Monday, April 9, 2012

It Is Not My Privilege

By the unfortunate accident of birth and genetics, I am ensconced atop the human social pyramid. As a white male, I am leavened with privilege to a degree I find uncomfortable and embarrassing. It puts me at odds with the world I want to see surrounding me, a world where the color of your skin is just that and nothing more, where the god or gods you worship, or those you don't, do not mark you as different, where your gender, from birth or through change, does not categorize you, where age is worshiped, and not resisted.

In short, I want a world where you are defined by who you are and not what you are.

It's hard to see the inequities of the world from my perch and realize that I cannot simply right them. Harder still, to know that I can never truly understand the unremitting stream of persecution, bigotry, and hatred so many are subject to day after day. Worse even than that, the knowledge that I cannot offer true solace to those who suffer, so detached am I from their plight.

I may not understand their pain, but I do know pain and suffering in my own degree, and I do know that a human life is reduced and degraded by the suffering of pain. If the pains of my life are relatively mild by comparison to those who suffer for their race or religion or sexual orientation or gender, I know intrinsically that if I cannot endure so easily the slights of my life, how can these people be so forced to endure what must be excruciating suffering? To know that there are people around them, who look at them with fear, loathing, and violence in their hearts... to fear that one day, they will be the victim of hideous and horrible crime, simply because of who they are. Who should have to carry that burden in this day-and-age?

To my fellow white brethren, I say this: you may feel no direct connections to the events that have transpired over human history to force these people into their daily bondage, but you and I bear the guilt nonetheless. Somewhere in our deeper past, our line intersects the lines of those who perpetrated the crimes that may not bear our name, but definitely bear the stain of our history as white people. Your hand may not have held the lash. Your hand may not have turned the knob on the gas chamber. Your hand may not have set the fire at the stake. But you and I descend from those hands that did those deeds in the name of sanctity and piety and superiority of race and religion and gender. Go back far enough, and we are connected to them, as surely as the furthest leaf from the ground on a thousand-year-old  redwood tree is connected to the deepest root beneath the earth.

If you cannot empathize, cannot sympathize, cannot see the plight of those groups who have spent the better part of thousands of generations under the heel of their tormentors, then it is time to remove the blinders privilege has placed over your eyes. For while that oppression may not be as overt as it was in darker times, it is still extant, especially where we dismiss or downplay the anger and frustration of those who have been oppressed. We cannot expect them to simply "play by the rules" when we continue to keep them at arms length, even though there is no reason to. To react in horror when they dare to contradict us or denigrate us is the acme of our privilege; we have no business denying their pain and anger simply because it offends us. If anything, that should be the signal that we need to stop dictating conditions and start listening to their stories.

A world based on true equality starts, not simply with raising up those who have been relegated for so long to the gutters, but in stepping down ourselves from the pedestals we have lived on for so long. True equality starts when we eschew the security our white race and our male gender hand us, and allow ourselves to be cast into the milieu that we held ourselves above for so long. It needs to start now, because to maintain the convenient fiction that it has always been thus, so it shall always be so, is the last conceit of the privileged before the gates are flung open, the walls are knocked down, and all is wreathed in flames. Let us not allow human society to burn, such that all that remains are charred ashes to be buried under the sediments of time.

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