I mentioned the other day I’d been thinking a lot about hunger in America. What I’ve been forced to realize lately is that even being able to think about hunger is a hallmark of my own position of privilege.
I’m going to make a confession here: I hate the word privilege. Just hearing that word makes my defenses go up.
When someone says I’m privileged, I think about all the ways my life hasn’t been easy. My dad lost a good job when I was about 10, and we were really poor for a few years after that. Poor to the point of needing help from our church and our family members to get by and not lose our house.
Oh, what’s that? Yes, we had our own house. It was a cheap little 3-bedroom National, but it was ours. And our car died every time Mom or Dad stopped at a light or turned a corner, so they could throw it in neutral, restart it, and shift back to drive without missing a beat. But we owned a car. Oh, did I mention my mom stayed at home with me until my dad lost his job?
So not only were we poor, but we were in a way better position than thousands or even millions of Americans, let alone people all around the world. I learned a lot from being poor. The Christmas right after my dad lost his job is one of the best in my memory, and it included things he salvaged from a Dumpster and refurbished. But it showed what a huge difference love makes.
So back to my point. I hate the word privilege. Probably because, as much as I hate admitting it, the word applies to me.
Let me share a few embarrassing but pointed examples of how my privilege is affecting how I think about the problem of hunger in America:
- I am afraid to meet hungry people. It embarrasses me that my jeans cost me $80 a pair when I think about going to the local food pantry and facing people who can’t afford food. I’m afraid I will come across as condescending when all I want is to make a difference in people’s lives. So what do I do? Instead of going down and giving my time (which I have plenty of these days), I donate food and used clothes and things I don’t want any more.
- I am learning about hunger in America by watching movies and reading books. How privileged is that? Yes, there were times in my life that my family wasn’t sure where our next few meals were coming from, but I was young, and children are resilient. I’m not facing hunger myself on a daily basis. I’m reading books like Red Letter Revolution and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I’m watching A Place at the Table and getting outraged from my comfortable theater seating. I’m not looking hunger in the face.
- I am trying to fight hunger by talking about it. No, there isn’t anything inherently wrong with talking about a problem. You can’t find solutions without discourse and dialogue. But you also can’t build a house by talking about building it. Sure, you have to draw up a blueprint and assemble your supplies, but sooner or later you have to pick up a hammer and nail some boards together. I am not out there feeding people. It’s not like hunger is a new issue for me. Back in November I was thinking about volunteering at some of the service dinners that happen in Indianapolis over the holiday season. Yet here I am, still reading and researching and talking, talking, talking.
- I act like posting things on Facebook is good enough. Sure, it’s fine to educate my friends on Facebook about the problem of hunger. But I’m not sure if I’m really changing any minds out there. My Republican friends are getting pissed off because I support entitlement programs and want to make people dependent. My Democrat friends are probably thinking it’s nice I”m finally with the program. And what’s worst, my Christian friends don’t seem to give a shit. I feel like a voice crying out in the wilderness. Posting something on Facebook to try to shock my friends into caring is great and all, but it’s making me feel frustrated by their lack of caring while allowing me to feel smug like I’ve accomplished something. And that just makes me disgusted with myself when I think about it.
I’m a smart person. But it isn’t enough to know there’s a problem. You have to actually do something. And I haven’t made that connect yet. So here’s my commitment, both to myself and to you guys:
I am going to finish reading Red Letter Christians and Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger by Easter, and then I am going to get off my butt and do something. I’ll go to the Caring Center and ask if I can volunteer. I’ll get to meet hungry people. I‘ll find out if there’s a way I can turn my own particular skill set to making a difference in people’s daily lives.
What about you guys? Are there ways you fight privilege in our own lives? Are you already out there doing something about hunger? What do you think I should do?
- A Seat At The Table (somanyblogssolittletime.wordpress.com)
- A Place at the Table (singlewhitechristian.wordpress.com)
- Hunger in America (educationviews.org)
- On “Personal Responsibility,” Or, Why You’re Not Interested in ‘Change,’ But Still Need Me To Change… (darkactsbible.wordpress.com)
- Hunger still haunts the West Side (mysanantonio.com)
- Lenten Spiritual Practice- Week 3 (youngadultministries.wordpress.com)