Commentary: Racial Baggage Challenge: Week 4
This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, April 3, 2013 - What comes to mind when you hear the word privilege? Many people become defensive and want to distance themselves from it. “My life isn’t perfect. I didn’t ask for all this. I don’t feel powerful...”
Privilege is not about deserving, asking or working for something. It just is.
Privilege is not a dirty word. It’s merely naming what is.
Some privileges (called unearned entitlements in the anti-ism field) are things we should all receive. For example we should all, regardless of religious affiliation or not, have the privilege of respect over belittlement or minimization. Note I said, “respect” rather than “agreement” or “tolerance.” Another example is the unearned advantage of being welcomed to the neighborhood (as opposed to being seen a nuisance or a sign property values will decline).
Conferred dominance refers to privileges that give you power over another. In line with the previous example, Christians in our society have the power to have vacations and closings approximate their religious calendar. That reality is one that Jews, Muslims, Hindus or other religious groups do not have the power to do (i.e., make the general public observe their holidays). Try claiming the Post Office should suspend delivery on Ramadan or Yom Kippur. It’s not going to happen. And it is not because any one person is conspiring to keep all of the scheduling privileges for Christians. Recall our earlier discussion about systems of privilege being about more than individual actors.
It’s not one Christian's fault that they have Christmas off. Yet, in my opinion, it’s that Christian's responsibility to see rather than minimize her privileged status. Using her sphere of influence, perhaps she will be in a position to implement rotating holidays in her place of work.
There are examples of people of varied faith traditions pitching in on each others’ holidays to support one another. That’s a small example of how seeing privilege can effect change. Guilt, shame, frustration, anger, and other emotions that might be tied to examining privilege can be channeled in productive ways. I’m not saying that to minimize those emotions, which can be points of empathy and connection, I’m simply encouraging you not to get stuck there.
When it comes to race, it can be particularly difficult to name and own privilege. In my opinion, that push back is often what claims of reverse racism are rooted in [http://www.alternet.org/story/15223/whites_swim_in_racial_preference]. It’s much easier to lash out than to look within.
Goals: To reflect on our personal experiences of privilege across our multiple identities (e.g., as a Black female, who is Christian and heterosexual, I have a different set of privileges than a White male who is atheist and gay.).
To be willing to name your privilege and own the power you have within your spheres of influence.
1. Watch this Tedx Talk.
3. Write down at least 10 privileges across your identity groups that you experience (they can be of examples of unearned entitlements or of conferred dominance).
Bonus: Talk to someone about it and/or post your list.
Please do let me know what is on your mind, what you are experiencing as you go through these challenges, topics you want make sure we get to. You can comment on my site, via email, or join the conversation on Both Andon Facebook.