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Photo by Donna Higgins

Privilege, Photo by Donna Higgins

Yesterday I said, “Be nice.”  Perhaps encouraging nicety is not the right approach.

Perhaps to say “be nice” is too simplistic, and worse, reads very much like, “Hush now, your problems are not important,” or, “You are making me uncomfortable with your anger,” or “There really isn’t that much to be angry about, so can’t you just be a little more polite?”

“Nice” comes with baggage.

Kindness and compassion may be more appropriate, but there is still a problem. Encouraging anyone, especially people whose lives I don’t really understand, to be anything other than what they’re already being, even if what I’m encouraging is a little more kindness and compassion, places me in a strange position of authority. (To be clear, it isn’t that I feel I am in authority in any way, it’s just that making those statements reads very much like an authority figure trying to control the emotional reactions of a group.)

No, I don’t see myself as an authority figure at all.

I write this blog, and have for over two years. I post my thoughts and opinions, and I’ve fostered a vibrant readership. But, I’m not an authority on much of anything. I ask a lot of questions. I get stuff wrong. I’m completely fallible, and I’m not ashamed to say it.

But yesterday, as I wrote about this idea that being nice would help us in our online communications, I also stepped into a conversation that I felt unprepared for. That conversation is one about privilege, particularly my privilege.

Privilege: The Other “P” Word

I say that I was unprepared, because I didn’t see encouraging kindness (or niceness, which I was conflating a bit with kindness) as an exercise of privilege. I wasn’t seeking to strengthen the Pagan side of the Pagan/polytheist divide by weakening or stifling the polytheist’s voice through the imposition of niceness. But, it was kind of read that way.

I learned that my privilege (or at least, my assumed privilege — some of the accusations made about my privilege were inaccurate) was sprinkled all over my post, and it seems it has been present throughout many posts on my blog. My first reaction to this information was a kind of shutting down. Being called on privilege, whether that call is warranted or not, feels a little like a silencing. In effect,

You’re speaking from a place of privilege. You don’t really know what you’re talking about. You’re off base, out of line, misinformed.

BOOM -> Silence.

No one said these things to me directly, but they could have. I’ve been silenced before, and being called on my privilege had a similar feeling.

And, to be honest, I’m not sure I can argue about having privilege. I can clarify about the assumptions that are made about me (that I’m not 100% white, that my marriage is gay, that I’m not currently “financially secure”), but I can’t dismiss the fact that, upon closer inspection, I do have privilege.

My own paganism, after all, is Eurocentric. It’s what I’ve gravitated towards, and what (at this time) feels natural to me. But how does that Eurocentrism place me in a position of privilege, especially within a community which, itself, is not privileged?

I could evaluate my life, look at it from a distance, and see where the privilege lies. I probably should. We all probably should. We all have unexamined privilege, I imagine.

But me looking at my own privilege seems different somehow than a person who doesn’t know all of my life pointing out my perceived privilege. Is the act of calling a person on their privilege itself an act of privilege, I wonder?

I’m writing this, as always, from a position of non-expert. I don’t know the answer these questions, nor do I understand clearly how privilege plays into every aspect of my religious life or my social and cultural interactions. With that said, I’m open to learning. It’s no one’s responsibility to teach me (even if they feel compelled to do so), but I think it’s my responsibility to learn.

My hope would be that in this process of coming to better understand of what privilege is and how privilege may be informing my thoughts, opinions, and perspectives, that there is also something to be learned about what to do when you recognize privilege in yourself or in others.

If we are all privileged in some way or other (and, if you’re reading this post on a computer screen — one that you own — you are probably more privileged than some), than what do we do with that information?

What do we do when we recognize a certain privilege in ourselves or others? How do we avoid silencing one another, or feeling silenced ourselves?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/fritterfae Eric Riley

    Perhaps, rather than niceness, what we really need to address is civility. “Being Nice” implies that there are negative emotions at play (and to be fair, I feel there were and are a lot of negative emotions), and that those emotions and reactions should be set aside. To ask instead for civility addresses a matter of tone, but not emotion. One can certainly be emotionally heated, and still civil in the way that they address other people, particularly online.

    • http://aquapunk.net/ Lo

      I agree with you in theory, but in practice this sadly falls apart. It becomes then, a question of venues– where it’s appropriate to bring what emotions to the table. And unfortunately, this often turns into yet another arena where those privileged enough to not be emotionally compromised by a situation dictate the terms. This is why there exist “safe spaces” for those who do have emotions and have been told to keep them bottled up for the sake of civility go to vent and build support systems. But those spaces are constantly being invaded by those who are bothered by the existence of -any- emotionally-charged dissent, or by those who simply don’t like like the idea of being “excluded” from any discussion anywhere. Those “safe spaces” have to work extremely hard to remain safe. There is no easy, clear-cut solution.

    • Derek_anny

      The word Nice always makes me think of a passage from Sondheim’s Into the Woods. “You’re so nice. You’re not good. You’re not bad. You’re just nice.” To me, nice smacks of the fluffy need to always agree and be happy with one another. Which I think is impossible. It disregards the fact that people can disagree and remain civil. Nice is pretending differences don’t exist in order for people to not feel challenged.

  • Tami Olsen

    Speaking from my own experience, the most insulted I’ve ever felt was when someone told me that I had no right to an opinion because I was “privileged” and couldn’t possibly understand. It is my experience that it is our differences that enrich the world, and by accepting differences in others we can truly promote peaceful existence.

    Yes, I am privileged to have a home and two cars, a smartphone and a computer, two healthy children, and a good marriage. But I have problems too. I’m pagan in an otherwise heavily Christian area, I’m female in TWO heavily male dominated career fields, I suffer in pain because of my health. I could turn away anyone that doesn’t experience these things as not being able to understand or not having suffered enough to be worthy of an opinion, but I don’t. (At least I try not to)

    Kindness is a gift. Being willing to show someone kindness shouldn’t be met with hostility, but it often is. How discouraging is it to people that want to be kind, that want to help, to be rebuffed and accused of being insincere? Someday the entire world will stop being kind just to avoid being hurt in return.

    Privilege. I do believe we are all privileged in some way, some more apparent than others. I also believe that our privileges are a gift that we are meant to use to benefit mankind in whatever way we can. We shouldn’t hate someone for having more than we do, we should applaud them if they use it to help people.

    In another life, I have nothing. In yet another I have everything. It is how I choose to use what I have in this life that is important.

    Just my opinion…

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Hi Tami, thank you for taking part in this conversation. I know it’s a tricky one to have, and I too have been on the business end of someone calling out my privilege. In my response to Teo above, I outlined what’s known as “intersectionality” – the idea that we are an intersection of levels of oppression and privilege, and it’s important to understand our relationships to the world on a very complex and dynamic level.

      When we engage with discussions about privilege, it’s important to keep in mind that members of minority groups – especially those who routinely engage in social justice conversations – are often tired and exhausted from having to “prove” their oppression, validate their own existence, fight against an oppressive society. I’m sorry someone was rude to you. I was unable to engage in conversations about race for quite some time because one very negative interaction led to me developing panic attacks every time my white privilege was mentioned! But I think it’s important that we continue to engage and struggle with these questions, especially when we are not met with open arms.

      At the end of the day, as members of a privileged group, it’s /our responsibility/ to educate ourselves and act in ways that help dispel oppression.

      • Tami Olsen

        I can sympathize with your story about panic attacks after a conversation like that. I experienced pretty much the exact same thing last April and it sparked a huge struggle with my health that was already building up. I’ve avoided such conversations for the most part since then.

    • Aine

      “I also believe that our privileges are a gift that we are meant to use
      to benefit mankind in whatever way we can. We shouldn’t hate someone for
      having more than we do, we should applaud them if they use it to help
      people.”

      I don’t think this actually address what privilege is. Privilege is an invisible knapsack. Privilege is something you don’t realize, something so ingrained in our society that you aren’t aware of it until someone points it out, and because of that pointing out it’s often shocking or unsettling – it has a way of changing world views. You can’t just brush away privilege by saying, ‘Yeah, I am privileged, but I’m also NOT in [x] way’. Your privilege is still there. The oppression you face is also there – they don’t cancel each other out.

      Privilege isn’t a gift – it’s an assumption that has to be challenged. An ‘ally’ that uses their privilege as, say, a heterosexual person is not someone I actually want on my side (as a queer person) – I’d rather have an ally that listens to me and understands that them attempting to ‘use their privilege’ to help me only furthers my oppression and can even place them in the spot of the oppressor.

      • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

        Learning to address privilege is /really really hard/. It hurts, it’s tough, and a lot of what we’ve taken from granted from society (sometimes from our own families) gets shaken up. It’s a process worth going through, for ourselves, for others, for society.

        It’s my belief that social justice starts from a place of questioning our own privilege. We can go to all the rallies and sign all the petitions we want, but it’s going to be the day-to-day tiny interactions that change the world.

      • Tami Olsen

        I think you misunderstood my words, and my view of the word “privilege”. Even in your definition, you mention that privilege can be “pointed out” to you, and you can realize it. At that point are you no longer privileged because you can see the invisible napsack you talk about? Or does some other invisible thing take its place?

        Privilege to me is much more like the historical definition that was mentioned by the Bard in these comments. It is the “haves” as opposed to the “have nots”, both in the material sense and the class sense. The argument was made by Daniel that it’s not a line scale model, it’s a 3D model, and that’s how I see it as well. I imagine a flat plane that represents all the different “states” we exist in. The plane rises and falls in areas to represent our privilege and our oppression. There may be a mountain of privilege because of a person’s race, but a chasm of oppression when it comes to religion. The landscape that represents who we are will never be the same as anyone else’s.

        I also believe that just because you are privileged in some way, it doesn’t mean you can’t be there for someone, listen to them, and understand their problems. You may not share their problems, but then nobody can truly understand the complete extent of someone else’s problems anyway, because their landscape is different. I do, however, recognize a chasm when I see one, even if it’s not the same chasm. Through opening our hearts to others, we can begin to understand their pain, and sometimes we don’t even really need to understand it to help.

        Don’t mistake my desire to help people as superficial, or my hope for a better world as naive. Just because I don’t hate my own privilege doesn’t mean I’ve not recognized it. I’ve had it pointed out, seen it, accepted it, and decided that I won’t let it be a barrier between me and the world. I can’t live for others if I’m holding onto shame or hatred for myself.

        I am who I am. If I can’t embrace ME as who I am, privileges and all, how can I ever hope to accept anyone else?

        • Aine

          Where did I say you had to hate yourself? If I did, please point that out to me.

          Privilege does not go away if/when someone realizes it, nor does it go away when you help others or listen to oppressed groups or any of that – it’s always there. That’s the nature of privilege. All we -can- do is learn about it, acknowledge it where we have it, and realize when we’re using it intentionally or not or when we see it in action. If we want to get rid of the privilege we have then we should be working to dismantle the foundation of it in the first place. I become very hesitant of anyone that turns a discussion of privilege into one about their feelings – disadvantaged groups have every right to keep someone with privilege they don’t have out or to yell at them because frankly -yelling is the only way- most of them get heard.

          /No one/ is telling you that you have to hate yourself, but you do have to understand that the barriers marginalized and oppressed groups raise against you when you have privilege they don’t are -their right entirely-. Privilege is not a barrier between you and the world, and it’s not something that holds you back from interacting in the world – not having that privilege is a barrier.

          • Tami Olsen

            I’m sorry, but when you say that someone has every right to yell at me just because I was born “privileged”, that to me is wrong. It’s hurting me for what I am as surely as they claim to be getting hurt for what they are.

            I can understand why those that are oppressed snap at those they deem “privileged”, it wears on a person to constantly be getting the short end of the stick, but that doesn’t make it RIGHT for them to do so.

            There is more than one way to equalize a situation. You can either raise people up, or lower people down. Frankly I prefer to try to raise up those that are being oppressed rather than bring down those that aren’t.

            I’m sorry if you disagree, but that’s just how I prefer to treat people, and how I prefer to be treated.

    • http://twitter.com/ellie_nor Elinor Predota

      Hi Tami. There are two different meanings of the word “privilege”.

      One is as you describe – it acts as a noun: the privileges that one has that one can share or use for the betterment of others and oneself.

      The other is what Daniel and others are talking about – it acts as a verb: the way in which one group’s experiences, viewpoint and status is privileged over those of other groups, in ways which a person in the higher status group doesn’t even notice, but which a person in the other groups feels as a day to day assault on their existence.

  • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

    Are you familiar with the term “intersectionality”? It means that when we approach questions of privilege and oppression, it’s really necessary to see it as a dynamic 3-D model rather than a static line on a piece of paper. It means that none of us are just one thing, and that all of us, to an extent, experience different levels of oppression and privilege. For example, I have privilege because:

    - I am white and live in a predominantly white portion of the US
    - I pass as cis-gendered and my experimentation at appearing more masculine is “allowed” societally in a way that a man attempting to appear more feminine is not.
    - I am in the upper range of middle class. I have a nice house, a yard, a car, space and time to prepare healthy foods. I will never go hungry in my life.
    - Education has been stressed from an early age. Books are everywhere in my home; I was reading before I entered kindergarten; there was never a question that I would be able to attend college or that my parents would allow me /not/ to.
    - Though I do experience some minor health difficulties, for the most part I am able-bodied. I can move, work, see, hear, and function more or less normally in society.
    - Though I am gay and Pagan, I can pass as straight and Christian. (Both of which are necessary in my part of the country.)

    However, I also experience oppression because:

    - I was born with a female body and gendered “female” from birth, and we live in a society where the unequal treatment of sexes is still very much a reality.
    - I am /not/ cis-gendered, so I am constantly navigating a society which tells me that my way of understanding my gender is incorrect or even impossible.
    - Same for my queerness. I will never be able to walk hand-in-hand with my biracial girlfriend in my hometown for fear of very negative consequences. The television shows me examples of heterosexual and heteronormative couples. The princess is always rescued by the prince. Queer and trans* characters are played often for laughs, even in this day and age. My rights are still being voted against in my state.
    - I am Pagan. My birth religion of Christianity is held up as premiere and best; Christmas and Easter are holidays while my Holy Days are not; I cannot talk openly about my faith without being considered pretty strange.
    - I experience fatphobia and have a body which is not very strong or fit. Partially tied into #1, I’ve been told my whole life how my body is not only unhealthy, but unattractive, unsexy, /bad/. Morals are assigned to my fat cells.
    - I am neuroatypical. I was diagnosed with depression in October 2010.

    So here’s what I’m getting at. All my oppression in the world does not negate the fact I have white privilege here in America. I have that and will always have that. Likewise, all my privilege in the world does not negate the fact that /being a genderqueer lesbian in the American South really really sucks sometimes/. Intersectionality is understanding the complex relationships we have with the world around us. It’s about understanding our privilege and oppression and approaching it in a more holistic manner.

    One last thing I’d like to address. “Privilege” is not a bad word. It should not be understood to mean stupid, bad, or worthless. Privilege /does/ mean that we act sometimes with blinders on because we are not capable of seeing what others in a lesser position go through. Or rather, it takes a /concentrated effort/ to change our naturally acquired ways of thinking and processing the world around us and /purposefully choosing/ to acknowledge our privilege. I tweeted to you that struggling with privilege is good for us; but more importantly, I believe we should do it /for each other/. We live in a society which privileges some and oppresses others. We live in a society which is unjust, unfair, and sometimes quiet cruel. I want to live in a better society, and it’s not going to change overnight. It’s going to change with /my words/, my actions, my beliefs, my willingness to struggle with the supremely difficult questions and understand that if I were black, things were different. If I were lower class, things would be different. If I were illiterate, things would be different. And I don’t want to live in a world where that’s the case.

    • http://twitter.com/SophiaCandle Sophia Catherine

      Danny hits the nail right on the head, as ever.

    • veggiewolf

      Nicely noted, Danny.

    • http://aquapunk.net/ Lo

      Danny said it better than I could.

      “What do I do now?” is a common question people ask when they start realizing all the structures at work in their, and others’, lives that have a tendency to either help or hurt them. And not saying that you don’t already do this, but I’ve found that the one thing I can do under every circumstance is to listen to people’s stories and trust that they know their lives and circumstances better than I do, but without forgetting that power structures are always, -always- at play.

      Beyond that, Teo, it depends on how much time, energy, and spoons you have to work with. Not everyone is cut out for activism (which is often the stuff of privilege as well), and sometimes simply taking care of yourself and your own can be an act of radical defiance. The love and support you provide your trans son could easily lean this way. But I can’t tell you what to do; you’re the only person that knows what is best and what you’re capable of.

  • burninghiram

    “Privilege” strikes a chord with me as a teacher, Educators
    have been told to amp up the student’s self-esteem for 30 years, and to tell
    them that if they feel good enough about themselves they will be successful.
    This is and has been rubbish and has led to some great comedy, but no help in
    society. When I hear the “privilege” call it is my perception that the one
    calling it, feels that they are beneath the other and wishes to FORCE the other
    to bend to the their will.

    Now the idea that I take things for granted as Hispanic, Tiwa,
    Veteran, Bi, and Male, and then act on those assumptions to the point of not
    considering other viewpoints is valid. I would prefer that you ask me have I considered
    other points of view instead of yelling “privilege” in a crowded discussion. It
    is fast becoming the new “Racist” cant, meaningless in most situations. You will
    have a better chance of getting me to listen to your point. We all come from
    some point of Privilege, it gives us a certain insight into the human condition
    that makes us ..us.

    Just before I posted this I reread the comments, I want to thank
    Daniel for exhibiting in a very direct way what I was asking for. He laid out
    his point of view, directly and without calling names or denigrating anybody
    else. This is the discourse we all need to break down the barriers between us

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Burninghiram, thanks for contributing to this discussion.

      I want to acknowledge that sometimes, yes – the term “privilege” can, in fact, be used as an attack and as a method for shutting down discussion. I’ve had it done to me before – though I really hope I’ve never done it in turn. And obviously, I’m not going to read through your entire internet history to find these conversations you’ve been having, or pull out my crystal ball to check out these incidents in your life, to determine how the word “privilege” has been used against you. I want to affirm that you have felt belittled and denigrated during some conversations such as this one, and no matter what the other party meant, the fact you feel these things /is in fact valid/. I’m sorry you’ve felt them.

      For many years I felt the same way you did – that calling “privilege” was a matter of shutting down arguments and for making certain groups feel bad. I am white and grew up very sheltered in the American South. My first college was a very liberal and feminist women’s college, and boy was it a culture shock! All those “people” my ma warned me about – feminists in particular – seemed so angry and so willing to fight me. I felt like I was being attacked simply for being white. And on the flip side, when I listened in on conversations about the queer community (as a queer individual myself) I couldn’t understand some of the anger and frustration I was hearing. I thus rejected the label of “feminist” for a long time due to these experiences.

      I can’t exactly point to the moment where something “clicked” and I experienced a worldview shift, though part of it had to do with a sudden change in environment – to a very conservative Christian school where, without changing who I was, I was suddenly the token “angry” feminist! (Being one of the few openly queer, Pagan students didn’t help with the transition, either.) What I came to realize is that I didn’t want to use “privilege” as an attack, but some of my own reactions to having my privilege called out were very… hair triggery. I was primed to believe that “privilege” was inherently an insult and inherently /ignored/ the aspects of my life where I was systematically oppressed.

      Instead, I realized that by rejecting the very notion of privilege, I was doing myself and others a disservice. I was allowing the unjust and oppressive currents in our society to dictate /my/ engagement with this conversation. By experiencing the sudden culture shock between my two colleges, I suddenly realized how damn lucky I’d been at Bryn Mawr (the woman’s college), where I could be openly gay and Pagan and /no one thought I was a bad person/. I understood, better, the anger and frustration I’ve heard expressed by some members of minority groups and feminist/social justice activists. And, perhaps the greatest struggle for me, I realized that something said in anger /can/ hurt me – but that doesn’t make it less true, and it doesn’t mean I don’t have a responsibility to seriously consider the society I help make up.

      I feel it’s very important not to attack people, but rather -isms, -archies, and -phobias. Being a man is not bad. Being white is not bad. Being cisgendered or straight is not bad. I am /not/ a bad person for being white – it’s who I am! Nor am I ashamed of my education, literacy, socioeconomic class, or of having an able body. But these are privileges that I do possess, and so long as I have them, the society we have /is not fair/ and I feel that I have a moral obligation to work against them.

      And so long as I have these privileges, there are aspects of the human experience I cannot fathom. With the exception of a three-week trip to India, I’ve never been an ethnic minority in my life. I’ve never had to ask if there were ramps where I wanted to go. I never had to work several jobs at once to pay the bills for a large family.

      I just wanted to share these ideas with you – and I’m sorry for the massive reply! This isn’t an easy conversation to have.

      • Burninghiram

        A hard conversation, but a good one, I think. Online, without being FTF, harder, let me approachit from my self-interest, I feel bad and do not like myself when I hurt other people out of ignorance, I ask that people directly and without malice, help me to see what I did and correct it. I promise to do the same for them. You are right, I will never know what it is to be…insert anything I am not, but I want and kinda need to hear othersexperiences to make me a better person. Thanks for your reply

        A group I belong to works very hard to hold places for this
        kind of conversation, speaking your truth and allowing argument without attack, learning to hold that container is very hard but rewarding, I am glad to see ithere.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    I think anyone has a right to call for civility in discourse. Doesn’t mean we’ll get it, but failure of civility is the first step in the process of breaking relationship, the ultimate expression of which is war. A call for civility is, in effect, a warning: it politely says, “Your current behavior will cause me to walk out of this discussion.” Doesn’t matter if I’m “privileged” or “arrogant” or whatever pejorative the other person wants to apply. They can settle down, or watch me walk away.

    One problem with these Internet discussions is that no one really cares if someone else walks away. Internet “war” is a low-stakes game. So the incivility escalates.

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Hi, Themon! (Or should I call you Mr. The Bard?) Thanks for chiming in. I’ve addressed elsewhere about “privileged” being a pejorative in my response to burninghiram, but I’d like to say a few things here.

      I agree that civility is very important in human relationships. I value kindness and compassion and I also value the right of individuals (and groups) to express their boundaries. In our own spaces (Teo for his blog, moderators for forums, myself for my own house, etc) have the right to determine what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. I absolutely do think it is the right of individuals to decide when, where, and how they interact with others, when they can. We do have the right to say “Enough – I will not interact with you further if you continue doing XYZ.” And on the internet at least, we have the ability to block much of that interaction!

      Like I told burninghiram, I myself have experienced “privileged” being used in an angry and frustrated fashion against me, and in some cases being used as an insult. I think it behooves us to distinguish between the two, and to remember that an angry word is not always an incorrect word – nor is it an insult.

      “Privilege” is a way for us to talk about our own status within the kyriarchy. (That’s a fancy word that lumps all the axes of injustice in our society – race, gender, sex, sexuality, ability, religion, etc.) I have white privilege here in America. I’ve had racial insults hurled against me. I’ve experienced /violent/ aggression because of my race. But I still have privilege that someone who was /exactly/ like me, only Latina or Chinese or Cherokee, wouldn’t have. And likewise, I’m queer as a three dollar bill. Even in a liberal and supporting environment, I still don’t have the full rights and privileges that a straight American would have. I am oppressed.

      Social justice discussions can get incredibly heated at times because we’re dealing with people’s hurts. Folks are having their identities erased, denied, and silenced. Anger is sometimes the correct response, and I’m not able to speak for the motives (good or ill) for anyone who’s used “privileged” against you as an insult. I’m sorry you felt belittled and degraded – and I hope I never act in a way to make you feel like that. Still, I would encourage you to further engage with the idea of privilege and see it as the opportunity for further reflection instead of the end of it.

      • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

        Daniel,

        Thanks for your reply. I don’t know that anyone has ever used “privileged” as a pejorative against me — I’m more likely to hear others. :-)

    • Aine

      This reminds me a bit too much of the arguments people use when playing devil’s advocate – especially when they argue a point they know will make someone angry and then get flustered -when that person gets angry-. Why are people not allowed to get angry or irritated when having difficult conversations? I’ve never been fond of this idea that we all have to be civil. If someone says something offensive I’m -going to point out it was offensive-. Yet somehow just by pointing out ‘wow, that was really problematic’ I’m the horrible person that can’t just sit down and be nice.

      Not the person that said the problematic thing. Me, for pointing it out. Huh, that seems a bit backwards, doesn’t it? Just because being called out is uncomfortable doesn’t make ‘privilege’ a pejorative either.

      Anyone has a right to walk away from a conversation they don’t want to be involved in, but if you want to interact with -anyone- you have to get used to bumping against people and having heated conversations.

      • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

        Aine, I’ve really been wanting to write about constructive confrontation and healthy anger. (Maybe for my PBP post? A for Anger.) In my mind I think there is space for discussion that is (or at least starts) from a civil space but /is/ genuine, authentic, and willing to express negative emotions and call people out. And I think when we’ve gotten to a place (that isn’t a private, safe space) where “civility” is held above challenging problematic issues, then civility no longer holds its purpose. (Which, I believe, is holding the community together.)

        Ideas, attitudes, biases, opinions, and comments should never be above reproach in the public sphere.

      • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

        Aine,

        I don’t think that’s what civil means. When someone is being an ass, you can tell them they are being an ass, but there’s a civil way to do it, and an uncivil way to do it. It has a great deal to do with where the focus of criticism lies.

        Consider the following:

        Mr. Smith, you might want to reconsider your position. The logic you have expressed is deeply flawed, your information is inaccurate, and your implications come across as snide and defamatory. I am offended by those implications, and feel I am owed an apology. Please offer one immediately, or I shall quit this discussion.

        Or less formally:

        Mr. Smith, your argument sucks. The logic is bad, the fact are incorrect, and the tone is snarky, and your remarks are personally offensive to me. All you’ve done is to piss me off. In fact, I don’t want to continue this discussion if you can’t see your way to apologizing.

        Now compare that to this:

        Mr. Smith, you are a blithering idiot. You can’t think, you’ve been watching too much Faux News, and you’re an unpleasant SOB. I see no reason to listen to anything you have to say. Just buzz off and let the smart people talk.

        I would consider the first two civil. The last is uncivil. The difference is that the first two concentrate on the behavior, not the person, and allow Mr. Smith an out — he can apologize, and everyone can move on. Civilly. The last attacks Mr. Smith personally, and since his errors derive from his depraved personal nature, there’s clearly nothing to be done but for him to slink away and “let the smart people talk.” Or escalate and call the writer even worse names than he’s been called.

  • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

    I have so much love for my readership right now.

  • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

    Teo, I’m not sure what you meant when asking if it was an act of privilege to call out someone’s privilege. Would you mind elaborating? And perhaps also elaborating on your own understanding of the word “privilege”?

    • http://www.bishopinthegrove.com/ Teo Bishop

      I’m not sure I’m prepared to elaborate on my own understanding of “privilege”. In truth, this discussion is helping to inform it. My understanding still feels a little hazy and unclear.

      By asking that question, I meant that to identify someones privilege implies a certain understanding of the concept, of its connotations, and of its applicability to the situation. Those things, I think, imply a certain degree of education, which in turn implies privilege. (It all starts to feel kind of cyclical to me.)

      Does that make sense?

      • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

        I think I do understand where you were coming from.

        I view privilege as a result of systematic oppression. Women are systematically oppressed, gay individuals, non-Christians (in American society) etc. I’m not sure if “those who cannot recognize or point out privilege” count as an oppressed group. They may be feminists or social justice advocates whose work is informed by their own oppressed or privileged statuses. I also hesitate to call that type of education a privilege because it doesn’t come from the kind of academic perspective that helps us get ahead in the world (that is, a lack of knowledge about privilege won’t necessarily stop you from being hired; a lack of literacy, or a college degree, etc. will).

        • Aine

          I agree – often, oppressed groups/people understand these experiences and can articulate them, but the terms we see used a lot in social justice circles (oppression, privilege, etc.) often come from higher education. Which is interesting to note and think about. After all, there are many people who have these experiences and see them and see privilege in action but don’t have the ‘right’ words to express them and, as such, use words that we deem ‘uncivil’ to express themselves.

          Like me, for example – I don’t have all the words needed to properly express the classism that I’ve experienced in my life and so will often use ‘cruder’ words to discuss it, but those words are – still valid -. /ramble

          • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

            Thanks for sharing, Aine. I really hadn’t thought about that before. My own concept of social justice and feminism is something I’ve really built with my own bootstraps (I think I mangled that metaphor, but whatever :D) and I have only had a cursory exposure to feminism in a higher education context, but a lot of this dialogue and vocabulary has to come from somewhere.

  • Josh

    The introduction of the notion of “privilege” into what was a very germane discussion of civility in online discourse was nothing more than an attempt to invalidate your point of view and deprive you of your own agency, through an eloquently veiled personal attack – the very definition of an ad hominem argument. It should be treated as you would any other argumentative fallacy – refuted and/or disregarded. Incivility comes in many forms. Accusing others of “derailing” the conversation is just another way to derail a conversation, and telling people that they have no right to an opinion on any topic is bullying, period – don’t let all the po-mo jargon fool you!

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Hello, Josh. It sounds like in part you’re responding specifically to a comment yesterday which brought the concept of privilege into this discussion, but also that the very idea of “privilege” is something used to invalidate someone and is, itself, an ad hominem attack. Is this what you meant to express?

  • Sam Carranza

    I wanted to bypass commenting, but I can’t. I see this blog as
    1) I’m privileged to be part of this group and learn what I can
    2) I’m grateful it exists, and trust its author and responders to guide it well
    3) I’d caution anyone, including the author to waste too much time responding to critics…it only fuels more criticism
    4) there’s a way to disagree without being “disagreeable” and it doesn’t take much effort to learn the difference
    5) if I read something and don’t like it, I have the privilege to not continue to read it
    All the best to everyone!

  • Michelle

    Being called “privileged” may have been a means to silence you (ie, you cannot comprehend this because you haven’t been in a position to experience it) or to point out, hey, you may have blinders on because of your experience. Regardless, it’s an opportunity to for all of us to reflect on the ways in which we are/are not privileged, as well as to try to understand the experience of others who feel marginalized in some way. Of course, in dialogue it’s also the response of the person who feels “otherized” or marginalized to explain their experience and point out things you might not have realized or understood–without trying to silence you or be rude.

    If we are in a position of privilege or majority, it’s hard to recognized the blinders we have on–and it can be a good thing when people point it out, if they are trying to continue the dialogue rather than as a means to tell you to be quiet! Of course, if it seems like a way to silence you, the knee-jerk reaction is to get upset… and to point out, hey these are all the ways I’m not privileged. And that’s a totally understandable reaction, and situating your position as a majority/minority in different domains helps people understand where you are coming from. But I think recognizing and reflecting on the way we are privilege and disadvantage (I would imagine most of us are mix of both) can be valuable.

    I think perhaps to some people the admonition to “be nice” may have sounded like form of silencing… I’m thinking of the fact that, historically, members of minorities were often admonished to be nice, don’t rock the boat… I don’t think that’s at all what you meant–it seemed pretty clear it was a call for civility and compassion–but perhaps it may have been perceived that way.

  • http://www.themonthebard.org/ Themon the Bard

    A bit of philological lore here.

    The word “privilege” literally means “private law,” and in Medieval times referred to the laws binding the nobles to the king. A different set of laws bound the serfs and tradesmen to the nobles. Separate and not the least bit equal.

    The word “entitled” comes from pretty much the same place: those who had title to the land were “entitled” to the fruits of the labor of those who worked the land. Both “entitlement” and “privilege” were bound tightly together.

    We see an echo of that in the modern corporate structure. Executives get to use the executive washroom. Everyone else can use the public restroom on the ground floor. What gets a secretary fired is not what gets a VP fired.

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Excellent points. I never knew where those words came from.

  • http://www.facebook.com/RevCrystal.Blanton Crystal Blanton

    I plan to do a full response when not on a smartphone tomorrow. But I want to thank the person who mentioned that people of minority groups often are frustrated with others attempting to prove their oppression. The concept of the invisible of the invisible nap sack is that it is not something that is known by the carrier. It is also very rooted in structures as well. There are tons of writing done on this and hearing Dr. Joy Degruy speak of privilege is the best I’ve heard.

    Teo, I have links to some of her stuff if you are interested.

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      I would love to see more sources on this, Crystal!

  • Aine O’Brien

    Well, like you said, we are all, simply by having access to this blog, privileged or more fortunate than others who are less so. But that doesn’t mean (a) that we always have been and (b) that we don’t understand and empathize with those who have less. Yes, most of us can’t truly understand as we have never “been there” but some have and some really want to understand and want to help. I’ve met people who truly do not want to be helped. They protect ownership of their problems by pushing away any solutions. One of the ways they do this is by claiming that those who are trying to advise them do not know what they are talking about because “they’ve never been there” – are privileged. And they have every right to hold onto their problems if they want to and to reject advise, and we have to accept that. Compassion isn’t an easy practice. One has to learn to pay attention, listen, and look behind the scenes at the real motive or cause of a person’s troubles, or why a person does what he/she does. This also involves deciding whether or not a person needs help or just needs us to understand enough to cut him/her some slack. Sometimes it just means being nice, kind without blatantly “helping” them. And yes, lots of things are easier for the privileged, but a lot of us know it and are generous in many ways. The people who have a problem with privilege are those who believe in complete equality, and that just doesn’t exist.

    • http://twitter.com/Sageling Daniel Grey

      Hi, Aine. Thank you for commenting.

      I would like to respectfully challenge some of the assumptions you expressed, especially in your last sentence – that “people who have a problem with privilege are those who believe in complete equality, and that just doesn’t exist.”

      I think it’s important to define our terms in a discussion like this (especially in a space that isn’t specifically geared toward social justice talks) and emphasize that “privilege” is a descriptive label – not an insult, not a slur, and not something that we make up in our heads. A large part of social justice is geared towards addressing inequalities in our society, and someone who is “privileged” is simply someone to whom society has given more power and, well, privileges to than someone who is oppressed. I’ve written elsewhere on this blog about the concept of “intersectionality”, which means that we are all intersections of various axes of privilege and oppression. As a white individual in America, I experience racial privilege. As a Pagan, I experience religious oppression. Neither of these facts cancel each other out.

      I would like to remind you that many people who had “a problem with privilege” went on to perform great change in the world. I think of the suffragettes in America who fought so long and so hard for women to gain the right to vote; I think of Martin Luther King, Jr. who from Birmingham Jail wrote “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”; I think of Gandhi who challenged the racist imperialism of the British in his own country. I think of the VA Pentacle Quest that fought for an entire decade for the right of Pagan soldiers to be buried with a pentacle on their gravestone, symbolic of /their own/ religion.

      “Privilege” is more often than not an example of injustice in the world. The goal is not to have a world that is 100% just, equal, and fair. (I personally think that’s impossible.) The goal is to have a world that is /more/ just, /more/ equal, /more/ fair. For me, I definitely feel a moral and religious obligation to help in this fight — my Druid faith emphasizes hospitality and reciprocity (two virtues that cannot exist when oppression cuts off the flow of resources). I also work closely with two goddesses whose purview includes justice, sovereignty, and helping the disenfranchised. Because of these facts, I have a problem with privilege, and I feel that dismissing its existence – and the assertions of those in oppressed groups – is anathema to the more just, equal, and fair society we’re building together.

  • cigfran

    If ‘kyriarchy’ and ‘intersectionality’ mean anything, they also mean that no one is pure… that there is no idealized, ennobled ‘oppressed person’ against whom all ill is done and who is incapable of bad faith.

    One of the consequences of this is that any argument of the form “you have no standing because you have more generic privilege than I do” is presumptive and error-prone. What matters is not the abstraction but the person, their actual behaviors and circumstances… not what you can project onto them because of your assumptions.

    • Aine

      Who is making this argument that ‘you have no standing because you have more generic privilege’? I have never seen that, but I’d love to understand where people are seeing this argument since it is problematic.

      Privilege doesn’t equal ‘super bad evil person’ and nor does oppressed equal ‘victim who can do no wrong’.

      • cigfran

        You don’t think that what prompted Teo to paraphrase what he’d received as “You’re speaking from a place of privilege. You don’t really know what
        you’re talking about. You’re off base, out of line, misinformed” (which isn’t really that hard to discern in the prior post) qualifies as an assertion of that form?

  • http://twitter.com/ellie_nor Elinor Predota

    People talking seriously about privilege, intersectionality and kyriarchy always improves my day :-) Thank you so much for opening up this conversation, Teo.

  • Crystal Blanton

    This is a subject I have contemplated exploring many times on Daughters of Eve. I jot a couple things down and then stop because the issue is so complex. People are often automatically offended when hearing of their privilege yet they do not fully understand the concept. On some level all people can understand some form of oppression or challenging times. Often, in social work terms, when privilege is talked about it is not just in the concept of going through natural human struggle. It applies to the social and societal privileges that are automatically given to certain groups of people and are oppressive to others. It is not something that is earned per se and one of the reasons it is considered the invisible knapsack. Often people try to relate to the idea that they understand others oppression but yet it is too complex to fully gather something that you do not understand that you have.

    Privilege is not meant to be offensive. It can become offensive when people make assumptions without taking into account their privilege, assumptions that do not apply to other sects of people and can be oppressive itself. All people have some levels of privilege and as Aine said perfectly, having oppression in one area of life does not cancel out privilege in another. For example, because a person might be a woman, does not mean that they understand being a Black male. Structural, aversive racism does not apply the same to both categories while both suffer societal oppression.

    I am sharing some links to professional articles that one of my Social Work master’s classes used in our Gender, Race and Inequality course, we studied around forms of privilege with race, gender and inequality. There are several that I feel are of significant value in a discussion like this and understanding the complexity of privilege. Aversion Racism (http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/40063839?uid=3739560&uid=2&uid=4&uid=3739256&sid=21101668231387), Who’s culture has capitol (http://www.cgu.edu/PDFFiles/ses/TEIP/Tara%20J.%20Yosso%20culturalwealth.pdf), and of course the infamous Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack article. Some of it is a bit outdated but extremeley relevant. http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf

    Lastly, I am including this speech from Dr. Joy DeGruy, that was done at CIIS (college in San Francisco), and it is hard to find. There are several interruptions from the radio station because they are playing it as a fundraiser (annoying but you can skip that part). She explores privilege (within race) the best that I have heard so far. She is the author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome and is an expert in this area. She is highly regarded in the social work and psychology fields. It is a really good listen and gets the wheels turning.

    This audio is mostly approaching privilege in race specifically. Listen past the first 10-15 minutes and it gets deep. She talks about unpacking the knapsack, power structure, societal structures institutions part in privilege, and understanding. She also briefly addresses what a whole race believes about themselves and some behaviors that are unconsciously in place due to the violence and oppression of the past. http://www.kpfa.org/archive/id/80725

    I have another one at home that also discusses the lack of empathy that was created due to history, etc. Fascinating. If interested, I can post that later.

  • Philip

    Teo I spent the last hour reading the post that spawned this one and all the comments. So let me break it down.

    1. There was absolutely nothing wrong with you, or anything wrong in general for anybody, to “ask” people or even “tell” them to be nice. People should be nice to each other fueled by compassion and loving kindness at all times. Unfortunately in Paganism we do not emphasize the need for compassion like the Buddhists do, or loving kindness towards others like Christians do. We emphasize individualism and ferocity. We treat a tree with more respect and honor then we do a person standing right in front of our face. This to me is the crack in the window of all things Neo-Pagan.

    2. The people who responded to the post are exactly the same people who need to learn to be nice. They do not want to be told to be nice. They just do not want to be nice. They are trolls. They believe they are entitled. They have this since of entitlement. They find amusement in themselves and think they are clever by taking a serious admonishment and flipping it upside down to act wounded. Those people like Lo and the rest are full of themselves, they love reading their own comments, and I guarantee that none of them would have the guts to talk to you to your face like they do hiding behind their computer screens. Who are they anyway? Right. Nobodies. But the internet has produced a culture where people think they can do, say, and act like whatever they want and if you don’t like it Go F@#$% Yourself. And these angry nobody people with no lives are suddenly somebody when they can take the opportunity to go off on something

    3. You are waaaayyyy to nice to these people. If I wrote that post and got those responses I would never have responded to the stupidity. Nor would I even give them the satisfaction of a clarification or a second post to continue the dialog. I am telling you nicely to say what you want to say and leave it. With no apologies. You are the star here not them. And this is your blog. You can say whatever the F@#$ you want… including BE NICE.

  • T

    I experienced something in this vein a few months ago within a Pagan group that I organize. We were planning our calendar of activities for the next few months, and I mentioned that I would like to see us include volunteer events. Volunteerism is written into our mission statement, and we had experienced a departure from it (a backlash from a large volunteer event that went horribly awry 3 years ago). Choosing a new volunteer activity every few months seemed a good way to recommit to helping our city, and I also provided a beginning opportunity with a non-profit organization that feeds the homeless. They do so every Saturday night, so setting up a volunteer night with them would be easy.

    After mentioning this to the group, another prominent member immediately began to “cut me down”, saying that I shouldn’t try to turn the group into the “me-show” by merging all the things that I participate in. When I said that I wasn’t precluding anyone’s ideas, and that the food line volunteer opportunity was a suggestion, I was told that I am “privileged”… that, because I lead the group, any “suggestion” that I put out is like a decree that people feel pressured to follow. I responded by saying that I didn’t feel I should just stay quiet… that as a member of the group (as well as its organizer), I have a right to voice my opinion like any other. I was replied to with the phrase, “you are naive if you think your opinion doesn’t carry a lot of weight with everyone else.”

    This accusation of “privilege” isn’t the first time I have thought about my position, and the people who surround me who look to me often for advice and answers. I am not saying I am deserving of it or that I have awesome knowledge… I’m just saying it happens a lot. Ultimately, what I would say in reply is this: don’t be a sheep.

    A lot of popular religions out there create a system so that followers of said religion don’t have to think for themselves. Paganism is meant to be the opposite, because it isn’t an organized religion (thus, you have you cobble together your own spirituality by deeply examining what you believe and what you don’t, versus reading a book on the subject and following all its teachings as “truth”). I also think a particular type of person is attracted to Paganism… one who wants to throw off the strictures of modern day society and embrace individualism. So why would you become Pagan only to silence your own voice and follow the drum beat of another?

    We look to each other for added knowledge and experience. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest powers modern Paganism possesses. When we share what we know, we become more powerful in our own right. But just because someone has been sharing for longer than you have, or has more people listening to them, doesn’t mean you abandon the things that made you a Pagan in the first place: your need to express your own voice.

    One very important thing that a friend taught me is that I am responsible for myself, and no one else. The phrase “I’m not ya mama” is exchanged often down here, and I use it often. If people think I’m “abusing my power” by stating my opinion, they can take my advice with a grain of salt. If people think that your white, male, gay background makes you ill-equipped to address issues of civility when it comes to discourse on the Pagan issue of the day, they don’t have to listen to you.

    Be a Pagan… listen to your own voice, and choose the other voices you listen to. But don’t backlash against the people who have an opinion they’re voicing, just because they have a place to voice it from. Do what you want… I’m not ya mama!!