Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christian privilege

My friend in real life and blogger friend, Rod aka hOOdie_R, has been writing a lot more about white privilege. He's spoken out regularly and recently even this week "about the history of white supremacy as a worldwide system." The activism, the confrontation of and dismantling of privilege that is systemic can be tricky, he notes.

“In spite of our activism, we benefit from global economic structures of oppression,” he quotes womanist and relational theologian Karen Baker-Fletcher as saying. And there are layers of benefits from the system and structures, because one finds oneself participating in it and in them. Privilege is relative. Whiteness benefits those who claim it, and those who can ride its coat tails. And so hOOdie_R finds himself, with his own male privilege that he confesses, quoting this woman at length. She finds herself saying with profound humility in her essay, “A Womanist Journey,” these things:
Sexism, racism, classism, heterosexism, ableism, and ecological destruction are interrelated systems of oppression in womanist understanding.... The masses of black women in the United States work in the lowest paying jobs and struggle to feed their children. They have not benefited from higher education with its economic opportunities. Middle-class womanists in academia, like myself, experience less economic oppression than many poor black women in the United States and abroad. [my emphasis]
I do hope you've stayed with me so far. Maybe my title has piqued your interest as I talk at first about hOOdie_R's writings about white privilege.

I'm writing this post because I'm up at night. I'm up anyways and reading Rachel Held Evans's latest blog-guest post by Marlena Graves, who self identifies in public as "a Spanish-speaking Hispanic woman."

Ms. Graves is up at night, kept up. And it's another self-identity that keeps her up. This is tricky, I must write. Like white privilege, it's Christian privilege.

Now, let me quickly self identify. You, dear reader, must know where I'm coming from. And do know where you're reading from.

I'm a cis hetero sexual white male able-bodied homosapien. I find myself most waking moments of most days a theist with trinitarian leanings because I appreciate a kind kind of god if i have to have one, since I have to, and a transcendent one may just be the immanent one who is the kindest sort of homosapien. I could have just used the loaded term "incarnation." but i like Greek based English more than latin based english, even though I hate the word Christian. (I do appreciate the Bible very much, and yet I confess that others have influenced that very very much, which my blogger friend Suzanne has called "very feminist.")

Identities fascinate me, especially when they're self identities. So what are yours? I hate them when they're systemically imposed. Have any of those?

Well, let's get to Christian privilege. I think it's what Ms. Graves is struggling with. Before we get right into what she says keeps her up at night, let me just remind that Ms. Graves is one who finds white male Christian pastors like Mark Driscoll useful individuals to consult as she gives her own Christianity Today advice to Christian women about female masturbation. I am not just trying to shock you, dear reader, with sex. I know it's a sensationalist sort of thing to do to bring attention to that. And yet do see here how layered and woven together these systems of ideas might just be. Sex is powerful. Whiteness is powerful. Christianity is powerful.

And Ms. Graves struggles as she explains to Christian readers of Rachel Held Evans's blog why she fasted for families:
There are nights when I lie awake wondering about what sort of Christian I really am.
I mean, there’s the Christian I think I am and then the kind I actually am. When push comes to shove, would I have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy and the subsequent ethnic cleansing that occurred as we made our way from sea to shining sea? Would I have been an abolitionist, actively and publicly standing against slavery and then voicing strong opposition to the eminently wicked Jim Crow laws that ensued after the Civil War? Am I the type who would’ve hidden the Jews during the Holocaust? These nights I wonder if I would’ve labored for civil rights, standing in solidarity with Martin Luther King Jr. and my other brothers and sisters. Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?
Notice that Ms. Graves is self identifying as Christian. She's the sort of Christian blogger who is now an apologist for activism. This allows her to wear her other self identity "hispanic woman," which is not the one she usually has to wear around Christians. At her own blog she's "a lover of beauty" and "a justice seeker" and an answer seeker and married to a man and mother to their children and a reader (with 14 favorite authors who are all Christians, save perhaps poet Mary Oliver).

Would she have supported Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal policy as a Christian? Notice what's implicit in this question: Christian privilege. There's no recognition here that somebody like Galagi’na Watie, a Cherokee also named Elias Boudinot, might have been also Christian as he initially vehemently spoke against the removal. But what's being Christian have to do with this sort of activism. Ms. Graves is not identifying with Mr. Watie aka Mr. Boudinot in any way.

Would she have been an abolitionist and then an opponent of the Jim Crow laws? Clearly she's not an enslaved person because of her race. Obviously she would not have lost anything being a white hispanic due to the American racist law. Does Christian privilege allow her to be an activist then? The presumption is that Christians have the choice here about whether to act or not. The presumption is that most Christians were not blacks enslaved, or if they were African Americans who were also Christians in the minority, then they had a choice to be happy with the law and a choice not to sing the blues (as the Duck Dynasty patriarch so infamously has insinuated by his "coarse" explanations of his Christian privilege, to which he's entitled, as a white man in America).

Would she have hidden the Jews? Like Corrie Ten Boom? Like all those who kept the Franks safe as long as they could in the Achterhuis? This is a question for non-Jewish Christians? Like it was for say Dietrich Bonhoeffer? Christian privilege allows this? This sort of opt in or out of social justice? This sort of need to explain one's own activism, to other Christians, on Christian blogs? As if it's more about one's Christian identity than it is about racist horrors against individuals, millions upon millions?

She wonders at night in this nation where there's a holiday in the first month of every new year to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his leadership and his activism. Wasn't he a Christian? Yes, and she acknowledges him so as her brother with "my other brothers and sisters." King was constantly calling out the white Christians, the white Christian pastors and leaders, who failed to work for the civil rights of all. And yet there is the Christian privilege that asks, that possesses the very privilege to ask, "Or would I take my cue from those in the church who opposed them?"

I'm encouraged by the conversations, by my friends, by Rod aka hOOdie_R to examine my own self. To examine the systems that I identify with or am caught in even caught up in. My privilege requires, to use a Christian phrase, my repentance.