Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Web of Privilege

a talk given at the annual men's dinner at First Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 30, 2013

As Pat mentioned in my introduction, I'm a writer, which means that I work with words. Words, to me, are like nails and two-by-fours are to a carpenter. They're my tools, what I build things with.

Now, I don't know whether carpenters dream about creating new tools, but I know that writers love to coin words. It's a power fantasy, really, and it goes like this: I'm going to notice something that people should think about more and talk about more, but they don't because it doesn't have a name. So I'm going to come up with a nice catchy word or phrase for it. I'll start using that term and other people will hear it and they'll say, "Wow, I've never had a name for that before." And they'll start using it and thinking about it and telling other people about it. And in some small way the world will be different.

When I was a kid, somebody invented a new use for the word environmentalist. Before that, an environmentalist had been like a behavioralist, somebody who thought that your social environment determined what kind of person you became. But somewhere around 1970, environmentalist started to mean somebody who cares about the natural systems that support life, and wants to keep Nature from being bulldozed by Civilization.

Now, this wasn't a new idea. From civilization's earliest days there must have been people who felt that way. But since there wasn't a good name for them, a lot of those people probably just thought they were quirky.

Suddenly, though, they became environmentalists, part of a worldwide movement of environmentalists. And people who had never thought about it much before began asking themselves "Should I be an environmentalist?"

Coining a new word or usage like that is a tremendous fantasy if you're a writer, right up there with seeing your name on the best seller list or having Oprah interview you about your new book: You're going to coin a new term, and it's going to catch on and change the way people think.

Every now and then I indulge that fantasy and invent some new word or phrase. It's a little like buying a lottery ticket, because usually nothing comes of it. I'll invent a term and blog about it, and maybe a few hundred people will see it -- a few thousand if I'm really lucky. A handful will comment about how apt or useful it is. But after a week or two that little ripple has dissipated and nothing has changed.

A couple years ago I came up with something I really thought deserved to catch on, and I push it again every April when people are doing their taxes. The phrase is work penalty*. Your work penalty is the extra income tax you pay because you get your money by working rather than by collecting dividends or capital gains.

Now, lots of people know at some level that the tax code works that way. Suppose, say, that you're a single guy with $40,000 of taxable income. If that money comes from dividends and capital gains, you're going to owe Uncle Sam $6,000. But if that $40,000 comes from having a job and making wages, you're going to pay the same $6,000, plus $36 more.** 

So that $36 is your work penalty, an extra little fine that the government imposes because you have a job. (And I'm not even talking about Social Security and Medicare taxes here, which would make the difference even bigger. Even if you restrict yourself to talking about income tax, there's a work penalty.) 

Maybe $36 doesn't sound like much, but it gets bigger the more you make. Suppose our two single guys start doing better and make $100,000. Now the man of leisure pays $15,000, while the man with a job pays that same $15,000, plus a work penalty of six and a half thousand more.

The tax people call this a "preferred rate" for dividend and capital gain income. But I just don't think that captures the full outrageousness of the situation. If you work, you pay more tax than somebody who makes the same amount of money without working. There's a work penalty.

I had real hopes that would catch on, but so far it hasn't. I'm going to blog about it again on April 15, but it's a long shot, like the lottery.

Last summer, though, I wrote a piece called "The Distress of the Privileged" and got closer than I've ever gotten before. The term I coined there was privileged distress. Privileged distress is that sense of persecution you feel when you start to lose an unfair advantage that you have always taken for granted. You're still getting an unfair advantage, but it's just not as big as it used to be, so you feel persecuted.

An example helps bring the idea home. Think about that girl in high school who just looked perfect. You know the one I'm talking about. She had the face and the hair and the skin and the figure, and it all came together flawlessly. So imagine one morning she goes to the mirror and sees a bright red pimple right in the middle of her cheek.

What goes through her mind? "That is so unfair. Why does God hate me?"

Now, objectively, her hardship is that for the next week or two she's only going to look perfect from certain angles, while the rest of us don't look perfect from any angle. But that's not how it feels. It feels like, "What does God hate me?"

That's privileged distress. It's a real feeling. She's not making it up. Being slightly less beautiful for a few days really does feel like a persecution.

I invented that term for a reason. I was blogging about the Chick-fil-A boycott. I don't know if you remember, but it started when Dan Cathy, the second-generation CEO of Chick-fil-A, went on Christian talk radio and said some annoying things about people who support same-sex marriage -- that we're "prideful" and "arrogant" and we're "inviting God's judgment" on America.

That caused people to look at him a little closer, and it turns out that Dan Cathy is a very generous guy. Over the years he has given millions of dollars to what he would call "pro-family groups" but that other people might call "anti-gay hate groups".

So there was a backlash and a boycott and a lot of bad publicity for Chick-fil-A. The conservative Christians who identify with Dan Cathy were shocked. Mike Huckabee called the criticism of Cathy -- not the criticism he dished out, but the criticism he received -- "vicious hate speech and intolerant bigotry".

To grasp why they were shocked, you need to understand that some people have a bigger Bill of Rights than the rest of us. We're talking about fast food, so let's call it "super-sized". My freedom of speech, for example, means that the government can't put me in jail just because I say something controversial. If the doors burst open and federal agents haul me away because I express the wrong opinions, that would violate my freedom of speech.

Similarly, freedom of religion, for most of us, means that the government can't treat us badly because it doesn't like our faith. So, it's fine (constitutionally, at least) to put a work penalty in the tax code, but if there were a UU penalty -- some higher tax rate that only applied to us -- that would violate our freedom of religion.

But the super-sized rights go way beyond that. If you have super-sized freedom of speech and super-sized freedom of religion, then at any time in any place you should be able to blurt out any opinion you have. And no matter how bigoted or stupid or crazy it is, everybody else should just let it pass. There should be no blow-back, no consequences. 

As I say, most of us don't have that. When you write a letter to editor, say, you have to think about what will happen if it gets published. How will your neighbors react, or your co-workers, or your boss, or your customers? If you're writing as an atheist or Muslim or some other unpopular faith, it would never occur to you that everybody would let it slide. Or if you admit that you're gay or polyamorous or transgendered -- of course you think about the possible consequences. 

But Dan Cathy isn't like everybody else. He's a CEO who's the son of a CEO. He's not just Christian and straight, he's also white and male and rich. He's grown up with that super-sized Bill of Rights, and then suddenly one day he's treated just a little bit like the rest of us; people listen to what he says and they don't let it pass, some of them take offense, and some of them decide that they don't want to deal with this guy and they don't want their lunch money going off to support some hate group. And to Dan Cathy, that feels like persecution. It also felt like persecution to Sarah Palin, who complained that the Chick-fil-A boycott had "a chilling effect on our First Amendment rights."

And while that isn't true in any literal sense, it feels true if you think you're supposed to be covered by the super-sized First Amendment, the one that just applies to people who are powerful or express popular views. If you think you're supposed to have that privilege, and then you discover you don't, it can be very distressing.

Once you understand privileged distress, you see it all over the place. Native English-speakers are offended by bilingual signs, because they shouldn't have to be reminded that there are other languages in the world. Rush Limbaugh believes that when people call him a racist or a sexist, that's a bigger injustice than actual racism or sexism. Employers think their religious freedom is threatened when they can't control how their female employees get contraception. Whenever we talk about raising rich people's tax rates back to where they were 15 years ago, they ask why we want to "punish" people for being successful.

But my personal favorite is the War on Christmas. When Christians aren't allowed to take over the public square for the entire month of December, they feel persecuted. (Because, of course, the town green is totally decked out on Buddha's birthday or Mohammed's birthday. And in the malls in February you can't even hear yourself think for all the Darwin carols.) OK, that's silly. But Christians are used to having an unfair advantage over everybody else, so when that advantage slips just a little bit, it really does feel like oppression, like suddenly everybody hates them.

Somewhat to my surprise, privileged distress has started to take off. "The Distress of the Privileged" has been the most popular thing on my blog almost every week since I posted it. Other bloggers have linked to it, people have shared it on Facebook, and by now that post has gotten nearly a quarter of a million hits, almost four times as many as anything else I've ever done.

One of the reasons I think the term took off was that I didn't just toss it out there for people to use. I went on to consider the tricky question of what to do with privileged people in distress. What do you do with the Dan Cathys or the Rush Limbaughs or that girl from high school?

What you want to do, what would really feel satisfying, is to wap them upside the head and say, "Get over yourself. Some people in the world have real problems, and you're not one them."

But the more I thought about that, the more it seemed like a bad idea. Privileged distress is a real emotion. As strange as it may look from the outside, the distressed privileged really do feel persecuted. And if you're feeling genuinely persecuted, and then someone waps you upside the head, you don't snap out of it, you feel more persecuted.

And the really dangerous thing about the privileged feeling persecuted is that they are privileged. Even if their status is starting to slip, they still have rights and powers and resources that the rest of us don't have. If they really get galvinized around their sense of persecution, they've got what it takes to launch a counter-revolution and get their unfair advantages back.

That's kind of what the Tea Party is. You have white people and straight people and native-born English-speakers and fundamentalist Christians, and they all feel their privileges starting to slip away. Those privileges are far from gone; there's still a considerable advantage to being a white, straight, native-born, English-speaking Christian. But it's not what it used to be, so it feels like persecution. So they get together in rallies and money magically appears from billionaires and corporations and they say, "We need to take our country back."

I don't think telling them to get over themselves is going to work.

As soon as I realized the complexity of the problem, I knew I couldn't just focus on Dan Cathy. Because real life is messy. Real people and real situations are never quite as simple and clear-cut as you need them to be to make your point. So I thought back through pop culture, looking for a paradigmic example, a poster boy for privileged distress.

And I found one.

The character I have in mind comes from a popular movie of the mid-90s called Pleasantville. Maybe you remember it: 

It's the one where a teen-age brother and sister get hold of a magic remote control and are zapped into a 1950s TV show that is sort of like Ozzie and Harriet or Father Knows Best. Suddenly, they are the son and daughter of the Parkers, a perfect TV family living in the perfect TV town of Pleasantville.

Naturally, their arrival starts to infect Pleasantville with 1990s notions, and soon characters are asking the kinds of questions that never used to come up, like "Do I like my life?" and "Why do things have to be this way?" In particular, Mrs. Parker discovers that being the perfect housewife is not really what she wants out of life, or at least it's not all she wants. 

Her husband can't hear what she's saying or grasp why anything needs to change, and that sets up this scene:

George Parker, the father of the perfect TV family, comes home from work. He opens the door, hangs his hat on a hook like he always does, and announces, "Honey, I'm home", expecting his beautiful, smiling wife to come out of the kitchen and his perfect children to bounce down the stairs to greet him, like they always do.

Today, though, the house is dark and silent but for the thunder of a storm outside. And George is slow to catch on. He has said the magic words, but he's still waiting for the rabbit to appear in his hat. 
So he says them again, "Honey, I'm home." Nothing.

He wanders through the house, and into the kitchen where nothing is on the table. "Where's my dinner?" he wonders. He looks in the oven, inside the kettles. "Where's my dinner?" 

Uncomprehending, he goes back outside, into the rain, and pleads with this suddenly unsympathetic universe: "Where's my dinner?"

One of the reasons I like this scene as a paradigm for privileged distress is that George Parker is not a bad guy. At least he never wanted to be a bad guy. He never thought he was a bad guy. He's somebody's image of the perfect Dad. There's no malice in him. No cruelty. Society gave him a role to play, and he played it to the best of his ability. That's how he thought life was supposed to be: I play my role, you play your role, and it all works out.

I don't think it ever occurred to him that his role was maybe more pleasant than the  other roles in Pleasantville, that maybe other people had to sacrifice more to play their roles than he did to play his. Maybe they didn't used to think much about it either, but now they are and they're starting to change things.

And poor George. He has no dinner.

In my blog post I consider the question of what should happen to George, and to all the other people suffering from privileged distress. How should the liberalizing forces of the world look at them?

And I come to the conclusion that the two obvious ways are wrong. The first wrong way to deal with George is for all the other characters to say, "Poor George. We're so sorry you're feeling distress. We'll get back into our subservient roles and everything will be OK again."

Because even though privileged distress is real, it just isn't on the same scale as the distress that the other characters are trying to overcome. I'm sure many straight people are genuinely upset by all the advances in gay rights, but gays going back into the closet would suffer at a different order of magnitude. I'm sure many white parents were sincerely frightened and worried when their children's schools were desegregated, but sending black children back to their segregated schools would inflict suffering of a whole other order. There is no going back in this; the unfair advantages have to come down.

But I also think it's also a bad move to villainize George, at least not until he does something actually villainous. Up until now, he has just been clueless and oblivious to his privileged role.  And right now he's feeling hurt and confused. But if he gets villainized, if other characters look on him as a proper object for revenge, if they say, "I'm glad you have no dinner, George. I'm glad you're unhappy" then I think something in him starts to harden. That hurt and confusion can become self-justification and a determination to take his privileged role back.

What I recommend instead (and I link to an example of a gay blogger doing his best to stay in this kind of dialog with some of Dan Cathy's fundamentalist defenders), is a balance between firmness and compassion -- a firmness about not going back, not taking up subservient positions again, but also the kind of compassion that does not rejoice in anyone's distress, even the distress of the privileged.

In any kind of struggle over human rights and dignity, there are going to be a certain number of people who really are villainous, who do have malice, who take pleasure in cruelty, and who enjoy taking unfair advantage of others.

But I also think that if you look at the people today who are drifting into counter-revolution, at the people who wander past a Tea Party rally and find themselves thinking, "Yeah. That's right!", you'll also find a lot of George Parkers. You'll find a lot of folks who grew up wanting to be good people, and who by the standards of the society they grew up in thought they were good people. And now they feel villainized. They talk the way they've always talked, and now people tell them they're racists. They do the kinds of things they've always done, and now they're sexists, they're homophobes, classists, jingoists; they're some kind of -ist or -phobe they never heard of before, but it sounds bad.

And they worry that maybe there is no way for them to be good people in this new world that seems so different from the one they were raised in. They hear comedian Bill Maher proclaiming "New Rules", and that's exactly what they're afraid of: that people who despise them have acquired the power to make new rules. Because if that's true, then the George Parkers can never be good people in this new world, because someone will constantly be rigging new rules against them, rules that they have been breaking all their lives without knowing what they are.

And so when the speaker at that rally says, "We need to take our country back" it sounds right. "Yeah. Take our country back."

That's why I don't want to try to slap the privileged distress out of them. I think they do need to hear a message of firmness. They do need to hear that the world is not going back, that gays are not going back into the closet, that women are going to be equals in the workplace, that America will soon have a non-white majority, and that we're not just a country of Christians and maybe a few Jews, but also of Muslims and Hindus and pagans and Buddhists and even atheists. They need to hear that message expressed with firmness.

But I think they also need to hear another message, one that says that they don't have to be villains, that the new game is not rigged against them, that it is still possible for the formerly privileged to be good people by the standards of this newer, fairer world. It will not be easy. They will need to learn to see people who were once invisible to them. They will have to develop sensitivity to kinds of suffering that in the old world were not their problem. It will not be easy, but their own faith and the principles they were brought up to respect call them to make that effort. And if they answer that call, they can succeed. They can once again see themselves and be seen by others as good people.

I believe that if they get that vision in their heads, then they won't want to jump up and cheer when somebody says, "Take your country back." Instead they'll say: "No. My ancestors came from another world, and sometimes on holidays with drinks in their hands they would dream of going back to a land where things make sense and the people are all like us. But come morning, they wouldn't go back, because there is no going back. We are here now. This is America."

When I was writing this talk, I thought, "This is America. That would be a good line to end on."

But you know, if I stop here, there's a hole in the talk. Maybe you've noticed it: Here I am -- white, male, straight, educated, healthy, able-bodied, American -- and I'm talking about the privileged as if they're out there somewhere.

I've been talking about what to do with those George Parkers. But what do you do when you look in the mirror and see that you are George Parker? 

What if you want to be a good person and try to be a good person and maybe even sometimes convince yourself that you are a good person, but other times you notice that all your alleged "goodness" happens inside a system that gives you tremendous unfair advantages, and you have been oblivious to the suffering that the system imposes on other people. You've been tempted into thinking "I play my role, you play your role, and it all works out." But you never payed enough attention to the fact that your role is much easier than some of the roles that have been assigned to others.

What do you do with that?

It's amazing how different a situation looks when you picture yourself on the other side. Words and phrases that seemed totally adequate for describing other people are way too simple when they start applying to you and me.  Privilege is a whole different concept when you realize that you are one of the people inside the citadel, trying to decide whether to defend what you have or open the gates. Privileged distress is a whole different concept when you understand that you also worry that your unfair advantages may be going away faster than you are learning to live without them. 

When the privileged were Dan Cathy and Sarah Palin and the target audience of the Tea Party, I felt so magnanimous when I recommended viewing them with compassion. How generous I was, to visualize a path for their redemption.

But when it's my redemption we're talking about, that vision doesn't seem quite so generous. In fact, I resent the idea that I have to depend on the magnaminity of others, or that people are doing me a favor when they don't villainize me. 

Concepts that aren't good enough to describe me probably are good enough for me to use on others either. So let's start over from the beginning and see if we need to describe privilege in a new way.

When I am forced to think of myself as privileged, the first thing that bothers me is how binary that judgment is in comparison to the multi-faceted nature of my life. I have many advantages in my life, but also the occasional disadvantage.

I was in college in the Seventies, during an era of feminist consciousness-raising. So naturally, I was often lectured by female students about my male privilege. And they were right, I did get unfair advantages from being a man. I still do. 

But I was also part of the first generation in my family to go to college. At times I felt overwhelmed there and out of place, and I often wished there was somebody back home I could call and ask for advice. The daughters of college professors and engineers and lawyers -- they had that and never thought twice about it. So it grated on me how easily they could focus on my unfair advantages and be so oblivious to their own.

The same pattern occurs on a larger scale. When we picture privilege as a binary thing, like a line in the sand, or a wall between the oppressors and the oppressed, all the various kinds of privilege seem like different walls, and the struggles to tear them down like different struggles, rather than a single struggle for a fairer world.

Throughout history, the real villains, the people who work to make the world less fair rather than more, have taken advantage of that fragmentation, playing off the suffragettes against the abolitionists, the union hardhats against the hippie peaceniks, the churches that mobilized for racial justice against the justice movement for gays and lesbians. 

So if I'm going to apply the notion of privilege to myself, the first revision I want is that we stop thinking of it as a wall that divides, and instead think of it as a web in which we are all embedded and all implicated. Of course some of us have more advantages than others, and I have more than most. But as I look around, I don't see many pure villains or pure victims. All of us get some unfair advantages and all of us suffer some injustices.

When that much is acknowledged, then I find that I am willing to accept my place in the web, to acknowledge that a disproportionate share of the unfair advantages flow to me, and that most of the changes needed to make the world fairer will work to my personal disadvantage.

When I think of privilege as a web whose strands of advantage and disadvantage pull in many directions, I feel a stronger sense of solidarity with all the justice movements. Because all the isms -- racism, sexism, classism and so on -- are just the same web of privilege viewed from a different angle.

When we see our place in the web, advantaged in this way, disadvantaged in that, it becomes clear that it's not enough to campaign for justice for people like ourselves, or even to make restitution for the particular privileges that benefit us. In one particular time and place, one dimension of that web may be especially important, and then everyone who seeks justice needs to come together in solidarity, even if that dimension of the web not usually their issue.

Once I accept my place in the web, the next question that matters to me is: What kind of guilt or responsibility should I feel in response to my unfair advantages?

The easiest kind of responsibility to assess is outright villainy, when people act out of cruelty or malice or greed. They get unfair advantages over others because they seize those advantages from people who are not powerful enough to stop them.

That's easy to assess because the guilt is entirely personal, and the traditional messages of personal redemption apply: Go and sin no more. Make restitution. Seek forgiveness.

But other unfair advantages don't fit that model. I once read that taxis are much less likely to stop for black passengers than for whites. I have never come up with any personal action I can take to remedy that. I don't drive a cab. When I take cabs, it doesn't help anyone if I let the first one go by in solidarity, or if, when I get my unfair advantage of a quick and easy cab, I feel bad about it.

That's the trap that is sometimes called "white liberal guilt", and it happens whenever you try to take personal responsibility for a systemic injustice whose benefits flow to you through no effort of your own. Personal redemption just doesn't work here. There's no sin you can stop committing, and no individual who can accept your restitution or offer you forgiveness.

But if you're not going to indulge in white liberal guilt -- or male liberal guilt or straight liberal guilt or any of the other varieties -- what's the alternative? It's a cop-out to say, "It's not me, it's the system" and go merrily on your way.

Instead, I think we need to develop a more effective sense of systemic guilt. The value of personal guilt is that it motivates efforts towards personal redemption. In the same way, systemic guilt should motivate efforts towards systemic redemption.

But of course, systems don't feel guilt; people do. So it's up to us to make the connection. We need to condition ourselves to notice our unfair advantages, not so that we can wallow in personal guilt that can't lead to any personal acts of redemption, but so that we can bank up a sense of systemic guilt that can motivate us to work to change the system.

When I'm sitting in the back of my easily-flagged cab, I shouldn't feel bad as a person, but my awareness of that unfair advantage should add fuel to my determination to work against the racism that gave it to me.

Most of us don't have a well-developed and effective sense of systemic guilt yet. But some do, and they're easy to spot. They're the people who don't avert their eyes from injustice, but aren't depressed by it. Quite the opposite, their awareness of injustice and of their own unfair advantages gets them out of bed in the morning and sets them to work.

Systemic guilt isn't an idea that you learn by hearing a speaker or reading a book, it's a sensibility that you pick up by hanging around with people who have it. That's an important reason to participate in a justice-seeking community like a Unitarian Universalist congregation. If you look around, I'm sure you'll be able to identify people who have that effective sense of systemic guilt. Help them do what they do, and you'll probably pick it up.

And finally, there's George Parker's kind of guilt, where the personal and the systemic overlap. George wasn't a villain, he was just oblivious. The people around him were suffering and he let himself not notice. He didn't create the unjust system. But he accepted the advantages it gave him and didn't think too much about them. And when others began to rebel against those injustices, all he noticed was that he had no dinner.

When it comes to systemic injustice, ignorance is not a defense. We are all personally responsible for breaking through our obliviousness.

Nothing brings this point home more clearly than a type of privilege we don't talk about very often: American privilege. Even if you are struggling in America, even if you are relatively poor, people all over the world are risking their health and even their lives to bring you cheap products.

Last fall, over 100 workers died in a factory fire in Bangladesh, partly because there were no outside-the-building fire escapes. Those deaths could easily have been prevented, if the factory hadn't been under so much pressure to keep costs down. It was making clothing for a number of American retailers, including Walmart.

Now, the poor and working-class Americans who shop at Walmart did not mean those Asian workers any harm. They did not demand that Walmart squeeze that last quarter, that last dime, out of the price of its shirts. They did not push that low-cost mandate onto the factory or insist that the factory meet it by cutting corners on safety. In short, they did not kill those workers. 

But part of the benefit of that systemic evil flowed to them, and they were oblivious to it. 

Nearly all of us are oblivious to the human costs of the products we buy. Our whole retail establishment conspires with our desire to remain oblivious. Each marvelous product seems to appear on the shelf by magic. All that matters is whether you want it and what it costs.

In reality, though, that product is the result of a process that may stretch around the world, affecting countless people as well as the global environment. When you buy the product, you become part of that process. Your purchase ratifies the decisions that were made all the way up and down the line.

What kind of guilt does that give you -- personal or systemic? Well, until you make an effort to overcome your obliviousness, you won't know. Maybe you can find a personal path to redemption by buying something else or doing without. Or maybe there is no personal redemption, and whatever choice you make will thrust suffering onto someone. Then you have acquired systemic guilt, and your knowledge of it and your profit from it should motivate you to work for systemic change.

I got here by asking what vision of privilege I would be willing to apply to myself. And I rejected the temptation to view privilege as a wall or a series of walls between villains and victims. Instead, I envisioned privilege as a web in which we are all embedded and all implicated. Unfair advantages flow up and down the strands of that web, and everyone gets some of each.

But some of us get more advantage than disadvantage, and some of us get a lot more. I think the first responsibility that puts on us is simply to awaken, to shake off our comfortable obliviousness and see just how much suffering is necessary to keep that flow of advantages coming. 

Next, I think we need to sort out how much of our guilt is personal and how much belongs to an unjust system that channels advantages to us without our asking and sometimes even without our consent. Personal guilt should lead to personal redemption by changing our ways, making restitution, and seeking forgiveness. But systemic guilt defies our attempts at personal redemption; we can only discharge it by working for systemic change.

I want to close with the words President Johnson spoke to a joint session of Congress as he was introducing the Voting Rights Act, one of the great achievements of the civil rights movement. He was talking specifically about racism, but I believe that what he had to say applies more widely to all forms of privilege. I love this quote, because it expresses both the universality of injustice and the commitment to take it on.

"It is not just Negroes," he said, "but it is really all of us who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."

* When I googled the term later, I discovered that Andrew Tobias had already thought of it. But no matter, I'd still love to see it catch on.
** More yet if you figure in payroll taxes, which I thought was a little bit too much for a talk without visual aides.


Robin Edgar said...

As long as they hide under the cowardly cover of internet anonymity, and sometimes even if they do not. . . Unitarian Universalist clergy have super-sized freedom of speech and thus *can*, at any time in any place, blurt out any Big Fat U*U Opinion they have. And no matter how bigoted or stupid or crazy their Big Fat U*U Opinion is, everybody else should just let it pass. There should be no blow-back, no consequences.

But don't take my word for it Doug, take former UUA Congregational Services Director Rev. Dr. Tracey Robinson-Harris' Big Fat U*U Word for it, in the form of this Big Fat U*U Purple Prose.

Anonymous said...

This was a wonderful and nuanced explanation of how privilege affects all of us. Bookmarking!

Anonymous said...

This is an exceptional article. You've pulled together a lot of my vague feelings about privilege for me, I think this is a step in the right direction.

Robin Edgar said...

Thanks to the UUA's step in the WRONG direction in June 2012, I now enjoy the unique honour and privilege of basking in the untold glory of being accused of blasphemy by Unitarians LOL!


Noa Page said...

This was a lovely thought train to help me parse out my mixed feelings over privilege and victimhood in America.

For a little background: I am a transwoman who grew up in a Lutheran family, and who suffered for it. For many years bitterness was the only reaction I could muster toward the church and conservatives... but I knew in my heart that they weren't villains. It frankly wasn't that simple. And so while many of my liberal friends would rage about the cruelty of the Christian Right, I found myself at once furious and sympathetic toward the same people.

I've been trying to find a way to reach out to them and I may use this article. It actually reminds me a lot of a Bible verse I think about a lot:

"The Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who stand in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." from 2 Timothy. I firmly believe that the Lutheran church is wrong about the LGBT community and is doing great harm to them, and many others... and my hope is that in time it will remember its humanity.