Privilege, privilege everywhere. Maybe I am becoming over sensitive. Maybe I was blind before, given that I am a beneficiary of white privilege, educational privilege, western privilege, and so on… So now I see it where I didn’t before, although it was there all along, like how you see strollers everywhere after having a baby, or short hair cuts everywhere if you are thinking of chopping yours.
But recently, I have been struggling with what seems to be a heckofalotta privilege. And I am trying to work through those thoughts, which are still not totally clear. Part of this process is a writing exercise with one line of thinking here and another on my parenting blog, Elevensies. Same word, two takes.
We went and watched soccer at Dodger stadium. Two young men (non-white) where hopping seats, trying to stay closer to the field while they could. Eventually, they were asked to head to their ticketed seats. Then I caught the middle-aged white man three rows up bragging to the white couple behind him about having them removed. “They were just annoying me,” he said. (They were next to us for a while, and I didn’t think they were bothersome.) So he asked security to check their tickets, knowing security would be responsive to him.
5 rows above us, a fan began to (re-) sing his team song for Real Madrid. There weren’t many singing fans for this match (it was a double header and the second had a lot more) but his song was totally appropriate and fit the context. It also happened to be in Spanish.
Ticket-checker man turns back to the couple. “What about him?! I could ask about him too” he jokes. Maybe it was just because the man behind us was a louder fan. But hey, soccer’s a loud sport.
A church in our area just started offering English classes for Spanish speakers. They also happen to be located in an area with a very robust adult education system with some of the best ESL instructors around. (ESL is a field, after all, and speaking English hardly qualifies one to teach it to others.) They also happen to not be located in a Spanish speaking area, though they are near one. This means students would need to a) find out about them and b) drive a bit to get there. Neither are insurmountable, but it just begs the question of whether it’s really serving the community or just feeding the egos of the church so they can think they’re helping?
My friend and I are working on launching some children’s church curriculum. For our website, I went looking for a stock photo of a kid or group of kids. I just wanted them smiling, looking like regular, real kids. Not in a circle. Not all thumbs up. Just happy kids. So I searched. And searched. And searched.
Why is it that a photo of one happy white kid can go onto a website and represent “kids”? Meanwhile, it seems that, based on the quantity of them (or lack thereof) a photo of one happy brown kid won’t work? And why, when a photographer is manufacturing a “multi-ethnic” group of children does the black child have to have an afro?
I didn’t know what to pick and I still haven’t bought anything.
Rick Warren posted a really stupid thing on his Facebook, loaded with racial insensitivity. I believe he did it accidentally and with no malicious intent whatsoever. But when some people raised concerns to help him see his mistake he (or his people) became dismissive. And then those same original people kindly responded by saying that dismissive was not the right response. Then he issued a very very poor excuse for an apology, and a bunch of commenters blamed those who were offended for being so, rather than acknowledging that what he did was offensive (not only to Asians and Asian American but to the gospel) and a mistake. You can read more about the whole thing here and here. (Each author also has follow up posts that are worthwhile.)
I see that all four of my examples are about race, and if you’ve never read and reflected on the List of White Privileges, it is worth the time. Certainly there are other types of privilege too–gender and class spring to mind.
What’s getting to me is how those of us who benefit from privilege seem ill equipped to do much about it. Even if we want to own that reality, confront it, change it, we seem to do little more than say, in an undertone, to our white friends, that we feel guilty about it.
And I guess that is all I’m really doing here, but maybe–hopefully–I’m saying it with a bit of spine, out loud, I feel guilty and confused. I do not know the way forward. I welcome your help.