Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer

Tom in Iraq as a Military Observer
They sent me here just to watch...

Sunday, June 3, 2018

White Privilege

What do you do when someone doggedly insists that because I am white, I am privileged above others?  What do you do when that precept governs everything and every word that the other person sends your way?  There are no factual instances or substantive basis for the accusations, but there are plenty of terms and lexicon to couch them within.  Some of these are derogatory and even racist.  What do you do when these become attacks and hate speech?

Firing back is one option, not the best, but perhaps the one desired by our sinful nature. There is some temporary satisfaction to be had.  I can hold mine own in a spitting contest, but what have I gained even if I win?

A second option has generally been to examine the provocation, no matter how ill-founded or hateful it may be.  Search for the truth.  So, I did some searching.  I read more on this subject in the past 48 hours than there is quality material to read.  I even ventured into the realm of white ‘splaining, and subsequently reviewed my dialogues with those insistent that I am both wrong and privileged just because I am white. 

I could find nothing paternalistic in my part of the discussion.  I did not try to dictate how others should think.  I found that I had done what I had done for years, presented my thoughts.  Some were challenging but not condescending and certainly not paternalistic.  To differ in opinion is not to supplant the provocation as irrelevant but to challenge it.  If we cannot challenge each other’s thoughts without claiming foul in every differing opinion, we have lost the art of iron sharpening iron. 

But, I did continue my self-examination.    I looked at the things that have shaped me.  At my age, not every life situation and life choice and human factor that might bear on privilege come to mind, but many did and so I put them into perspective as privilege.  Here we go.  These are not presented chronologically. 

White Privilege

I was privileged as a commissioned officer to have head of the line privileges in the mess hall and exchange as well as having end of the line privileges for chow when I was in the field, in case it ran out.
I was privileged to have lived in about 25 states and visited most of the rest.
I was privileged to know that my father rose early to go to work but had time for me when he got home.
I was privileged to watch my mother pay a taxi driver to get me to school every morning.  The bus stopped in front of my house, but I was not eligible to ride it because we lived in town.  The house across the street was outside the city limits.  It belonged to the richest people around.  Our house was actually farther from the school. We had one vehicle and my father left at zero dark thirty before I knew what zero dark thirty was.  I was too young to walk the two miles to school but not too young to see that we really could not afford the taxi ride every day.  I do not remember how I got home.
I was privileged to grow up wearing name brand shirts and jeans.  The name was “sale” or “half of half of half” if my mother didn’t make them for me.
I was privileged to visit uncles, aunts, and cousins each summer, hunt snakes, and tell stories until sometime after dark, and not worry my parents that something bad would happen.
I was privileged to live a block from the school in my older elementary days.  I watched missiles that my father worked on launch satellites into space, sometimes twice a day.
I was privileged to walk to the school in the summer as soon as the sun was up and make it home by nightfall and have everything baseball in between. 
I was privileged that there was always a plan for all of the kids to play a pick-up game regardless of the number.
I was privileged as a teen to have an agent who found me jobs in the summer.  That agent was my football coach and the jobs always involved lots of sore muscles and sweat. 
I was privileged to have a High School English teacher who ordered me to enter a writing contest and privileged not to question her authority.
I was privileged to take a graduate level history program as a sophomore that consisted completely of writing research papers and having the other 6 members of the class edit you paper as well as the professor.  It was a privilege to learn to write.
I was privileged to run the 6 plus miles from our house east of town to the high school starting before the sun rose, not because I had to, but because I was compelled to do it.
I was privileged to haul hay for 2 cents a bail, which included loading the hay into the highest and hottest reaches of many barns.
I was privileged to work the ground, plant a large garden, and bless neighbors with a good crop.
I was privileged to cut wood, chop wood, stack wood, and bring it inside to keep the fire going in the winter.  We lived in a house made out of granite.  It might have withstood an artillery barrage but wasn’t much for insulation.
 I was privileged that my father knew how to improve our situation every place that we lived.
I was privileged to pick up my fishing pole on any day there was still daylight left, walk to the lake, catch grasshoppers along the way for bait, and usually bring something home to eat that night.
I was privileged to work in a small-town market, stocking shelves, unloading trucks, bagging ice, cleaning the toilet, cutting meat, cleaning the meat saw—and living to tell about it, taking beer back to the cooler because the person trying to buy it was younger than me, using floor sweep, running the register, collecting on bad checks, rotating stock, and talking to the old man who came in every day because he had nowhere else to go.
I was privileged that when the power when out, I would bring water up to the house from the hand pump down by the spring.
I was privileged to be able to pay for my own college by working each semester.  Had I possessed a trace of Native American blood in me, college in Oklahoma would have been a free ride.  But I was privileged to pay my own way.  My family got me started, but I was privileged to have developed a solid work ethic by this point.
I was privileged to have driven a 1966 Ford station wagon to college, held together in many places by bailing wire and duct tape.  It was a luxury model with power windows that got stuck in the up position for the summer and in the down position for the winter.
I was privileged to have been able to walk just about everywhere I needed in college.
I was privileged to live in a dorm without air conditioning, functioning elevators, and people from many nations and cultures in the world who would gather faithfully to watch Star Trek and Mod Squad on the dorm’s single television.
I was privileged to be the dorm’s Runner-Up Champion in Pong.
I was privileged to make it through dozens of papers and reports with an Olivetti manual typewriter.  I was privileged to praise the Lord when I used my first word processer a few years after graduating college.  It was the size of an entertainment center in a huge man cave, but using it was a privilege.
It was a privilege to be part of the 1%, not the richest 1% that people seemed fixated on, the fewer than 1% who can call themselves Marines.  This was more than privilege.  This was honor.
It was a privilege to be in our nation’s capital for the bicentennial celebration.  Wow!
It was a privilege to have touched the moon rock at the Air and Space Museum.
It was a privilege to have visited the National Archives, every monument in our nation’s capital, and Arlington National Cemetery.
It was a privilege to come out of crawling under the slimiest much on the face of the earth to an atmosphere of smoke and haze and all manner of hellish sounds, to which those who have done it just say, ‘ The Quigley Special.”
It was a privilege to walk along a jungle trail at night and find a banana spider engulfing my face.  It was a privilege to know that my heart could beat that fast.
It was a privilege to have know men who gave the last full measure of devotion.
It was a privilege to have attended Amphibious Warfare School with the current Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and had the current Secretary of Defense as my commanding office in the last millennia. It is a privilege to know that both have fully given their lives to the security of this nation.
It was a privilege to have taken the Secretary General of the United Nations on a tour through the DMZ at the end of the first Gulf War.
It was a privilege to move my family from base to base every few years, changing schools and churches and friends for my children.
It was a privilege to cross Quadafi’s Line of Death just because we could.
It was a privilege to have been sent to evacuate noncombatants from Lebanon, only to be told, “Never mind” and then be back off the coast again a week later. 
It was a privilege to get up in the middle of the night to relieve my bladder and huge spiders run towards me mistaking my vibrations as that of their favorite meal, the camel.
It was a privilege to have seen the desert viper—a rattlesnake in Arabia with the horns of a devil.
It was a privilege to have lived at the base of Mount Fuji for almost three months and have seen the mountain’s tops only a handful of days during that time as clouds separated what was above from what was below.
It was a privilege to dispatch Marines to provide security for the Pope in the Philippines and as an honor guard at Presidents Nixon’s funeral in California.
It was a privilege to have spent almost a year at sea.
It was a privilege to get your own laundry back while aboard ship.
It was a privilege to be home on leave the day my father died very unexpectedly.
It was a privilege to get the employee discount at the Charlotte airport because the people at the food court saw me so much they decided that I had to work there.
It was a privilege to fly out of Albert J. Ellis Airport in Jacksonville, North Carolina, and hear, “We’re first in line for takeoff every time I got on a plane.”
It was a privilege to be on a run in the middle of the DMZ when a vehicle with a .50 caliber came racing across the sand towards me and when they arrived I said only Ana Amreeki—I am an American—and they turned tail and left.
It was a privilege in the last century to arrive at the Orlando Airport 15 minutes before my flight and have plenty of time.
It was a privilege in this century to have 4 hours between flights in Heathrow, undress three times at checkpoints, empty my carryon twice, and barely make my connecting flight.
It was a privilege to watch the bags determined by the Athens Airport Security to be unsafe, placed in the belly of my 747 ride home.
It is a privilege to answer a question that people ask again and again, perhaps just as a present to me.  How long does it take the average person to become a Marine?  Smiling like I had just been thrown a belt-high fastball, I replied:  Son, an average person will never become a Marine.
It was a privilege to go through about 40 miles of darkness in the middle of the day because of the smoke from burning oil wells at the end of the First Gulf War.
It was a privilege to have not been invited to the extinguishing of the last oil well, which had to be ignited after it was put out the first time so that the Emir of Kuwait could be there and watch it ceremoniously be extinguished in his presence.
It was a privilege to have dinner with a Russian officer for about six months in the Iraqi dessert who was probably GRU but might have been KGB.  It was a privilege to discuss privileged but never classified information and knowing what was unsaid but not saying that you knew.
It was a privilege to go into the Bank of Kuwait go get a couple hundred dollars to buy food for a couple weeks in the desert and see Kuwaiti ladies draw out stacks of hundred Dinar notes—maybe $30,000 for the day’s shopping.
It was a privilege to write “FREE” on a piece of mail while I was in Iraq and Kuwait.
It was a privilege that on more than a dozen occasions as a commissioned officer, I was the first to tell a mother or wife that her son had been killed.
It was a privilege to know that the people shooting my way were not shooting at me personally, or if they were, were terrible marksmen.
I was privileged to watch an army unit from Pakistan clear a minefield by sending the junior most soldiers into it probing with sticks.  This was after the war.  Nobody was under fire.  Equipment to do the job much more safely was available, but more expensive.
It was a privilege to conduct hundreds of preliminary inquiries, Congressional inquiries, JAGMAN investigations, and other formal investigations.
I was privileged to teach a thinking tool called OPV—other people’s views—to move beyond what are often very myopic perspectives.
It was a privilege to attend special training with the Special Forces in Fort Bragg, North Carolina so as to provide relief to these Green Berets and their unexpended repertoire of Marine jokes.
I was privileged to watch modern slavery in action in Southwest Asia as people from Bangladesh were imported as indentured servants and found dead on the curb if the terms of their indenture were not satisfactory to their owners.
It was a privilege to eat with the Omani Army stationed on the Kuwaiti side of the DMZ.  These were by far the most well trained of the local forces but during dinner, the medical officer was not allowed to eat with the Omani Officers because he was from Pakistan.  He accepted it as the way of the world.
It was a privilege to have flown so much on both United and American that the ladies working the counters on both the left and right coasts greeted me by name before I gave them my ticket.
It was a privilege to be worshiped by over 50 women in the middle of Kuwait City, realizing only later they were Kurds and knew the American Flag on my left shoulder as a sign of salvation.
It was a privilege to go to the village just outside of Um Qasr, Iraq that the United Nations had declared dangerous because the people would throw rocks at the UN vehicles.  I would go in, buy bread cooked in a stone oven, and have plenty of change for the kids that would swarm me.  What the UN never realized was the when the US 1st Division was present during the war, American soldiers did what they have always done.  They gave their candy and crackers to the kids.  When the US Army left and the UN came in, the kids were invisible to these international officers.  Less than two bucks for bread.  Two bucks for the kids.  Everyone was happy.
I was privileged to disarm a man of his mines and cluster bombs that he had gathered in the Wadi Al Batan after his arm was severed by one of the explosive devices a half-hour before.  The United Nations medivac chopper would not fly him to Basra with an armload of explosives.  Parting with them meant losing enough money in their sale value to feed his family for one, perhaps two months.  Saddam was paying civilians to recover mines and explosives from the desert.
It was a privilege to see half a dozen UN officers clapping and cheering as about a dozen or so Iraqi civilians had rescued the pitiful remains of an armored personnel carrier from its charred fighting hole somewhere in the DMZ and were on their way into Iraq to get paid for its salvage.
It was a privilege to see simple, hardworking people without political, religious, or racial agenda just trying to squeeze a living out of whatever they could in the Iraqi desert.
It was a privilege to work out at the Russian Gym at Patrol Base S-5, where a Russian officer had made an outdoor weight room out of axels and wheels from destroyed Iraqi vehicles, most of which had come from Russia.
It was a privilege to have been in the UN when the Soviet Union became the Former Soviet Union and overnight, 19 out of 20 Soviet officers ripped off their Hammer and Cycle Patches in favor of their nation’s patches. 
It was a privilege to have consoled the only officer who did not as he sat outside on wooden steps crying, “I liked being Soviet.”
It was a privilege to have taught 1350 forward deployed men the mandatory class on sexual harassment.  Every trainer needs to learn to hold his student's interest on a topic for which any immediate application was not foreseeable.
It was a privilege to carry a mirror on a telescopic shaft so that I could search my vehicle if I had been in Kuwait City or Dhahran or Safwan.  Occasionally, people who did not like Americans attached gifts on the underside.
It was a privilege to teach men who had been in prison much of their lives about efficacy and authority and see hope blossom before me.
It was a privilege to mentor men who had given up hope after their second or third incarceration that they could live outside the barbed fences.
It was a privilege to hear from these men reporting to me sometime after their release and after I had no professional relationship with them that they had stayed the course.
It was a privilege to connect on Facebook with some of these men who were doing good things with their lives, for their families, and for others.
It was a privilege to be called in the middle of the night to console parents who had met with me once years ago for financial help and who had lost a month-old child only an hour earlier. 
It was a privilege to be one of two white people in the town of Langas, population just under 2 million. In the greater Eldoret-Langas area, there were probably 8 light-skinned people out of 3.5 million.
It was a privilege to watch fathers drag their sons out to see you, point at you, and say:  Mzungu, meaning white people
It was a privilege to sit at the Ugandan-Kenyan border, passports and papers in order, but our host’s vehicle was not legal to drive.
It was a privilege to see the Roman Colosseum, Yokohama and Tokyo Towers, Mount Fuji,
It was a privilege to give the security workers in the Kenya Airport GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristbands and launch into a conversation about Jesus Christ.
It was a privilege to give the security workers in the Heathrow Airport GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristbands and have them search you again as suspicious.
It was a privilege to reenter the United States after a cruise and only later find out that I had butt-dialed—actually facetimed—my conversation with the porter helping us with our luggage.  It was indeed a privilege to find out that the broadcast conversation was on Calvin’s TULIP and had started with the GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristbands that I gave him.
It was a privilege to receive emails from people all over the world who had worked on a cruise ship and I had given wristbands and my cards.
It was a privilege to go to Branson, Missouri for Spring Break and see children with GOD LOVES YOU – LOVE ONE ANOTHER wristbands.
It is a privilege to speak to the teachers at the beginning of the year about purpose.
It is a privilege to endure hundreds of hateful comments about breaking the vending machine knowing that the church is about relationships and inclusion.  We are transformational, not transactional.
It is a privilege when one of my contemporaries asks if they can just use one of my books for their sermon if they provide appropriate attribution and I can reply attribution is irrelevant.  The only condition is that it be to the glory of God.
It was a privilege to be a part of transitioning the local baccalaureate from a clergy-led to a student-led worship service with the pastors serving as mentors and advisors.
It is a privilege every time I see a child who never received much love in the home, somehow overcome and get a scholarship or find a home in the service.
It is a privilege every time during my walk home, I gather a crew of kids and we talk about Jesus, VBS, Camp, and other important life matters such as frogs and cooties.
It is a privilege every time that the kindergarten girls come into my office, close the door, and share the stresses of their lives, most of which involve some level of drama queen competition.
It is a privilege every time that I watch their mothers outside the window into the foyer wondering what secrets their children have revealed.
It is a privilege every time that someone stops me in the middle of the intersection to give me $50 for the backpack ministry.  Sometimes, I know who they are.
It was a privilege every time for some reason I felt compelled to go back into my office at some crazy hour only to be met by someone a few minutes later who was at the end of their rope.
It was a privilege as a young officer to have an editor that said cut 200 words without any explanation—an impossible task for such a short article—that when I finished I had improved the writing tenfold.
It is a privilege when I come across that one person in 22,000 that gets my quip, “Syntax is not a tariff on transgression.”
It was a privilege to have taught an 8-hour seminar on efficacy to inmates, beginning the extensive seminar at 4 a.m. so as not to be disrupted by prison announcements and movement and all manner of other distractions.  It was a privilege to watch newcomers arrive 10 minutes late mumbling, I didn’t think he was serious, while the old-timers just smiled.
It was a privilege to have taught thinking skills and creativity.
It was a privilege to have taught change management when the change paradigm changed.
It was a privilege to have been given two callings in one life.  The first as an Officer of United States Marines and the second as an ordained minister.  I kicked against the goads for a while on the latter.  Really, who would want the former as the latter.  God won.
It was a privilege to have gone from Mount Suribachi to the Hill of Calvary in spite of myself.
It is a privilege to be a child of God.
It is a privilege to be completely loved by God.
It is a privilege to be made whole by Christ Jesus.
It is a privilege to have received that which I could have never earned—right standing with God.
It is a privilege to fulfill the law by living out my salvation in love.
It is a privilege to sing, “My sin is gone, I’ve been set free.”
It is a privilege to proclaim that sin and death are defeated.
It is a privilege to look another person in the eye and tell them that God has never stopped loving them and never will.
It is a privilege to speak the truth in a spirit of love.
It is a privilege to stop whatever I am doing and pray because someone asked me to.
It is a privilege to not compare my life to what others have or do not have but to give my life fully to my Master.
It is a privilege not to complain about what is or is not fair or balanced but to do what God calls me to do in each situation.
It is a privilege not to be the judge.
It is a privilege to be on the playing field of discipleship instead of on the sidelines.
It is a privilege to belong to the Christ.
There may be some privilege that I have enjoyed because I am white, some known to me and other will never be fully known; but mostly I enjoy the privileges that I have know because I am blessed by God, was brought up in the way I should go by believing parents, and two of those ways were a solid work ethic and a hunger to be a lifelong learner.
Some of what I enumerated might not sound like privilege.  Really, breaking the news that your son is dead does not sound like a privilege.  That’s because so many equate the word privilege only with advantage.  I was privileged to be given the tough, sometimes totally undesirable jobs that require one to step far beyond any comfort zone. 
Did I have advantage over many of my peers?  Absolutely!  It was not because I was white it was because God had and has good plans for me—plans to prosper me and not to harm me.  Yes, what he told his people long ago he has given to me—hope and a future.
Part of that future goes through a few hundred investigations on top of my primary duty—investigations that prepared me to navigate a world full of hate and bias and perceptions so detached from reality that rebooting would seem the only option.
Part of that future involves writing books and lessons that may never see the bottom of the bestseller list but were placed on my heart by God, and I am privileged to publish them.
Part of that future involves visits to places where you do not want to buy real estate as well as those where you take an obnoxious number of pictures.
Many people of color that I knew had more money or scholarships or received promotions and coveted assignments because of their color, or sometimes gender.  Others did not, but what I was privileged to witness was the ability of so many of different skin colors to upend unfair circumstances by faith and perseverance.
I was truly privileged to know men and women who overcame incredible obstacles from poverty to literacy problems to addiction to a life without purpose and direction.  I am blessed to know that where you start does not have to determine what you achieve.
I saw in others and applied to my own life, the life-multiplier of purpose.  God-given purpose sets aside where we start—ahead or behind—and overcomes what cannot be overcome in our human perception.  Purpose will not permit doubt to prevail.  It will not lose focus. 
The man or woman of purpose is privileged beyond wealth and societal starting point.
I am privileged to know purpose.  I am blessed that it is God-given purpose.
I am privileged to no longer regard people in the ways of the world.  I still speak the truth in love—not in condemnation. 
I am privileged to return love for hate.  That is not easy much of the time.  God lets me know when to disconnect with someone intent on destruction of anyone and only desiring their own glory—to feel wise in their own eyes.
I am privileged to know that I am not always right and don’t have to be in order to be complete in God. 
I am privileged to have worked in the company of officers who can go toe-to-toe in a heated argument with onlookers wondering if the paint would peel from the walls, and then go for a 7 mile run with the same person 10 minutes later.
I am privileged to have worked with men and women who do not need sugar coating and pampering and find it disrespectful to treat them with such a coddling, cowardly attitude.
I am privileged to know many who discard whatever I say because of my race or my faith or the fact that I prefer complete sentences over texts and emojis.
I am privileged to take 3 or 4 week-long Sabbaticals each year as this mission that I am privileged to receive seldom works within the traditional order of a Sabbath.
I am privileged to have known self-pity and finalized my divorce with that unsavory creature.
I can live with being told that I am privileged because I am white.  I know that none of us can truly be totally objective and while I don’t put much credibility in such human absolutes as being wrong just because of my skin color; I accept the provocation to examine and reexamine my life. 
It is a practice that has been in place for a few decades.
For those entrenched in these absolutes, it discounts us both.  We will never converse to our mutual edification.  We cheat ourselves out the fullness of being brothers and sisters in Christ. 
I think a better word choice over privilege is loved.  I am loved.  I do my best to love others.
I think a better word choice over privilege is blessed.  God has blessed me not to put others at a disadvantage but so I can bless others.             
I think a better word choice over privilege is equipped.  I find myself equipped for more and more as I trust God with all of my heart and extract quality lessons from my other privileges in life.
But if I am privileged because I am white, I thank the Lord for his gift and petition him to generously grant me the wisdom to bless others through my gift.
I see so much effort expended on defining division without corresponding effort towards reconciliation.  I do not see reconciliation coming to this nation so long as we are fixed on labeling every offense with a special title.  Nomenclature can help learning.  Labeling stifles it.
We have a God of reconciliation but stubbornly resist resolving our differences in favor of strengthening our defenses.  The more we defend the labels that we put on people, the more we become anchored to our position and reconciliation gets kicked off of the day’s to-do list.
So if I am blessed because I am white or because my parents brought me up in the way I should go or because the Corps said take the hill and that mindset makes me more direct and less compromising in my language, then I will take the talents that I have been given and put them to use at once.  I will take whatever has been given to me and produce a return for my Master.  I will press on towards the goal until that day I hear, Well done, good and faithful servant.
That said, I know that most people won’t know how to take me.  Many of the supervisors that I have worked for have said that they have never had anyone who challenged the status quo so much.  I replied that I didn’t challenge the status quo.  I challenged complacency and ambivalence. I challenged things done half-heartedly.  I challenged people not standing by their word.
In fairness, in many organizations, those things are the status quo.
I don’t coddle grown men and women.  When they use demeaning tactics and name-calling, I am confrontational, not by doing the same but by challenging them to stick to the facts of their case and not to resort to hatefulness. 
I am not welcomed in gossip sessions, for people know that I will say, Well, let’s just ask them…
So when people say, White Privilege to me, I reply, Give me some specifics.  Don’t throw labels at me.  Let’s talk specifics.  Perhaps, I have a lumberyard in my eye.  Help me find it!  Don’t just slap a label on me and expect the Medal of Freedom.
Don’t project your experience and your intent into my words.  If you see me about to step into traffic and get run over, don’t shout: “Stupid!”  The Lord said don’t try to trip up those already disadvantaged by blindness or deafness.  If I am truly blind to something, I don’t need labels thrown at me, I need a guide.
Or, shout whatever you want if your intent is confrontation for the point of producing divisiveness or vitriol, but don’t expect me to value words anchored in hate no matter how you label them.
Is this the end of the story?  No, self-examination and examination with an accountability partner are good practices for the life-long learner—for the disciple who has taken his Master’s yoke and wants to learn from him.  But this is enough for now in this matter.  I have done my due diligence, asked for assistance from the one slapping labels on me (which brought about his silence) and have my eyes fixed on Jesus.
If there was a lumberyard in my eye, I needed it removed; but as I can not find it in my own examination, my accuser has refused to help, and I am on a mission from God—this rabbit trail ends here.  I will not be chastised that I was running a good race and some cut me off.
Eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Finisher, Pioneer and Perfecter of my faith!


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