Monday, November 10, 2014

Privilege Vs. Intersectionality

This isn't a religious #DailyProverbs. It's got scripture. It's got references, but it's not about spiritual things, per se. It's civil. It's about civil issues.

Warning, Disclosure and Bias Trigger: This is long. This won't be popular. I'm writing this as a Christian and from my perspective. I'm writing this as a person of diversity and faith. While I'm not really talking to any one group; I suppose I'm talking mainly to people that already identify as Christian, and also to those that are detractors of community organization, intersectionality, and truly level-setting expectations in working collaboratively. Most of the people that already know all of this, are feeling some of the same frustrations I feel. I am certainly not #mansplaining it to the women that work for equality. But I hope that women and all races that assume mixed or pale men can't help will listen and work together.

Everyone is usually happy with others, until they don't get something they want from them. That's a huge generalization, meant to cover a wide variety of things from work, business, social circles, school, and ministry. People want or need something; you give them the service or the product. They are happy; thus, you are well-received and liked.

The issue comes into play when you say no. Or when you note that you can't. Or, even if you won't. Maybe you disagree. Or maybe your priorities conflict with their priorities. If you can't make a service because you are previously committed to another event, sometimes that causes hardship on the person that needed you. But what of the other commitment? You can't back out on that either. YOU have to manage your schedule and your priorities. You cannot blame anyone else. YOU control your life. You will ONLY do or NOT do exactly what you want. If it is a priority, you will make it happen. If it is NOT a priority, you will let it slip. The same is true for ministry schedules, for work schedules, for making meetings and being present, for working on projects - even with those you don't like or with whom working can be difficult. If the end result is what matters to you and that is your priority - you will overlook some of the personality conflict. If the process or your own participation is your priority, you generally can become a problem yourself in the way you interact and work on a team. These conflicts may start off easily solvable and seemingly trivial. But with time, bitterness, and left unresolved - they become bigger stories in our head. They result from a sense of entitlement that people feel for your time and effort. The people assume you are available and they are upset when you are not. Or they begin to treat you differently, make comments or remarks that become increasingly aggressive or even untrue. They begin to confront you about conflicting priorities. Or they make it personal and not based on solving the issue of covering both events, both projects, or both issues. They make the issue about you and them, not ensuring both priorities are met. People really do just want you to do what they want. But, that's not always a realistic answer. you just can't operate in life that way. You still have to manage your resources and your time. You will find that in the management of your time and priorities, conflict happens. These feelings we are discussing today are a result from that privilege.

Sometimes, you have to get over yourself in ministry or work and make the end result your goal. Your personal glory, your personal recognition, and your personal pride have to, sometimes, be put on hold while you make choices for the larger community and the greater good. People in a church, that claim to be Christians are some of the very first to hurt you. Real hurt. Deep hurt. It's usually from the mouth. (James 3:5) The reality of working with other humans in business or ministry is that you may have to forego one priority, or re-prioritize, or even table it until the immediate priority is met for the greatest and farthest reaching effect. You cannot always be completely rigid in either process or policy when the end goal is a common policy, product, or event that will benefit the most people, with the most impact. Human nature is to prioritize our pet issues first and then address others. Real leaders have to weigh and balance the entirety and larger scope of a project before the needs of the few or one, or (most painful) personal goals.

What happens when workers, volunteers, team members won't compromise? What happens when they won't work together on all issues for all people for the common greater good? What happens when one team member shuts down or quits and the others have to pick up the slack? What happens when one musician in ministry will only do things when it's for larger services but not for small groups that really need help? What happens when it can't be spread across multiple people that could do a lot of good? What if it's always the same faithful workers and team members that give and work and pick up slack? If it cannot be resolved, resolutions must be made. Ties must be broken. Conversations must be had. Hard choices are made. Heavy is the head that wears the crown.

[The goal, however, is intersectionality.]

That's my personal goal in my relationships, work and ministry. And it's what I work towards in my life. The rest of this is written biased from the perspective that intersectionality is the best answer to many of the tensions we feel from conflicting priorities in activism, social change, and ministry.

I don't always make my legal, political and moral stances public because I was taught not to do that. I was raised that we didn't put signs in the yard for candidates. I was raised that we don't talk TOO in depth about politics. We may be bold and proud in our faith, but we don't proselytize and abuse our faith by flaunting it. I was raised not to talk about money. And to be honest, I was raised not to ask about money. My mother thought it was rude... and it was tacky to ask people how much things cost, or where they got something, or what they believed or thought about certain topics. You smiled in public and left your dirty laundry at home! It was both the best and worst upbringing because it was a classy and nice way to be; but society has changed so much that it's become moot and kind of useless in witnessing in ministry and cutting to the chase in social reform and policy. So, needless to say...

[It's safe to say I was raised with a fair amount of privilege.]

And?? So?? What does that even mean? It means that I get certain advantages because of my color, the amount of money I have, or am assumed to have, and my education. To a degree, it means I get advantages because of my grammar and speech patterns. White men like the way other white men talk. Since there have been centuries of white people in power, it means that the speech, patterns, and social graces set forth by those in power have permeated to other races in power. That's why people that are well-spoken and use grammatical context are said to "talk white." It means that the generally accepted standard of success that I naturally fit into makes my life easier and not harder. I don't have to do the work, and then defend the fact that I did it. I just get to do the work and let it stand for merit. It means that the opportunities I've been afforded come from intangible bouts of groups of people, over generations, pushing me towards success.

I'm going to let that paragraph stand for itself. Most people are going to BALK at it and become defensive. But it's true. Now, does that mean it's been easy, or fun, or even a journey that others could complete? No. Does it mean that we are all "plug and play" as people and that we are all interchangeable? No. The fact is, I am the ONLY one that could be me. I am the ONLY one that could do what I've done. I'm the ONLY one that messed up what I've messed up. I'm the ONLY one that was there when I was a broke drunk and spiraling out of control. I'm the ONLY one that salvaged and worked on the things I've worked on. I'm the one God healed. I'm the one that God delivered and I'm the one that God saved. I'm the one that God called to be Michael K. And I'm the one that could only access what God has for me. (Jeremiah 29:11) Maybe that's privilege; but it's also pathway. It's also PURPOSE. To be me, and to have my blessings, you must also bear my curses. If you want my healing and testimony; be sure you want the disease and pain that is on the way to that victory.

That's the key to remember... everyone has issues. Everyone has been hurt. My parents were hurt by their parents, and so forth, and back generation after generation all the way down to me. Everyone has something to overcome. Mine has been confusion, self esteem, anger, and the infamous "hay bales, sweet tea, and glitter!" Being where I am now, in ministry, I am acutely aware of how I treat others IN addiction, IN sexual problems, IN alcoholism, IN a life of pain and theft, and self-medication and abuse. That's why we are to be kind and thoughtful of others. Privilege in one area doesn't mean you've not been damaged in another area. Our world and our society today talks about privilege quite a bit. If you are a straight white male, you are considered to be at the top of the food chain. You are demonized and even in some cases criminalized. Perhaps, even historically rightly so. History has made quite a case for this to be true. Straight white males do seem to be the ones that have run the world for centuries and brought us to what our society is today. But that's not the only story. That's not even the whole story. I am viewed as Caucasian and privileged, but that's not MY whole story.

[Believe me, growing up in rural Mississippi, people never passed up chances to tell you how different you were than homogenized versions of white settlers of the past.]
--Or if you were effeminate. There are men that are not these burly, butch things that like to spit and kill. They are heterosexual, and they are good men, but in areas, they area ostracized for knowing grammar and how to use dinner utensils. Or for knowing the word utensils.
--Or if you identified as gay. That's the worst thing ever these days. Christians have open license to hate gays. They are un-savable, unsalvageable creatures upon which the conservative right wing of government has unleashed it's fury. They are viewed as sub-human and undeserving of Christ. They are viewed as those that God cannot love. The word "gay" will allow Christians to overlook scripture, to ignore commands from Christ, and are the de facto punching bag for the church. That's not scriptural or what Jesus said. He died for every human alive.... even gays. He died so all humans could be saved. Personal pet peeves and prejudices cannot and will not change what God would do.
--Or mixed-race. Because if you weren't lily white and pure in the South... well, that's just not acceptable. We are pedigreed and pompous people. We are proud of our heritage and we want others to understand why DAR and SOC are important traditions. I mean, we are good looking. And old white ladies will whisper about peoples' colors and talk about just how beautiful mixed babies are... but they just know "how hard it will be on them..." Bah. It's just like we are expected to attend the American Legion benefits and join the Eastern Star so our grandparents will be proud. But not if you are not all white. If you own that, admit it or celebrate it, you're not okay. It's different today, but in the 80's it was still quite taboo. In the 60's and prior, it was considered sin. There were even men that skewed the Bible to say that black people should be slaves because of Noah's son and a curse. That was taught... in churches... in the 80's. [Ponder that for a minute.]
--Or even just quiet. Or liked something different like art. These are not status quo and as such, they are not acceptable norms of behavior.

Any anomalies were considered bad. And any anomalies gave others license for open season in bullying, in taunting, in name-calling, in locker-stuffing, in shaming, in degrading, in humiliating, in attempted-shooting (even by stepfathers that thought you'd be better dead than gay), or in the fact that if you were TOO Jesus-centric and on the fringe because you believed the words of Christ, then you were still not "conservative" because you truly believed that feeding the poor and helping the needy was a priority. [Trust me... rural Mississippi will SET YOU STRAIGHT when it comes to who gets help and who should be shunned!]

We all make assumptions. It's life. We all have our beliefs. I have mine. We even learn and grow as we age. My "hardline" beliefs from the 70s and 80's changed in the 90's. My beliefs and ideals of the 2000's into the present have changed. You assume that I am a certain way because of one outfit I wear at a work conference or at a church service. You assume that I look a certain way and get certain rewards.
--Unless I speak and someone assumes I'm gay. "Hay bales, sweet tea and glitter." And no matter how hard I try to be butcher, it's easier to be myself and let the Lord handle it.
--Unless I wear short sleeves. I NEVER get pat downs at the airport in suits. I am usually rushed through security due to my clearances. Unless I wear casual clothes or short sleeves. Then I am asked 20 questions and asked to confirm my ID information and I'm almost always "randomly" selected for a pat down. I look like prison rough trade in short sleeves, and I get treated as such.
--Unless I am asked about my beliefs. I have friends... FRIENDS... that still try to pin me down on if my beliefs are this or that and do I agree with them on scripture translations. Do I really mean to go back to the UPC? Do I really believe in Acts? Do I really think God healed me? Do I really think God delivered me from a life of unhealthy habits? People freak if you start telling the truth instead of watering it down. And they judge you.
--Unless you know my history with substances. It's not pretty.
--Unless you know my family history with drugs. It sucks when your dad's in jail for drugs.
--Unless you know that I long to be "good enough" for God - but know that it's STUPID to think any human being could be good enough. God loved us enough to make a way for us, even though we are pitiful and helpless before Him.

To assume I'm this bastion of privilege and that I lucked up and got pushed to the position I'm in is ludicrous. It's been a battle since my birth. So, don't tell me I won't understand you. I may not be able to identify as you, but I can sympathize and help where I can. I want to help. When you assume all of the above about me, you are doing exactly what you decry and don't want done to you. You want to be viewed as competent on your merit. You don't want your genitals or your sexuality or your race to be in indicator of your skill or your ability. Why do you assume any of mine were? When I offer to learn, and I offer to help and I work towards intersectionality and moving all humans forward in this world, and you want to deny my past hurts and the microaggressions committed against me; that makes me want to stop. It makes me want to pack up what little privilege I have and use it for me and my pet causes and leave you to yours. That sounds awful, but compassion exhaustion is real.

[What's your point, Michael?]

MY POINT IS: I see many memes and many calls for justice because of the stereotype of the listless and criminal black man. I see many that decry the foul nature of saying all black women are angry. Or if you have natural hair, you must be an activist. If you have dreadlocks, you must do drugs. Or if you are Hispanic with the genetic lottery winnings of olive skin and dark hair/eyes, you are in America illegally. It's sad because people really think if that's the case, you probably swam over. But Hispanic or Latino people with lighter hair or eyes are more acceptable? Or if you are white, then you are well off. Or if you are a white girl, "you can't even"... or all white guys are "frat-tastic." Or all Asains are smart. Or all Asians are good at math, or play violin... Or if you don't speak English, you hate America. Or if you are poor, you are lazy. Or if you are disabled, you are a mooch. Or if you have ever received assistance, you just didn't try hard enough. Or if you are gay, you are promiscuous. Or if you are trans, you are confused. Or if you are a Muslim, you are a terrorist. Or if you are Jewish, you are greedy. Or if you are a Christian... you are a hater of anyone different.

The human race is a genetic melting pot. The human race is the only real race. Race based on skin color is a created construct that was used for division. It was used to separate and divide and yes, for those in power, to conquer. So, why do we divide and compartmentalize one another? Why don't we all work together for a better world? A better life? A better country? A better way to treat one another?

MY POINT IS: We have to work together. Not just as Christians/Jews/Muslims, but as human beings. Not as white/black/brown/red/yellow... but as HUMANS. Not as men/women in a binary, but as HUMANS. We have to live together and work together and survive together. Yes, you may know many, many, many of us that create the stereotype of white male privilege. With our paler skin, and our ability to get or keep jobs. Our access to power and funds and control. We can help. We are not all bad. We are not all going to be evil. So, don't stereotype all of us. Unless you would like the same treatment back, that is. The exhaustion is real. And the even sadder reality is that compassion exhaustion is a real thing. Some of us do actually try to make a positive difference. We want women to succeed and to thrive. I respect, love and in some cases have even idolized women. We want races to be equal and we want merit and character to be what we consider. I would MUCH rather know that merit is the entire case in work than any other consideration, but that's because my job market calls for daily proving of new ideals and levels of tech and industry. Politics aside, it's imperative that the work is done is immaculately. That's a merit-based industry. I don't believe in being "color blind." We don't want to be blind to culture, but we want to be aware that culture aside, there are extraordinary people of all races, nations, and cultures. So, why exclude any of us from helping? When men or especially pale men, try; why lump us in with everyone else? If we are really all trying to be taken seriously by our merit and the content of our characters, why do that? Yes, I understand already that you may be tired of educating people. [Every day. All the time. About things they should already get. Yes, it's tiring and yes, it gets old.] But, for those of us willing to learn; it's disheartening to hear how we are immediately thought to be unable to know or learn. I want to help disenfranchised people. I want people to feel safe and that their citizenship brings certain responsibilities and privileges. But I don't want to feel intrusive if I'm just another stereotype that you won't work with...

MY POINT IS: When you become so rigid, and you define your success as your separation from others, you fail. Christians especially. We are NOT to be OF the world, but we are to be IN the world and a light TO the world. We as a whole have failed. We are splintered. We are not unified. UNITY will unlock many things both in the spirit and in the flesh. We pray for revival, but we don't pray for unity and wholeness. And when help is offered, we reject those that would help us. When that happens to me, it makes them want to pack up what privilege I DO have and use it for my own causes. Most people area like that. Here is a hot-topic case-in-point: Gay marriage is a white gay male issue, primarily. I don't care what anyone thinks of it morally or from a faith-based issue. I have my thoughts and you have yours and we all have ours. Right or wrong, I'm talking a civil and legal issue. And, because of the push and power behind it, it's passing... It's passing because of money and power. Think about that. DINK money, if you will... What about universal access to clean drinking water? What about the corporation that said that shouldn't be a basic human right? hat about causes for black women in America? What about access to affordable housing, childcare and the ability to try to do better with dignity and not as a charity-case? What about school to prison pipelines? How are those going? Black men being demonized, arrested or even killed just for walking down the street at night? Even further away from success. How about genetic changes to food and how the poor are kept unhealthy by fake food being cheap and healthy food being a privilege for the well off? That's not going well. How about human rights for job security? How about "at will" states and pregnant women? How about the path to legal immigration and treating human beings decently? How about people that can speak three languages and know computers but clean your toilets because you think brown people with language barriers are inferior? What about the fact that you can be arrested for feeding the homeless? How are all of these other issues going? Not so great if you ask me.

We are all splintered. We are not working together. We are rejecting help from those that are different because we require rigid acceptance and approval. I don't have to like you, love you, or agree with you to WORK WITH YOU on a better world. Your rejection of me is also a rejection of my access to privilege, power, and funding.

We have all got to remember to work together. I don't hate anyone based on differences in thought, faith, or culture. What I know is that there will always be those that I don't click with and that I am not overly fond of, but that doesn't mean we can't work together on jobs, projects, in ministry, and for a better world at large if they are not of my faith. I can love in Christ when my nature is to retreat. I am a mixed-race, recovering, celibate Christian that loves Jesus and works too much. I have strong beliefs in what I think God wants from me to be holy and to be complete in Him. But I also don't push my personal convictions and requirements onto others. I also don't believe that I should be cruel, shun, or reject others based on my personal faith and my commitment to God. And I still try to love those that are not like me. I try to love everyone and show that love because my faith in Christ commands it. My faith teaches that the love of Christ will draw people to Him and that His perfect love can save them. My heart and my life are different because of Christ. My work ethic, my pastimes, my conversation, the things I hope for and work towards are different than they used to be.

Regardless of your skin color, your hair texture, your nationality, your country of origin or your faith in a higher power, spirit or religious ideal: Be kind to others. Work with others and teach them when possible. Don't get tired of teaching others to be their best, to do their best and to work together with others to consolidate EVERYONE'S best. Use intersectionality to promote common goals and reach across faiths, and races, and priorities.

Show God's love.
Y'all be good. Love y'all.

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