Franklin Graham and a Heart of Privilege

Franklin Graham and a Heart of Privilege April 8, 2015


Sometimes, I get frustrated. You gotta love this! Franklin Graham is gonna tell you what’s up! Because he knows. He has so been there. When he’s pulled over, buddy, you better believe he does what the officer says—and he has never been shot! The fact that he’s a highly privileged white male has nothing to do with it. So listen to him, people! He’s never been sexually harassed or racially discriminated against. He will help you not be harassed or discriminated against, either!

Read what he has to say here…

“Listen up—Blacks, Whites, Latinos, and everybody else. Most police shootings can be avoided. It comes down to respect for authority and obedience. If a police officer tells you to stop, you stop. If a police officer tells you to put your hands in the air, you put your hands in the air. If a police officer tells you to lay down face first with your hands behind your back, you lay down face first with your hands behind your back. It’s as simple as that. Even if you think the police officer is wrong—YOU OBEY. Parents, teach your children to respect and obey those in authority. Mr. President, this is a message our nation needs to hear, and they need to hear it from you. Some of the unnecessary shootings we have seen recently might have been avoided. The Bible says to submit to your leaders and those in authority “because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account.”

You see? Those officers are not capable of poor judgment or racism or misplaced anger because they know they will give an account. So they would never hurt you! And if somehow an officer does do the wrong thing, his fellow officers wouldn’t cover for him—no way—because God is watching! See how this works?

We should have just asked Franklin sooner—we could have saved lives, people. (And if he were pulled over (by an officer who looks pretty much like him), his driver’s license might even spark a friendly little conversation. “Franklin Graham? You’re Billy Graham’s son! Weeeelll, tell him I think mighty highly of him! And, you, well, you just be more careful as you’re driving now, you hear?” (Because see, Franklin is driving, because he doesn’t have to walk like the underemployed young black men in Ferguson, because while Franklin has no-doubt worked hard at various points in his life, his privilege has given him a completely different life, different starting point, different ending point, different resting points along the way, and safe places and different guarantees than a whole lot of other people. Simply having family vacations is an enormous privilege that Franklin’s family enjoyed. See how privilege continues to provide for itself?)

The worst thing about privilege is it’s largely invisible to those who have it. The truth is that Franklin’s remarks come from complete privilege, and his viewpoint is a fairly common among conservatives. I have heard people who believe this earnestly. It sounds reasonable to them because people of intense privilege really don’t know they are privileged. It is normal to them, and they have no concept of what the non-privileged life is like.

But the non-privileged live in a different world.

A recent post got a rash of comments from readers who did not believe that LGBTQ people are ever shamed at church, ever made to feel uncomfortable or asked to leave. “I’ve never seen that happen,” the comments read. Well, why would they? Their sense of being at home in their church is a privilege-shield so they don’t see those interactions that have nothing to do with them. Why would they know how someone else’s experience was different? I answered a letter about this in Dear Susan.

After Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson, students talked about it here on seminary campus. My friend and colleague Matthew was especially disturbed about it. It was his grief about Brown that put the issue on my radar.

Matthew told me that when he walks across campus and sees a police car, he is filled with fear. He quickly thinks whether he has his ID on him, he scopes out which building he could walk into, be it the library or the dining hall, to avoid talking to the police. And he reminds himself that he is supposed to be on campus—because he’s a student. Matthew has these thoughts because he knows in a way that I do not—in a way that other whites do not—the very real risk inherent in a being a black man. He’s an up-and-comer, a hardworking student, trying to create a future for himself and his family. And he is afraid when he sees a police officer. Something is not right with this picture. Interestingly, Matthew is not afraid of black officers because they just nod to him, a kind of “what’s up?”—Matthew has experienced this difference. Black officers have the experience of a black man that white officers do not.

I wish I could say race issues were on my radar before Matthew brought them to life for me. I am privileged when it comes to race, so why would I have known the privilege I take for granted?

Areas where I am not as privileged are on my radar. As a mother of two LGBTQ daughters, I am deeply tuned into the marginalization of LGBTQ people. As a woman who has had to speak loudly and clearly to be heard, I am deeply tuned into the marginalization of women. From my powerlessness as a child, I am tuned into the marginalization of children. I simply never experienced racial issues. But as I listened to Matthew talk about the pain and fear and sense of injustice that emerged over Michael Brown’s death, I was moved. I saw a picture I hadn’t before. To conflate this layered racial-shooting issue into “obeying police officers,” as Franklin Graham does, is wishful thinking.

When I see a police officer, I feel warm and protected. Who would assault me while a police officer is nearby? Because that is where my high alert comes in. As a woman, I do not scope for police officers as Matthew does; instead, I scope for men—how close they are to me, whether they look potentially harmful, what business I could duck into for safety? This is a world as foreign to privileged men as the racial issue was to me. I’ll never forget standing in the kitchen with my daughter Natalie while her guy friend (white, middle class) told us all about his pickup basketball at the neighborhood park at 3 a.m! Natalie and I looked at each other and laughed like he was crazy! We would expect to be brutally raped and then dismembered if we were out in the park at 3 a.m! Women learn to fear like that because we live in a rape culture—and that is a huge problem.

But I’ve decided to take a page from the Franklin Graham Oversimplification Manual of High Privilege. Following male-privilege logic, we can beat sexual assault. Women, dress right and be careful where you go and you will be safe! All you have to do is take responsibility for the thoughts of all the men you may pass in the course of your day, and be a step ahead of them! That could mean that you seriously limit the men you come across—if you see one in the parking lot or office building—even the grocery store, just stay far, far away and you’ll be fine! (This is just too easy…) (“Is that sarcasm?” “Yes, Sheldon.”)

And by the way… Did you notice that Franklin Graham tells us to respect “leaders and those in authority” when he means police officers, whom he respects, but he repeatedly calls out the President whom he does not respect?

We need to recognize this for what it is. We need to learn, we need to know.

We can and should do better.

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