I just had a conversation with an old, dear friend, during which he shared the wonderful news that he had fallen in love. There is very little in life that I enjoy more than talking with someone newly in love. It is that exuberance, that giddiness, that total intoxication with life and all of its new possibilities. The heart feels as though it could burst open with joy, and you want to shout about it from the rooftops for all the world to share in. The enthusiasm is infectious to be around. I appreciate it all the more knowing how rare it is. For most of us, we are blessed with this crazy, blissful, intoxicated, falling-in-love feeling only once or twice in our lives. I am grateful to have had my turn to shout and shine, and now I enjoy sharing in the new love stories of my friends and family. Love is to be shared, and there is no more thrilling time to share your love story than when you are in that early, passion-filled phase.
So, why did I even have to ask my friend if he had told anyone else his exciting news yet? Why did he tell me that, even though it has been a couple of months, that I am the first one he shared this amazing, soul-stirring life event with? Why did we have to strategize about the best way to share this great love story with his family, who have always tried to set him up or get him into online dating to find “the one”? With all of the happiness he was feeling, why no rooftop shouting? Because he fell in love with a man.
We finished the conversation with me telling him how happy I am for him and urging him to enjoy the ride, reminding him how rare and breathtaking these moments are in our lifetime. I was thrilled for him and proud of him at the same time. But as I processed it more and more—of course, with the great help of my journal—I recognized an air of sadness about me surrounding our conversation. The more I wrote and thought about what might be the source of my sadness, the more I kept circling back to the idea of privilege, in this case heterosexual privilege.
Privilege is an enormous, can-of-worms kind of issue when it comes to conversations around social justice. Frankly, it makes most of us who are privileged feel very uncomfortable and defensive, as we generally live in denial of the existence of privilege. Ironically, that very denial is one of the privileges of being privileged. Let me explain.
Privilege can probably best be defined with examples. As a White person, I can walk through a store without being followed by clerks. I can move to a neighborhood almost anywhere in this country and expect people to be neutral or pleasant to me. I can answer a question in a class and never be considered the voice of my race. When I read a history book or watch a television show, I can be sure that my race is well-represented. If I happen to swear or act badly in public, I don’t think people are going to attribute my behavior to the poor morality of my entire race. And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.
As a man, I have the privilege of having both a career and kids without people thinking I am selfish for not staying at home with the kids. If I choose to not have kids, my masculinity won’t be called into question. If I drive poorly or make bad financial decisions, people won’t attribute that to my sex. I can sleep with a lot of women without serious social disapproval or name-calling. My decision-making ability will not be questioned based on what time of the month it is. Very little time and expense are expected of me when it comes to personal grooming. And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.
As a heterosexual, I have the privilege of being open about my sexual orientation without worrying about my job. My masculinity isn’t questioned, and nobody calls me straight in a mean way. People don’t ask me why I chose to be heterosexual or why and how I came to be open about it. I can be sure that my schoolbooks have examples of other heterosexuals. I never leave a gathering feeling outnumbered or isolated. I am not defined by my sexuality, and I can go for long periods without anyone calling me straight. I can be pretty sure that the people I meet and know will be comfortable with my sexuality. I have no fear of the ramifications of my family finding out about my heterosexuality. And I have the privilege of not being aware of these things.
But I am becoming aware of these things as I write them, and I am understanding why I am a little sad after hearing my friend’s wonderful news. Not at all sad that he is in a relationship with a man—Love is Love, and my Maker is nothing if not a being of pure Love—but sad because we had to talk about how to tell his family about what should be a shout-it-out, sing-it-out life event like falling in love. Sad that he will have to think about all of the aforementioned privileges and wonder why, simply because the love he found had one chromosome different than the one we expected him to find, he has to live on the other side of those privileges. In being his most authentic self and being open to love however it showed up—what should be a totally liberating life event and admired by all—he is forced to carry around our societal baggage like a yoke around his neck. That is a heavy load to carry simply for living his Truth.
My hope is to do my part to make his load lighter in whatever way I can. My wife is a Black woman; that is a mighty load, too. It is daily work to try to lighten her load as well, whether that is just being a sounding board for the offenses of the day, or allowing her to educate me so that I can pass it on to you (she provided the examples of privilege I mentioned—they hit close to home in my house). I feel compelled to make whatever changes I can in my little sphere of influence, not to erase my own privilege but to spread that privilege to all.
So, my challenge to you today is to get out your instrument of choice—journal, laptop, scrap paper, Comments box—and write about your privileges. Think deeply about this, because chances are, you haven’t before. And go beyond the categories I mentioned; add religion, socioeconomic class, and anything else you can think of. Explore the many ways in which you are privileged, and try to imagine being on the flip-side of that privilege. Feel that pain of injustice and the full weight of society’s ignorance. Next, think about your own sphere of influence. Write down a few ways that you can do your part to make your little corner of the world more enlightened, more loving, more just. It may seem like too big a task, but remember, it all starts within you. If you have read this far, you are already well on your way. If you take me up on my challenge, I know that change will be made. I believe in you.
Keep thinking & keep writing,