(More Than) A Few Words About Privilege

A topic of great interest for me has been the concept of privilege. From conversations and commentary I’ve been involved in there appears to be nearly as many ideas of what privilege is and what it means as there are comments. It is out of character for me to be simple in any way but how I understand privilege seems simple compared to other explanations I have heard.

I have tried to keep myself out of this discussion, from the standpoint of my own privilege. My demographic is fraught with privilege to the degree that I may never get to the bottom of it. I am white, male, middle class, heterosexual, cisgender, protestant, college educated, a senior, with a mental disorder. All of those things are prime examples of things that are associated with some form of privilege or another.

One might ask what having a mental disorder has to do with privilege but I assure you that one has access to certain things much easier when one is “disabled”. Regardless, that litany of things about me are all subject to privilege for a very good reason. Things. They are not character traits. They are actual things. They are ‘whats’ and not ‘whos’.

This is the basis for my appreciation of what privilege is and perhaps more importantly, what it isn’t. Privilege is about things. Depending on what sort of thing we are talking about the thing a person is is either subject to privilege or not. The primary indicator is that privilege is not about who we are but about what we are. And privilege is about choice. It is about what we choose to do about the privileges we have.

I can see that this explanation is vague so let’s look into it a little closer. The criterion I use to determine if a thing has privilege is how many people can be that thing. Who you are can be anyone, and anyone can be who you are. For example, a doctor can be anyone and anyone can be a doctor. That is a who. When someone asks us who we are we normally answer with a who answer, an answer that could apply to anyone. We might say we are a doctor. That’s a who. That’s because anyone can be a doctor.

When asked who we are we likely wouldn’t say we are male. Why? Because male is not a who answer. It is a what answer. Male is a logical answer to the question what are you. That is because not everyone can be a ‘what’. We don’t ask who nationality are you. Or who colored eyes do you have. Of course ‘what’ questions can sometimes have who answers. One might ask what kind of car do you drive. But the answer there is a subset of a who answer. Anyone can potentially drive a car. So anyone could drive the same kind of car you drive.

And herein we have the criterion for the difference between who and what, between privilege and not privilege. Sure it can get confusing. If the difference between a ‘who’ and a ‘what eludes you remember the prime indicator. The proof for a ‘who’ or a ‘what’ is in the number of people that can do or be a thing. Anyone can be a doctor. Not everyone can be male. All males have privilege. Doctors do not.

Some caveats here. First, one might say that doctors have privilege. They get better seats at the theatre and restaurants, better service from just about any mechanic or cashier than other people. But that is a function of earned merit. It is not something they just are. It is something they chose to earn. Anyone can study for years to become a doctor, but no one can study to be Irish.

It is also obvious that many people have a lesser chance to be a doctor than others. But once again that is a function of choice as well, just in a different direction. People who want to be doctors are often not chosen for the opportunity to become doctors based on factors such as race and class or education. Or, people with privilege are thought to be more qualified to become doctors are chosen by others with privilege, in positions of power.

Earned privilege is not the same as ‘what’ privilege. Earned privilege doesn’t always apply to a given situation. Whereas someone who identifies as male is always male, a doctor’s earned privilege is dependent on someone else granting it to him. The mechanic can always say, ‘I don’t care if you are a doctor you aren’t getting your car done earlier than anybody else’.

Here is where we start getting into what privilege really is. It’s people getting advantages or disadvantages simply because of what they are. You’re black and you can’t buy a house in a certain neighborhood but if you are white you can. That is white privilege. It is also racism. The racism is the realtor’s and not so much the two competing parties. Racism and white privilege are not the same thing. Anyone can be a racist. That is a who. Only certain people can be white. That is a what. Now of course a person can be both white with privilege and racist. That is a dangerous state of being we will touch on later.

Another way of determining if a person is privileged is to use what I call the Aldi criterion. When a person walks into Aldi pushing a cart you can sometimes tell by looking at them that they belong to a specific group of people. They are ‘whats’who have some sort of privilege. Or sometimes you can’t tell at allThose people are usually “who’s’. Using the Aldi criterion when a doctor walks into Aldi unless they are wearing scrubs no one can tell they are a doctor. But if a woman wearing a hijab pushes her cart in she is immediately known to be a Muslim woman with traditionally little privilege.

It is interesting that unless they otherwise reveal themselves, like the doctor in scrubs, it’s impossible to know a person’s ‘who’ by observing their ‘what’. Any black, asian, native, latin, or white person, man or woman, could be a doctor. This is another way we can understand that anyone can be a who but only certain people are whats. One can see that this criteria applies consistently, at least for observations based on visible physicality.

When a Muslim or white person enters Aldi one knows immediately. As soon as a white person pushes their cart through the door you know they probably won’t be watched on the camera feeds like a young black male would be. Unless of course they are dirty and unkempt like a homeless person, who is another persecuted group with lesser societal privilege. That white person is likely viewed with the same suspicion as the black male.

There exists a hierarchy of privilege that dictates whose privilege is greater. For example a white man’s privilege is greater than a white woman’s whose privilege is greater than a black man’s. And, frankly, an elderly black man has more privilege that a young black male. A hetero white family is more likely to get a mortgage than a white lesbian family but the lesbian family would still get one over a Muslim family And neither the hetero or lesbian white family would be raided by ICE at their workplace like a Latina.

These are the effects of the victimhood of ‘the other’ by those with privilege of a higher heirarchic status. The negative effects on those with little or no privilege are many and varied. A major issue in society today is that unless the person with privilege has accepted their privilege and are sensitive to it’s damage they do not see that these negative effects are doubly invisible. They do not know they have privilege in the first place. And second, they do not see that they have done any damage. That’s some big negative karma.

The white grocery shopper above didn’t do anything to deserve that mortgage or avoiding that visit from ICE. They could be a good person or a bad person. It doesn’t matter. They just happened to be born white. When they walk into the store you don’t know them at all. But you know when they leave they are less likely to be stopped for a burnt out tail light than a black judge on his way home from court. Privilege has nothing to do with who you are. You can’t tell what sort of privilege a person has by their whos. You can only know from their whats.

I think a large part of the misunderstanding about the concept of privilege is that it gets tangled up with other concepts. Sometimes people are both a racist and have privilege and other times they are not. In the example above the white families got the houses simply because they were white. Chances were they weren’t racist. And the black family may have been just as much or more financially capable of paying their mortgage as any of the families.

Once again, all white people have white privilege. Because they are what? They are white. You don’t have to be a racist to have white privilege. You might be a racist or you might not. But you absolutely have to be white. Being white affords you a laundry list of privilege you hold over other races. You did nothing to earn it. This is where the conversation about white privilege in particular usually goes south. A person will be told they have white privilege and immediately they become angry and say “But I’m not a racist”.

And maybe they aren’t a racist. But they do have white privilege. Why? Because everyone can be a racist but not everyone can be white. Being racist is a who and being white is a what. You have privilege when what you are is higher on the heirarchy totem than other people. There then is a set of advantages available to you based solely on that particular what. Sometimes people get confused with whos and whats. One big confusion that creates problems with people understanding white privilege stems from the fact that people are often both white and racist.

This is truly a big problem. Not only in local sociopolitical discourse but also as a national issue that is crippling American society. As individuals we must separate the conversation about race from the issue of whether or not somebody has privilege. People will try to mix up the two to muddy the waters. The issues of racism and white privilege are just two of many intertwined and complicated issues we face as a society. It’s vitally important to be clear about the universe to which our conversations apply.

For me the number one thing people can do to break through the anger and misinformation out there is to put a wedge between the concepts of ‘what’ with it’s privilege and ‘who’ states of being. Only then can productive dialogue take place. Let’s say you are talking to a male about discrepancies in pay for the USWNT, even as they have won the World Cup 4 times out of 8. You say that male privilege is largely responsible for women not getting equal pay. The man says ‘But my company gives women equal pay’.

If you aren’t clear about what to say in a situation like that always ask yourself the who vs. what question before you rattle off an answer. A good reply is not always very clear and an answer is expected immediately. So practice arming yourself with the question, internally. In this instance not all companies pay women equally. His company is more who than what privilege has a lower hierarchy than male privilege. Therefore his claim doesn’t hold water. This is a subtle distinction.

Companies themselves don’t have privilege so much as power and influence. The same with politicians and others with power. Their power can often circumvent privilege. They are higher on the heirarchy pyramid. However, classic privilege still functions in many situations, such as the black judge getting pulled over for a minor infraction or ludicrous suspicion. There are exceptions to the who versus what criterion.

In our equal pay example the man is a ‘what’ and has male privilege. Armed with this knowledge you can respectfully inform him of the difference between a what and a who. And how that relates to their conversation. It isn’t hard to understand these things when you keep them clear and basic. And without judgement.

If he isn’t hardcore and is simply confused or under the spell of propaganda you are much more likely to continue with a meaningful conversation. It may even inspire him to reevaluate his position on privilege and start looking into himself. This will be because he now knows he himself is not responsible for his privilege. It is because from birth he has been part of a specific group. He is now aware he has no control over his privilege, and never had.

One thing people should understand is that everyone has some sort of privilege. Everyone can have or do something that others can’t, simply because of what they are. People of color have privilege too. Men have privilege. Tall people have privilege. Attractive women get into night clubs while others can’t. English speakers also have privilege. Why? Because it is a what answerr to the question ‘What language do you speak’. In our culture some of these ‘what’ groups have significantly more privilege and others have significantly less. It’s that heirarchy pyramid at work.

Privilege can also be reversed. If you are a white person, try going into certain restaurants or night clubs in certain ethnic or religious neighborhoods and see how comfortable you feel. In that select environment black people have privilege. The heirarchy is reversed. Stepping out of your universe of privilege like that is actually a great way to experience the anguish of being a victim of privilege. It can change your perspective rather quickly. Most white people have rarely, if ever, experienced even five minutes of the abject discomfort that people of color feel everyday all day, often as the only POC in the room. This is not always easy for white people. In these situations they are prone to freaking out.

Sadly, and actually I should use a stronger word here than sadly, the fear that POC will soon have the privilege of being the majority leads white supremacists to desperation. It fuels their attempts to create an American apartheid. They are frightened and angry. They are desperate to maintain political power even as they become a minority race in America.

This desperation stems from the fact they have had privilege in this nation for hundreds of years. They have never known anything else. Just the opposite, POC in the USA have been the victims of white privilege and supremacy for just as long. They are determined to gain the equity in political and social power they have deserved for hundreds of years. White people in America are as afraid of losing their power as POC are determined to have power. This struggle is also a crisis in the USA, one that continues to grow.

Understanding your own privilege and acting to neutralize it is vitally important for our ability to see it in others. All the things I mentioned as my demographic are ‘whats’. White, male, middle class etc. are all whats. Those ‘whats’ show me my privileges. But, I don’t have musicians privilege or history degree privilege. Because those are whos. Your whats and whos shape you as you relate to the world. As white people the work we must do is to constantly assess and reassess not only what biases and prejudices we have, but also accessing our ‘whats’ and the privilege that accompanies them. By knowing ourselves and looking deep inside us we discover how our own privilege affects us and those around us.

We need meaningful dialogue in our country at rural breakfast counters to urban cocktail parties and everywhere in between. Our knowledge of self and awareness of the advantages we have simply because of what we are, whether male or white or any other ‘what’ are vital tools. We can use them to diffuse the anger and the misunderstandings about privilege these honest conversations reveal. It is a good first step toward having those respectful conversations. To take that step means being clear about your own privilege and how it affects others.

This is where those tools we’ve discussed come into play. I have experienced these sorts of encounters first hand. I have had several ‘I’m not a racist’ discussions. The conversation often centers on choice. I explain that they had no choice in being white but they did have a choice to be a racist. And they chose not to be one. Nor did they choose to have white privilege because they didn’t choose to be white. In my experience this sort of open and honest dialogue has often calmed people down enough to civilly talk about our privilege and what we can do to work on it.

Most people want to get along with each other and any tools we can use to help people learn to live better together are valuable. White people having honest conversations with other white people is very important to our understanding of privilege. We need to work hard to refine techniques of communication that are based more on the shared values of our ‘whats’ and less on the often divisive ideas of our ‘whos’. Using these tools will give us a better chance of breaking through resistance than simply bludgeoning people with facts.

There are many positive results we can take away from productive conversations about privilege. But it takes work, fortitude, patience, and mostly love. We mustn’t forget that there are as many types of privilege as there are human ‘what’s’. Developing self reflection, humility and good listening skills as habitual will be invaluable to our relationships on all levels. Exploring the ‘whats’ in our own lives gives us great insight into how our privileges affect the people in our lives in so many ways. It also gives us a peek into the privileges of others, how they affect us, and significantly, how they also affect them.

I have always found it valuable to look at situations like these through the lens of who vs. what relationships. I remember that women don’t walk across the street when they see me walking towards them, not because I’m a musician but because I’m white. I can’t change the fact that I’m white. I have to accept that and thus I have to accept the consequences of that. I have to accept my white privilege. This means I must look deep inside myself to find the privillege imprinted there, often since I was a child.

Also important is that I ask myself why that women who doesn’t cross to the other side of the street when I approach will cross over when a black man approaches. Then I need to think about how that black man feels when, every day, white people avoid him and stare at him like he is a criminal. And then I must stop looking at him like that myself, because he deserves to have a happy and fulfilling life as much as I or anyone else does. He is not a black who just happens to be a man but a man who just happens to be black. It’s a subtle difference but significant.

So, let’s remember. Privilege is a sociocultural, economic, political, or physical advantage you have when you belong to a group that not everyone can belong to. Something that only the limited number of people in that group can have or do. Privilege is about what you are. If you make it about who you are, if it’s about who you have made yourself or who you chose to be, that’s not about privilege. But don’t ignore or discount the ‘whos’. Often whats and whos can come together, such as male privilege and toxic masculinity, to create powerful sociopolitical gangs that are damaging to society and difficult to contend with. Be wary of such combinations.

I have to say here that I am not an authority on privilege. Far from it. My observations can likely be shot full of holes by most anyone. In fact, with the litany of privileges I have I could easily spend the rest of my life discovering and working on them. That being said, I believe in my observations and these tools as limited as they may be. I need to do more work and listen and learn. I must humble myself before those who know more.

We know that I have plenty of privilege to work on, much of it deeply buried in my unconscious. Sometimes it comes out at bad times. I get embarrassed and angry with myself. I feel I have failed in moving into the 21st century, where human evolution is outstripping efforts to blunt it. Luckily, I have a good support system of loving comrades who remind me that I am working hard on my shortcomings and thus worthy of a few mulligans. I am grateful for their succor and love.

If this post helps just one person open up, make their privileges conscious, and find the strength to work on neutralizing there effects out in the world I will have succeeded.

Perhaps I am that one person.

Filing My Tongue To a Point!

I get angrier by the day as I read or hear comments about what a stupid, heartless, idiot, our President is. Although it may be cathartic to prattle on so, as action it isn’t effective. What is needed right now from patriots everywhere is effort, action that will be uncomfortable and a little scary. How do we push through our fear, the fear that paralyzes, and find our will to act?


Our actions needn’t be heroic, although some might say any action is heroic. It needn’t be all that dangerous either. It may be as simple as showing up to a protest, calling your congressman’s office, or donating a few dollars to someone running for office who displays the same values you do. It’s in the action that we find meaning.


Talk is cheap. If you don’t see how our democratic republic is being systematically destroyed, or worse, if you see it and do nothing, you are with those who deserve the coming autocratic government. This is not to say that a cathartic cry out once in a while is bad. It can soothe temporarily. But it must be accompanied by action.

The American experiment is wholly dependent on the actions of We The People. It only succeeds when we uphold the principles the founding fathers insisted upon. We continue to fight for true freedom and liberty against the wealthy white men who crafted our country to serve their own desires and who still lord over us. But the essence of this democratic republic’s philosophy and tenets of governance is worth fighting for as well. Many Americans have died to preserve those principles. How can we do anything else but fight for them.

We cannot let those who fear the future divide us with that same fear and prevent our nation’s evolution. These men who look backwards are desperate to maintain their white supremacist power. They have the resources to bring to bear a plethora of sociopolitical weapons. They have an endless supply of propaganda’s ammunition with which to flummox the vulnerable. They have a death grip on the means of wielding power.

What do we have to oppose this abusive and continuous psychological and oppressive onslaught?

The successful re-evolutionary does not blindly rush into the fight, courageous but vulnerable to the oligarchy’s many weapons. They use all the means at their disposal to protect and preserve their power to rule. But what we all have are the seven centers of actual power, divine power which cannot be taken away. Used in concert with each other they can liberate us from the matrix. Used correctly they fill our scabbard and can slay dragons. The seven:

Our drive to survive. That unconscious imperative to advance our kind. To live and see future generations carry on. A need to see to it that seven future generations will prosper.


Our desire. Seeking the joy of creating a world where we can pursue the happiness that is our right. Where we can drink wine and make love and fulfill that primeval desire to evolve the species.

Our fortitude. That stick-to-it nature that will do anything needed and never give up. It is the will to succeed in creating a world of justice at any cost. It is what carries courage on it’s back and never tires.

Our heart. Where the soul lives, next door to love and across the street from empathy. The nerve center that connects and holds together the power of the body with the power of the mind. The tip of the spear that can defeat any darkness or evil, with respect.


Our speech. Our instrument of communication. It is the place where the love in the heart meets the mind’s wisdom and plans. The means of connecting to all souls who cross our paths. The place where we learn and grow.

Our mind. Where we process our convoluted lives. The light with the love. The power with the knowledge. The desire with the emotions. The need to be one with the need to be many. The mind is the repository of the spirit’s wisdom and grace. It introduces us to the universal.


Our portal. The drive to survive, bursting through to the place we came from and return to. We start with the spark of the continual universe. Two cells from two sources forming a double helix in the dualism of all continuums. Yin and Yang. And in the end we return to that spark.

Life pours out through the portal to reunite with the universe, moving out to find the three, the final, original prime number. Three branches of government. The Christian trinity. The three forms of rock. The three primary gods of the Hindus. Three strikes you’re out. And the three become one.


How do these centers, working together, relate to activism, whose root is action? They reveal that to prevail we do not use only our minds or only our courage. We must use our whole selves, focused, clear, and fully realized. We throw our goal out into the wind and it slips back, making our imagination come true, but only if we follow it in faith.

Faith depends on truth. Truth is the heart’s weapon. We have to defend truth from those who would destroy it. All tyrants try to corrupt truth. They try to replace faith with a certainty of falsehood. When truth is corrupt love is an illusion and faith is a chasm.

In this turbulent time truth is being bludgeoned to death before our very eyes. Many of us are sitting idly by and letting it happen. Truth is not always static. It is not always anchored. It is elusive and malleable in meaning. It is constantly moving and morphing into new relationships. We have to chase it, lest it eludes us. We must be fleet of foot and quick of mind to find it. We must have endurance and stamina and be able to look into those places we don’t want to go. We cannot just pick it up and gaze at it with wonder. We need to use it wisely.


What do we do with the truth when we finally capture it? It is the weapon of the heart, a mind-body-laser. We guide it into the soft underbelly of the fearful ones. Their subconscious tells them the fear they fear is real and will decay and rot them in the end. It makes them vulnerable. But we must secure it deep within them. Get close enough to replace their fear with joy.

It will never be easy. We’ve got to avoid the sleight of hand and bullying they depend on. We cannot ever succumb to their fear. We The People need to meet them face to face, look into their eyes and love them. When we fill their empty selves with love and understanding their fear will dissipate for it is an illusion. As FDR once said, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. And defeating fear takes our complete selves, dissipating our own illusions of opposing priorities and false hierarchies of need.

I began here in anger directed at those who call our President and his government clever and demeaning names out of their own anger. But I wound up preaching about a theology of dissidence. A name is a powerful thing and when you name something you gain power over it. Think of how Donald Trunp has names for all his enemies, Crooked Hillary, Pocahontas. So I believe those who name he who must not be named do so to regain the power he has stolen from them. And that is more than ok.

Subsequently my grasp of the nature of divinity is tenuous at best. I am not quite yet the enlightened sage. For that I apologize. I digress. Recent events have motivated me to say exactly what my brain is currently plugged into, out there in the cosmos. It’s about time. I’ve had this stuff swirling around in my head for years but I was trapped in my own fear. I feared if I said what I really felt, what I knew about things people would laugh and ostracize me. I have such been a coward. Would that you never be a coward like me. None of us can afford that now.

As a caveat I must say that as always there will be no punishment for not acting. If right now you can only invent cute negative names that help you grow and recapture your power there will be no penance. I will rejoice. Not everyone is at a place in their life for that kind of courage. So use your other abundant courage to live a good life. We all walk our own path. But you might be ready to act without being consciously aware of it. And that’s where the stimulus, the agitation and the big nudge comes in.

Please listen carefully. You can throw what I say out with the trash or line the birdcage if you so choose. On the other hand, I just might wake you up.

That would be a source of great pleasure.

Thoughts on Privilege

Normally, in my egoism, I give my posts what I consider to be clever titles. This subject does not deserve one.

Most importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, (I think I’m going to use this as the first paragraph as well as one of the last) You. Are. Not. A. Bad. Person. For. Having. Privilege. You are not to blame or evil because you happened to have been born white. You just were. Who can possibly blame you for that? And alternately you cannot rid yourself of privilege by rejecting it, or repenting, or doing penance. It is what it is. I would be happy to talk about your privilege with you and show you that I don’t judge you or revile you for it. I would love to help you learn how to easier recognize it, hiding away in the inner recesses of your mind like a virus in your vertebrae. And I’d enjoy giving a few pointers on how to use it to help instead of hinder, like your being able to speak and be heard when a person of color would not be listened to.

The concept of racial privilege goes back to the early 20th century and the insights of black sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois in his essay “The Souls of Black Folks. He observed that while black Americans were conscious of white Americans and racial discriminations white Americans did not think much about black Americans or racial discrimination at all. He called his idea of white privilege the “wages of whiteness” which included things white folk took mindlessly for granted things such as unimpeded admittance to public functions.

The current focus on privilege covers more than just racial privilege but includes any number of hierarchical privileges, from class to gender. The spark that lit the light that shines on these privileges was a 1988 essay by feminist and anti-racism activist Peggy McIntosh in which she listed over forty privileges she, as a white person, could depend on. She described privilege as an “invisible package of unearned assets”. An unearned asset is something like somebody handing you a pair of aces as you walk into the Friday night poker game.

This essay led to an increase in the scholarly examination of privilege and brought it out of the shadows into the light of “political correctness”, whatever that is. McIntosh showed that regardless of how far down the social ladder a group was, they always had some privilege they could use over the next group lower down. And even the lowest group had one or two things they could consider privileges. It’s natural in a socially stratified world for the people in various strata to want to feel superior to those in other strata in some way. Politicians use these people’s desires to wedge demographic groups into rivals who would otherwise be natural allies in order to prevent them from banding together to take over political power. Studying privilege is a significant part of addressing modern social issues.

Recently I have listened to and read several conversations and essays which served to deny that a particular white person or persons could possibly have privilege. This was based on the fact that they knew they weren’t racist, using their past attitudes and actions as proof. One man, in particular, told us how he had fought next to blacks in the service etc. and that everyone in the military is equal and therefore he is not privileged. He expressed his disdain for those who had the gall to say he was. I consistently hear variations of this complaint in numerous venues from a variety of white Americans of all classes.

I bear no ill will toward these people. But I am often at a loss as to how I might convince them that they are wrong about their white privilege without leaving them with the impression that they are bad people who did something wrong. It is quite understandable that when folks are told they possess something that has hurt many people in many ways over many years that they feel personally attacked. I can see why they deny their privilege in most powerful ways, providing a long list of exculpatory evidence that purports to show they personally do not possess it.

Regardless of the nature of these complaints, the reality is that these white Americans simply do not understand privilege. Lest I appear to be judgmental there actually aren’t all that many people who do understand it. It turns out that it’s not a very complex issue. But there are some subtle differences in the perception of the meaning of the language used to describe, explain and define privilege. Different folks hear different things when this language is used and that impedes our mutual understanding of the concept.

I have a quite unproductive habit of writing things and then burying them several layers deep in the bowels of my computer. While looking for research material on this subject I found something I wrote several years ago on this very subject. I think it says what I wanted to say much better than I could today. It only goes to show that every blog has its day. I’m including it here for your perusal. I am absolutely certain that it is not an exhaustive nor even adequate study of the issue. I hope it might help a few of us get a better understanding.

Here it is.

“The thing people most often misunderstand about privilege, whether it’s white privilege, male, straight, Christian or American privilege is that having it doesn’t mean you are bad. Privilege is not something you choose. It’s something you either were born with, born into or changed into. It’s not your fault if you are white or male. It just is. It’s an advantage that you have because of what you are and not who you are. It has nothing to do with whether you are a good person or a bad person. And it’s not about how you act or what you do either. Everyone has a choice about what we do. We don’t have a choice about most privilege. We just have it.

Yes, you worked hard to get to where you are, nobody helped you. But that’s not privilege. Privilege is when someone worked just as hard as you did but didn’t get the advantages you got because of what you are and what they aren’t. Privilege doesn’t mean you should feel guilty or be ashamed for having it. It doesn’t mean you should think people are attacking you when they point out the privilege you have.

The hardest thing to understand about privilege is that probably 99% of it is unconscious. We have never known we have it. We have never thought about it. Therefore, since we don’t know we have it we react negatively when we are told we have it. We feel someone is telling us we are bad when we are sure that we aren’t. Not knowing we have it doesn’t excuse us from having it. But, learning we have it is a great opportunity to use that knowledge to get a clearer picture of the dynamic involved when incidents surface that have to do with privilege. That understanding will help us behave in a way that helps rather than hurts.”

Thanks, Will Servant of the past.

For the current me, the essence of what I said in that passage is that privilege is not about who we are but about what we are. It’s not about whether we are a racist or not, although that is certainly somewhat informed by privilege. It’s not about whether we do good works or cause riots. It’s more like whether you have brown eyes or blue. It’s not something you can change or give away easily. It’s not something you can choose, except perhaps by getting married or changing religion or gender. Those things, of course, are still what you are, not who you are. There is a well-known exercise that uses eye color to show how no one chose what race they are or what eye color they have. No matter how you explain privilege it is difficult for many of us to grasp because of fuzziness about what words mean and how we perceive them. Thus I will try to explain this difference between who we are and what we are several times in the next paragraphs. Please bear with me.

Because there are many different types of privilege over a variety of social and physical hierarchies we are all virtually assured of being both the beneficiaries of certain privilege and the victims of another privilege. So none of us are at the absolute top or the bottom of relative human pecking orders. The actionable thing that can be done is to search for the “invisible package of unearned assets” we have hidden inside us and learn how those assets affect the fabric of society. In knowing them we can use them for good or for poor. It is our choice to do the right thing right in the face of having it called “politically correct” (whatever that is). It is our choice to be part of the problem or part of the solution, without letting incendiary words create a smokescreen to confuse our common senses. It is our choice to stand behind and next to the groups negatively impacted by the ravages of privilege rather than usurping their right to create solutions.

A sidebar about hierarchies. Both conservatives and liberals can be confused by their own hierarchies or lack thereof. Conservatives already have a well developed moral hierarchy, i.e. men over women, women over children, humans over animals etc.. They follow this hierarchy to organize their lives. Thus the use of demographic social hierarchies can ring dissonant to their values, making it tricky for them to understand and accept privilege. Liberals like to think that there are no social hierarchies, that all people have equity regardless of their demographic. This causes some liberals to reject the fact that privilege even exists. So you can see, educating people, gently, about the perils of privilege can be most daunting.

When it comes to privilege of all sorts it doesn’t matter how good your choices have been. It doesn’t matter how well you have treated your Jewish friends or, blacks, Puerto Ricans, women, gays or the disabled. Those choices make you a good person. They make you who you are. When who you are is a good person it is a great thing and a boon to society. But being a good person has little to do with privilege. You still use privilege, maybe less than others, but you still have it. Whether who you are is good or evil, privilege has to do with what you are. What is your color, what is your religion, what is your sexual preference, what genitals were you born with, what is your economic status, what neighborhood do you live in. These things define privilege, not whether you let your wife share in your finances or whether you respect your black boss.

Now one might say that a man is a racist, and that is a what, or that I am a good person, and that is a what. To further clarify, a what is quantifiable. Being a racist is a quality and not a quantity. Likewise a there are many kinds of good people who are good in many different ways. Alternately blue eyes define brown eyes, and in a group of people, you can quantify the blue eyed people from the brown. In a group of racists, you would have trouble quantifying who hates Mexicans from who hates all Latinos or who hates many Hispanic people, which would include Spaniards. And racists include people who in reality should be call religionists.

Who you are is very clear to you. You chose to be that way. But the effects of what you are are mostly invisible unless you look for them. If, as a white family, not judging the Mexican family that moves in next to you, or not worrying about that mixed race couple walking their dog past your house doesn’t change the fact that if you walk into a convenience store you are much less likely to be followed than a black man, or stopped by the police for a minor infraction, like a burnt out tail light. That you, as a straight couple, aren’t offended by seeing two gay men kiss is much different than getting a table at your favorite restaurant ahead of that same gay couple, even though you came in after them. In the former, you are treating someone well, which is who you are. In the latter you are being treated better than someone else, all other things being equal, because of what you are. That is privilege. Some people claim they aren’t racists. There are people who would agree with them and others who wouldn’t. That’s not privilege.

It is those wages of whiteness, the invisible package of unearned benefits, that I as a white person have, just from being born white, that make for white privilege. Most importantly, and I cannot emphasize this enough, (I think I’m going to use this as the first paragraph as well as one of the last) You. Are. Not. A. Bad. Person. For. Having. Privilege. You are not to blame or evil because you happened to be born white. You just were. It is what you are. Who can possibly blame you for that. And alternately you cannot rid yourself of privilege by rejecting it, or repenting, or doing penance. That lends a nobility to who you are; but like the Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it will never change what you are.

I am happy to talk about your privilege with you and show you that I don’t judge you or revile you for it. I would love to help you learn how to better recognize it, hiding away in the inner recesses of your mind like a virus in your vertebrae. And I’d enjoy giving a few pointers on how to use it to help instead of hinder, like being able to speak and be heard when a person of color would not be listened to. Leave a comment and I’ll respond.

Even bearing the burden of white privilege we, as white Americans, can have an active role in making the world a better place. But in order to do that we must look deep, and continue to look even deeper, into our ourselves, Finding the awareness of that buried privilege and understanding it, recognizing it when it rears it’s ugly head, gives us the knowledge to use it differently, as allies. It lets us stand tall next to our neighbors of color in their efforts to no longer have pieces like this written.

So to reiterate, for perhaps the umpteenth time, the essential thing to remember is that privilege is about WHAT you are and not WHO you are. Think of the things you are and not the actions you take. What is a thing. Who is a nature, a concept, a quality. What is concrete, a quantity. Who is abstract. What is static. Who is active.

There, is that confusing enough for you. I certainly hope not. I truly wish we can all more clearly understand privilege and use it or not use it, depending on the circumstance, to make the world a better place.

Remember that these are the words of a white man. I don’t claim to know the struggles of people of color in America. I could be wrong about lots of this. There are those that contend my privilege disqualifies me from saying anything about the subject. But I keep working on learning about my own privilege and how I can be a better ally. Beyond that, I can’t say.

Finally, don’t ever, for one second, think anyone is without some kind of privilege. We all have some sort of blindness, some wages, some unconscious, some assets. Blame our genome if you must. Blame history. Blame language. Just don’t blame yourself.

I Kept Threatening To Do This

It’s time for the true identity of Will Servant to be revealed. It’s a pretty flimsily disguised nom de plume to begin with. A lot of you already know me anyway.

My name is Ric Studer and I’m coming out of the anonymity closet to announce my candidacy for School Board in my home town District 742, in the St. Cloud MN area. Several current board members whose terms are ending have chosen not to run. I have been feeling I should run for this important community service for some time and there is need for good candidates to step forward. I’m not normally one to toot my own horn but I believe I have the skill set and character to represent our community well.

Although I am politically a progressive it is clear to me that School Board membership must be a non partisan position. It is my goal to be a voice of reason based on common sense and humility. I will advocate for adequate funding to assure that every teacher and student, including adults, in the district gets all the tools they need to succeed. But I will also look for areas where we can reform and conserve in order to spend each dollar wisely and to the benefit and best interest of the local taxpayer.

There are new ways of approaching education that serve all stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, students and the taxpayers who support them and we must consider them before doing the same old same old because it’s easy and has always been done that way. At the same time we can’t just throw out the baby with the bath water. Many time tested methods and programs should continue to be used to serve the district and it’s community. We will be wise to fully explore there new ways of looking at education, and the forward thinking they represent.

Capital expenditures, currently in the form of replacement and renovation of aging structures, has been a major local issue for several years and the district has struggled to make an effective case for adopting their recommendations, even after extensive research into all the alternatives. The unfortunate disconnects between the Board and community can be bridged through hard work by all parties. I’m sure of it.

Trust in the board, by community leaders and citizens alike must be restored and that can only be done by reaching out into the community and having honest conversations with area residents from all economic, ethnic, racial, political, underrepresented minority backgrounds. Every voice must be heard and every decision transparent. This is the only way to conduct business in the 21st century and the only way the Board can regain the trust and support of the people.

St. Cloud area schools have also reflected the major social issues of the community, as religious tensions have found their way into our schools. As a quality learning environment is imperative if we are to give our students a place to excel, it behooves us to do everything in our power to resolve the religious and ethnic differences that have poured over into the school district from clouded and muddy pools that have sprung up in the community.

Although the conflicts have, to my mind, primarily arisen from the activities of small groups of activists. Their voices are loud and the fear they generate is real. It infects many in the community. Once again, honest, open and respectful conversations are the key to reducing the tensions that impair student’s ability to thrive. I am certain that through this effort the good hearted and self respecting people of the district can find the common ground that will nourish us all.

As we aspire to a new educational philosophy our efforts must can only be directed inward. While researching and discussing the direction of district development and allocation of resources from a new perspective, we must reach outward as well. We must go to the students themselves, in their environment, and meet them where they are, learning for ourselves by discovering what they know and want to know, their life experiences and how they learn.

We must also use this approach to work toward solutions of our social challenges, engaging in meaningful conversations with both the hurt and the hurtful to better create the unity so desperately needed, not only in our schools, but in our communities. We have to humble ourselves, coming together in good faith to listen to everyone’s concerns and working as one  forge a path toward what we all ultimately want, a school system that provides the best possible learning experience for the most possible students.

Everyone says that the single most important thing to them is the kids.  If we really believe that we need to set aside our egos and desires and surrender to our children, who are more precious than gold and and most worthy of our love and nurture. They will show us the way if we have ears to hears and eyes to see.

I ask for your vote and support in my journey toward excellence in service, both public and private, as I learn and grow through giving.

 

Playing From Behind Again

Yesterday’s assignment was to write a blog post saying exactly what we want, to the person or persons we really want to talk to. We were also to include a new element in our post, one that we have never worked with before. I have never embedded a photo into my blog posts so I will attempt to do that a bit later in the post. Here is what I really want, without filter, to say.

There are lots of people I really want to speak to directly, under the illusory protective umbrella of this blog. To choose one group out of many is a somewhat daunting task, but today I’m feeling like speaking to those who proclaim themselves Christians, and miraculously, devout Christians.

Not all, but many of them, by my humble moral standards and mandatory incomplete understanding of scripture and the Christ, love to slavishly quote the Bible without having the foggiest notion of what it really tells us.

Thank God for Martin Luther. These people will still have a chance to gain heaven through their faith alone. For their works are not only not good works but are often cruel and damaging works, and can also include disdain for and the absence of good works. Yes, they are charitable, but just as they cherry pick Bible verses to support their profound misunderstanding of their role as Christians, they cherry pick whom to be generous with. Like the Pharisee in the parable of the Good Samaritan they judge who is and who is not deserving of their charity.

Somehow they believe that because they are more pious and devout and “Better Christians” than others they somehow deserve most favored VIP status here on earth and extra compensations from the divine coffers. They demand that absolutely everyone accept certain of their doctrine, while personally ignoring other of their religion’s precepts. They malign those religions whom they accuse of violently forcing everyone to convert, while expecting everyone to accept that theirs is the only true religion and thus the only moral arbiter.

They advocate for an American theocracy, claiming Biblical law supersedes Constitutional law, while condemning other theocracies across the world as authoritarian fanatics.

I could go on.

Before I go let me illuminate just one hypocrisy I see in the western, predominately racially white, Christian Church. Jesus was undoubtedly a Palestinian. Had he been tall, white and blue eyed he would have been suspect and likely would have had a difficult time convincing his Jewish followers that he was the messiah.

So, did Jesus look like Barry Gibb?

picture-jesus-greg-olson

Or like a common era Jew?

gallery-1450102902-screen-shot-2015-12-14-at-91810-am

I’m not sure this second guy would be real popular with the TSA. Not to mention he would be persona non grata to certain other currently newsworthy persons.

I thought we were created in God’s image, not the other way around.

 

I Ain’t Gonna Change

BTW. For my six regular readers, I am taking a blogging class, generously offered gratis by WordPress, basically to learn how to write a sentence less than 50 words long. Wish me luck. You will be seeing me write my assignments over the next weeks. If they grade on a curve I’m screwed. Wish me more luck.

Regarding yesterday’s assignment (Yes, I’m already falling behind on only the third day) I have already changed my blog’s title and tagline several times and have settled on these after considerable soul searching. It is important to get both a title and tagline that reflects who you are and clearly reveals the blog’s essence. I feel my title and tagline combined do that rather well in that sardonic, dyslexic cynic’s style, of which I am so enamored.