White Privilege

I’m not insulted by the phrase, “White Privilege”. Nor does it cause me an attack of survivor guilt and thus become motivated to throw more money at brown people. The phrase pisses me off because it declares that if you are not white it is still 1917 and you are immutably fucked. There is nothing you can do to unfuck yourself. Nothing has changed in 99 years and nothing ever will. The best thing you can do is accept the fate handed to you and count the days until you are worm food.

Some news of note for brown people from 1917:
January The University of Oregon defeats the University of Pennsylvania 14–0 in U.S. college football‘s 3rd Annual Rose Bowl Game.
.  Unknown saboteurs set off the Kingsland Explosion at Kingsland (modern-day Lyndhurst, New Jersey), one of the events leading to United States involvement in WWI.
February Mata Hari is arrested in Paris for spying.
March U.S. President Woodrow Wilson begins his second term.


Jeannette Rankin of Montana becomes the first woman member of the United States House of Representatives.

March (continued) Livery Stable Blues“, recorded with “Dixie Jazz Band One Step” on February 26 by the Original Dixieland Jass Band in the United States, becomes the first jazz recording commercially released. On August 17 the band records “Tiger Rag“.


The Czar of Russia has a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He isn’t killed until 1918.

April WWI: U.S. President Woodrow Wilson asks the United States Congress for a declaration of war on Germany.
May Over 300 acres (73 blocks) are destroyed in the Great Atlanta fire of 1917.
June The United States enacts the Espionage Act.
July East St. Louis riot: A labor dispute ignites a race riot in East St. Louis, Illinois, which leaves 250 dead.

That’s enough of that. Those that insist on protesting as a reason to be are too stubborn, too narrow minded to allow that it may be possible that the world is more interesting than a glittering, general declaration that all brown people are immutably fucked and in need of protesters demanding that we stop being ass-hats to brown people. It’s ok, though. They are small and noisy. The rest of us will continue with our blase blase until we are worm food. Moving on.

Our church is one of 150 churches in Metro RVA that are doing, “Explore God“. We started with, “What’s the Purpose of Life?” Fun question. The answer for many of those whom I write about is, “there is no purpose. Life has no meaning, God is dead, Christianity is an absurdity for fools, this is the e-ticket you won in life’s lottery, get used to it.” Keith Hill’s sermon can be found here. The other questions in the series are:

  1. What is the Purpose of Life?
  2. Is There a God?
  3. Why Does God Allow Pain and Suffering?
  4. Is Christianity Too Narrow?
  5. Is Jesus Really God?
  6. Is the Bible Reliable?
  7. Can I Know God Personally?

That last one is a favorite of many churches who are our timeshare salespeople. An axiom of sales training is that you have to get to a close. So, for many Christians the whole exercise is a run-up to, “are you saved? Would you accept Jesus Christ as your Lord & Savior right now?” This is, for me, a question that will come up on its own. It is not my focus. I don’t have to be another that wants to add another saved soul to my ledger.

I am going to follow the topics covered in “Explore God” over the next few weeks. It’ll be my own reflections on the topics. Starting now. White privilege fucked me. It gave me faith in some lies. Because I never lacked for anything, because my Dad succeeded in providing for us, I had the luxury of expecting that I was entitled to a misery-free life. I was not supposed to endure strife. I failed boot camp pretty much because I was offended that I had to sweat, be miserable, and obey my company commander. My twenty-something self was shocked that it was possible to be pushed into thriving under duress. So, I did what any red-diaper baby twenty-something should do, I self-destructed and quit.

The second lie was that I was owed a stipend by my parents, uncle Sam, or somebody because I had been oppressed. It wasn’t fair that I had to divide my life between paying bills and pursuing whatever creative whim had struck my fancy lately. I was destined to be a famous actor so of course, there would be patrons who would recognize my gifts and deem me worthy of an Upper East Side loft and a personal assistant.

The third lie was not just one lie. It was a cornucopia of lies I took as obvious to anyone with a brain. Brown people are helpless monkeys needing our mercy because they can’t do it for themselves. It is our duty as white people to provide refuge from the strife and struggle of life, to help the brown people rise above their primate nature and become assimilated. Capitalism is evil on its face. Unions are always good and we’ll be happiest when every worker is a union man. It was the ’70’s so all the noise about LBGT hadn’t made its way to suburban Gloucester County, NJ. The Vietnam War was bad. Nixon was a crook. Christians are fake, all of them. Everyone over 30 is wrong, especially my Dad. I could go on.

I don’t have all the answers. I tend to avoid diving into big questions like, “What’s the Purpose of Life?” I like the tactility of the daily grind and the odd syncopation when one of my friends appears with an opportunity to serve God. My reason to exist, to be, is because God made me. I’ve made a big project of just surrendering to and trusting God. I guess now my project, my cause to pursue, is to love and serve Him.

Looking back, I am shaped by the troubles I’ve seen. It’s been a long and winding road from the bus depot in Cherry Hill, NJ in 1979 to today. I abused my privilege, got shunned, and have become better for it. Last thing before I end this. In the video played for us at church were a bunch of folks trying to answer the question posed, “What’s the Purpose of Life”. The editors picked Americans and Europeans, whom all are influenced to one degree or another by the Protestant Reformation. Protestant Christianity helped shift the locus of the self from the church and the community to the individual. One of the conversations still going about our identity as Americans is whether our selves are still rooted in each of us or whether we are also members of a body. Is our purpose made alive in the fulfillment of the individual or is our purpose made alive in the fulfillment of a collective purpose?

There are cultures that will say “I” is indistinct from “we”. One gets ones identity from the tribe or village. In Taiwan one isn’t “Ray” or “Bruce”. Names refer to position. I am 父親 (father), 哥哥 (brother) or 朋友 (friend). My son’s mother is named 常明華 (chang ming-hua). Her family name, her kinship, is named first, then her name. This placement of the self within the family, village or tribe is different from today’s America where one is Bruce Webb, emphasis on Bruce.

I wonder, then what the responses would be in collectivist communities to the question, “What is the Purpose of Life?” I’ll probably get crickets, but if you are from a collectivist culture, I’d love an answer in the comments. I also wonder what happens when our narrative about brown people is spoken of in places where us & them are described in terms of tribe or village. Could it be that a lot of this kurfuffle over race is driven by an obsession with the individual self over our place within our kin and community?

When we make that shift, when we begin to identify ourselves as part of the body of Christ, we gain purpose and a cause. It starts being about something other than those guys who caused us to be fucked or about us. A child has no choice but to be devoted to ensuring that the adults fulfill its needs. The child’s survival depends on this. We grow up though, and at some point, have to fend for ourselves. Beyond that, some of us become parents and have to take on the role of provider to our children. Further, we age and don’t have our youth & strength to power us through. We return to needing the support of those around us. We are forced to locate our self within a community. As I type this while over the mid-line of fifty-something I’ve come to appreciate my place within a community of fellow Christians.

I’m still there. Put down the protest sign. Volunteer. I don’t care where. Find a place to volunteer and do it. That can be your cause to pursue, your thing to do. As to a reason to be? Pick one. Well . . . pick one that means you are a source of light and love. We have enough of us malcontents. We don’t need more.


  1. Sorry to take so long to respond. Who is it that assumes that the solution to “White Privilege” “is to diminish the freedoms of white people.?” I haven’t heard that argument. It’s not a zero sum game where raising one side lowers the other. Wouldn’t the solution more logical be to raise the awareness of white people? We still see racial discrimination here in Arizona. Mostly, however, it involves Latinos. Our very popular sheriff, Joe Arpaio, has been found guilty of profiling Latinos and unjustly incarcerating them. It’s cost us in Maricopa County over $54 Million Dollars to pay for his unlawful profiling of Latinos for supposedly being in the US illegally. He his crimes have recently been referred to the Federal Court. He has an enormous appeal here, so he’s not alone with his prejudices.

  2. I’m not sure how “White Privilege” morphs into, “What is the Purpose of Life?” White Privilege is an unspoken freedom to move, buy, work, play, and speak freely. Most whites aren’t even aware that they are privileged and assume these freedoms are normal. But if you’re black/brown, you are very aware that these privileges aren’t a given for you. For whites, it’s not even thought of as an entitlement, so most whites assume that everyone has these privileges, and that if blacks don’t, it’s probably their own fault. For whites, it’s guilt free.

    I don’t know what churches say on this issue other than it’s your duty to help those in need. It becomes an individual thing, not a racial thing.

    1. “White Privilege” is an unspoken freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely.” The unchallenged assumptions are that those not-white are somehow limited in their freedom to move, buy, work, play and speak freely and that the solution is to diminish the freedoms of white people to make things more fair. This speaks to my annoyance with those who trumpet White Privilege as a problem. There is no sense of progress, of the victories won in the last 99 years. It’s still 1917 and if you are brown, you are still fucked. I’d say that’s a rather insulting premise to push on brown people.

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