Oppression (noun) 1. prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control; 2. the state of being subject to unjust treatment or control
Privilege (noun) a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people
Oppression and privilege. Two words that are prevalent in our country today. Depending on your upbringing, your race, your demographic or your financial status, you probably immediately identify with one of these words.
Me? Privilege. 100%. I am a white, middle class, Christian American raised in the great state of Texas. My family wasn’t wealthy, but we very much enjoyed life. I was raised by parents who made me believe I could accomplish anything I put my mind to. I was raised by parents who set limits & boundaries because they wanted what was best for me. I was raised by parents who supported my efforts, encouraged me consistently and made sure I had a set of core values that could guide me through life.
I was raised by parents who taught me that all people are created in the image of God and therefore all created equally. I was raised by parents who taught me that I was tremendously blessed in life and that because of that, I had an obligation to help those who weren’t as blessed as me. Because I was a privileged, white American I had a voice. And that voice should not be silent.
Here I sit, on a Sunday afternoon, in my comfortable middle class home, still in the great state of Texas. As has been the case for all of the years of my life, Sunday morning started at church, then lunch and now football. And because of football (ok, not all because of football) I have words that my voice needs to speak.
A season or two ago, NFL players began kneeling during the National Anthem in protest against the inequality and oppression that seemed to make headlines all too often. While I do not agree with the method, I do believe that they have the right to peaceful protest. And I believe in what they are protesting. I believe inequality and racism and oppression still permeate our society and bring out the worst in us.
Yesterday, President Trump did what he does best. He took to Twitter (sweet heavens, someone change his password). In a series of tweets, he stated that those who kneel or sit in protest should be fired. Today, the NFL showed up and showed out in solidarity to protest what President Trump tweeted. Here’s where I’m gonna lose some of you (but if you’re gonna get mad at me at least read the whole thing so you know how much you should be mad about).
When someone in power begins to speak the rhetoric of our livelihood being threatened due to the exercise of protected freedom, my voice cannot remain silent. I will never kneel or sit in the presence of our Anthem or flag as a form of protest. That just won’t ever be me. But when a leader seeks to redefine what and how we can peacefully protest, we all have reason to pause.
I still DO NOT agree with a method of protest that comes at the expense of our Anthem or flag. My grandfather was a World War II and Korea veteran. My dad a Vietnam veteran. My cousin a Desert Storm/Desert Shield Veteran. Dear friends who have fought terrorism on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I see that flag and hear that song and my heart swells with pride. I’m proud of my family & friends. I’m proud of this country where I’ve enjoyed so much privilege. So much privilege.
But let’s back up. To how we got here today. I’ve never lived a life of oppression. Never. Many who take that field each and every Sunday have lived in oppression. Many who take that field only enjoy some privilege now because of that game. (Side note: if you don’t like how much money they make, stop buying the merchandise, paying the ridiculous ticket prices and buying the brands they tell you to buy. They make that money because we, the American people, open up our wallets without hesitation.)
I’ve never lived a life where my skin color has put me under a microscope. I’ve never lived a life where my zip code, religion or heritage has made me have to fight harder to receive equality. Millions in this country do. Every single day.
It’s easy to fool yourself into believing those things don’t still exist today when you live in privilege. It’s easy to find ways to justify things you see on the news, happening outside of your community, as being the extremes when you live in privilege. It’s easy to be comfortable in your privilege and walk through your life denying the reality, especially when you’re someone who genuinely loves all people and have never been guilty of those things yourself. Because the second you’re willing to really see what reality is for so many, you have no choice but to speak. And when you speak, those living in blind privilege hear you. And when those in blind privilege hear you, they’ll be uncomfortable. Some will be uncomfortable then add their voice to yours. Some will be uncomfortable and double down on the reality they choose to live in and criticize you for making them squirm. Sometimes living in privilege without blinders can become lonely because it’s not popular.
Y’all, Jesus wan’t about being popular. He was about speaking the truth in hard places. Our country is in a hard place. A very hard place. Folks, Jesus would call the oppression & racism & inequality by name. Because it’s all real. He would sit down with those who have battled it and speak love and value over them. He would set a table for those who have struggled every day because of a broken thought process that makes them feel less worthy. He would invite brave voices who have worked tirelessly within the confines of the law to make the voices of those marginalized heard. Jesus would come and shake up our privilege in a way that would rock each & every one of us to the core. Not because we are privileged, but because we’ve chosen to live blindly there instead of using it as platform to bring change.
Do you want the NFL protests to stop? Work with the youth in your community who need to hear someone say, “You are worthy. You are capable. You are created for greatness. You are not a statistic.” While they are children, show them that those who don’t believe in them are irrelevant and those who will believe in them will speak louder. Do you want cries of racism to stop? Sit down with a few who look nothing like you. Seek to understand a struggle that you know nothing about. LISTEN. Don’t try to make your reality theirs. Acknowledge their truth and stand beside them in the face of injustice.
Do you want things to change? Speak. When it’s not popular, when it’s not easy, when your words will be lost on some. Speak. Even if your voice shakes. Listen. We can learn so much from each other.
To those who my voice reaches who battle oppression, inequality and racism in your every day life: I see you. You are not lost. You are not alone. Your voice and your life have great value. I stand with you. To those who my voice reaches that stand: Thank you. I see you. I stand, arms locked with you, just naive enough to believe that we really can change the world if we have just enough courage. Just enough to step outside of our privilege.