This post is part of a synchroblog entitled, What’s in Your Knapsack? Links to other participants are listed at the end of this post. Here is some more explanation from the Synchroblog site…
Whether it is white privilege, heterosexual privilege, male privilege, Christian privilege, able-bodied privilege or any other privilege that we enjoy through no effort of our own, we all have a tendency to be blind to our own position of privilege. We easily recognize the privilege in groups that we don’t belong to and ways in which we ourselves are oppressed, but we don’t tend to recognize our own unearned privilege that saves us from facing certain obstacles, gives us certain guarantees and benefits, and works to the disadvantage and oppression of others.
I am torn. I want justice for those who have been historically mistreated, but I also see new groups of people being treated unjustly. Their case isn’t being heard. It has not captured the spotlight of our culture and it has not changed any laws. So, I want to establish a context of the historical injustices and then take a look at these more recent injustices.
Privilege is hard to recognize in ourselves. Everybody has some privileges over other people and that blinds us to their plight. Yet, it is foolish to feel apologetic because, for instance, I was born, white, male, and American. It is a privilege for which I am thankful, not apologetic.
Justice, that’s what we say we want for everyone. I get real pissed off when it is denied me and too often don’t notice when others are denied the same. I will fight, or at least bitch when I am treated unfairly while whole groups of people are used to being treated like they are substandard.
Attitudes change much, much slower than laws. Some attitudes are flat out lies, like, “We all have equal opportunity in America.” It’s just not true. Not everybody starts at the same place; some begin a few steps back. Maybe someone doesn’t know how to manage money because it was never modeled or taught. Maybe someone tries to cheat the system because it is all he ever knew. Maybe, someone doesn’t have a good work ethic and soft skills because they never had much of an opportunity to learn them. Maybe someone has trouble holding a job because she doesn’t have reliable transportation or childcare.
Since we don’t all start at the same place, we need some help. The idea is to partner with someone to help him improve life. That is the whole premise of social work, which I wholeheartedly believe in.
But systems get broken, just like people get broken. Many of our attempts to correct problems with a wholesale government approach have made things much worse.
Three decades of federal programs changed the dynamic of the African-American community. Urban renewal and highway programs caused many African-American neighborhoods to be razed. Low-income people were re-located into high rise housing projects. Middle to high income people had the means to re-locate in the choice suburban neighborhoods with their Caucasian counterparts.
Our unjust treatment of African Americans, women, and gays has come to light. It’s not all better, but it is better. Now I would like you to consider some very personal stories about over-looked injustices and privilege.
My wife was fired from her job because she did not have a certain level of education, even though she had done the job for thirteen years and received much acclaim for her work. I remember Patty bringing home the news and wondering how we would survive. What about educational privilege and snobbery? Why should someone be discriminated against because she doesn’t have a piece of paper, especially, after having done the job well for several years?
My daughter-in-law was fired from a management job because she unwittingly mentioned a racial situation. It took one complaint and she was called in, reminded of the company’s zero tolerance policy, and told to clean out her desk immediately. There was no discussion about the incident, no effort made toward reconciliation, no investigation of the facts. Her “Christian” employer said they could not afford to be involved in a government investigation, no matter what actually happened. So, they fired her on the spot.
She had worked for the company for nine years, put in voluntary, unpaid overtime, and used her own resources to help them get a new office opened. She is one heck of a worker, earned a double masters, and is one the smartest people I know. She was in tears when we talked about what had happened. What about this fearful over-reaction that has gripped our nation and moved us into a new kind of racial privilege? What about the unfair playing of the race card?
I have been unemployed far too long. I have tried everything I know to find meaningful work. Once I was at a meeting of unemployed people inquiring about government funded retraining program through The Worker Investment Act (the stimulus). As I looked around the table, I did not see transient, uneducated, ethnically diverse people. I soon found out the average person at the table was in his fifties, white, male, a long-term, skilled employee whose job was eliminated or off-shored. What about injustice toward those skilled people who have built companies and our very economy? What about youth privilege? What about employer privilege?
I honestly believe that I would have a much better chance of gainful employment if I were a young, attractive female.
Justice and privilege can’t be reduced to a slogan, or some politically correct campaign, nor can it be completely corrected by a government program. It is a personal issue.
Unfortunately, we have become preoccupied with a certain set of injustices while totally ignoring others.
Here the contributions from the other participants in the synchroblog:
Rebecca Trotter at The Upside Down World – The Real Reason the Term “White Privilege” Needs to Die
Carol Kuniholm at Words Half Heard – What Do You Have That You Didn’t Receive
K.W. Leslie at More Christ – Sharing From The Invisible Knapsack
Jeremy Myers at Till He Comes – My Black Privilege
Alan Knox at The Assembling Of the Church – Knowing Who You Are and How Others Identify You
Leah Sophia at desert spirit’s fire – backpack cargo
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – Christian Privilege
Kathy Escobar at The Carnival in my Head – Privilege
Thanks, Glenn, for bringing this stuff to light. Things I never really thought about. Well, not much anyhow. My thoughts are taking a different turn than others may.
Pointing out how we ‘fix’ one thing just to let something else get broken points to the fact that we will never get it right. As a rule, people keep going on thinking that eventually it will all turn out okay, we’ll get it all right. How long have people been on this earth? How long have we been making the same mistakes over and over and over. The technology changes. Clothing and hairstyles change. But we are no different than the people Moses led through the wilderness. We are no different than the people that Jesus took to task. All these thousands of years and nothing has changed!
So what are we to do? I sorta know the answer. But I am so poor at putting into practice what I know. I admit to God every day that I don’t know how to do anything. My life is falling apart. But I must be missing a key piece because I go on as if it will all be better if I just keep on keeping on.
Ah! I am going on and on and on. Creating my own blog as a tail to yours! Stay well, Glenn, and keep us thinking!
Jean – I think we have a tendency to repeat the same mistakes in different ways.
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