The Layers and Nuance of Privlege

I don’t know when I first became aware of my privilege. Maybe it was my first trip to a country of vastly different economic circumstance than my own. Maybe it was the first time I read To Kill a Mockingbird and was confronted by systemic racism. Maybe it was IMG_8331when I started teaching and saw the vast discrepancies between kids whose parents had time and energy at night to read and sit beside them at the homework table. Maybe it was the first time I read about the reality of our prison system and the way we incarcerate.

Privilege has certainly become a loaded word in the recent years. It’s rare to hear someone say, it’s a privilege to visit. I usually hear it in the context of check your privilege or white privilege.

When we started attending our neighborhood school this year, I was hit with our privilege. I saw how incredibly prepared Bea was for kindergarten – from reading together to access to books and art supplies to the fact that we have multiple memberships to museums around our city. She has the background knowledge and supports to excel.

And, while I see her incredible circumstantial privilege, I also feel incredibly grateful that this is our educational experience. Not only is Bea learning academically, she’s learning about cultures and worldviews that we could not teach at home. She’s enthralled with her Muslim friends and empathetic toward kids who are tired from late bedtimes. She asks why some kids need extra help and why others can’t speak English.

I’m shifting my view of privilege again. Yes, we are a family of privilege. There is no doubt about that. But we are also a family who feels privileged to know and interact with our neighbors and classmates. I’m remembering that this word is layered and nuanced and I need to reintroduce the gratefulness of privilege into our outlook.

What feelings do you get when you hear the word privilege? How does your privilege make you grateful? How does it help you see others in a more gentle way?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “privilege.”

Bridging the Gap

The other day I went on a field trip with our Family Literacy program to the Museum of Nature and Science. We have had a membership here since Bea was little. One of our favorite activities is exploring the dioramas, the hall of life, and the dinosaurs. As I was talking with other moms, I was amazed at the fact that this was most of their first time visiting! Even though their kids are my age, going to this incredible place just wasn’t on their radar.

IMG_7032The older I get and the more stories I hear, the more I realize how little I’ve had to overcome in this life. My parents were able to provide for college; my loans for grad school were minimal since I was going into a field that was underrepresented, both in interested workers and in finances. I’ve had opportunities to travel, to learn, to be continually supported in my decisions.

I am incredibly grateful for these privileges and would never want to trade them. As we plan for the future and make decisions about how we’ll raise our girls, a lot of these same values are guiding our choices.

But coupled with what I’ve been given, I think it’s important to remember that I am unique. Not all my friends were given the gift of a paid-for college education. Not everyone I know has had the support to travel and explore.

I think that this is what everyday privilege looks like. When we talk about the evils of privilege, I think a lot of us think of one group working really hard and another group living off of government support. People have a lot of big feelings about the word privilege these days.

Privilege, of course, isn’t limited to travel and education. It’s not worrying about the bills or knowing we can finance something if we had to. It’s knowing how to save and live within our budget. (And how to make a budget in the first place!) I think privilege looks different for everyone because we all take our values and make choices differently.

But, part of walking humbly with God is recognizing all God has given me and all that others may not have. It’s learning to bridge the gaps, not so that one side loses out but so that all sides gain.

When did you first recognize your own area of privilege? How do you hold that humbly?

Linked with Five Minute Friday, a time to write without editing. Today’s prompt is “overcome.”

BackyardThis post is Day 27 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.

The Privilege of Getting Away

Last week, we made the trek up to the Black Hills of South Dakota for our triennial family reunion. Especially since becoming a parent, I look forward to these gatherings. Kids running wild in the field, cousins reconnecting as though no time has passed, reminiscing and retelling the same stories, laughing, crying, singing hymns, watching any kid in range and resting in the knowledge that others are doing the same for my kids.

This year’s was the first time a member of the founding generation – my grandmother and her siblings – was unable to attend. My parents’ generation became the oldest; We are now at the age of our parents when these gathering began; Our kids are making memories and forming relationships that will create a foundation for adulthood.

Each reunion is held in a different location, so every three years we explore a new part of the country. Each area offers things we wish we could recreate each time and each area has things we gladly leave behind.

This year, our location was at Custer State Park and one of my favorite perks was the spotty network coverage. I had taken social media off my phone beforehand, since I wanted to be fully present, even in the downtimes. But, it wasn’t really necessary. My phone stayed in my room most of the time. I think I only took about five pictures the entire week. Staying present, living in the moment, keeping memories in my mind not on Instagram was easy and refreshing.

It also meant that I turned off the news. The reunion began with the aftermath of the Dallas police shooting, but we were already out of range by the time the ones in Baton Rouge occurred. Taking a week off seemed like a respite in the midst of story after story of anger and tragedy and loss.

IMG_1317Frank and I took an ATV ride along some old mining trails in the hills and, though it was far from a quiet hike that I’m used to, being in the country and away from people reminded me of the vastness of our world. When life seems crowded and loud, I lose sight of the fact that we have so many thousands of miles of space here in America. Space where I can be without seeing anyone. Space to remember the grandness of our earth – that we humans are still quite small in this grand scheme. Space to see my first “Trump 2016” sign in someone’s front yard and to remember the difference of living in a secluded rural area instead of a crowded urban one.

As we bounced along the trail, I also recognized the privilege I have to disconnect. I am able to turn off my phone, to drive seven hours for a change of scenery, to go into the hills. My life back home carried on; I returned to everything clean and organized and normal.

For so many, the privilege to disconnect is not available. They cannot turn off and have a loved one reappear. They cannot go into the hills and return to a society that suddenly accepts the color of their skin. They cannot change their lives by changing the scenery.

I needed that week off. A week to focus on family and relationships and to marvel at the fact that generations of people gather to play together, to sing hymns together, and to support each other. I also needed to stop in the midst and remember those who do not have this gift.

By stopping to recognize, it made my time away sweeter. It made me more grateful for the privilege I have. It made me stop and pray and acknowledge those who do not have this. And it made me reflect and long for a time when getting away for a week doesn’t mean coming back to more news of anger and tragedy and loss but to a time when we can reconcile and redeem our relationships.

How do you disconnect best? Do you find you need to take intentional breaks from the news and social media?

I Am Not Orlando

I am not Orlando. I will never know what it’s like to face hatred and discrimination in my own church, in laws meant to protect, in the way I live my life. I have no idea what it’s like to have my family disown me, to have to announce my own identity to the world.

I am not BlackLivesMatter. I will never know what it’s like to get in my car, worried about being pulled over for a minor offense. I will never know what it’s like to face discrimination based on the spelling of my name or the origin of my family. I have no idea how hard it is to break out of the systemic oppression our laws and aide put on others.

In these moments of shock and outrage, I don’t know what to say or do. I grieve that we have not been able to learn from millennia of mistakes. Rape, mass murder, systemic discrimination are part of human history. And, while I do believe (or fervently hope) we are inching forward, I am still shocked that we as a human race have not been able to learn from the past, to take what we know about inherent human nature and try our hardest to pass laws, to make policies, to live our own lives in a way that moves forward.

I am shocked that with each death – whether one person by one gun or fifty people by one gun – we turn to fear rather than hope. That we use our fear to keep our ideals firmly in place rather than stepping back and living in hope for change. That we use our fear to blame a people group rather than looking at our own selves and wondering what we can do to change this system.

It’s hard for me to accept, but I’m learning more and more that my role as a mom is just as important as my vote for the people who represent my values. I’ll admit, my hope in top-down policies is dwindling and I wonder if they will ever change.

But my own small grassroots efforts? I am more committed to raising my daughters to hope, to love, to see without hate. It’s small, but we read Ezra Jack Keats’ books. Books about kids being kids. Kids who represent all cultures but books that are not about those cultures. They’re just about kids.

I am forever grateful for our church. A place where our girls are loved by people who may be gay or straight or trans or married or divorced or single. People who they see as safe and who don’t need labels. A place where, when Bea asks if two women can get married, they don’t just say yes, they show what that marriage actually looks like. (A lot like our own marriage.)

So, I can stand with those who suffer in Orlando and because of Orlando. I stand with those who face daily discrimination and hate.

But I am not them. I am privileged and am learning that I am not helpless with this privilege. I am learning that my own small acts are laying a foundation for my privileged daughters.

I hope that they will never have to stand with minority groups. That somehow in the next twenty years, we’ll figure it out. But I’m not naive and I have a feeling they’ll feel this same anger and helplessness time and again.

Until we can finally figure out how to truly love without condition, I’ll remember this from A Room with a View:

“We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.”

E.M. Forster

Will you stand with me, facing the sunshine? How do you teach your kids these big things in small ways?

Acknowledging Privilege

I’ve never really been into family history. I know vague details – my paternal grandmother’s family came over from England in the early Mayflower-ish days; my paternal grandfather’s family came over from England around World War 1; my maternal grandfather’s family came from Germany…. I have access to more details, but just have never really researched it.

Both sides settled in the midwest and consisted of business owners. They never owned slaves or explicitly participated in systems of injustice but they certainly benefited from being educated, white, Anglo-Saxon immigrants. As a result, I have benefited from coming from generations of educated, white, “upwardly mobile” people.

Last week, as I grappled with the events of Charleston, I posted an article about how we label shooters of color differently than those who are white. As a result, someone suggested I was spreading racism – that this isn’t about color; that we need to stop seeing differences; that until we do, nothing will change. Another friend and I have had a few brief conversations about privilege. She has said that I can’t apologize for my privilege – it’s  not something to be ashamed of.

I agree with her on some level. My privilege is not what’s going to change the systemic issues that are in place. However, by not acknowledging my privilege, is my silence continuing these systemic injustices? By recognizing my own benefits and apologizing for my part a system of injustice, I don’t think I’m negating the positives of privilege, but simply acknowledging the unfairness of the world we live in.

unnamed

My friend, Adrienne is someone who exemplifies using her privilege to graciously make changes. At the Pride Parade here in Denver, she has worn a shirt a shirt reading, Hurt by the church? Get a straight apology here. Adrienne is one of the kindest, most loving advocates to the gay community that I know. She has nothing to apologize for. Yet, she recognizes the importance of apology, that bridges are slowly built when we recognize our global privilege. By offering an apology to individuals hurt by the church, she is not taking on the atrocities committed against the gay community herself, but she is recognizing the privilege straight people benefit from on a daily basis.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller describes a similar idea. He and his friends set up a confessional, apologizing for the church’s role in such global atrocities as the Crusades, Inquisition, and slavery. By confessing these sins, Miller is not negating all the good the church has done over the centuries, nor is he personally taking on the sins of the church. He is recognizing that the church has made some big mistakes – mistakes from which we are still experiencing repercussions – and he is apologizing on behalf.

As I am confronted with my own privilege, and as I read story after story of the inequality that still pervades our justice system and our country, I apologize – not to negate my own privilege but because I recognize my privilege plays into this system of inequality. By apologizing, I am not condemning all white people as racist, but I am recognizing that I have benefited from systemic racism, whether or not I agree with it or like it.

I feel like our country is still grappling with how racism pervades our society and how we, the privileged can confront it. I have no answers for that. I have heard that we need to listen and I have also heard that our time for listening is over and that we need to act. What I know for myself, is that I need to recognize my part – whether it’s explicit or not – in the way our system works. I’m messily fumbling along with it, but I hope that I can be like Adrienne – someone who puts aside my own perceived role and simply offer an apology and a hug. Sometimes that’s the best place to start.

How do you acknowledge your own privilege? What are some “next steps” you suggest?

Privilege of Choice

When Frank and I got married, we decided we wanted to wait three years before having kids. While neither of us were old, I was in my late-twenties, he was in his mid-thirties and we had done a lot of world exploring before meeting. We still had things we wanted to do together and places we wanted to visit so we determined that three years would give us time to enjoy married life before beginning a family.

First three years packed with adventure
First three years packed with adventure

Three years and three days after our wedding, Bea was born. Our family started just as planned and we’ll be adding our next child almost exactly three years after Bea’s birth. (Can you tell we’re both first borns?)

My One Word for this year is choose, and as always, it’s been showing up in ways I hadn’t anticipated. When I thought about choose, I thought about my own life, but choose seems to be showing itself more in ways that highlight my own privilege. I have so many choices because of my privilege – to choose when to start my family, to choose to stay home with our children, to choose to work part-time, to choose a partner who fully supports these choices…

I just began reading The Mother & Child Project, a series of essays highlighting the maternal and infant health issues around the world. I’m not even 100 pages in and I’m already hit with my abundant privilege of choice. From vaccinations to family planning to breastfeeding and so much more, my choices are made without regard to the high value they carry. Many mothers across the globe do not have these choices.

One of the big issues addressed in this book is access to family planning. This is a hot topic in many circles here in the United States. To support contraceptives as part of health care is not a dinner table discussion – people have big feelings about this topic. And yet, our debates and personal choices here translate to life-threatening lack of options in rural communities in developing countries. Here, with access to healthcare having children close together is more of a personal choice. In rural areas lacking in proper healthcare, not allowing a mother to wait at least two years between pregnancies can cost her life.

Reading these essays has me reflecting on the great responsibility of choice. Living in a country that helps determine aide policies and practices to countries who desperately need solutions to maternal health problems, I realize my choices are not just my own. I may feel passionately about certain policies, but I need to learn to step back and question if they are universally best or simply best for me and my family. If they are simply a personal choice, I need to weigh whether the fight for my own personal freedoms outweighs the health and survival of those who do not have those same freedoms.

At the end of the book are pages of resources that give tangible ideas for ways to help the crisis of maternal health. Frank and I will be reviewing our budget to see how we can begin giving to some of these organizations. In the meantime, I’m looking at my own privilege of choice and considering how I can alter my worldview to remember all I can take for granted.

How does your privilege of choice play into decision making? Are you a global thinker when it comes to personal decisions?

The Weight of Privilege

I’ve never thought too much about the Israeli-Palistinian conflict. I remember hearing about it in the news growing up – stories usually more on the side of Israel’s point of view, rather than balanced reporting. After moving to Paris, I began reading news stories told from a different point of view, as France seemed more sympathetic to the Palestinian side than America is. But, really, I viewed this conflict as never-ending and didn’t read too many other sources for information.

After reading The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan, the power of storytelling gave me insights into both sides of this story that I hadn’t thought of before. As someone reading from her cozy armchair in front of the fire, many pieces of the conflict seemed easily solved. And yet, here I am, sitting on land that didn’t belong to me or my ancestors, that was taken from someone else long ago. The complications of land, of story, of history are complex and the longer a conflict goes unresolved, the more knotted the outcome is to untangle.

Unknown

At the end of The Lemon Tree Dalia, an Israeli, realizes the privilege she has in listening to the Palestinian side of the conflict. She is able to find resolutions and compromise because she doesn’t have as much to lose – she isn’t a refugee nor has her land been reduced over the years with each “compromise.” She still doesn’t agree with her Palestinian friend, Bashir’s solutions, but she realizes the weight of privilege she brings to the conversation.

Her final realizations had me thinking about how we’re choosing to handle the conversations of privilege closer to home. It’s not just about me listening to people who are not being heard – though that is an important practice. It’s about me recognizing the weight of privilege I bring to conversations. Maybe I won’t agree with the proposed solutions or outcomes, but I need to remember my lens is that of someone whose privilege and assets are not being threatened.

How can I more effectively listen and join this conversation of reconciliation while recognizing my privilege? I can feel overwhelmed and feel that I have nothing to offer because I’m not being abused by any systems. And yet, listening and joining in the conversation is important – to speak up humbly to bring about my own point of view and to recognize that I have a unique perspective to offer, even if it is one of privilege.

How do you recognize your own privilege? Do you actively participate in conversations of reconciliation?

I read The Lemon Tree as part of SheLoves Magazine’s Red Couch Book Club. For thought-provoking books and discussion each month, I’d highly recommend checking it out!

The Privilege to Listen

I first became aware of social change in second grade. Two events shaped my thinking and led to my first boycotts. The first was a class visit to an Alpha-Beta grocery store. I don’t remember much about the visit itself, but a few months later, Alpha-Beta was bought out by Lucky. I imposed a family boycott on all Lucky stores, feeling it was a horrible capitalist move to buy out a competitor. The other boycott began after I read an article in my weekly Scholastic News about the plight of dolphins caught in tuna nets. I promptly informed my mom that our family was a tuna-free household unless the can was clearly labeled “Dolphin-safe.” Fortunately, my parents humored my demands and I learned the value in voting with my dollars at a young age.

Not too much has changed since my eight-year-old days. I still read articles and blogs focusing on social justice and often question how we can do more as a family. I still firmly believe in voting with my dollars and there are quite a few businesses we don’t visit. I’ve written before about feeling a bit helpless to do big things, but we are always adding small ways to change our world.

In the past week, the news of protests around the Darren Wilson indictment have me wondering what I can do or say. I am appalled and overwhelmed and the systemic injustices my neighbors face on a daily basis. Rather than add my own unqualified voice, I thought I’d highlight a few articles that have given me words, courage, hope, and perspective in the past few days.

Nate Pyle: We Might Talk About Jesus the Same Way We Talk of Protestors
“What people are failing to see is that there are consequences to one’s actions. That’s what people these days don’t understand. What do they think? That someone can just start vandalizing the temple and not be punished? I don’t care if there are injustices or not. We are a civil society built on laws and if you aren’t going to act outside of those laws, injustices or not, you are going to have to deal with the authorities.”

Janee Woods: 12 Things White People Can Do Now Because Ferguson
Let’s talk about an active role for white people in the fight against racism because racism burdens all of us and is destroying our communities. And, quite frankly, because white people have a role in undoing racism because white people created and, for the most part, currently maintain (whether they want to or not) the racist system that benefits white people to the detriment of people of color.

Roxane Gay: Only Words
Time and again, Mike Brown’s parents have been lauded, and rightly so, for their dignity, compassion, and composure. It is frustrating, though, that as has always been the case throughout history, the subjugated have had to be nobler. It is a hell of a thing to expect nobility in the face of such staggering disgrace.

Kristen Howerton: Why the Lack of Indictment for Mike Brown’s Shootings is a Devastating Blow
So when you see people rioting and protesting . . . when you witnessed the tears streaming down the faces of the crowd as it was announced that Darren Wilson would not go to trial for Mike Brown’s death . . . remember: this is not just about Mike Brown. This is about a community who has witnessed a clear pattern of violence towards their young men at the hands of people charged to protect our citizens. Violence with racial bias that is well documented.

Christena Cleveland, Austin Channing Brown, Drew Hart, and Efrem Smith: Black-on-Black Violence: Pastor Voddie Baucham’s Assault on Black People
An example of internalized racism: as a result of growing up in an anti-black society in which violence inflicted on African Americans has been historically judged less harshly than violence against Whites, regardless of the perpetrator – black people begin to believe that their own life and the lives of other black people are worth very little. Due to internalized racism, they become more willing to engage in violence against other black men, women, and children – so-called “Black-on-Black violence.”

I am well aware of my great privilege to be able to sit back and listen to what others are struggling through. Perhaps that’s what we need most in these days: To stop and listen to others stories. Not in a defensive or proving way, but in an open, learning way. I need to listen to people in Ferguson, to stories of discrimination, to stories of police officers trying to keep others safe, to stories of lawyers doing their best to defend the underrepresented, to all sides…

Obviously I’m reading from a certain bias. What articles would you add to this list? I want to hear the stories.