I’m finding myself thinking a lot about the Privilege I carry. Privilege is one of those words that has the potential to become a “buzz word,” something thrown about by people without necessary understanding of what it means.
I know that there are a few articles out there already exploring this topic, but as I prepared for the recent Christmas holiday I found myself thinking a lot about the way this term really solidifies my understanding when I think about it in terms of Christian Privilege.
I do consider myself a Christian (though it is a complicated designation to claim – particularly in my own understanding of my Christianity. It’s backed by some pretty intense theological reflection and study on my part and likely not in the same understanding of the word “Christian” that many hold). For the sake of simplicity, I am – at the very least – “culturally Christian.” My heritage traces back to strong Protestant roots in all directions (including a number of Christian ministers in not-so-distant generations).
Included in this heritage are individuals who fought for their religious beliefs — including tracing back to the Allerton family of the Mayflower on my paternal side, and the Mennonite Yoder’s (Hans Yoder of Great Swamp for the genealogically inclined Yoder descendants out there) on my maternal side. I was raised celebrating Christmas and Easter. Every night I recited a grace at dinner that included the trinity (Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts….). I was baptized and celebrated Christmas parties and had Christmas break from school.
Even if there were times in my life when I didn’t believe in a God, even if there were times in my life where I rejected the label of “Christian,” the reality is that I lived in a Christian culture. My major holidays were days where almost everything was closed. The expectation was that people were home with their families and/or friends on Christmas day. Christmas trees and Christmas lights (pagan roots, but I’m not getting into the history lesson right now!) were everywhere, and the songs of the holiday are blasted from nearly every speaker you can find.
Here in the United States we are not a Christian Nation. Despite the rhetoric and convictions of some, there is no state religion. The lore of our country is that we were founded on the tenants of religious freedom (again, the history lessons are being reserved for elsewhere), and the first amendment of our Constitution protects this freedom.
So, let me talk some about this Christian Privilege.
Privilege is defined as “a right or immunity granted as a particular benefit, advantage, or favor: such as a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office.” In the case of Christian privilege this is seen in the fact that, as earlier mentioned, the Christian holidays are automatically given more weight. While it is generally now referred to as a “Winter Break,” schools are nearly universally closed for a few weeks around the end of December.
I remember watching Muslim students at the university where I work having to take final exams while they were fasting for Ramadan…. Final exams during one of the holy celebrations — can you imagine the outcry if children had to go to school on Christmas day? And the Jewish High Holy Days don’t receive any special consideration in our culture (aside from those, such as Passover, which happen to fall close to the Christian celebrations because – well – Jesus was Jewish).
And these are just the two other Abrahamic religions. This isn’t getting into the realities of those who are Hindu, Pagan, practice non-christianized Native American spirituality, or are atheist.
Since the 1950’s the Pledge of Allegiance has included the phrase “one nation, under God.” Our money is printed with the words “in God we Trust.”
If you are Christian (or culturally-Christian), then you have the advantage of knowing that there is a good chance that you will have December 25th off from work (even in the case of many jobs, such as retail, where there seems to be no days that are deserving of being closed). In some regions of the country there’s a good chance that Sunday’s will be a day when many stores and restaurants are closed (because Sunday is, after all, a Holy Day in the Christian church).
This is not intended to make those who do have this Christian privilege to feel guilty. But, rather, to perhaps inspire some additional reflection. Part of the challenge of the concept of Privilege is wrapping one’s head around what it means – and this is an example that has helped me to understand it.
This isn’t saying that I haven’t had struggles and challenges in my own life. It is simply recognizing that a piece of my personal identity is granted an instant advantage on a deeply embedded, institutional and societal level.
There are layers to this Privilege concept, of course.
As a Christian-type-person I don’t have to be concerned about what kind of day-to-day life expectations will get in the way of my Christmas celebration.
As a white person I don’t face instant judgement, profiling, microaggressions and long-embedded obstacles that a person of color has to deal with.
As a woman there are things that I have to think about and be concerned about that men don’t have to think about.
As a cisgender individual I don’t have to worry that something as basic as my gender identity is going to be questioned and challenged.
As a heterosexual individual I don’t have to face down people who tell me that I am somehow wrong in loving who I love.
As someone who has been raised in a primarily middle-class household I have seldom worried about having a roof over my head, warmth against the cold, or food on my table.
As someone raised in a family with long traditions of higher education on both sides of the family I was surrounded by books and learning from an early age, and encouraged in my personal educational pursuits — school was able to come before work.
As an individual of predominantly Western-European heritage that can trace far back in the founding and formation of the United States(I am 1/4 Polish, but the Polish immigrants very thoroughly focused on Americanizing themselves) I have never had to endure being told to “go back to where I came from.”
As a life-long English speaker (who has failed at attempts to learn another language), I have never faced criticism for speaking the language I am comfortable with.
As an individual with no mobility disabilities I don’t have to worry about if a location is accessible.
These are very basic and hugely simplified examples — but it is a start to understanding this concept. Recognizing the privilege one has is hugely important – and it’s something that deserves much deeper exploration. But right now, I just hope that those of you who are celebrating Christmas this weekend can take a moment to recognize the ways in which you do hold privilege.
To be able to see these and recognize instances of privilege that you hold means you are able to enter into conversations with an understanding of those ways that you perceive and understand the world. It allows you to start seeing the ways that societal institutions benefit – or challenge – certain groups of people.
There are many who have already spoken at length about this concept, so I want to provide you with a few more articles to take a look.