Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Being a responsible WASP male without the guilt

I've been thinking about privilege, power and responsibility of late. I'm someone whose been born white, male and in a first world country with a solid economy, so I'm well ahead of most of the world. Born into a working class family, education has helped me into the middle class - though like many hardly rolling in it.

Likewise I more or less fit the WASP mold. I am white (painfully so in the Australian sun), but more Anglo-Celt I think thank Saxon. And yes, as a member of the Anglican Church, a Protestant. As a label it fits ok.

Sometimes the Right (labels again I know, but work with me) accuses the Left of being whiny (which it can be) and of insisting that people like me live with guilt all of the time. It seems the only ones that can be maligned are people like me. What the privileged Right don't get respectively is that one can be aware of privilege and how it has arisen without a self flagellating guilt. What the sometimes whiny Left don't get is that we didn't choose to be part of the system and don't bear the entire guilt of it simply by being born privileged.

What I think is required is twofold. The first is to become aware of your advantage. I'm a male so I don't usually fear rape or sexual assault. Women often fear this. Be aware of this. It doesn't mean confessing I'm a closet rapist or assenting to an "all men are rapists" mantra. It does mean that the world is tilted in my favor by my gender. Likewise, in many walks of life having a penis means I can earn more than a human without one. That's not my fault, but I need to see that this wrong exists.

Likewise, understanding that to be white often means living on lands that have been taken from others, usually non-whites. Australia was stolen from its first inhabitants - accompanied by frontier wars and people being corralled into missions. In the USA, this included deliberately infecting people with diseases. I didn't take part in this sort of thing, but continue to benefit from stolen land.

Finally (but not exhaustively), global capitalism seems to insist on inequality to work; hence my clothing, electrical devices and so on. I'm part of a system that benefits me more than those who made my stuff, and those who own the companies who made the stuff more than me.

So I actually do need to feel sorry about this, without browbeating myself all of the time. It's a fact that many things are shit. Which leads me to the second half. How to be a responsible WASP male without the guilt. I'm happy to be who I am, but I might pause at using the word pride because of the unavoidable overtones it invokes. It's hard for me to be really persecuted at this point in history. Black pride makes more sense to me (than it does to those of the white pride perspective) because of the way in which history and socioeconomics and politics makes black people in many places a "minority", even if they are not numerically (think about apartheid South Africa).

So knowing this means it isn't Left or being a "champagne Socialist" to want to see the system change to rebalance inequalities. I believe in equal rights for women in the home, workplace and church because of my theology and not in spite of it - while still not seeing men and women as identical - we are equal.

Likewise, as all humans are as I read it made "in the image of God" all are afforded that dignity. What is often termed "social justice" is just justice, treating people as best elevates them to that dignity. This means aid to those who suffer from the system and changing it where possible. This means that "lifters and leaners" is unhelpful terminology, and blaming those who are poor can be (and mostly is) baseless. Criticising welfare to the many who need it on the basis of the few who rort it (while companies rort tax systems) is very myopic.

The us and them spirit invoked by "illegal immigrants" (when it is not illegal to seek asylum), "queue jumpers" (where there is no queue), etc denies people's basic humanity, our international obligations and forgets our privileged position carries with it a responsibility.

So I'm just some smart arsed white male blogger with a bleeding heart. Or maybe I'm on the slow process of looking at the world around me and recognising I'm in a good place to use my privilege for the good of others; not because people want to be the object of my charity or my do-gooding, but because I have no other choice ethically and should have no other motivation than to love my neighbour as I do myself - precisely because I love God.

1 comment:

Nigel Chapman said...

Is it worth using some partial Biblical precedents for recognizing privilege and residual power differences: Being rich; being strong (incl. in conscience); being a free person rather than a slave; having Roman citizenship or Jewish heritage?