This post is about privilege, and may be offensive to anyone who is a member of a privileged group. I will mainly be talking about Christian privilege, but I will also reference white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege. Please keep that in mind before reading further.
First let me explain what I mean when I say privilege, because it is a concept that I was not fully familiar with until a few years ago. I am not talking about privilege in the “I finished all my homework early so Mom says I can watch cartoons” sense. Yes, that is a privilege, but that is an earned privilege, a reward for doing something. I am talking about unearned privileges, advantages experienced by a person or group of people simply because they are a member of the dominant group that defines normalcy in a society. There are several types of privilege, white privilege, male privilege, and heterosexual privilege to name a few. Want to see what I mean? I am going to act on my white privilege and assume that most of my blog readers are white; read through the list of white privilege in this article by Peggy McIntosh, Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack and tell me how many of them apply to your life if you really consider it. Here’s an excerpt of the list for all you tl:dr types, but I highly recommend taking the time to read the whole list as I have chosen only my favorites for you here:
I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.
. . .
1. I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
3. If I should need to move, I can be pretty sure of renting or purchasing housing in an area which I can afford and in which I would want to live.
4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
6. I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
7. When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
8. I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
12. I can go into a music shop and count on finding the music of my race represented, into a supermarket and find the staple foods which fit with my cultural traditions, into a hairdresser’s shop and find someone who can cut my hair.
46. I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color and have them more or less match my skin.
This is just one type of privilege that I as a white person benefit from. I also have heterosexual privilege working for me ( heterosexual privileges, if you want to play the list game for this one too). As a woman, I have male privilege working against me. For individual people, different sets of privileges can overlap and cancel each other out, but that does not change the fact that privilege exists. One of the key points in the idea of privilege is that often times these advantages are not acknowledged and in some cases they are even denied and the people that experience them are offended. It’s important to understand that privilege and racism (and classism, sexism, various other -isms) are different things; one can benefit from white privilege without being a racist individual, one can recognize the effects of male privilege without hating all men.
So now that we understand the concept of privilege as a whole, let’s talk about my favorite type of privilege, Christian privilege. Why is it my favorite? Because it’s the one that I have to deal with the most often, even more often than male privilege, and it is the one that I am not allowed to say anything about at the risk of offending someone’s beliefs. I can call out instances of male privileges without being condemned to hell, the same cannot be said of Christian privilege because of the respect that religion expects. Douglas Adams said it better than I ever could:
Religion … has certain ideas at the heart of it which we call sacred or holy or whatever. What it means is, ‘Here is an idea or a notion that you’re not allowed to say anything bad about; you’re just not. Why not? — because you’re not!’ If somebody votes for a party that you don’t agree with, you’re free to argue about it as much as you like; everybody will have an argument but nobody feels aggrieved by it. If somebody thinks taxes should go up or down you are free to have an argument about it. But on the other hand if somebody says ‘I mustn’t move a light switch on a Saturday’, you say, ‘I respect that’.
Why should it be that it’s perfectly legitimate to support the Labour party or the Conservative party, Republicans or Democrats, this model of economics versus that, Macintosh instead of Windows — but to have an opinion about how the Universe began, about who created the Universe … no, that’s holy? … We are used to not challenging religious ideas but it’s very interesting how much of a furore (Richard Dawkins) creates when he does it! Everybody gets absolutely frantic about it because you are not allowed to say such things. Yet when you look at it rationally there is no reason why those ideas shouldn’t be as open to debate as any other, except that we have agreed somehow between us that they shouldn’t be.
Well now I am in a place where I do not have to keep quiet. I still feel the need to start out my post with a warning about possible offensive content, but I do not need to keep quiet about it. Here are some examples of Christian privilege that I see in my own daily life:
Should I keep on going, or is that enough for now?
So here is a little try-at-home activity for everyone. If you’re a Christian, keep this list in mind during your day and see how many of the benefits you reap. Step outside the box for a moment and think about the possibility that you might encounter people today that don’t want to be wished a Happy Easter. Bonus points if you can identify any other privileges that you experience simply because you are of the dominant religious group in the US. If you’re not a Christian and these privileges don’t benefit you, think about what sets of privileges you do benefit from and how they may affect the group on the other side.
Be mindful of your fellow Americans. We are not all Christian, white, and heterosexual. Just something to think about.