White Privilege and Responsibility

We at ConSpirita Consulting Network are committed to improving leadership, especially ecclesial leadership.  These times of a global pandemic and a global awakening about racism cry out for courageous and humble leaders.  This series of blogs invite you to come along with us as we humbly, courageously, and consistently undertake the work of self-education about racism in the United States, in the Catholic Church and in our own white, privileged lives.
This is the second of two blogs that talks about Intersectional Identity and Privilege.

Last week I wrote about Jennifer Brown’s work in Inclusion and Diversity.  I offered to you her definition of privilege.  I think it would be helpful to read that definition again.

Cultural, legal, social, or institutional rights/advantages that select people have access to solely because of their social group membership.  Almost everyone has some form of privilege that can be leveraged to support those without it due to the intersectional nature of identity-based power.

White privilege is that which is practiced by White people only (my personal definition).  Whites have an advantage, due to the color of their skin, that other groups do not have.  This makes me stop and wonder what I’ve been able to do just because I’m White that I had not really considered:  shopping without being suspected of anything, entering any place I want to without anxiety regarding if I “belong”, not having to have “the talk” with our son or our daughter about how to deal with the police, medical care not being offered or denied medical treatments…

Ms. Brown reminds her readers that White privilege comes with responsibility and opportunity.  We White people have the obligation/responsibility to do our best to see that the opportunities available to us are also available to people of color– because we have the power to do so.  Inclusive leadership means being courageous in conversation and action and transferring the benefits of our privilege to others without a focus on self.  Privileged leaders should be an ally to the stigmatized and hold other privileged members accountable for their behavior and speech.

Per Ms. Brown, there are 4 stages leading to being an inclusive leader:

  1. Unaware – he/she doesn’t recognize or know there is a problem and doesn’t know anything about Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
  2. Active – the leader starts to behave more publicly in support of others.  He/she may be uncomfortable and make mistakes but does not retreat from the uncomfortable places.
  3. The leader starts to behave more publicly in support of others.  He/She may be uncomfortable and make mistakes but does not retreat from the uncomfortable place.
  4. Advocate – the leader practices bold courageous truth telling. This is the time when the leader works to change systems and brings others along up through the system.

I think many of the White population are still in step #1.  The White people with whom I have the most contact, who do not believe there is a problem, claim they are not racists and denigrate any movements or actions that call attention to racism.  You hear that…and it makes you wonder if those close to you are like a LOT of others.  

I have recently moved into the Aware state and am self-educating to recognize instances of racism in speech and actions, my own and others.  One of the ways I am self-educating is to participate in the first program of a JustFaith Racism series (there are 3).  The first of the series is called Faith and Racial Equity.  If you aren’t familiar with JustFaith Ministries, it  is a nonprofit organization that forms, informs, and transforms people of faith by offering programs and resources that sustain them in their compassionate commitment to build a more just and peaceful world. [i]  JustFaith is primarily based on Catholic Social Teaching and the call of the gospel to love one another.  I have taken a JustFaith program before.  They are eye opening and transformative.  It will teach you that you don’t know what you don’t know and, now that you know, call you to action.

There is much to learn about my participation in White privilege and how it oppresses/stigmatizes other groups of God’s people.  So much to learn.  In our next blog we will share with you what steps we’ve taken so far and what we are coming to understand in this becoming aware stage.

[i] https://justfaith.org/about-us/history-mission/  accessed 10/4/20



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As I write this, it’s just under a month until the first phase of the Church’s Synod on the process of synodality is to begin.