On Privileged Bodies: Men, the Weight of the World, and Their Stories

Originally posted at Letters from the Vineyard.

When Hannah Rosin writes about the “end of men,” it’s not hard to use her literary assist to conclude that the writing is on the wall for how men (specifically white, educated, hetero, middle class to upper class men) have lived and spoken for a long time in Western societies (not, of course, that men will cease to exist altogether). Now more than ever, human beings that do not fit the description in the above parenthesis are forming political groups, writing and publishing about their experiences and worldviews, and making their voices heard through public and shareable platforms like Facebook, Twitter, blogs, podcasts, and other social media. Power structures that prioritize men’s voices and ventures are still largely intact, but they’re weakening, and where that isn’t happening, alternative structures are being constructed to replace them.

Understandably, there are men who feel threatened by this because, of course, privilege. Whole libraries-worth of blogs and Facebook posts have been written about privilege (go to the linked word above for a thoughtful summary from Gina Colvin). Here, I just want to briefly focus on an existential aspect of the concept.

If, like me, you happen to be (and you do happen to be–you’re thrown into your body, family, and opportunities or lack thereof) male, white, heterosexual, educated, middle to upper middle class, then you have to figure out how to live in this brave new world. No one may care how you do that (except to the extent that you infringe on others’ rights and voices), or even the bare fact that you have to, but figuring out how to navigate this increasingly crowded space of intermingling powers and personalities is still a task you cannot avoid for yourself, though others may understandably be unconcerned. In any case I am a man and there is no changing that. Of what else, in the end, could I most truly write?

There are 3 ways I’ve seen men most unproductively respond to this discursive re-distribution of androcentric power in the public square (I’ve been complicit in all three to one extent or another and at one time or other, and most men have as well). I’ll name these the Hulk; The Helpful Progressive; and the Mute Martyr.

The Hulk is the most obvious response/transformation. When threatened by deconstructive analyses of male power and discourse, assaulted by social media call-outs, or even merely exposed to the growing presence of diverse voices, these men respond hyper-aggressively and defensively (witness #GamerGate and most Reddit conversations). They hulk out, becoming disproportionately enraged. They summon philosophy, social criticism, and decontextualized statistics to aid them in their otherwise sexist/racist/homophobic tirades. They join men’s rights forums and lament and mourn the passing of the time when men were really men and women wanted “real” men. They resemble a wounded animal, hurt and afraid, lashing out rather than showing vulnerability and openness to change and willingness to learn.

Or, they attempt to capitalize on and re-distribute the discourses of women, colored people, and non heterosexuals. This is the “Helpful Progressive” who seemingly only wants to assist the marginalized in achieving equality. They vigorously, even gleefully, desecrate the notions of maleness and whiteness and are quick to agree that the patriarchy has poisoned everything. But they do all this on their own terms–they insist on being seen as teachers and facilitators, leaders of the revolution that will spark love’s victory. They’ll immediately applaud anything and everything said by those in the minority, but they will insist on explaining to you how it all got this way and what should be done to fix it. The Helpful Progressive wants to bask in the love and admiration of the Other whom he tells himself he is only trying to help, rather than genuinely listen to the Other whom he supposedly sees as his equal.

Going dark is the third, most subtle response. This is the Mute Martyr. Initially envisioned as a move of expansive charity for others, this happens because these men believe that their voices are no longer valid in a pluralized and otherized world. They see the damage done by patriarchy and do not want to be associated with it, but also think they are too complicit in its destructiveness and too self-aware to engage in the narcissism of the Helpful Progressive. They self-righteously eschew the Hulk and the Helpful Progressive as two sides of the same self-serving coin, but they feel an acute sense of guilt for being part of the problem, and increasing frustration and alienation in not knowing how to respond. Typically they feel a large measure of self-pity that their voices have been seemingly silenced (or should be silenced), not because these other voices have forcefully quieted them, but because they feel their time has come and gone, and their voices can only be the voices of ghosts, tied to a past where the marginalized lived in fear and loathing of such oppressors. Heroically, they will sacrifice themselves and their voices for the “greater good” of the marginalized being able to speak in their place.

If you inhabit a privileged body,  think about the burden that it is to be one of the Vessels of All Knowledge. Because historically, that is what you are. That is what it was given to you to become. This is the mantle you were expected to shoulder all your life, the ultimate duty you were taught to fulfill. You were supposed to know everything, have the answer to any question. You were supposed to be the most educated, the most articulate, the final word, the keeper of history and the master of logic and reason. Quiet your thoughts and reach into the deepest recesses of your being and you can feel this inside you, this constant, overwhelming pressure to speak and know and create and correct and solve and be the center of the universe. And the worst part of it, of course, is that all of this is absurdly impossible. You were asked to do an impossible task, and you have punished yourself without mercy for not being able to do it.

But you didn’t choose this. This is what you were given. You were told that it was up to you to save the world, that the Hero’s Journey was your journey and no one else’s, that with great power comes great responsibility, that this task was appointed to you, and if you do not find a way, no one will.

Stop wounding yourself over this burden placed in your helpless infant body the day you were born, the weight of families, the fate of nations, the responsibility of worlds. Let it all go, friend. Welcome a new day of freedom from having to be everyone’s savior, from having to know everything, from having to be the speaker for the living and the dead. It will be a relief to remove this heavy load you’ve been carrying around all your life.

Ironically or not, I don’t know exactly how this is done. I suspect that it’s different for each man. I do know that while becoming the Hulk, the Helpful Progressive, or the Mute Martyr is initially understandable, it’s not a place you can dwell for long. These are reactionary, fearful responses, not sustainable or healthy identities. But if you shouldn’t fight back, adopt others’ modes of speaking, or silence yourself completely, what can you do?

Consider that one of the most common ways for men to speak is in the language of logic and reason. This search for some kind of universal mode of discourse is ultimately a fantasy. Yes, logic and reason exist, but only within contexts and specific applications. There is no abstract all-encompassing way of speaking truth and adjudicating difference. Whose logic? Whose reason? For what purpose? In whose interests? Against whom? There are a number of reasons for why this mode of discourse promises false dreams of perfect communication and resolution of conflict, but for my purposes here I want to point out that defaulting to universal logic and reason in order to speak is the ultimate distraction from the place where truth resonates most deeply within us: the human story.

Men often insist on more universal rational explanation–explanation that is impossibly genderless and raceless–over and against more emotional or narratological modes of discourse. This isn’t universal of course, but it’s also a false dichotomy: there is a logic to narrative and a narrative that can be derived from a logic. If men and women, for example, really do think differently, it’s not because one is primarily rational and the other primarily emotional (to cite the usual stereotypes); there are different logics and ways of reasoning at play. Once the rules of the discourse are understood, communication–or at least understanding–becomes possible. But we apply our own rules to other ways of speaking, thinking, and feeling, and conclude that they are nonsensical, insignificant, or even dangerous.

We need to learn as men in privileged bodies to speak in the only way that was ever really, authentically available to us. We need to tell our stories. For too long we have been trained to tell others’ stories, according to our own knowledge and understanding, our own logic and reasoning (the One True Logic and Reasoning). When we are actually willing to hear others’ stories, at best we feel we need to add something of our own; at worst, we dismiss them as illegitimate, exceptions to the rule, non-representative of a sufficiently large portion of humanity. Even when we have told our own stories the old familiar universality creeps in, and they become the stories of the Everyman, lessons by which to guide all people toward similar destinies and realizations of common dreams. We stay away from the intense intimacy of vulnerability and openness, the particularity and singularity of who we are in our individual throwness. We don’t honestly discuss our fears and weaknesses. We can’t help but insist on some kind of redeeming telos that tells us that even though happened or we did y, we are ultimately not without honor and admiration.

To inhabit a privileged body means being distant from oneself. Distance is the medium of transmission, the way the self relates to the earth and the earth communicates with the self. It’s an ethereal, abstract, lighter than air medium that keeps the self removed from its body, and therefore from the earth. Bodies are earthy, warm, moist, degenerate, full of life and death, connected to the earth and to others. But privileged bodies are above, the foremost distant starpoint in the Chain of Being. They’re as close as one can get to immortality, yet are largely disconnected from the messy and chaotic processes of actual life.

We have to collapse the distance between ourselves and others. We have to stop hurting ourselves for what we cannot and should not change and stop avoiding and distracting ourselves from what we can change. Yes, we should listen to others’ stories, and without stamping them with our own epilogues. But we also need to collapse the distance between ourselves and our own fleshly bodies, in all their sickness and impurity. Our stories matter, but not because of what they could ultimately mean for everyone and how they should live or relate to us. Our stories connect us to our actual lived bodies and the lived bodies of others. Our stories have the capacity to make the world flat again, without hierarchy, and they have the potential to help us relate to others in ways that do no not have to default in violence (Hulk), exploitation (Helpful Progressive), or self-destruction (Mute Martyr). We must let go of the burden given to us that ordains us to be Masters. It is an impossibly heavy weight. It is drudgery and despair, because none of us, even all of us together, can bear what it requires. It hurts others, and it impedes our ability to love and know ourselves in and through our own bodies. It steals our bodies from us by insisting we are incorporeal gods.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that men in privileged bodies could or should somehow be convinced to just speak and write autobiographically (as if that’s possible). But such a mode of speaking and writing is much more foreign for us than it is for those on the margins, who almost have nothing but their personal experiences to marshal in service of themselves and against those in power. This is a jumping off point–learning to be small enough to hear one’s own voice out of one’s own body, instead of trying to project a Voice onto the entire world as an Expert or Teacher. If we could learn to make such engagement a habit then that could inflect other modes of discourse in potentially more peaceful and less dominating ways, ways which not only do not wound others, but also relieve us of the responsibility to carry the fates of our family, culture, language, religion, and values solely on our shoulders.
Others projecting their voices and performing their truths are an opportunity for genuine, expansive love and freedom, not a sign of impending doom and destruction. Becoming smaller and lower and embracing our common earthiness is a move in the direction of the genuine joy of sharing one’s truest self with other true selves, in all their personal sufferings and triumphs. It will likely not happen without a staggeringly steep learning curve, but there is goodness here if there is goodness anywhere.

Comments

  1. It’s a great tragedy of modern civilization that we’ve inherited so much wonder, and we can only gaze at others navels pondering the negative, while actually doing -nothing- to build upon the shoulders of giants that we stand on. The fruit of what our castrated society is attempting to pass on to our children is some sort of social balancing of the scales of the unfairness of life, a sort of generational atonement, where we are not reconciled to God, but to the ideals of whatever is socially popular. Don’t believe me? Wait a couple more years and there will be more grievances that need atoning for.

    We are not only squandering or inheritance, we are consuming it faster than we can add to it, while complaining about is existence in the first place.

    To all the intellectuals who scoff at this… Go plant some trees, learn how to be a carpenter or do something useful with your hands that will impact generations instead of saying a bunch of hail marys online to the social justice mob.

  2. Ignacio M. Garcia says:

    Sorry friend but you just ended up doing what you said the privileged should not do. Why not just be a friend. Friends we can tolerate even when they are bombastic, overbearing and simply jerks. White progressives should not obsess over “getting it right” because that means simply defaulting to privilege in which being right is of utmost importance. Be kind, listen, lift up others, recognize your faults, fight against what you see is wrong in society and around you and then live life the best you can. All of us, except for the most extreme activist of color, have white friends whom we trust, admire and sometimes even try to emulate. So being white is not a crime and unlike some fellow activists I don’t put too much stock in getting people to lose their “whiteness”. What I like to see is more people engaged in doing good to others, in recognizing that how they think is not the way all should think, and being more reflective about the sometimes destructive philosophies we all hold dear. People of color don’t need wishy washy white friends or allies, and they shouldn’t want to feel equal simply because others choose to “condescend” to their level. Give us space, listen to our voice, and stop trying to tell us how you’re going to change for us. We don’t need to hear it and you don’t need to say it. Too often, as a (white) student of mine once said, “whites always have to say (write) something because we are use to always being in the conversation”. Not meant to be harsh but simply wanting to make sure that those who “get it” and are our friends do not engage in intellectual self-castigation. Your friends don’t need it and your enemies will simply use it against you.

  3. Ignacio, it’s unclear who you were responding to–the OP or the first comment?

  4. Seems like a lot of words to say “try to use first person, and try to avoid third-person omniscient”.
    Oops . . .
    I [male, white, het, etc. . . . pretty much all the privileged categories] read it all and I experienced frustration as I felt reminded that every time I try to answer a question with logic, reasoning, and authority, I sound like a noob.
    (Except perhaps in the narrow professional specialty where I really do know something.]

  5. Clark Goble says:

    OP: “There is no abstract all-encompassing way of speaking truth and adjudicating difference. Whose logic? Whose reason? For what purpose? In whose interests? Against whom? There are a number of reasons for why this mode of discourse promises false dreams of perfect communication and resolution of conflict, but for my purposes here I want to point out that defaulting to universal logic and reason in order to speak is the ultimate distraction from the place where truth resonates most deeply within us: the human story.”

    Was with a lot you said until this point. I think one has to be careful to recognize that while there might be no perfect language that we should avoid relativism as well. And a lot of the discourse of privilege often piggybacks on a kind of relativism to surprised certain forms of discourse.

    Part of the problem is what on earth we mean by universal logic and how that relates to rationality. I think there’s a danger that those pushing privilege as the framework through which to see everything actually end up marginalizing the very things that make the privilege possible. That is in attempting to deal with privilege (or more broadly power) important lines of power and their opposite are repressed, marginalized, and otherwise made invisible. The worst excesses of postmodernism in social analysis from the 90’s brought back in a kind of eternal recurrence that can’t even see its own genealogy.

  6. art M: That sounds almost poetic, but I’m uncertain what you are trying to say. If, as I will guess, you are railing against what you perceive to be political correctness, you may have missed my intent. My intent was to envision a world (far too roughly) where historically suppressed voices and historically suppressing voices can all speak more or less equally, not one where one constituency just cowers before another. It would still be a world of disagreement and difference, but one that might be a little less violent. As for your injunction to plant trees and learn useful manual trades, those sound like good ideas, though they don’t have to be mutually exclusive with social justice. Also, at first I read that to say “Social media,” not social justice, of which I would have been in complete agreement.

    Ignacio: I’m going to assume you were directing your comment at the OP. In which case, I can’t see any area of disagreement.

    christiankimball: You’re right, it was a lot of words. I’ve never been accused of severe brevity. It wasn’t that the mere use of “logic and reason” is the problem, it’s how we use these that can be problematic. Kudos to you if you’ve never employed these to exert some kind of final wisdom over those whose experiences and backgrounds (those of the marginalized in particular) vary wildly from yours, but then you would be the exception to the general rule. I don’t want to re-hash the OP, but your first-line summary of it hardly does it justice. I would just refer to the entire OP as a response to your comment here.

    Clark: This is a good point, though I don’t think logic and reason should be wholly eschewed. Just that we should practice greater awareness in cases in which *we* are using our reason in a universalizing manner, without recognizing the situatedness of the reasoning we marshal in discussion (this could, of course, in theory also be utilized in this manner by the marginalized and not just those in power). Also, I don’t think a framework of privilege is the only framework though which to engage the world, just that it’s obviously a problematic one when we’re not aware of it.

  7. Clark Goble says:

    “a lot of the discourse of privilege often piggybacks on a kind of relativism to surprised certain forms of discourse.”

    Whoops. Dang autocorrect. That should read, “piggybacks on a kind of relativism to surpress certain forms of discourse.”

    Jacob “Just that we should practice greater awareness in cases in which *we* are using our reason in a universalizing manner, without recognizing the situatedness of the reasoning we marshal in discussion (this could, of course, in theory also be utilized in this manner by the marginalized and not just those in power).”

    I suspect the simple way of putting this is just to say we should be careful to find out how general certain claims are. Especially those tied to experience or intuition. People (and not just men) tend to assume their experiences are more general than they are. The best way to deal with this is to try and use scientific data as much as possible rather than anecdotes. Even with “scientific data” (sadly especially in the social sciences) we should be on the look out for how well conducted the study really is. To give a common example, far too many studies in psychology or sociology tend to be made up of volunteer college students who often aren’t reflective of the nation at large let alone the world at large. (And typically sample sizes are too small to be terribly meaningful as well)

    Jacob “Also, I don’t think a framework of privilege is the only framework though which to engage the world, just that it’s obviously a problematic one when we’re not aware of it.”

    I think it’s a pretty bad one myself. I suspect it arose from perhaps uncritically applied Foucalt styled analysis of power relations. The danger (ignoring the distortions) is that what gets setup up is a weird dynamic where not having power gives one power. The traditional power relations/battles play out only with people seeking the trump of lack of privilege in order to grant themselves excessive privilege in particular intellectual contexts.

  8. Jacob: My reaction is that the entire OP and your replies to replies all feel like “Helpful Progressive” mode. I think you are giving yourself permission to take that mode because you’ve pitched this to those who happen to be like you. That’s a useful device for some conversations in some settings, but isn’t working for me. (And so this is my last comment.) Partly because it tends to engender argument rather than understanding.
    I wish you were telling stories, instead.
    I think that talking about privilege, and talking about talking about privilege, is all very difficult, wherever you stand.

  9. That’s fair. Go in peace, friend.

  10. I suspect that the most glaring problem here is that the essay doesn’t perform here what it calls for (this was pointed out to me elsewhere). I’ve done this before (having written extensively about my wife and I having twins, for example), but it would have been too long to provide a concrete example.

    I recognize it might sound “Explain-y,” but then, I don’t advocate for prohibiting analysis/scholarship, etc. We should use concrete data in our writing, where necessary, but my concern here is to listen to what so many women and people of color have expressed regarding interactions with people of privilege and offer a response–for those in my position who very much recognize and respond to this kind of discourse. That we’re probably all privileged in some fashion is true, though trivial for my purposes here. We are not all equally privileged (or empowered). If that is true, then the concept of privilege is not vacuous. And replacing “privilege” with “power” does little to alter the conversation, nor does invoking Foucalt where Foucalt wasn’t intended in the first place. And granting that not having power grants a kind of power, that may be true, though not something that is simply negative, at least for the disempowered.

  11. Angela C says:

    Your three types reminded me of the Karpman Drama Triangle: persecutor (Hulk), rescuer (Progressive), victim (Martyr). Perhaps that was intentional.

  12. Clark Goble says:

    Jacob, I think we *should* try to help those who are marginalized. Likewise if we are espousing political actions we should listen to those it may affect. (And pushing status quo is still pushing for an action)

    My question is more whether the discourse of privilege is helpful or not. I think on balance it’s more unhelpful than it is helpful. For a wide range of reasons. I recognize not everyone will agree of course. The reason for invoking Foucalt is that I don’t think one can understand the current popular models of discourse without understanding their genealogy. So I think Foucalt will always loom large here. Further, given those Foucaltean roots I think it’s fair to ask whether certain questions of power have been repressed in order to maintain certain types of power. That is really the critique is that by merely saying one is privileged (or more often) more privileged than an other one has to ask in what context for what purpose. Yet that essential question of power often gets repressed by speaking only in terms of a conclusion: who is more privileged.

    The reason I bring this all up isn’t just because I dislike this particular form of discourse that has become quite popular in certain academic circles of late. Rather it is because I think it ends upon maintaining the disempowered in a disempowered state as those most able to navigate this language gain power. But who are those people? Typically the upper middle class well educated people. Even as they maintain a discourse of empowerment the people empowered are not poor relatively uneducated minorities. Rather it’s a well educated (along a certain line) group who use the discourse to push their own political aims.

    Now some of those aims may well be good. But it seems fairly clear that your typically inner city poor minority can’t engage in this discourse. Further this then leads to others speaking for them in place of them. That is their voices are silenced even as those speaking claim to be empowering them. The discourse of privilege simply opens up the danger of this speaking for under the guise of allowing the marginalized to speak.

    The simple answer is, let’s just try and listen to people affected politically in our culture. Listen to a diverse range of voices. We can do this without setting up a discourse that limits who can speak. Simply listen. But don’t just listen to a narrow range but listen to as many as possible especially those we disagree with.

  13. Clark I think we’re talking past each other at this point. I largely agree with what you are saying. But listening (which I agree with; I thought it was so baseline that I–probably erroneously–didn’t include it) entails delimitation. It requires us to quiet ourselves. And that’s good. But what do we do then? Really only the Hulk model won’t really listen in the first place. But the other two models begin in a place of listening and, as I argue, unproductively and even immorally engage in ways that end up harming these voices or harming themselves. This is just a foray into a mode of productive speaking that delimits the kinds of damage I describe in the post. And as I said, it’s not a prescription for the only legitimate discourse, it’s a kind of discursive restraint that in theory might allow the privileged to find and use their own authentic voices in less damaging or unproductive ways that would then hopefully soften other modes of discourse that have been traditionally violent or dismissive.

  14. Angela, I hadn’t heard that before. Very interesting.

  15. I wonder if this is conflating some phenomena; there is an ungrounding of the established masculinity discourse, there is also an increase in recognition of non-hegemonic subjectivities and alternate teleological processes that seems to be informing overall discourse over time. It’s probably both biological differences and conditioning, (and an overgeneralization) but women have an entirely different cycle of psychological maturation than men, the end result being a much more relational sense of self than the male counterpart. (1) Essentially: men are wired/conditioned to define themselves against otherness, while women define themselves by their relation to others (again, gross oversimplification) It results in very different, potentially complementary ways of making sense of the world. But it is true that the academic feminist insistence that “the personal is political” has led to a lot of upheaval in male/hegemonic discourse and subjectivity. An insistence upon personal and emotional context for what used to be discussions based on unimpassioned logic is sure to be an unnerving transition.

    There is irony in your categorizing autobiography as a feminine counterpart to male logic. It wasn’t until the early 80’s that definitions of the subjectivity of autobiography were expanded to the point that many female writings could even be categorized as autobiography. Though subsequent feminist autobiography studies would be a fascinating lens through which to approach this whole conundrum. (2,3,4)

    _____

    1. Gilligan, Carol. In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1993. Print.
    2. Stanton, Domna (ed.) (1987) The Female Autograph: Theory and Practice of Autobiography from the Tenth to the Twentieth Century, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
    3. Feminism and Autobiography (2000) p. 2
    4. Geiger, Susan N.G. “Women’s Life Histories: Method and Content.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 1986: 334. Print.

  16. Footnotes!

  17. As a white, privileged, Mormon man standing in the Apple Store yesterday reading this blog post while I watched the kids play games on demo iPhones so my wife could sneak away to return an Ann Taylor blouse… Well… I liked the post and related to the points it makes.

    I have now spoken my white privileged truth and am shutting down my phone and return to waking up slowly in my cozy bed.

  18. Em F: Those are some very interesting points to ponder. I’ve read Gilligan, but not the others. Thanks for the references. I’m not certain, though, what phenomena you say are being conflated. You mention biological differences and conditioning, but I don’t really discuss these in the post.

  19. Very nice post and thoughts, Jacob — thanks.

  20. Clark Goble says:

    Jacob, I bring up listening as key primarily because I think at its core the issues of privilege are tied up with people feeling like they are not paid attention to or listened to. Of course that’s not all but that seems to be the key aspect. It’s just that if listening is so important I think we can focus on that without bringing in all the “privilege” baggage. There are things we don’t understand because of our limited experience and we should listen to others with different experiences especially if they are things we are ignorant of. You’d think this would be obvious and a baseline yet it seems done so rarely that it seems this is the key issue.

    As I said, I agree with much of what you said. It’s more the framing of the issue I object to.

    The issue of when to talk is of course key. But that will vary very much according to the context I think. For instance some might say I am talking too much now, silencing voices who might otherwise speak up. Others might say the comments to a blog are inherently an attempt to solicit responses. It’s a tricky issue.

    Tied into this are ingrained social structures that do tend to want more aggressive debate. Those of us from a certain part of academics see that as essential for learning and getting at truth. Yet in the silencing of voices (since many feel intimidated in such debates – and debates often exceed the limits of decorum as emotions get heated) means important things won’t be learned. Yet if we just listen the question then becomes how to test ideas and play them off against one an other.

    As I said, it’s tricky and I don’t have good answers beyond trying multiple approaches. My criticism was primarily just about one particular way of framing the issue that I think incentivizes some problematic consequences.

  21. Maybe I’m just a nonconformist, but your three categories seemed rather contrived, and I failed to see myself in any of them. It felt like group psychoanalysis. It’s hard to categorize people accurately and stuff them into preconceived boxes. Nice try, though.

  22. TA: They probably feel contrived because I literally made them up and didn’t hide that fact. It’s not uncommon to create comparative categories in order to illustrate more analogically what one is trying to say. But also, I never said everyone fits into one of the three, only that I have observed the behavior of many (including myself at times) as conforming more or less to them. Also, when my behavior did somewhat conform to one of the three, I never would have said that I saw myself in them.

  23. Clark, I largely again agree with you, and it was well-said. We’ve already stated and re-described our thoughts about privilege several times in response to one another, so I don’t see a need to continue to do so, on my end.

  24. MDearest says:

    I know I’m late to the party after most have moved on, plus I’m not a scholar, but there are a lot of interesting points here to mull over, especially the implication that privilege is actually an illusion that privileged people would be better shed of, for their own healthy connection to reality, and general well being. Also, the link to Gina Colvin’s blog post about privilege was much appreciated. I always like to look through her lens.

    I’ve been thinking about the notion of privilege lately, from both the inclusionary and exclusionary position, and I’ve come to see all privilege and it’s various counterparts as two sides of the same coin, one being the flip side of the other. The flip side of white privilege is racism, the flip side of male privilege is sexism, etc. By taking this view, I see that if someone is blessed with privilege, they are also cursed with the flip side and cannot claim to be innocent. To put it bluntly, if you’re white in this system, you benefit, and there’s no question about whether you’re racist, the only questions are how extreme, how clueless, how engaged in change, etc. are you? It also is a useful way for me to look at the pervasiveness of privileged folks being blind to the realities of both their privilege and the flip side of it, and being mystified by the discourse about it that takes place around them. (Examining this is a whole nother long blog comment.)

    I am finding this way of seeing privilege tolerably useful for my purposes because it settles a lot of preliminary discussion about blame and allows one to get to the real meat of the issue, what does the Lord think, and can we change this? I recently read D&C 49:20 which rang the bells in my brain loudly as addressing privilege. (I took it as a prompting.) “But it is not given that one man should possess that which is above another, wherefore the world lieth in sin.” A quick look at the footnote links show that we have rather a lot of scripture that addresses the lack of equality in our culture, but it’s rare to see them cited among believers, informing a discussion about privilege. Actually, it’s rare to have a discussion about privilege at all anywhere in the church outside of the bloggernacle. (Unless you count the efforts to shore up and strengthen certain privileges.) But it’s on my mind a lot, as I feel the sting of my lack of some kinds of privilege, and I see the consequence to others by my unwarranted “blessing” of other kinds of privilege. And I am looking among the voices of the un-privileged for the source material of what I can do to rid myself of this stain.

    There are some real poets among us.