United Church of Christ

Oscars and Privilege

I was watching the Oscars on Sunday night. I don’t see a lot of movies, but I always find this an entertaining evening. Of course, I fell asleep long before the end and had to ask my wife later who won most of the awards.

Early in the evening, a black actor shared an important insight. Having seen the movie “Black Panther,” he talked about how much it meant to him to see someone on the screen as a hero who represented him. Then he said, with no rancor in his voice – he was simply making an observation – that this is how white men have felt throughout the history of movie-making. For him, it was a new experience – and one he wanted to have over and over again.

Privilege is a hard thing to wrap your head around. White men have it but fail to notice it; women and people of color have much less of it, and yet can’t escape noticing how it manifests itself.

Even though darn near every movie I have watched in my life had a white man as the protagonist, I never walked out of theater saying something like this: “That white man as hero makes me feel good. He validates my identity. I wonder what it must feel like to be black or brown and rarely if ever have that experience.”

I want to be careful here. This is space I hold for spiritual reflection, not political or social commentary. So, let me say this: there is a spiritual cost to maintaining privilege.

As I said, I don’t see a lot of movies. And I don’t especially go for the Super Hero genre – too much gratuitous violence for me. And yet there were two movies I had to go see this year: Wonder Woman and Black Panther. Both had hero figures that intentionally broke the molds of privilege our culture has too long tolerated. While both films were indeed entertaining – they were also spiritually healing.

As a white man, I need to see role models who teach me that my whiteness and my gender are not the cause of any power or wisdom or strength or wealth or intellect I might possess. White men still believe that is true of them – and among the ‘teaching moments’ they experience that reinforce those notions are the movies they have seen over and over and over and over again where white men rescue women and fend off black and brown villains.

That stereotype is reinforced in news programs through their childhood, formative, and adult years in which what they hear or read or see if filtered first through the lens of media outlets controlled by well over 90% white men.

It is reinforced by teachers and pastors and authors and politicians whom they chose who are predominantly white and most often male.

I could go on.

This is Lent – a time of spiritual reflection and soul-searching.

If you are white and male and hetero, force yourself outside your comfort zone. Start watching movies with black leads, female directors, brown screen-writers. Seek out newspapers, magazines, or books written by gay men and women or by people of color. Attend a Latino, Korean, or Black church one Sunday. Listen to latin, rap, jazz, or klezmer music. Find poetry written by native Shamans, Palestinian elders, black women, latina immigrants, feminist and womanist authors. Wean yourself off of a diet of white hetero men writing your news, telling your stories, and starring in the lead roles. It will expand your intellectual, emotional, and spiritual horizons.

God has blessed us all with an myriad of opportunities – and happier we will be the more we taste the full array of God’s sumptuous feast for the senses. Experience the whole panoply of our Sacred Creator’s playful hand at work on this, our journey together Into the Mystic.