In a 2013 TED talk titled, “Does money make you mean?” social psychologist Paul Tiff plays a game of Monopoly.
But for this game, the rules are different. One player receives more money, more opportunity and more access to resources. “That combination of skill, talent and luck that help earn you success in games as in life has been rendered irrelevant,” Tiff says. “This game’s been rigged, and you’ve got the upper hand.”
On May 6, The Falcon ran an article by senior TJ Jan titled, “Manipulation of Social Justice.” In it, Jan critiques Seattle Pacific’s director of the John Perkins Center Tali Hairston’s comments in a recent Christianity Today article titled, “Is ‘White Privilege’ an Unbiblical Term?”
Though Jan offers a thoughtful interpretation, his critique should to be taken with a grain of salt. White privilege is more than an ad hominem fallacy; it is a vehicle for discussion and self-examination in the face of an ever-increasing sensitivity to an ever-expanding set of social divides.
In his game, Tiff selects the rich player with the flip of a coin. Once chosen, the rich player starts the game with twice the money, collects twice the salary after passing go and rolls two dice instead of one. As the game unfolds, Tiff notes the dramatic differences that emerge between the two players: The rich tend to smack their pieces against the board harder, act ruder and show more signs of dominance.
“[The players became] less and less sensitive to the plight of those poor, poor players and more and more demonstrative of their material success,” Tiff says. At the end of game, Tiff talks to the players about their experience.
“[The rich players] talked about what they’d done to buy those different properties and earn their success in the game,” Tiff says. ‘They became far less attuned to all those different features of the situation, including that flip of a coin that had randomly gotten them into that privileged position in the first place.”
Many Seattle Pacific students are privileged. Tar and feather me if you’d like, but that’s the reality of attending a school with $35,100 a year price tag. However, this does not mean we are living in an ad hominem fallacy. It means we must take care to recognize the features of our situation: our unique blends of skill, talent and luck. Otherwise, we are no better than the rich players in Tiff’s Monopoly game.
Jan argues that liberation theology fashions Christ and the message of grace into a political tool. According to him, this wrongfully fixes our spiritual gaze on the temporal rather than the transcendent.
Jan is right that Christ should not be used as a political tool. However, we need tools to analyze and assess how white privilege shapes our world. SPU is a place to develop these tools. A more holistic interpretation of Hairston’s comments shows that students become a vehicle for reconciliation when we have discussions about privilege.
White privilege is not something we do, create or enjoy on purpose. It is a reality we acknowledge and work within. We should see Christ as a transformational rather than a political tool. Before entering into a conversation about race, religion and politics, we must make sure we have something to say—otherwise, we really will be speaking into a never-ending echo chamber.
Alex Cnossen is a junior Journalim major.