5 Minute Post: Wrestling with Privilege

I’ve been grappling with my privilege a lot lately. I find that in nearly all my circles I have a leg up without having really done anything. I am a white (though I am well aware of the many sacrifices my Mexican grandfather endured to give my mom her future), male, straight, educated, Protestant (broadly defined). I live in the most powerful country in the world. In my chosen career I am one of the few (roughly one in four) who landed a tenure track gig (at a place I like, to boot!). All of these give me immense advantages to others and I cannot say without significant qualifications (sometimes at all) that I am responsible for any of them.

At the same time I am very sympathetic to those who are marginalized and disenfranchised. I spent four years thinking hard about the issues that keep people from flourishing. Often, those who are privileged are active participants in a system that keeps people marginalized, and in the worst cases poor and hungry. I hate the injustice of it all and I want to see it change.

And yet, because I too participate in the system, I am complicit. But I sure don’t know how I ought to respond. Ostensibly I am in a position that can help change an unjust system. But I feel so powerless against the marginalizing forces that I participate in. I often try to listen and amplify voices from the margins. Sometimes I chime in. Other than that I am mostly a passive (and sometimes active) participant. 

What about you? How do you respond to structural inequality? How do you respond to your privilege or lack thereof? What power do you and I have?

10 Comments

Filed under culture, justice

10 responses to “5 Minute Post: Wrestling with Privilege

  1. joyfuljoy93

    Last night on the news there was a organization on the news that decided to stay open 24/7 so that homeless teens would have a place to stay during the extremely cold weather that night. They made a pitch asking for volunteers that night or really any other night as well as donations. There was a teen on there that said “people take everything for granted, but they don’t realize that everything is a privilege. Having a warm place, things like that.” My first instinct, was of course to help out and volunteer. But then I realized it was 1030 at night, the place was about a half hour away from my house, and I honestly didn’t want to go outside at all. Feeling quite selfish and trying to justify this I decided to pray, and it went along the lines of “thank you for..etc please help etc..” and I was yet again aware of how much I have been blessed with..and slightly disappointed in myself for not actually doing anything (but prayer is helpful..). This is a bitter sweet feeling because part of me knows I don’t actually deserve any of it, yet the other part of me is content to just stay where I am. I donate money and volunteer. I try and “love my neighbor as myself.” But I often feel guilty. Why do I attend a $40000 school? Do I really need a smart phone? Do I really need everything I think I do? The simple answer, is no. So the problem then, is what am I supposed to do with all the things I have been blessed with? I am no better than the homeless man on the street-I just have more resources.
    I believe that the conclusion I come to has two parts. The first, is awareness. Being aware of how I spend my time, resources etc. affects everyone believe it or not. Instead of buying “X” I can..sponsor a child/donate to a group and so on. Instead of going to the mall on Sat. I could volunteer at a shelter. Overall making sure that I am not spending my resources frivolously reminds me that I need to be constantly aware of what I have and what I’m doing with it.
    The second part for me then, is realizing that God can give and take away as he pleases. Think about it. What if my mom lost her job? What if our cars broke down and everyone became ill at the same time. Or a house fire. Literally, anything is possible. For me, being a Christian means I need to not only trust that God will provide, but realize that his definition of provide and mine are probably two different things. I think it’s being able to have the mindset, that if God literally came and said “hey, drop out of college and go do mission work in a third world country” or if your family lost everything instantly, or something insane like that, being willing to trust that he will provide. Trusting God means not hoarding your things to yourself. It means giving unconditionally even when it hurts, but knowing that you can trust he’ll provide.
    Christians these days are to afraid to give unconditionally because we obsess over what we have and what we want.We get scared with the idea of it all being taken away. But I think as Christians we are given different standards. They’re scary to an outsider. But giving/loving others unconditionally is a great way to show Gods love and amplify the meaning of being a Christian. Imagine what would happen if we actually did this.

  2. Lauren Rea Preston

    Most importantly, you have to fight the feeling of powerlessness. It is the trick of the mind in a racist, classist system. It tricks us all into thinking we have no power to change anything, especially those who have the most power to do so. Amazingly, I find that it is a white men who feel the most powerless. So it convinces me all the more that this is simply a delusion from the master narrative that we have swallowed. We have to fight back. Sort of like the red pill or the blue pill in the Matrix. Every day. Again. And again. Little steps. Baby steps. Until we look back and we have gone down a different path then we would have before.

  3. As a White Feminist, I’m doing my best to sit back and listen to WOC. I’ve intentionally sought out new WOC to follow on twitter, and I endeavor to read as many articles and blog posts they tweet as possible. I also try to signal-boost them via social media as much as possible. It’s a starting place, but when a less privileged group tells me that I should listen, well, that’s where I’m going to start.

  4. maggi

    Do you ever have input into organising conferences, visiting Professors or Visiting Fellows? Are you on any appointments committees? Are you on admissions? Wherever you have a say, that’s where your power is. And for sure it is small steps. You can’t change the whole system by yourself, but you can make a difference. If you carefully research where the talent is in your own field, among women, non-white, over 50, second career, disabled persons, etc etc (all the “isms”), then you would have a list of names to offer when people are asking for longlists/shortlists to invite or recruit. Every time there is an all-male, all-white or all-western shortlist for anything at all, just ask why – and have those names ready to recommend. Usually people think “but there just aren’t enough women, people of colour, etc etc.” There are, in fact, enough to start making a difference, but it’s still going to take determination to get the doors of institutions open wide enough for all comers to be treated with genuinely equal opportunity.
    Another thing you could do is focus on who does most of the talking in your classroom. Are there women who always get shouted down, or people with English as a second language who don’t have time to articulate a point, or… you know the rest. Just developing eyes to see who is being left out – that’s another place where your power is.
    Go for it! So glad you are asking the questions.

  5. Pingback: God on the Ground | The Daily Cake

  6. Pingback: Privilege Revisited | dyingsparrows

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