The eye of the needle (the blind spot of privilege)
I have been learning about and engaging the ideas of privilege, status & systems of oppression the last couple years, they are relatively new concepts to me. But as Ferguson came into my news feed recently, I began noticing with newly cleared eyes, the lack of reaction or reactions that avoided the real issues of systemized racism. The knowledge began burning in me in a way that it hadn’t before, it started turning from self centered ideas to ideas that radiate and motivate me to work to create change & buck the system that keeps all of it in place.
The truth is, the last couple years, I have spent a lot of time thinking & talking about ‘privilege’ in the context of ‘them’ and me. I have raged against the fact that I have felt real oppression in the process of coming out, which is valid. I raged against oppression of LGBTQ persons and I rant about how ‘they’ hurt me & ‘they’ can’t see it because of their ‘blinding privilege’. ‘They’ arrived into the world in heterosexual normative packaging, so ‘they’ can not see my struggle. It’s all true.
However, having my eyes open to the ideas of status and privilege only came at the cost & in the process of my outing myself & my sexual identity. Unfortunately / fortunately, I have people around me who point out that I am coming late to the party in this realization. They sit with me and listen, patiently, to my rants and then they tell me essentially; “Oh you poor white girl, how sad for you to experience this loss of privileged status. How sad for you to go from privileged to less privileged. How sad for you to experience discrimination for the first time in your life when we have experienced it every single day.”
And that is how my own blind spot of privilege blew up. I had to realize I had so very little room to talk and point my grubby little hardly soiled fingers at ‘they’ or anyone else.
I talk about the idea of ‘passing’ in ‘polite white society’. Sitting at the ‘table of privilege’, even though I didn’t feel like I should be ‘let’ at that table & not speaking up when I saw and heard discriminating language. Sitting uncomfortably silent while homophobic or racist comments and stories were spoken in my presence. Owning the fact that speaking up outed me & that cost me too much, so I was silent. I ‘passed’ because my sexuality is not identifiable based on my appearance. I could hide my sexuality to fake belonging. Many people can not hide the parts of their identity that knock them down in status, they can not hide what makes them not fit into the ‘polite white society’ of privilege. So while my experience is still valid & I do get to rage against what has happened to me & express how it is not okay, I have to take a hard look at my own position of privilege. I don’t get to sit in the comfort of my own privilege and sulk. I have to let my experiences change me so that I am more willing to listen to the experiences of others around me who have a world of sight to offer to my still cloudy vision.
Because of my extreme status shift in such radical life changes, I do have a certain eye opening perspective to share. I went from a white (albeit female, which is definitely a noteworthy side note) church worker, children’s pastor living in one of the nicest areas of town, with a pretty substantial combined income in a heterosexual marriage. My children were in private school, we were eating organic with things like a Vitamix and a dependable car. Almost overnight, my status shifted to a divorced lesbian, single mom who was unemployed and *homeless*. My coming out cost everything, it turned my status upside down in the most Christ like way. That shift in status was eye opening, my new status was laced with stigma. I was the ‘same’ person, but I was treated differently in so many ways. I loved God, I loved my children, I cared about loving people well & although I was admittedly falling apart from the stress and strain of change, I was doing so with the same strength, compassion & valor I had always lived my life. The painful truth is my status shift was felt in the smallest most painful interactions with people who I once thought were friends. The painful truth is institutions & people treated me very differently. I felt these micro aggressions growing once my status changed, it was like a hill that appeared in front of me that I never saw coming and it was created of the most tiny interactions within a system I never even knew existed. I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t understand that a system would be placed around me to take the struggle and make it seem unbearable. That even people ‘helping’ me from this place of stigma, felt dehumanizing. I realized, with shock, for the first time what some of my well intentioned “good church lady help” must have felt like. And my status shift impacted my children’s interactions too within this ‘polite white society’. The stress of everything we had gone thru combined with a felt stigma impacted my oldest daughter during a time of very real emotional need. It is heartbreaking to be ostracized and stigmatized within a community you love.
Yet even in my heartbreak & struggle, my white privileged friends, in their over abundant life styles were able to, simply from their excess & with hardly any asking on my part, provide shelter to myself and my children (I love you and thank you, this is not name calling just the reality of where we are sitting, dear friends). I was able to find employment, as I always have, relatively easily. In fact, I was able to wait to find work until I felt secure in how that work would reflect things like calling & purpose. The truth of my reality is that I have always gotten every job I went out for, I have always interviewed well & dressed the part. So even facing job loss, I had a sense of security rooted simply in privilege.
As you can now see, this process has blown open my eyes
those who have eyes to see, let them see.
Which, I believe, is why the gospel is rooted in the story of oppressed people. I believe that the voice of the oppressed is the voice that has the ability to help us see.
And so I write to urge you, to see. I write to speak to you about the idea of the gospel and how it is supposed to change everything in you, dear Christian brother & sister. It is supposed to unsettle you from your position of privilege, to upset your status and to rightfully raise the oppressed up into a shifted and upside down place of authority. The gospel is supposed to cost you. You give up your position when you enter the Kingdom, you give it away to ‘them’. The space you take up becomes space for the oppressed voice to speak the way they have never had the opportunity to do. All for our, the privileged, benefit and learning, so we do not walk around blind to The Kingdom that is right in front of us.
If your gospel does not look like that, you are missing something that only your less privileged brothers and sisters can show you. If your church & your life doesn’t reflect that reality it is facing it’s own spiritual stigmatization.
I’m just gonna leave these little definitions here for us to think about together. I believe these are the very things Christ came to eradicate in us:
- Prejudice = an irrational feeling of dislike for a person or group of persons, usually based on stereotype.
- Discrimination = the moment a person acts on prejudice, to deny someone a job, verbally harass them, or any other act of aggression or micro-aggression, because of their race, gender, sexual, or other stigmatized identities.
- Racism, Sexisms, Homophobia, Transphobia, etc = patterns & systems of discrimination that are institutionalized as "normal" throughout an entire culture, and serve to oppress a subordinate group while giving privileges to the dominant group.