In a recent blog post titled Straight White Men Shouldn’t Write about Power and Privilege, Right?, Tony Jones said he didn’t write about them to “avoid the charge, “Who the hell are you to write about such things?!?” I’d say Tony’s problems stem less from being a privileged person writing about privilege than from making boneheaded statements and trying to defend them.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not taking Tony to task for saying dumb stuff. God knows, I’ve made my share of boneheaded statements and, all too often, I’ve tried to defend them. We all have; it’s human nature. And, I suspect we’ve all done it for the same reason: we want to be right. Or, at least, we can’t stand the thought of being wrong…, again. Well, that’s why I do it, anyway.
To the best of my knowledge, I haven’t spoken from a position of privilege without acknowledging that privilege. Okay, I probably have, but I wasn’t a jerk about it. Okay, I’ve done it and I was a jerk about it, but I’ve been working hard to change that. It’s just that being right feels so good, it’s hard to stop. Add the fact that I constantly feel like no one’s listening to me and you have the makings for a perfect storm of jerkitude. It’s not like I’ve done it on purpose, though. In fact, when I realize I’ve made ignorant, privileged statements, I’m very dismayed. I don’t like being a privileged jerk, even though it comes very easy to me.
The thing is, when you start talking about privilege, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that you are privileged. Let me give you an example. As usual, after Tony’s statement that he avoids talking about privilege because of the backlash, he was taken to task all over the web and nowhere more so than on the Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook page. Tony and the page’s administrator, Stephanie Drury…, well, let’s say they have some history in the privilege discussion. And, the SCCL page is a haven for people who have had less than stellar experiences with religion. So, when a prominent Christian voice says things these folk take exception to, it can get heated. In this last go-round, I noticed something interesting: people were taking Tony to task for not recognizing and acknowledging his privilege, but they weren’t recognizing and acknowledging their own. When I pointed this out, one person responded. And, while they acknowledged the fact they were privileged, they still didn’t see the irony of it all.
Privilege is a funny thing; when have it, you don’t notice. So, when someone points out your privilege, it’s not pleasant. That’s because people like to think they’re successful because of hard work and perseverance, not some accident of birth. That’s true of a theologian-in-residence, a snarky Facebook admin or a struggling young blogger trying to make his mark in the world.