Me and My Privilege

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“Check Your Privilege” was never meant to be a way to end an argument.

Privilege. It’s a loaded word. Put other words in front like “white,” “male” or “American” and you can amp up the angst factor exponentially.  “Check your” adds napalm and TNT to the fire. There has been much recent backlash against the idea of privilege and more specifically “checking” your privilege, such as in articles like this and this.

After reading Tal Fortgang’s op-ed from the Princeton Tory (cited above), I identified with many of the feelings he expressed. I am a seemingly plain ol’ white female (who actually is a member of the Cherokee Nation, has strong links to Mexico, etc.) who has also had “check your privilege” spat out at me as an ad hominem argument to shut me up as I expressed a thoughtful opinion. It stings to be told that I can’t possibly be intelligent enough to come to the correct decision about something, simply because I’m white. It’s racism—as much as me telling someone they can’t be right because they are of color. I posted the article, and various people responded. Most of the responses were like mine—commiseration for being piled into a group and discredited because of our race, heterosexuality, etc. However, one friend took me to task, and resulting thoughtful discussion made me eager to delve into the concept of checking one’s privilege, and the idea of privilege in general. Is it even something worth worrying about, or just something I can put to the back of my mind as another liberal idiocy (sorry, liberal friends)?

So. What is this “privilege” that’s got everyone in an uproar? The straight dictionary definition for the context I am addressing is “A special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group of people.” For example, I would say to my teen son, “A driver license is a privilege granted to those who earn it, not a right.” From the viewpoint of the “check your privilege” crowd, privilege is the idea that “some people benefit from unearned, and largely unacknowledged, advantages, even when those advantages aren’t discriminatory…. (Rothman).” Women’s Studies guru Peggy McIntosh is credited with popularizing the concept of white privilege in the eighties. She describes privilege as a sort of invisible, weightless backpack full of tools and supplies that one group carries, without knowing it, and other group does not. For example, if I turn on the television, for the most part I will see mostly my own race in starring roles in network shows. If I were male, I would never know what it was like to have to hold my keys in my hand as a weapon as I walked to my car in the parking lot of a grocery store after sundown. The ideas go deeper than that, and get more disturbing (men will never know what it is like to be sexually assaulted and then blamed for it because they were wearing their clothing too tight, etc.).

I get stuck between being angry at people who don’t know me, correcting me because they see my (insert anything here… race, sex, sexual orientation, hair color) and assume that I have certain privileges or advantages based on those things, and being concerned that I am missing some fundamental lesson in not recognizing my own privilege and thereby marginalizing my brothers and sisters of the human race. My friend used the analogy of two fish swimming, when another comes by and asks, “How’s the water?” to which the first fish ask, “What’s water?” By not acknowledging that I have certain advantages due to my own unique situations, and also that others have certain disadvantages due to theirs, I am not making those conditions nonexistent, I am merely denying them, and by acknowledging them, I am not saying either of us is better or worse than the other.

It’s a great concept, if that’s where it stays—I call it empathy, and seeking to understand others. It’s the “platinum rule”—rather than treat others how we would want to be treated, we take the time to learn how others would like to be treated, and then treat them that way. From a religious standpoint, it is to try and see everyone through our Heavenly Father’s and our Savior’s eyes—for who they are, for what they have been through, for who they can become—and then show compassion and love for all.

Here’s where it gets sticky, though.  “Check your privilege” has gone from being a call to advance understanding and inclusion, to a cry to silence dissent from those who do not agree with particular progressive thoughts. If I am having a discussion about welfare, crime, gay marriage, or any of the many hot-button topics which have even a flavor of “otherness” from my own identity, my debate opponent can (and often does) cry out “Check your privilege!” as a means to say, “What you have to say doesn’t matter, because you are (white, female, heterosexual, whatever) so all of your arguments are null and void.” Proponents will say that is not the case, but I can testify that it is. It has happened to me. It is the equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and singing, “I’m not listening!” instead of taking the time to understand. Yes. Understanding can come from both sides of the argument.

What are my conclusions about checking my privilege? First and foremost, I believe that YES! Every person, regardless of your race, gender, size, sexual preference, marital status, shoe size, ring size, head circumference—EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON. should be checking their privileges. What I mean is that everyone should:

1)      Count your blessings. What has God given you that has helped you be who you are today?

2)      Realize that not everyone has what you have. Try to bless others.

3)      Be compassionate and caring, striving to understand others instead of condemning. Instead of drawing little circles around ourselves to keep others out, like some cosmic Venn diagram, why can’t we find ways to lift others so that our privileges, our blessings, can be used to bless others as well?

Lastly—while everyone should be doing the above, NO ONE should be sanctimoniously shouting at someone to “check your privilege” unless the person you are lecturing is looking back at you from the mirror. One of the reasons why the discussion on privilege is getting so much backlash is become it feels like an attack—it has been described as the Privilege Olympics—only the gold medal goes to the one with the most disadvantages, and the losers are made to feel ashamed, as if they don’t deserve success because they didn’t really earn any of it. “Judge not” has no caveats.

It occurs to me that the direction we are looking as we are checking privilege determines the effect. Honestly checking my own privilege, or counting my own blessings, will lead to a sense of gratitude and inspire me to help those less fortunate. It will help me to be empathetic. Instead of judging someone based on my own paradigms, I will begin to understand that they walked their own path to where they stand. That path began in a place they did not choose, and not having traveled where they did, I have no standing to judge them. Looking inward should inspire me to be a better human being.

The opposite—looking outward to check out the privileges everyone else enjoys that I do not, will engender a different result. If I look at male privilege, tall people privilege, skinny people privilege, what have you—I start forgetting what I have. I become ungrateful. What’s worse, in the world we live in, where we are being conditioned to believe that if someone has more than we do, then they owe us something, I run the risk of feeling entitled. I am behind in the game, so someone else should make it up for me. On a political scale, this has happened already, and it is what makes the discussion of privilege so testy in the national arena.  It feels like an attack, because someone else is deciding who has more privilege, and wants to take from them to “even the score.”

Personally, I am fully aware that I am extremely blessed. First of all, I was born in the United States in a relatively technologically advanced time. Medically I had what I needed. I have never gone to bed hungry. School was awesome for me. I was teased, maybe not particularly popular, but I wasn’t really bullied. I have ALWAYS been blessed with wonderful friends. I had parents who were always around, always available. I didn’t have to worry about work instead of homework, and so I did well in school. I was raised with Christian beliefs, in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I have excellent work ethic, which was taught to me by good parents. I have never had to fear for my safety while I slept. I could go on. You get my point. I know how many blessings I have that others do not, and I know that they shaped many of my successes.

What I have to do, then, is be compassionate of others who do not have those advantages. I shouldn’t judge others, because I don’t know what they have been through, what disadvantages or trials they have had, or to what extreme.  For me, it comes down to truly living Christian principles as well as I possibly can.

I know that sounds extremely Pollyanna-esque to think that this will solve all of the “privilege” problems. I know that this is not the world we live in. But instead of all of these systems we set up to pit ourselves against each other, to compare ourselves and condemn each other, these pharisaical rules of political correctness, why can’t we just follow the great commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves? It’s simplistic, I know. I cannot make anyone else do it. But I will commit to do a better job of it, and in the name of doing so, I will “check my privilege” to see how I can better show that love to those who may not be as blessed as I know I am. I am just one, but I’m the only thing I have true control over in my desire to make the world a better place.

We’re all on the same path. Some of us got a head start, some of us have bicycles. Is it too much to ask that we respect each other, and help each other along when we can?

 

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2014/05/the-woman-who-coined-the-term-white-privilege.html (Posted by Joshua Rothman)

In Search of Truth

Someone I don’t know, wandering a labyrinth. Searching for truth is often like a labyrinth, but one that is made from multiple pathways, turning in on themselves and sometimes suddenly disappearing and reappearing. Like the labyrinth in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

“Energy drinks like Red Bull contain an ingredient extracted from bull semen!” reads the headline on Facebook. After the 973rd Facebook link to a story I knew was false, I stopped replying with the www.snopes.com debunking link. People will believe what they want to. It’s called “confirmation bias” and it plagues each of us. Simply put, if you suffer from confirmation bias (big reveal: we all do, to some extent), then you will tend to place more emphasis on facts, statistics, stories, etc. that support your point of view. So, for the Red Bull story, those who want to believe that companies have no problem putting weird stuff in our food (worms in McDonald’s food, bubble gum made of spiders) will tend to believe that energy drink companies are out there getting “donations” from the bulls of the world and putting it in their products. My own personal view is that if it sounds really weird, gross, or otherwise “out there,” it probably is. So I tend to fact check all that stuff.

Weird Facebook stories are one thing, but what if we raise the stakes? Here are some other issues of the day. How many people are still arguing them, and what are the chances either side will change their mind? What’s the confirmation bias with regards to:

Obama’s birth certificate (either you trust that he’s been properly vetted, or you believe that somehow he shanghaied the system)

Climate Change (we are melting the world, or it’s all junk science aimed at government control of its citizens)

Bundy Ranch Standoff (Bundy is a nutjob, or the federal government is all about oppressing hard working citizens to give gains to a few elites).

That last one is the one I am having the hardest time with currently. The Bundy Ranch standoff started many years ago, and is essentially a dispute between Clive Bundy, a rancher, and the federal government, specifically the Bureau of Land Management. Recently, the feds confiscated cattle and moved to physically remove Mr. Bundy and his operation from the disputed area. Bundy refused to go. Contingencies of like-minded citizens responded to block the Bureau from carrying out their directive, and the feds backed down rather than escalate the armed confrontation. Things have gone in different directions from there, with different spins on every new development.

Depending on which side you talk to, both have extremely compelling evidence of the righteousness of their cause. Where does the truth lie? Where do we find the truth online—everyone claims to have the “real story” but there is so much to sift through to find little nuggets of facts.

Snopes.com, (insert other fact check sites here), all try to provide clarity to some of the issues, and in many cases (such as urban legends), we can trust what they say. Can we trust Snopes? Some say we cannot—but it goes back to the confirmation bias—if Snopes verifies something we believe, then it’s true. If they don’t, then they are commie fascists liars with their pants on fire.

With that in mind, I am going to dedicate part of my website to the search for truth. I want to research different sides to some of these issues—some silly, some serious—and try and provide a little clarity on where the truth lies (hint: it’s usually somewhere in the middle).

I have my own beliefs, and my own “confirmation bias” of course, being human and all, but for the sake of the discussion, I will do my best to lay all of that aside as I try to research and be as unbiased as possible.

What issues would you like me to research? Share them in the comments and I will do my best.

 

 

The Power of Poetry, and a farewell to Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou passed away today. I wanted to post some great poem of hers, but as I read them, I realized–and this is going to be sooo unpopular–I don’t really like reading her poetry.  Now, if I can hear HER read her poetry, that’s a totally different story. Listening to Maya Angelou, even just hearing her speak, touches chords in my heart, makes me sit up and pay attention. There’s something about the cadence and timbre of her voice, the emotion in her words…… Hearing her recite her poetry gives me goose flesh, and depending on the subject, brings me to tears.  If you have the opportunity to see a video of Dr. Angelou reciting the following poem, do it.  Just reading it doesn’t do it justice. But here it is. This is “Amazing Peace” by Dr. Maya Angelou:

Thunder rumbles in the mountain passes

And lightning rattles the eaves of our houses.

Flood waters await us in our avenues.

 

Snow falls upon snow, falls upon snow to avalanche

Over unprotected villages.

The sky slips low and grey and threatening.

 

We question ourselves.

What have we done to so affront nature?

We worry God.

Are you there? Are you there really?

Does the covenant you made with us still hold?

 

Into this climate of fear and apprehension, Christmas enters,

Streaming lights of joy, ringing bells of hope

And singing carols of forgiveness high up in the bright air.

The world is encouraged to come away from rancor,

Come the way of friendship.

 

It is the Glad Season.

Thunder ebbs to silence and lightning sleeps quietly in the corner.

Flood waters recede into memory.

Snow becomes a yielding cushion to aid us

As we make our way to higher ground.

 

Hope is born again in the faces of children

It rides on the shoulders of our aged as they walk into their sunsets.

Hope spreads around the earth. Brightening all things,

Even hate which crouches breeding in dark corridors.

 

In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.

At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.

We listen carefully as it gathers strength.

We hear a sweetness.

The word is Peace.

It is loud now. It is louder.

Louder than the explosion of bombs.

 

We tremble at the sound. We are thrilled by its presence.

It is what we have hungered for.

Not just the absence of war. But, true Peace.

A harmony of spirit, a comfort of courtesies.

Security for our beloveds and their beloveds.

 

We clap hands and welcome the Peace of Christmas.

We beckon this good season to wait a while with us.

We, Baptist and Buddhist, Methodist and Muslim, say come.

Come and fill us and our world with your majesty.

We, the Jew and the Jainist, the Catholic and the Confucian,

Implore you, to stay a while with us.

So we may learn by your shimmering light

How to look beyond complexion and see community.

 

It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.

 

On this platform of peace, we can create a language

To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.

 

At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ

Into the great religions of the world.

We jubilate the precious advent of trust.

We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.

All the earth’s tribes loosen their voices

To celebrate the promise of Peace.

 

We, Angels and Mortal’s, Believers and Non-Believers,

Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.

Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.

Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves

And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.

Peace, My Brother.

Peace, My Sister.

Peace, My Soul.”

——————————————————————————————————–

In thinking about the power of Dr. Angelou’s words over the decades, I question: What is it about poetry that touches hearts and minds so deeply, and so easily?

I believe poetry at its heart is an exchange of emotions between the poet and the reader.  When I write a poem, I distill my emotions onto the page. I may use rhyme, meter, or various effects to convey my feelings, but that is the goal. When you read my poem, you see and feel my words through the windows of your own eyes, your own experiences, your own psychic filters (not in a metaphysical sense, just the perception of your mind). Your imagination makes its own connection, a connection made all the more powerful because it is tied to YOUR emotions.

What is your favorite poem?  Do you like traditional rhyming poems, or do you prefer free-form?

 

The Long Journey

My son is a genius. He’s always been ahead of the curve. He walked early, talked young (and hasn’t stopped), he could kick a ball and throw with accuracy as a toddler. So when he, as a fourteen-month-old, started wanting to sit on his little Froggy potty, and even pooped in it once, I was secretly fist pumping and practicing my sympathetic looks for all the mommies of the boys his age in our playgroup.
frog

Then it stopped. With his sudden halt in toilet interest, came a corresponding spike in my desperation. Meanwhile, one mom I ran into at Target (buying new underwear for her boy), told me all about how she had trained him at not-quite-eighteen-months, by filling him with water and juice and letting him run around the house naked all day with multiple potties set up in different areas of the house. That seemed pretty crazy. I wasn’t quite there at that point. My little monkey was only eighteen months old. There was no reason to panic, yet.

Months passed. He turned two. I started suggesting he use the potty. At first it was just a quick, “Hey, ya wanna try the potty?” every once in a while. He never wanted to. When he turned three, it turned into “WHY don’t you want to go in the potty?” His answer, “I just want to go in my diaper, Mom.”  Well, never let it be said that he doesn’t know what he wants.

I started trying to bribe him. I got him a packet of cool underwear. He agreed we should try wearing them. I didn’t even have pants on him, and he went in the potty! Once. Then he discovered that 1) peeing out your underwear feels funny enough to stand there and laugh hysterically while you do it, and 2) Mom freaking out only lasts for thirty seconds until she realizes that she doesn’t want this to be a fight, or about control, or a negative experience, and gets a hold of herself enough to just put a diaper on you and clean up the puddle. In. The. Carpet.  Back to the status quo.

My little boy’s butt’s best friend

Three and a half years old. My sweet boy has had sensitive skin in his nether regions for his whole life. What changed is that he became extremely articulate in describing just how bad his diaper rashes hurt. At the same time, he started thinking it was funny to lie about if he had a wet diaper. At first, I was hypervigilant, making him come get a change even if he said he wasn’t wet. Then, something snapped, and I told him, “Fine. Don’t get changed, but you’ll get a rash because you’re lying.” I choked down my tears at his terrible, sometimes bleeding, rashes, hoping he would learn to either let me change him, or just GO TO THE POTTY! Nope. He won. I went back to changing him at the slightest hint of poo or pee, because I couldn’t handle seeing his pain. Our whole family learned the chant, “You wouldn’t get a rash if you’d go in the potty,” whenever his sensitive skin presented him with diaper rash despite our best efforts.

I kept hearing from people who wanted to give me potty-training advice. All the nifty methods just seemed either silly, or cruel, or somewhere between. The one thing that stuck with me was the statement my sister-in-law said made about “forcing it” with her children, and how sometimes her children still wet. She suspects it’s in response to the way they were potty trained.  I just wanted my boy to learn to go in the potty. I was okay with waiting for him to want it, as long as he wanted it before preschool started, because I didn’t want diapers to hold him back. I started pointing out his friends in underwear. We went on a field trip with the preschool his older best friend attended, and I made sure to remind my guy that he couldn’t go to preschool like his buddy without being potty trained. He said, “Well, I guess I can’t go, because I don’t want to go in the potty.” Again, he knew the consequences, and just didn’t want to make that leap.

Then, one magical day, my husband just randomly asked our almost-four-year-old, “Hey buddy, do you wanna wear underwear today?” and he said, “Yes! I would like to!” He wore cool Spiderman underwear, and had one small accident. I put him in little tightie-whities for the rest of the day (so cute, by the way). The next day, I pulled out one pair of Superman underwear, and a huge pile of white briefs.  “You can wear the cool ones until you have an accident. Then it’s the white ones.” He agreed, and to my surprise, he hasn’t had to wear white underwear in the month since we made that arrangement.

Angels singing, sun shining in magical rays around our home, it’s a miracle! Once my sweet, smart boy decided it was time for the underpants, he took care of business. We’ve since been on short outings to the store, and recently, a long outing to the zoo. The two accidents he’s had have been the result of either a bad tummy from medicine, or a locked gate blocking the bathroom. We spent the month keeping him in diapers for sleeping, but he never wet the diapers. He climbs in bed with us sometimes, and I haven’t been ready to risk being peed on during the night—but that’s all changing. We told him if he had a month of dry diapers in the morning, he would get to wear underwear at night. Tonight will be his first night in Superman underwear. My fingers will be crossed all night long.

Praying for dry desert dreams for my little boy.

Or maybe not. After all, my son is a genius.

Anxiety and the Things I Know to be True

The world seems to be floundering in anxiety these days.  Weather is weird, there are earthquakes, tornadoes, fires, mudslides, droughts, floods, wars, looming threats of war, citizens of our country taking up arms against their own government, widespread mistrust not just of the government, but of each other. All motives are in question; civil discourse is all but absent in most avenues. It seems as though people are afraid to hear points of view that they don’t agree with. The vibe is just…… icky.

That vibe has infiltrated its way into my psyche, as well. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I still love a good philosophical discussion, but I have fears for the future. For my family–what do we do if things start falling apart around us? Will we be prepared? We’ve been doing the ol’ food storage, gardening, trying to be frugal, get our flashlights ready stuff–but people are changing, and I fear what they are capable of if their usual comforts run dry.  I worry about my family’s economic future. I worry about the world my kids are growing up in. I worry that I won’t be able to make it as an author. I worry…..

Underneath all this anxiety, there is always a mooring that I anchor myself to. There is always the THING I know. It’s really thingS plural, but it comes down to that. God is my Father. Literally. He loves me. He only wants good for me–and He is the only one that ultimately knows what that good is. Jesus Christ is my Savior and He lived and died for ME, and was resurrected on the third day, so that I (and all the world) will be resurrected and brought home to God one day. I know that Christ paid for my sins, so that if I just do what I am supposed to by following Him and working my darnedest to be better every single day, I WILL be able to be with God, and my family, forever. I KNOW that because God loves me, and Jesus atoned for me, that in the end, I WILL BE HAPPY. Everything will work out how it should, and I will be happy with the final results.

It’s the real Easter message. It’s the message of every day when I get up and start again. I cannot say that I still don’t feel fear for all of the details of life, but the equation is like this: to the degree that I REMEMBER these things, and practice trust and faith in them, I feel peace. This gives me hope that I will be able to be strong enough, capable enough, that with God’s help, I and my family will be able to valiantly stand, faithful and true to our God and our beliefs.  I KNOW.

Everything else is just details. 

Hello again!

So.  ANOTHER website change. I won’t bore you with the details. Let’s just say after a successful changeover to a new hosting service, I found that my router is at odds with the (technical blah blah blah….)

And so, it is with great fanfare (da da da doooooo) that I announce that I’m back, again, and hopefully will be able to astound and amaze, again, with my thoughts on life, the universe, and everything. (again)

If you don’t see me update for a while, I’m still working out the kinks.

HOPE to see you soon!

Jewel Leann Williams