Ramblings while childsitting… I apologize for the terseness, grammar, and abstraction in this post. A brutha is multitasking and I’m trying to keep these thought exercises as raw as possible…
One of the worst habits of humanity is the belief that one’s experience (not interpretation) of a phenomenon is EVERYONE’S experience. To live with that habit without it ever crashing and burning in front of you is the definition of privilege. When you add the social reality of injustice, poverty, race, and violence into the mix, this habit becomes an attempt to justify an unjust status quo that works for some but not for others.
I’m typing this while watching my youngest daughter play and thinking about the world she will inherit after reflecting upon that DOJ Report on the Baltimore Police.
This habit is sinful. Yeah. I said it. I’ve talked a lot about injustice, death, injury, death, and absurdity. But don’t think I’m hiding from the “S-word.” Sin is a word that doesn’t need to be thrown around too lightly or it loses its precision and depth. The West, following Augustine, diluted the power of sin through the concept of Original Sin and all of its siblings. I’m not interested in reliving the past or having Augustinian/Pelagian debates on this blog. So I will digress.
Sin is damage and murder; sin covers up and justifies the damage and death it brings; and demonically speaking, the spiritual side of sin possesses us in a way that allows us to present what is harmful and death-dealing as life-giving and meaningful. Sinful acts harm and kill (at least) two fundamental things: life and interrelationship.
Instead of asking what sin is, I believe it’s much more helpful to talk about what sin does. But (Catholic and Protestant) Churches talk and talked about sin so much that this precision was lost… And we turned sin primarily into an offense against God. Theologically, we turned a verb into a noun–encasing sin forever in the identity of “sinner” and quieting sin as a volitional and social act. The Western Church (which I am indebted to) universalized sin by making us all sinners, but simultaneously, many folks lost the capacity to sustainably decry and identify the plight of the sinned-against, particularly the socially sinned-against. Because there are no socially sinned-against group when everyone is a sinner. (Read this book; it’ll strengthen your soul.) Hence, we find it hard to discover why/how many of our social relationships have been marred by sin. The power of sin is that even our concepts of sin–no matter how insightful–allowed for the justification and cover-up of social injustice. Sinful. But that’s what happens when you take one group’s experience of sin as exhaustive and excommunicate or ignore others.
I am an inheritor of this tradition. But I’m trying to pass on something different to those who are coming after me.
She’s really into that Quiet Bunny book… Even though she’s 15 months old.
That habit (of acting as if my experience or my group’s experience of a phenomenon is exhaustive and applies to all persons or groups) remains a sinful act. This habitual act harms and kills the life experience of others (personally and collectively) by effectively ignoring and/or silencing their life experience. Sinful. This habitual act harms and kills relationships because in order to ignore and silence another’s life experience, one must place a mental, emotional, and social distance between the other. This distance is achieved through an act of sin–an act of cover-up and justification.
Concretely, there are those who do not accept that the state administers “justice” differently based upon race. All the stats in the world won’t convince them. Personal testimonies won’t convince them. Video evidence won’t convince them. The justification is that those who were killed or locked up in disproportionate numbers were somehow deserving. The cover-up is the attempt to paint the justice of the state as blind (though it look like she got one eye open and her other eye is winking). What must I do to practice such justifications and lies? I must not really know you and embrace you as a human being and worthy of my consideration. Therefore, I feel no moral obligation, outage, or responsibility to do something in the midst of social injustice. I achieve this level of apathy by placing various forms of distance between us that weaken and erase bonds of relationship. To sin is to lacerate and chainsaws relationships in a way that leads or contributes to harm and death.
If I don’t have to learn and navigate other worlds and experiences in order to function while others must learn and navigate mine in order to live–this is when privilege moves from outright advantage to outright oppression.
And for those who read this blog, you know that I have no love for modern constructions of racial identity so this is not race-baiting.
But let me think about social privilege for a hot minute.
Social Privilege is when I can live a life rather “successfully” without bothering to know the rules and experiences by which others live. There are other ways to speak about privilege but this is a key point. Privilege is not hatred, though it can lead to hatred. Nor is privilege necessarily mean-spirited. But what privilege is and what it shall forever remain is competitive advantage. But–to coin a phrase from Obama–let me be clear. If I don’t have to learn and navigate other worlds and experiences in order to function while others must learn and navigate mine in order to live–this is when privilege moves from outright advantage to outright oppression.
She’s done playing by herself and is looking at me with those eyes. G2G….
This nation privileges all kinds of things; but the rule is always the same. Those things that are not privileged must play by the rules of what is privileged. Sometimes we privilege contradictory things and become a bit crazed in the process. But I’m rambling now…
The status quo will not be resisted or overcome by privileging the concepts and habits of the status quo. And those who suffer under the status quo are ever tempted to mimic the privilege and (sinful) habit of the status quo in order to get relief or to gain success. These options are understandable. But inevitably, those who do so are possessed by the spiritual forces that created the status quo. The slave becomes the slave master.
The biblical definition of repentance is helpful here. The original definition is not to feel bad, sorry, or guilty about a sin committed. The original definition means to “turn back.” Sin is an action that places us on a certain path. Repentance is also an action that turns us to a different path. To repent of privilege is to turn back, to return to life and relationship, to return to a place that recognizes that we experience phenonoma differently. Sometimes repentance requires conversion. Conversion not simply or only finding God and changing our perspective. Conversion also means finding ourselves and others as we struggle to live and love ourselves, others, the Divine, and this Planet that gives us life.
My daughters are listening and dancing to Nujabes…
Faith, Hope, and Love
©2016 M. J. Sales