“Would you like a free upgrade?” the car rental manager asked me. I rented there a lot.
“Absolutely,” I responded. He tossed me the keys to a brand new Jaguar.
I rented from this location often. It was just down the street from the school where I used to serve. Near the rental place were two car dealerships, a Jaguar lot and a Ford lot. If I was getting a free upgrade that usually meant it was one of their service vehicles for the dealerships, which were usually new models.
Because I had favor with the manager, likely because of my frequent rentals, I was often given free upgrades. I never refused because one shouldn’t look a gift horse—in this case, a gift Jag—in the mouth.
I was headed to Nashville, Tennessee. My friend Therron, a church planter in Louisville was joining me. Therron and I always have great conversations about all kinds of stuff, from family life to ministry life. That morning our conversation landed on racial issues before we made it to the interstate.
Therron and I have known each other for a really long time and I consider him a dear friend. He’s black. I’m white. I won’t say that doesn’t matter. It does matter. Our friendship’s focal point isn’t our racial identities, but it doesn’t in any way remove them. That’s one of the things I love about our friendship.
After making it to Nashville and attending some of a conference, we decided to hit the well-worn, overcrowded, neon-lit stretch of lower Broadway for dinner. I pulled up to the traffic light to turn left but the cars in the other lane opposite of us had the right of way.
A police officer driving along behind me pulled me over immediately.
I joked to Therron that my driver’s license was in bad shape. My daughter had ripped the plastic cover off my license and then to top things off, it went through the washer when I forgot it in my jeans. You really couldn’t read anything on it.
But Therron wasn’t laughing. He looked straight ahead the entire time.
“This isn’t good,” he said.
The officer came up to the window and was as polite as he could be given the fact that I was driving a Jaguar I didn’t own and was without any valid form of identification to offer him.
He stood there for around 15 minutes as I struggled to decipher the driver’s license number on my barely legible ID. I gave him a couple variations that I thought might be right. When all of them failed to clear, he went back to the car and gave us another 15 minutes to try to get in contact with my wife with the hopes that she would have it.
My wife called. We got our IDs on the same day and our numbers were the exact same except for the last number. I knocked on his window, gave him our final attempt and it happened to be correct. He let me go with a ticket instead of arresting me.
I walked back up to my car to see Therron still staring straight ahead. It hit me that he had barely spoken since we were first pulled over. The rest of our evening was spent in serious discussion about how that could have gone really differently if he was the one driving.
“You know that’s white privilege,” Therron said later.
He likely wouldn’t have been given 30 minutes to find a way to locate a driver’s license number and relay it orally in the place of a valid ID. He likely wouldn’t have left the scene with a ticket instead of being arrested.
Why? Because he’s not white. I am.
Using your privilege well
Can we in the Church stop denying that white privilege is a thing? This isn’t meant to shame anyone. It’s meant to call things as they are: If you are white, you are the beneficiary of certain advantages that others don’t share.
If you’re a part of the majority group in any setting, begin listening to the voices of those around you. You will never understand their experience if you don’t listen.
If you don’t know where to start, you’re not alone but it’s important to actively look for opportunities.
Take a Sunday to visit another church where you will be in the minority. Visit a local forum on racial inequality. Intentionally seek out friendships with people of color in your community. Enter these spaces with humility, a teachable spirit and charity.
Look out for opportunities where you can learn about the lived experiences of those around you for your life and your faith to be enriched.
Add your voice in the call for equality.
I’ve been convicted before when I’ve seen black friends lament on social media for the lack of white Christians speaking out against injustice. If you don’t know what to say, you might begin by admitting that. Maybe that’s not a bad place to start.
I once tweeted something like, “As a white man I’m not always sure how to respond to instances of police violence against black men. I just want to say I hurt and I care.”
It can be really hard to see past our privilege. Really hard. Speaking up can be difficult, too. You may even at times feel degrees of alienation from the group of which you are a part. And maybe that’s a good place to begin your own journey towards better understanding privilege and seeking equality.