some degree (for instance, you are a male, you have access to a computer, and for each extra item you can check off, you have an extra layer of fortitude: h.s. education? college? American? middle class? regularly employed? professional? white?). As to what you can do about that — and now I will assume that you are a Christian — we are commanded to love our neighbor. Love God, love neighbor. Those are the fulfillment of the law. Everything else flows from that. Not from US of A ethics, but from Kingdom of God ethics first.

    As far as “What can I do?” The sky is the limit. You can sell all of your possessions and give them to the poor. Maybe another question is, “How do I go about finding what I should do?” I tend to believe that the answer for that lies in community. Find out what is wrong, who is being wronged, how you can help someone, in what manner, how can you give a cup of water to the imprisoned, offer healing or help to the mistreated, and always, always, observing and listening first to the pleas and plights of the oppressed. it’s a pretty big and hurting world, I’m sure you’ll find plenty to keep you occupied. If you can’t find it around there, you can move down here with us in Logan Square. We’ll put you to work. 😉

  3. itsben,

    I’m not sure what you’re getting at there. That’s a pretty bleak verse, to be honest. I understand the connection between working and eating, but there is a vast swath of people (say, ex-cons) who are virtually NOT allowed to even work. And now that the economy is sinking, there are many more who cannot, not just will not. Please forgive me if I’m being un-Christlike in the bluntness of my response, or if I read you wrong. I do not mean to offend.

  4. jas dye: The original context is “How does a person of privilege come to see the systemic inequalities built into our nation” that result in MLK Jr.’s dream not being fulfilled? I acknowledge I’m privileged. I recognize there are systemic inequalities. What can I (or you, or the other readers) do about these inequalities once we become aware of them. At my “level of privilege,” I don’t think I can change the system. The question seems to be pointed more to the “privileged” who have great wealth and influence. But I’m open to learning.

  5. so, your question would be along the lines of “How do I help to change the system that unfairly privileges some while disenfranchising others?” Am I hearing that right, Keith?

    As a partial answer to that, I would suggest that no individual at any “level of privilege” or influence can change the system. So what we do, we do as a body – or we fail.

  6. Jas Dye beat me to the punch on this one. I cannot think about addressing these types of issues without thinking about the role of the community. This doesn’t mean individuals shouldn’t respond. We should. But the choices we make on an individual level can be seen as spiritual disciplines: we choose love, justice and sacrifice whether or not we can see the results of these choices. As Christian individuals we make these choices because they reflect the Holy Spirit in us as well as the ethic of God’s coming Kingdom.

    Communities of people, on the other hand, have a more “realistic” chance at doing something about inequality. The community is able to embody the Kingdom in ways individuals simply cannot. As such, these communities- it seems to me- are able to affect change through their influence. I think of churches who are giving significant money to fund micro-loans. Or neighborhood organizations that advocate for equal housing. Or the (more difficultly measured) acts of generosity from one member of the community to another in these economic times- acts that may keep someone from homelessness.

    The community is my starting point when I begin feeling overwhelmed by the amount of injustice and sin in our world.

  7. I’ve been listening to Founder’s Week speakers on Moody Radio this week and there are individuals, including D.L. Moody, who have changed the world on an individual basis. Maybe it doesn’t take a community. Maybe it is up to me? I’m not too thrilled about this because I’m really busy and don’t have time to change the world, let alone myself.

  8. Keith,

    Yes, there are those charismatic fellows like Moody who seem to turn the world upside down by the sheer force of will and speech. But even people like him (and Dr. King, and countless others) could not do what they do outside of a broad range of support, a community built around a dream, so to speak. There are times when we need to be that dreamer, there are other times when we need to be the support to that dreamer. And there are times when you just need to work on building that network, building that community. My wife and I are somewhere in the middle of all of these, in a very real sense.

    Which brings me to the fact that there’s nothing new in any of this. At the same time that my wife and I are choosing to overcome obstacles to community that we’ve seen our forebears choose (exclusivity, vapid consumerism, macho individuality), we are trying to cling to the examples of community-building that still others demonstrated for us (after-church dinners, multi-culturalism, multi-generationalism, tending to the aged/sick/poor/jailed, etc.). All of these happened in our culture and contexts – and we’re trying to decide how to follow the leads set before us to model community for our daughter, our friends, neighbors and, yes, church.

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