Privilege is an interesting concept and for a lot of people, it’s one that’s rather new. Privilege refers to a person’s group of characteristics (beliefs, customs, physical attributes, etc.) that align with the dominant group, culture or system of belief. For example, the dominant culture in the U.S. stems from a long history of people from England and other Western European countries. However, this culture has changed throughout the history of the U.S.. The best example of privilege in the U.S. is how caucasian people have treated others since they came to North America.
When Europeans came to North America, they claimed it as their own even though Native Americans and other indigenous groups were present. They claimed the land and quickly treated others with different language, skin color and beliefs as less than equal to them. This resulted in a genocide against Native Americans and even to this day this truth is pushed out of the minds and consciousness of those here in the U.S.. We also have slavery and racism and these beliefs are based on privilege and an assumption that one person’s way of life and characteristics are superior to another’s. And this is an important point for everyone to understand because we all have privilege.
As a white heterosexual male, I have privilege in the dominant culture because I am never forced to think about how I don’t see and meet others who are similar to me. However, the smaller social systems or groups that I enter into impact my level of privilege. If I am in a predominantly Latino or African-American community, I have little to no privilege on this smaller scale. However, the larger privileges that I have remain so both can exist in our minds at the same time.
What results from privilege is a level of ignorance as to the experience of another. For those who say Merry Christmas to the individuals and families that do not celebrate this holiday or ever wish to, privilege is revealed. When we speak of getting married as though everyone can do it, we are demonstrating our privilege and ignorance because not everyone can get married who wishes to in the U.S.. While privilege is a natural thing and again, we all have privilege in various situations, we must need to become more aware of it so that we can live more harmoniously.
At the moment, many are fighting against racial, cultural and sexual privilege but I believe that we need to start emphasizing religious privilege. We speak of it and talk around it in a variety of ways but I think that we need to label it. Christians are the privileged group and there is a great deal of discrimination and invalidation of others on this basis. I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that I am lesser than equal because I am a non-Christian. And I have witnessed, so many times, others being belittled and downright insulted on this basis. Christians are well-known to treat non-Christians as missing something and incomplete in some way. There is a great deal of arrogance and ignorance that enables this to occur. What could help address this is for the privileged to think about how other people are different and to attempt to put them in their shoes.
What if Christians were the minority and treated as dumb, delusional or being misguided? If the dominant culture treated Christians this way it would also be wrong. The goal is to learn how to become less self-centered or egocentric. We need to think of others more. A small start would be to stop telling people Happy Easter or Merry Christmas. It’s a simple thing and one can just say it to those who they know celebrate it. When a Buddhist holiday comes around I don’t force this on to people because it’s my thing. It’s also something that I share with people that I know. So I only acknowledge this in the proper contexts. We don’t have to change our wording but we can refrain from saying anything. Out of respect for others, let’s let it go. Those who are in the minority have done this for ages and ages…the privileged need to do the same.
So please think about your privilege and talk about it with others, regardless of how you are privileged. This is how humanity will mature and how it needs to mature if it is to survive. In this way, we also need to consider our human privilege in relation to others species and the environment but I will save this for another post.