Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Things I Don't Have to Think About

I'm thankful that because of the work I do, I get to think about things I may not otherwise consider. The knowledge I have can feel like a burden sometimes: thoughts about oppressions and the way my own behavior plays into larger structures that work well for some and horribly for many others. Most often, I fit into categories where the system favors me, where any burden I carry is actually pretty light: I'm white, American, Christian, heterosexual, middle-class, well-educated, able-bodied, reasonably attractive; I'm sure there are more categories I could add. All of these offer me credibility, safety, and/or access to certain things that other people can't take for granted.

Recently I've been revising one of our programs, a Christian-Muslim dialogue.  As no one on our staff is Muslim, I've had the opportunity to talk to a number of Muslims, getting their feedback on changes I'm proposing. I want to make sure that what we're offering will work for Christians and Muslims alike and I'm aware that there is a lot I don't know and that I don't necessarily know what I don't know.

So I ask: Will this work? Will this offend? Is this appropriate? The Muslims I've talked to have been gracious with their time and knowledge, being both honest and kind, even when offering critical feedback. They've been generous in affirming this work, stressing the importance of creating opportunities for people to build bridges instead of walls, to connect people across boundaries (in this case, religious boundaries). 

In the course of this work, I've bumped up against my own privilege numerous times. A few months ago I re-posted an article on Facebook that listed many ways Christians in the U.S. experience privilege. One person replied that the article wasn't true (I'm fairly certain he didn't open the article). Another replied in a way that showed that he had neither read the article nor understood the concept of privilege as a social construct that affords some people unearned benefits that others don't have. I didn't have the energy to respond to them. 

One of the lovely people I've met recently told me a little story about how when she was living in Chicago, Best Buy had an Eid sale (Eid is a Muslim holiday). People were up in arms, writing nasty letters and threatening to boycott the store. Apparently, it is only OK to honor certain religious (aka Christian) holidays in our supposedly secular society. And so...

In an effort to keep myself cognizant of my Christian privilege (in the U.S.) and to invite you (if you are Christian and living in a Christian-dominant culture) to do the same, I offer this (incomplete) list for us to chew on: 

*1.      I can easily hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion.

2.     It is likely that state and federal holidays coincide with my religious practices, thereby having little to no impact on my job and/or education.

3.      I do not need to educate my children to be aware of religious persecution for their own daily physical and emotional protection.

4.      I can easily find academic courses and institutions that give attention only to people of my religion.

5.      I am never asked to speak for all people of my religious group.

6.      I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a “credit to my religion” or being singled out as being different from other members of my religious group.

7.      I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence and importance of my religion.

8.      I can protect myself (and my children) from people who may not like me (or them) based on my religion.

9.      I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help, my religion will not work against me.

10. I can safely assume that an authority figure, including elected and unelected officials of my government, will generally be someone of my religion.

11. I can be sure that people are knowledgeable enough about the holidays in my religion to be able to greet me with the appropriate holiday greeting.

12. I can openly display my religious symbol(s) on my person or property without fear of disapproval, violence, and/or vandalism.

13. I can feel confident that I will receive fair and due process under the law and will not be detained or interrogated due to my religious identity; in addition, if I am on trial, a “jury of my peers” will likely share my religious identity.

14. Law enforcement officials will likely assume I am a non-threatening person if my religion is disclosed to them. In fact, disclosure may actually help law enforcement officials perceive me as being “in the right” or “unbiased.”

15. I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others.

16. I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group.

17. If I wish, I can usually or exclusively be among those from my religious group most of the time (in work, school, or at home).

18. I can assume that my safety, or the safety of my family, will not be put in jeopardy by disclosing my religion to others at work or at school.

19. It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively.

20. It is likely that I can find items to buy that represent my religious norms and holidays with relative ease (e.g., food, decorations, greeting cards, etc.).

21. I can speak or write about my religion, even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal.

22. My citizenship and immigration status will likely not be questioned, and my background will likely not be investigated, because of my religion.

23. If I wish to give my children an education from my religious tradition, I probably have a variety of options nearby.

24. My religious holidays are so completely “normal” that, in many ways, they may appear to no longer have any religious significance at all.

25. Construction of worship spaces of my faith will likely not be perceived as threatening.

26. The central figure of my religion is used as a major point of reference for my calendaring system (i.e. B.C. and A.D. as well as B.C.E and C.E).

27. I can define the belief system of, and/or its practice by, another group, regardless of my level of knowledge of it.  

My hope is that with my growing awareness, I will more willingly shoulder a larger part of the burden and thereby lighten the load of those who don't have a choice about what weighs them down. My hope is that I'll use the advantages I have to help those who the system works against. My hope is that with "the odds ever in my favor," I can do something so that others don't have the odds stacked so firmly against them. My hope is that I'll keep learning.

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