When You Realize You Are Privileged

by Abby Alleman on July 31, 2015

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I think I am pretty self-aware.

This is probably an indication I am not. 😉

So, it shocked me to realize that my default status in the world is one of privilege. It is still difficult to grasp and I want to say that it is not true. I grew up on a dairy farm where we rubbed pennies together most of the time. Then, when we auctioned off the farm we didn’t even have the pennies.

There were many hard years financially. We all struggled and suffered. I had a chip on my shoulder as a poor kid in a middle class neighborhood and school.

But the truth is I was able to go to a really good school and live in a safe, middle class area. And I was and am white. It was expected and believed that I would and could succeed. So I was encouraged by parents, teachers and administrators to do so. All of these things make up the privilege from which I come.

Again, it hurts to speak it this clearly.

Yet, I have become absolutely positive that I must.

A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I were able to go to Cru’s bi-annual staff conference in Colorado. It was an amazing, challenging time. We had a painful, yet honest, and potentially healing conversation as thousands of staff gathered together. Very brave members of different ethnicities shared their stories of wounds through hurtful words and treatment by their fellow staff.

We all felt the pain.

Outside speakers and leaders of minority descent spoke again and again of the place and perspective of those of privilege. In the end, unless a person of privilege consciously chooses to lay down that privilege and enter the world of the underprivileged, he/she will always be operating from a place of privilege.

And this is where it gets a bit dicey. For all of us.

I am asking myself, when have I really laid down this privilege? I have been blind to its underpinnings, its insidious forming of my life.

It’s not a to-do list that reads like this:

  • Become a missionary or overseas worker
  • Sell all my belongings or greatly downsize them
  • Actually move to another country
  • Learn the host language and culture
  • Become an expert using a machete to navigate the jungle 😉
  • Develop immunity to mosquito bites 😉

I think you get the point.

It’s humbling to realize we can ‘do’ all of these things and more and still be living as the privileged. It’s heart-rending, and inside-searching and grueling to really, really look at our posture towards the world and the people with whom we share it.

But that is how it’s supposed to be.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,

 he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

~Philippians 2:5-8 (NLT)

(emphasis mine)

We will never be able to understand what it was for Jesus to empty himself of ALL of his privilege as God himself. And we will never be able to understand what it is to not have the level of privilege most of us do. Yet, we can walk this road of active ‘laying-down’ with confidence and precious assurance that we will understand Jesus’ journey more. We will know Him more. We will become more like Him. And the world will experience more of His presence, His Glory, His Beauty, and His love.

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About Abby Alleman

A farm girl at heart, Abigail (Abby) loves the surprising stories God writes. Since her first plane trip at the age of twenty landed her in Barcelona, Spain, Abby knew her life would never be the same. She holds degrees in both Math and Spanish and is a former high school teacher. She has served as a translator and short-term missionary in Latin America and inner city Philadelphia. But her most treasured journey is when her big dreams came crashing to the ground, when heartbreak and humility brought her home to her family, God and eventually right to her husband, Jared. They have worked with the student ministry of CRU for ten years in both the U.S. and Hungary. She has three small kids and blogs her life and love of story at Abigail Alleman ( www.abigailalleman.com ).
  • Richelle Wright

    I think, Abby, that this might be the best article I’ve read at this site… and I read most… if not all of them. Thank you for your honest and for the challenge…

    • Wow Richelle. Thank you. And may God just stir us all and make us more like Jesus in this world.

  • Marilyn Gardner

    I can’t tell you how much I relate with this article. For me, the humbling part came when suddenly realizing the privilege I had as a little, white missionary kid growing up in a formerly British-occupied country. Painful but necessary realization and confession. Wish I could talk about this with you in person. Thank you.

    • Marilyn, I think you would have really appreciated the time in Colorado. It was profound. Both my husband and I felt truly humbled and as we seek the next steps for our lives, we are asking ourselves hard, yet powerful questions. I echo your sentiments. It would be so good to process this face to face.

      • Marilyn Gardner

        I would love to have been there. It sounds so powerful. Thank you for writing so well and with such passion.

  • David

    This privileged white man has been wrestling with this since Cru15. Philippians 2 just keeps resounding in my head – over and over and over. And the passages in Matthew & Luke where Jesus tells people who *say* they want to follow Him that He doesn’t even have a place to lay His head.

    I’m gonna keep wrestling with this, just as you are. Thank you.

  • I’ve come to this long after you posted. A mighty topic. Do you think, in truth, it is even possible for “us privileged” to lay it down? We can lay down stuff and wealth and lifestyle. But we retain citizenship, education, core understandings of what is doable or possible, and the freedom to simply walk away. While others less privileged retain that ingrained deference to us. Growth in humility, respect, self-awareness–much room for that. But the essence of who we are?

    Very few even go into ministry to simply walk alongside and be with. Instead, the reason is always to bring, in many forms, something, be it knowledge, aid, stuff and technology and infrastructure. To lead and guide and help. To develop them.

    And if it is not possible to lay down our privilege, what is the fitting response to this realization?

    Thank you for your post, for spurring us readers to mull and pummel this reality.

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