Sunday, January 22, 2017

Let's Talk about the "P-word"

No, not THAT "P-word"!  Although, given the way the national dialog has gone, I totally understand a more salacious assumption.  No, the "P-word" I'm talking about is PRIVILEGE.  And my friend, we're all wallowing in it.

Let me start by saying that this is intensely personal, not just for me, but for every one of us.  You may not come at it the same way I do, but I hope I convey myself in a way that helps you better understand me and maybe yourself too.

As a middle-aged, white, heterosexual male, I've found myself wondering what my place is in a liberal/progressive activist movement and culture.  How do I contribute to a cause where I look like the other team?  It's because of privilege that I know I HAVE to.

I have wrestled with this word a little bit.  I've never thought of myself as "privileged" in particular.  I come from very humble roots, couldn't afford college, served in the military, and have ground my way to the position I am in.  But then I got over the semantics of it and decided to examine the intent.

Privilege, the way I see it, is the state that exists for any person for whom, upon turning off the television or shutting their front door, a problem simply ceases to be.  It's not limited to "white privilege" or "male privilege"; it can apply to anything.  Folks that have never served in the military (or have family that do) but are advocating for foreign policy that might take us to war could be said to have "civilian privilege" because the sacrifice will not be theirs.  They can turn off their TV, close their front doors and the war doesn't impact them.

I was raised in a diverse military community.  I was raised to be color-blind and gender-neutral.  I thought that was the right thing.  But it's not enough.  Not nearly.  It took a lot for me to unwind the core beliefs planted as a child.  It wasn't until I started reading and challenging my beliefs with works like "Lies My Teacher Told Me".  These things started to open my eyes to just how our identity has been skewed by a Euro-centric, patriarchal dominant world view.

Don't believe me?  Okay, try this.  Close your eyes and think of that nice man who lived 2100 or so years ago and was crucified  by the Romans.  Go ahead - I'll wait.

Did you envision a caucasian man with noble features and reddish hair?  Yup, that's what I thought.  Now picture ANY famous Middle Eastern figure you can think of.  Any resemblance?  Our entire picture of the world has been filtered to fit a Euro-superior viewpoint.

Liberals, at the heart of it all, believe in and support three values above all else:  Equal Opportunity, Equal Dignity, and Equal Justice.  And liberals are the most open-eyed about recognizing where those values are in jeopardy.  It is those of us who are NOT impacted by a miscarriage of Opportunity, Dignity, or Justice who are privileged.  And we are the ones who must commit to standing side by side with the marginalized and oppressed until those conditions are erased for good.

We (white, hetero males) are the descendants of the architects of privilege.  We own it.  And we cannot rest until EVERYONE can close their doors, turn off the TV and rest easy in the same reality our privilege has granted us.  And, if that statement sounds like a hopeless cause and a heavy burden, then good!  That's the sound of privilege being challenged within ourselves.  And it's nothing - NOTHING - compared to what marginalized people of all types have had to endure in this great nation.

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