This is a companion post to the identity one about the Michael Kimmel talk. I keep coming back to his audience’s (virtually all white women) laughter and knowing looks about his examples of privilege: There was a black woman and a white woman. The white woman said, “All women face the same oppression as women. All women are similarly situated in patriarchy, and therefore all women have a kind of intuitive solidarity or sisterhood.” And the black woman said, “I’m not so sure. Let me ask you a question.” So the black woman says to the white woman, “When you wake up in the morning and you look in the mirror, what do you see?” And the white woman said, “I see a woman.” And the black woman said, “You see, that’s the problem for me. Because when I wake up in the morning and I look in the mirror,” she said, “I see a black woman. To me, race is visible. But to you, race is invisible. You don’t see it.” And then she said something really startling. She said, “That’s how privilege works. Privilege is invisible to those who have it.” It is a luxury, I will say to the white people sitting in this room, not to have to think about race every split second of our lives.
Privilege is invisible to those who have it. It certainly is: Do you ever look in the mirror and say, “thank you?” For what you ask? How about for starters, being a citizen of this country, or even living here. That is quite a privilege in this world. “But what if I am a person of color, or a woman, or LGBT?” So you have nothing to be grateful for? Because of “structural” inequality and racism? You could have been born in almost any Islamic country, and worn a burqa all your adult life; you could have been born in Mauritania, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Iran, or Afghanistan, all of which impose the death penalty for homosexual acts, or India, Pakistan, Malaysia and most countries in Africa, where homosexuality is illegal! The modern response to my perspective is usually a sneer or incredulity, that they should be grateful for a privilege they didn’t earn, even as they mock “white privilege”, because they don’t appreciate what they have. The most unappreciative are those who have not suffered real privation somewhere else, primarily native born Americans. That’s not to say that native born Americans don’t suffer, rather that they don’t notice one of the most significant privileges of their life.
Do you think you are a victim because your ancestors were forcibly brought here from Africa? Or because you see your race in the mirror? Those ancestors were victims, but you? The majority of slaves in the United States came from Senegal, Ghana, Liberia, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. How would you like to wake up in Senegal, look in a mirror that wasn’t cracked by gunfire, and have to hope your cistern collected enough water to drink during a recent rain, because lack of sanitation systems and potable water compete with corruption and disease for your attention every day…..but you’re a victim? Or you could be waking up in Liberia, one of the poorest, most corrupt and crime-ridden countries in the world, or Nigeria and worry about your kids being kidnapped by Boko Haram? “But you don’t understand, things are hard in the USA for people of color. That’s structural racism!” Let’s see about this color thing. Median 2018 household (census) incomes for various skin tones: Indian $122,034; Asian $80,349; White $57,617; Hispanics $46,882; Black $38,555. Hmm, aren’t a lot of Indians (from India, that is) very brown, even darker than many “blacks”? Or is income related to something else? Homes without biological fathers: Blacks 57.6%; Hispanics 31.2%; Whites 20.7%. Sorry, couldn’t find data on fatherless homes for Indians and Asians, probably because there are so few.
Then there’s women, the really “oppressed” group in America. According to a 2012 Pew research study, 10% (white), 12% (black) and 13% (hispanic) more women than men were enrolled in college, while among Asians the gap was only 3%, but still in favor of women. In African and Islamic countries, the “gender gap” is more extreme, in the other direction. Literacy rates for women are far lower than for men. “Oppression” of women in the United States is measured by the gender gap in pay and positions of authority. I do believe that income should be a function of job performance, not gender, but I have no power to change the inequality. But oppression? Oppression for countless women in the world is things like forced abortion, genital mutilation, kidnapping and rape by Islamic extremists like Boko Haram, ISIS, and Al Shabab, being a prisoner at home unless accompanied by a male relative, gang rape on public buses while the Indian government looks the other way, being beaten for going to school. If you’re a Christian woman in almost any country in the Middle East or Africa, heaven help you.
The mirror lies, because you only see what you want or what you fear, not who you are, and especially don’t see what could have been, if you weren’t so fortunate. Yes, privilege is taken for granted, so what. Were you born into a family of two parents who put you first and cared for each other? You are privileged. If your parents tried to convey the gospel of grace through Jesus Christ, you are even more privileged. Did you appreciate it, or take it for granted, or complain because you didn’t always get what you want? I am a melanin challenged (i.e. white) male who has worked hard 6 days a week for over 50 years. Is that a privilege? Yes, because any honest work is a gift of God. Am I wealthy, or even comfortable? No, my privilege wasn’t enough to overcome some bad decisions. So what? If someone is more privileged than you, what is that an excuse for? Grow up, be a leader. As my hero Booker T. said, “cast down your bucket where you are.”