Archive for the ‘Privilege’ Tag

The Myth of American Tolerance   Leave a comment

The other day my wife and I were talking with an Iranian-American woman. We mentioned that we might teach English in order to finance travelling abroad. She asked why we didn’t become missionaries if we wanted to travel abroad.

I think that question caught us both off guard. Becoming missionaries wasn’t really something my wife and I had ever talked seriously about doing. For me personally, given my Catholic background, that kind of evangelism is deeply counter intuitive. Evangelism happens in the context of a other ministries to the under-served. But even more  than that, it just seems rude to me now. I have been abroad and I am shallowly aware of how little I know of other countries’ contexts and experiences. Going to another country, any other country, with the message “I know what you need,” just seems presumptuous and arrogant at this point in my life.

But my wife responded a bit more simply, “We have more respect for other religions than that.”

And that’s when it happened. It’s only happened a few other times in my life, but every time it does I get a few warm fuzzies and my heart almost breaks with sorrow.

Our Iranian-American friend looked overjoyed and relieved at the same time. She asked if she could hug my wife and looked as if she might cry.

And so the myth of American tolerance died for me all over again. This woman, this person who had come to my country years ago and started to raise a son here, had found it notable that my wife and I did not want to go to her country and tell them all the ways they were wrong. And not just notable, she had found it moving that my wife and I did not feel comfortable being missionaries.

I have never felt like that. I have never felt like that because the people of America have accepted me in a way they never accepted this woman. I have never felt like that because the people of Morocco accepted me too. I never had to ask my mother not to wear a headscarf when she dropped my son off at school so he wouldn’t be bullied, the way this woman had.

As a white Christian male citizen of the country with the world’s most expensive army, sometimes I’m glad that I don’t know the extent of my own privilege. Because even the glimpses of the unprivilege of others  shake my soul.


Posted 02/28/2013 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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A Reminder   Leave a comment

Content Note: Fat Shaming, Bullying, Ageism, Racism

I’ve been getting a frustrating reminder of why I left the Catholic Church.

I’ve been following several Catholic blogs so that I can maintain a Catholic vocabulary. I’ve been leaving comments (mostly negative, unfortunately) and trying to engage the bloggers and other commenters. I want to try to bridge the gap between where I am and where I was out of loyalty to the positive values I was raised with.

I have not been especially successful so far. Mostly people haven’t been engaging with me. But yesterday saw the beginning of an exchange that has reminded me why I left the Catholic Church in the first place. The exchange has been taking place on this post. The post is racist, fat shaming, and ageist. Basically, a white Catholic priest, writing in the “voice” of a female Spaniard (it’s worse than it sounds), tries to discredit his liturgical opponents by contrasting their Mass, where “only the old fat people who are singing” against his well attended Mass.

Pointing out the racism of the post, unfortunately, would have been pointless. White people like this priest are so used to reflexively denying their own racism, I wouldn’t have stood a chance of getting my point across, and the attempt probably would have compromised efforts in other areas. Maybe if I keep commenting on the blog, earn some level of respect, and get to the point where I can’t be dismissed out of hand, I’ll try to tackle that kind of racism. But I’m not there yet.

 But I did think I’d be able to take on the ageism and the fat shaming. I thought, “These insults would have been childish in middle school. Surely he won’t be that attached to them.” I really didn’t expect to meet much resistance.

As you’ve probably guessed, I was wrong. I was told that I had no sense of humor. I was told to lighten up. I was told that I was the one who was really fat shaming and ageist. I was not responded to, however. And that frustrates me. It annoys me. It saddens me. This priest is popular. He is respected in the English speaking Catholic community. And he is defending infantile and degrading insults he made.

But that isn’t the reminder I was talking about that I was correct to leave the Catholic Church. This priest is popular, but that doesn’t make him really representative. And for all I know, the failure of communication happened on my end. Maybe I could have pitched my message in a different form, less agressively, more forcefully, or more intelligently. The breakdown in communication wasn’t the real problem.

When I was a Catholic, I thought Catholicism was the best explanation for what happened in the world. I expected Catholics to be on the leading edge of the most important issues. Given the Catholic Church’s preferential option for the poor, I thought the Catholic Church knew best what those issues were.

But I realized anew in this exchange how untrue that is. It isn’t just that I can’t make myself clear to this one priest. It’s that I would be pleasantly surprised if any Catholic knew what a micro-aggression was. I do not expect individual Catholics, much less the Catholic hierarchy, to know how privilege functions. I don’t expect Catholics to know about rape culture. I don’t even expect Catholics to have proper understanding of victim blaming. The Catholic Church as a whole has not embraced these ideas. It isn’t using its impressive resources for spreading this information around. If anything, I would expect the hierarchy to actively resist these ideas. I would expect them to be dismissed as feminist or liberal whining.

The Catholic Church will not be able to serve the poor until it at least engages with these ideas. And it hasn’t engaged them. Intelligent Catholics, who are actually intelligent, don’t explore these ideas in any great numbers. And that’s why I’m not a Catholic. Not only does the Catholic Church as a whole not embrace these ideas, which I think it should. It doesn’t even engage with them.

How am I supposed to think the Catholic Church accurately grasps reality when it doesn’t even try to understand these ideas?

Of Course, That’s How it Works   Leave a comment

So I was reading an article about women in Christian ministry, and the author was talking about criticism of the practice. One line really stuck with me. He said something to the effect that even some women criticized women ministers for being in the ministry.

And my thought was, of course women criticize women ministers. That’s how marginalization works.

I happen to be a privileged person. In that, I am lucky. The odds of being as privileged as I am (citizen of the wealthiest nation in the world, male, straight, white, not poor, nuero-typical, and in good health) are actually pretty low. So the only why it is even possible for privileged people to stay privileged is to get marginalized groups to police themselves. Women criticize women who want an equal role in ministry, gay people are told that their very existence should be a cause of shame, racial minorities are bombarded with unflattering portrayals of racial minorities on television.

Privileged people aren’t privileged because they’re better or even more numerous than unprivileged people, they’re privileged because society is set up to serve their interests and ignore the interests of others. That only works so long as marginalized people accept being ignored.

Unfortunately, realizing that marginalized people have more power than they’re normally given credit for isn’t a magic bullet. Privilege doesn’t just happen. It is enforced. Violently. Economic violence (read, poverty), physical violence (read, bullying), and psychological violence (read, television and many other things) are all used to keep marginalized people marginalized. So I’m not saying that everyone should stand up immediately and stop putting up with privilege. Many people don’t have enough privilege even to do that. I’m saying that we should all understand how privilege works (so not express surprise that some marginalized people advocate against their own interest), and do whatever our own unique situation will allow us to do.

That’s all anyone should ever ask of anyone else. I don’t want any more.

About Political Correctness   Leave a comment

Trigger Warning: Rape, Mental Illness

Today, someone close to me was hurt very deeply. They were hurt through the thoughtless actions of a thoughtless person. It caused me to reflect about political correctness.

Political Correctness has almost become a smear. Political incorrectness is almost worn as a badge of honor. How many radio jockeys have started out a sentence by saying, “I know it’s not politically correct to say this, but…” Political correctness is viewed by many as a form of censorship. As making mountains out of mole hills. As a form of elitism.

And that really ticks me off.

It is not politically correct to call someone crazy. It is not politically correct to use the word “rape” casually (as in, “that lineman raped the quarterback on that last play”). These things are not politically incorrect arbitrarily. These things are not politically incorrect because the thought police have decided to clamp down on free speech. These things are politically incorrect because the world is full of people who aren’t privileged.

I am privileged. None of my friends or family suffers from a serious mental illness that I know of. I have not been raped, nor am I aware of anyone close to me being raped. “Rape” and “crazy” are words that carry little emotional content for me. I can hear them without having some of the most painful experiences in my life dragged to the front of my thoughts. I am privileged in that way.

But not everyone is. Some people have suffered from mental illness, or been close to others that have. Some people have been raped. For these people, “rape” and “crazy” are not necessarily simple words. They can be gates to some of the most awful memories that a person has. And that’s why we have political correctness. That’s why the people who condemn political correctness are not champions of free speech, they’re just privileged, unsympathetic A-holes. I’m not saying political correctness is always right; it isn’t. I am saying that the people who dismiss it out of hand suck.

Privilege really is a problem. It allows people to not see the point of political correctness. Privilege allows people to let painful words fall carelessly. And I know it’s a problem because my friend, the one who was hurt, wasn’t hurt by a lack of political correctness. As restrictive as the critics of political correctness seem to find it, it wouldn’t have prevented my friend from getting hurt. My friend was hurt simply because a privileged person didn’t take the time to understand their situation.

Posted 07/16/2012 by reluctantliberal in Generic Post

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