I won the lottery. This is why I’m throwing away the winning ticket!
I’m not sure when it was. It didn’t happen all at once. There was a gradual awakening that as a Heterosexual-Male-WASP (White-Anglo-Saxon-Protestant), I had won the All-American Lottery. America, it turns out is a great place for Hetero-Male-WASPS.
My first awakening came in the pews of a small Baptist church. There I learned that only the people in our church were going to Heaven. We were “born again,” “saved,” and while awaiting the Rapture we did not dance or swear, the girls did not wear make-up, and nearly every Sunday we answered the pastor’s call to come forward.
Later I became aware of how special it was to be an American as my schoolmates and I practiced crawling under our desks to thwart a Russian nuclear attack, and read stories in our Weekly Reader about starving children in Africa. Tom Paxton wrote a song that could well have been about our little school.
“What did you learn in school today, Dear little boy of mine I learned that Washington never told a lie. I learned that soldiers seldom die. I learned that everybody’s free. And that’s what the teacher said to me. That’s what I learned in school today.”
Other awakenings came in a wave as I came of age in the 60s. The civil rights and women’s movements highlighted my good fortune. I was a white man in a world that marginalized people of color and women. Later it occurred to me how fortuitous it was that I liked girls as I watched my younger brother struggle to figure out why he didn’t.
It wasn’t until my days in seminary when a group of “debunking” professors deprived me of the joy of my lottery prize. It seems that my winning lottery ticket was nothing more than “white-privilege.” There is, they said, a set of societal privileges that white people benefit from beyond those commonly experienced by people of color in the same social, political, or economic spaces, e.g. the workplace, educational settings, housing, etc.
That caused me to tinker with my self-description. What if instead of a “Hetero-Male-WASP,” I was a “Hetero-Male-Black.” In an instance, the chance that I’d be unemployed doubled. The odds of me going to college would be little more than double the chance I’d go to prison.
But it wasn’t just about being “white.” I realized that anytime even one of the descriptors changed, my life would change. For example, if I’d been born a Hetero-Female-WASP, I’d earn a dollar for every $1.30 a man earned. Male politicians could require doctors to probe my vagina or deny me contraceptives because they think I can’t control my libido.
If I suddenly found myself a Hetero-Male-Muslim, Sikh, or Jew, I’d be faced with a range of discrimination and danger including unprovoked bodily attacks.
As an LGBT or Q-WASP, I wouldn’t be able to marry the person I loved in nearly all states. In a majority of states, I’d lose protection against discrimination in the workplace. Politicians would pander for votes by making unfounded claims about my life. The odds I’d take my own life would increase exponentially.
In some churches I would be denied communion though scripture teaches that the disciple who denied even knowing Jesus and another one who betrayed Jesus received the bread and cup. In most hospitals I’d be denied family visitation when my partner was on life support.
What an awakening it was to acknowledge that many of the privileges of my life are inherent in the descriptors I take for granted. I was born a Heterosexual-Male-WASP. If any one of the descriptors defining me was changed, be it my race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, if any one of those was different…I’d be significantly more likely to be a victim of a hate crime.
It was then I decided this Hetero-Male-WASP had been called to do something other than cash in that winning lottery ticket.
From the Mass Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo by Sherry Brewer.