In October 1066, a young man named Truelove happened to be on the winning side of the Battle of Hastings in England. For a deed of valor, he was granted the name, “Eyres” and gifted with farmable land that probably belonged to someone on the losing side. A thousand years of privilege began in that branch of my family with land ownership, opportunity, and access to education. The Ayers/Ayres never had excessive financial wealth, but because of these advantages, my family tree is replete with doctors, teachers, farmers, and ministers.
Yes, this is White Privilege. Along with the rest of humanity, I had no control over who I was born, what my genes are, or who went before me. I stand on the shoulders of many women and men as now I take my turn to accomplish all I can in my lifetime. My success is passed on to me by my free, white, educated, landed ancestors. All my family worked hard to pay bills and feed their families—just like everyone else—but we did all this with an incredible advantage. It is like having a thousand-year head start on those without this legacy.
My wife and I built our family through adoption; all of whom were considered “special-needs” because of age or other challenges. Our oldest three are a white sibling group and came from a long legacy of poverty. The word privilege would not be appropriately applied their heritage. However, my white children DO have a societal advantage simply because of the color of their skin. Our other three children are non-white: one African-American, one mixed Black/White, and one Mestizo (mixed Latino/Indian).
Making a distinction between privilege and advantage in our understanding of white people might help us respect the differences between the haves and the have-nots, regardless of race. Even though my white children come from a long line of disadvantaged people who have been marginalized and oppressed, I never had to warn them about cutting through neighbor’s yards, or cautioned interactions with the police, as I did with my other kids. Our oldest three have a white advantage due to hundreds of years of systemic racism. They never feared for their personal safety when pulled over by police. They were never stopped in their own neighborhoods and asked where they are going. They move in and out of retail stores without the inappropriately-close surveillance experienced by people of color—their siblings.
Kathy and I have tried to live simply and authentically with friendships of mutual respect and appreciation for diverse people groups. We are fortunate to have families on both sides that modeled respect and inclusion. Our families supported the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, we grew up in desegregated schools and neighborhoods, have always and will continue to listen and learn to our African-American community.
We have done some hard things like marching in 1987 for “brotherhood” and being attacked by an angry crowd of rock-and-bottle throwing white supremacists, segregationists, and Ku Klux Klan groups. As we prepared for what we thought would be a peaceful march, we told our young children (who marched with us), “When you follow Jesus, you have to stand up for what is right even if unpopular.” Little did we know that we were walking into such an explosive, historic event on that rural highway in Forsyth County, Georgia.
We are not heroes for trying to live as we believe Jesus wants us to: Love God. Love Neighbor. The true heroes are the masses of dark people forced from Africa into chattel slavery, robbed of personal success through Jim Crow laws and lynching, degraded by portrayals in movies and popular media, victimized by the so-called “War on Drugs” that militarized the police and targeted African-Americans for incarceration. They are our heroes. The United States is made better by their courage, endurance, and vision. All people are created equal. Let us remember this. Our collective passion should inspire us to work for equality, justice, and the commitments enshrined in our constitution for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Our friends and family of color experience (and have suffered) many things we simply have not. We honor their strength and leadership; it humbles and inspires us. Our 400-year legacy of injustice requires repentance, confession, and reconciliation both individually and collectively.
Love God. Love others as yourself. Love one another.
I am reminded in scripture, Jesus has “broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility” (Ephesians 2:4) and calls us to fulfill a “message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:18).
I come from good people who tended to enter helping professions. One of my ancestors performed the wedding of Pocahontas and John Rolfe in 1614, a mixed-race marriage. We have relatively few skeletons in our family closet, but the fact remains, we owned those closets. Others without these advantages were victims of oppression, marginalization and violence. Our greatest sin was (and is) being complicit in a system steeped in segregation, marginalization, and injustice. Our sin is one of remaining silent while others suffer.
We are clearly accountable to God for how we use whatever advantages we have. Let us ask ourselves: “Are we using our white privilege for the sake of others?”