Friday, 1 July 2016

Pride and Privilege

This photo appeared on my Facebook wall this morning. It has been produced by Conservative Post, a seemingly US-based news outlet whose mission (according to its Facebook page) is ‘to spread Conservative values [presumably US Conservative values] to the world’. Not so long ago, I would have read the captions on this picture and nodded in silent agreement. I wouldn’t deny anyone the right or the opportunity to be ‘proud’ of who they are, but for me—a white, cisgendered, and probably middle-class (with working-class roots, I hasten to add) man—well, I shouldn’t need to be made to feel ashamed of who I am. I should be ‘proud’ to be white, straight, and male! But these days a picture such as this one makes me uncomfortable. This is how I now perceive the background that leads to the expression of this kind of sentiment:

  • white people (especially white men) have held positions of power and privilege for centuries;
  • the world, for better or for worse, is arguably more aware of difference and alterity these days;
  • along with this awareness comes a desire to treat differences equally and/or fairly;
  • the elevation (intentional or otherwise) of those who had been in low(er) social positions to high(er) social positions is an effect of this desire;
  • those who had been in power (and who, for the most part, are still in power) are now threatened by such social elevation, for it presumes and warrants the sharing of power and privilege;
  • and this results in the perceived disenfranchisement of those who are, in reality, still in power.

I don’t know how fair this account is—I suspect that for the Conservative Post and similarly minded folk, this will simply be a laughably unconvincing analysis (though I would want to stress that what I’ve written above is hardly an analysis worthy of the name). But it’s a framework for understanding issues of privilege that makes sense to me. And, of course, it doesn’t just apply to matters of race or ethnicity—it relates to gender, disability, and probably a whole load of other things that I haven’t even noticed, let alone begun to appreciate.

I wanted to write something against this photo and the sentiment it expresses. I can understand it; but these days, I cannot see how the distribution of a captioned photo such as this one helps to promote peace in our fractured world. In my view, Christians, in all their diversity, need to stand against these sorts of attitudes because the body of Christ is not and cannot be homogeneous.


  1. I don't think we can begin to grasp the reality of the Servant King unless we recognise our own weaknesses, including that of privilege. Pride (which is often synonymous with privilege) is one of the most omnipresent - and least acknowledged - sins. 21st century Western culture frames its entire existence in terms of the self. I have had to figure this out for myself as it's so deeply engrained that we miss it. Jesus tells us to frame our existence in Him, by loving other people, whoever they are. It's the 'whoever they are' bit that's the hardest.

    FWIW I don't necessarily identify as feminist, which could be called female pride if it was on that list, because that just identifies a person in terms of their gender, even if it is positive. I would just say that I am against oppression in all its forms. On the other hand, I still think that rape should be considered a hate crime. So maybe I contradict myself. But that too is something that we all do, this side of paradise.

  2. Paul McLaughlan2 July 2016 at 23:49

    I think that there are a number of straight, white men who are currently homeless who would wonder what special privileges they have. Also who might be confused as to why they might go to the back of the queue for help because lots of people who look like him have used up his quota of sympathy. We need to see that everyone has the same intrinsic value and actually see past the outer shell.

    1. I don't think I'm talking about individuals within a group as such, Paul; it's more about the systemtic nature of these things. Why is it that white men tend to be the ones who make the 'rules' which everyone else must follow? Is there a chance that the 'rules' are biased heavily in favour of preserving white (male) privilege?

      Homelessness, I'd suggest, is a slightly different kettle of fish, because I dare say that the reasons for the homelessness of the straight, white men you mention have little to do with their being straight, white or men. I'm speaking ignorantly here, of course, so I would ask you to come back at me with some instances you know where the homeless were made so by virtue of their skin colour, gender, and sexual orientation.

      I agree, though, that we need to see that everyone has the same intrinsic value, but I would be very hesitant to describe the skin as merely the outer shell. If God truly has made a world in which diversity is good even among humans, then for me this stance is tantamount to imposing a kind of uniformity or homogeneity on humanity, where everyone must look the same in order to be treated fairly. I also think it's slightly Gnostic insofar as it could be taken to mean that the body doesn't matter.