Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What About Privilege, Justice, and Social Responsibility?

What About Privilege, Justice, and Social Responsibility?

So much has been written about “white privilege” in recent weeks in relation to discrimination against people of color. In the “take the knee” debate, one side wants to raise awareness of a systemic racism problem in the USA, while the other insists that this is just blatant disrespect for our flag and our country.

Many of the same concepts apply to “male privilege” as used against females. Sexual harassment and assault are in the headlines with the latest scandals, hence the “Me Too” statuses and hashtags on Facebook and Twitter, which is an extension of the “#YesAllWomen” theme from last year.

Some claim there is little or no racial or gender inequity going on, and if there is, “Well, we all just need to buck up and deal with what life throws at us. It'll all work out in the end.” With this reasoning, no one else is required to do much of anything to address injustice based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, or socio-economic status, etc. “It’s not our fault. End of story. Shut up and play ball.”

Hearing this is why so many protesters are speaking up and imploring each one of us to “check your privilege.” This means taking time to examine how we personally benefit from a social system which passively enjoys or even aggressively seizes unfair advantages over others. It also means considering how often we conveniently ignore issues like police brutality which disproportionately target people of color. Because, like, it doesn’t affect me personally. Not in my neighborhood. He was just a big bad black dude. Of course he could expect to be shot to death.

Some complain that raising the uncomfortable issue of oppression shames innocent whites -- a sort of reverse racism. Maybe it is, depending on how it is presented. I don’t think it’s fair to imply that “white = bad” or “male = bad” or “cop = bad”. But it is fair to ask us to examine our lives and see how we fit in with the culture at large, and how much we truly care when others suffer. We can deal with that awkwardness, can’t we? It will help us see and do better!

To be honest, I am a rookie at social justice issues related to racism. I’ve done much more research on abuses of gender and religion than I have on racism. I’m learning as I go. I have countless blind spots and unconscious prejudices. But I hope I’m at least making progress.

I am willing to speak up, even if it means I am criticized for it. I believe in calling out injustice when I see it.

I think we should honestly face the areas where we have each fallen short; at the same time, it’s not necessary to wallow in blame and shame. That only leads to bitterness, resistance, and more reactive division. I would rather that people see that they have an amazing opportunity to do better moving forward.

As Maya Angelou said, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

First, we are responsible for sharing at least part of what we have received for the betterment of society and not just ourselves, especially if our own success is built on privileges received and not just our own raw unaided effort. As we do this, we also need to realize that we are not superior to others just because we have more education, money, friends, or social graces. So it should never be a “pity the poor heathens” deal when we help others. There is such a thing as human dignity and respect. We should actually take the time to get to know people as people, to appreciate the value of their lives and their cultures, and to learn from them, rather than to treat them as a mere charity project to make us feel good about ourselves.

Second, we are responsible as citizens to bring correction to a legal and social system which discriminates. You may say, “Show me an unjust racial law. We don’t have Jim Crow anymore. Black people can vote. Our schools have been desegregated. There are affirmative action laws in place. The law doesn’t tell cops to go after blacks more than whites.” That may be true. But that doesn’t account for the fact that a law can be written justly, yet applied and enforced unfairly.

There is something we can do about systemic racial or gender injustice - which is to make it socially and politically unacceptable. How? We can:
  • Put the pressure on our peers in a good way. 
  • Teach our kids how to relate to others who are different. 
  • Call out racist or sexist remarks, even if someone is “just joking” or is someone you otherwise respect. 
  • Speak truth to power by writing to legislators. 
  • Share good article links on Facebook and Twitter. 
  • Refuse to vote for politicians who are bigoted or misogynistic. 
  • Research causes of poverty and homelessness, such as addiction, family violence, mental health issues, lack of educational access, lack of affordable housing, lack of affordable health care. 
  • Support community and political initiatives to address those problems. 
  • Fund pro-justice charitable organizations which have high-reliability ratings.
  • Read the news, and use our educated discernment about who to believe - with a keen eye for actual credibility and not just what already fits our paradigm. 

Yeah, that kind of stuff. Society is not static. Be a positive change agent. Are we already doing that? We can always do even more as we open our eyes and hearts.

Back to examining privilege for a moment:

Do you have a decent education?
Do you have a job which pays a living wage?
Do you have finances beyond your own basic needs?
Do you positive have social connections?
Do you live in a safe neighborhood with a reliable utility infrastructure?
Do you have creative talents?
Do you have physical health?
Do you have access to personal transportation?
Do you have a media platform?
Do you have any voice at all?

Glory be! You’re blessed!

And I’ll bet other people helped you get where you are.

Somebody provided for your needs as you grew up.
Somebody taught you.
Somebody introduced you to others who could help you.
Somebody invested in you.
Somebody took a chance on you.
Somebody nurtured you.
Somebody put in a good word for you.

And here you are now, with all kinds of tangible and non-tangible assets as a direct or indirect result of what you received.

You could legally keep them for yourself or for your own family.

But what kind of life is that?

"A person wrapped up in him/herself makes an awfully small package."

I posted a paragraph this morning on Facebook:

I'm sitting down today to reflect on what I want each facet of my life to look like as I move forward into the future. Much as I believe in the importance of proper self-care, I am convinced of one thing: I don't want to live for myself. If my life has God-given purpose at all, much of this will be connected with compassion and concern for others, starting with my own family, and then beyond. That's what I want to do. That's who I want to be.

I hope that’s who you want to be, too.

Now for some thoughts from the Good Book to help us all do that. (All passages are from the New International Version of the Bible.)


"Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. "If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings." Isaiah 58:6-12

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’  “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’  Matthew 25:34-40

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment!  What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.  If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.  But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. ”Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:12-18

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.  You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you.” James 5:1-6

"With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has showed you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:6-8

Grace and peace,
Virginia Knowles

P.S. I wood-burned this verse today as a way of harnessing creativity for justice.

P.P.S. This is the first blog post I've written in months. I just couldn't stay silent any longer. Writing is another way I can advocate for justice. Sometimes it is an essay, other times a poem. Here are some that I have written in the past, keeping in mind that most of my focus so far has been on issues like gender inequity, religious abuse, homelessness, and human trafficking. Most of these are on my Watch the Shepherd blog.

Justice for the Vulnerable

Examining Our Attitudes with Humility:

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