Tuesday, April 29, 2008

On privilege

Am in T-Town today, hanging out at the Chain Bread Bistro and am irked that I got more bread than bowl in my Soup in a Bread Bowl meal.

Anyway, so in class today we took the Privilege test. A variation on the test can be glimpsed at this discussion here, but here's the basics: A series of statements are read ("My grew up in a home my parents owned." "I am able to publicly show affection to my partner.") and you either step forward or backward depending on what you answer. The role of the exercise is to let people understand exactly what privilege is; not racism, but privilege, defined not as "I hate (person of differing race/ethnicity/gender/sexual orientation) and wish they'd diiiiiieee!" but to unmask how subtle privilege is, that we really do NOT start off at an equal spot, that some of us got a leg up that we weren't even ever aware of. Trust me, having parents who understood the college application process is a HUGE advantage right there.

So we go through this exercise, and I actually fell a lot farther on the "non-privileged" side than I did the "privileged" side, which surprised me and seriously bummed me out. Weirdly, I was totally prepared to deal with my privileges, but I was stunned to see the lack. I really didn't realize that some of the shit I deal with were actual disadvantages.

But that's neither here nor there. The response to the test by one member of the class was fairly typical. "White, middle class America is under attack! If you're poor or a minority, you get financial aid and so much help, but you're all alone if you're white and middle class, and these people make it feel like it's all your fault that they're poor! I didn't do anything! I'm a good person!"

Not the first time I've heard this. Not even this week. So, here's my one reply. Spread it around, y'all, please, so I don't have to keep repeating it.

First off: You're attacking the wrong people. "If you're poor or a minority, you get advantages?" Yes, because Pell grants and food stamps are such a great thing compared with being treated like a non-human (pssst, they're not.) Think about this: To get said "advantages" you have to live in areas that are both socially and environmentally harmful to your health; you have to go to substandard schools; if you can go to a "good" school that has all the resources (like a computer! with Internet! Folks, there are schools in the U.S. that don't) you have to work your ass off to stay there; you probably won't see your parents much, since one or both of them is probably absent; and you're hungry, probably often, and you didn't get the nutrition you needed to help your brain develop properly when you were a kid. Oh, and if you can survive and thrive past all that, and you get financial aid into college, well, it's still tough because you'll have to work, and you probably won't have a car to get you around. Extra-curricular activities, you know, those things that help you make connections and points to put on a resume, will probably go out the window because you'll be working and studying too much.

So yes, let's 86 the idea that being poor or a minority is so great for financial aid. Turn your ire on the people who deserve it: The 2% or whatever that have all the money, who are working through corporations, media and government to turn us against each other so that we won't notice what they're doing. We should be pulling together, people! Think on this: Your kid's spot at Yale is being taken up by the next Dubya Bush. Your kid, who was all As in high school, on every team, in every club and read to old people at the nursing home every day after school, will be denied entrance to Yale because of a C average legacy who will spend his whole 4 years partying.

And here's the other thing: OK, so some poor kid got financial aid and your kid didn't. OK, so I guess he'll have to do what the rest of us do: sacrifice. He'll have to work and not get all the things that'll make college pay off big, like the extra activities and the study abroad classes. He'll have to go half time to work so he can pay. He'll (gasp!) have to go to a land-grant university instead of the Ivy League place. He may even have to go to community college first because it's affordable and he can actually afford to pay for it.

And that, my friends, is privilege in a nutshell -- thinking that your kid SHOULDN'T have to do all that, because someone else has scooped up his opportunity.

Sucks, don't it?

This is the way things are. You are being PLAYED. Someone's making life tougher, and believe me, it ain't us (the poor, the minority, the gay). You are being duped into thinking that life for you means no-life for us, when in fact, no-life for us means no-life for you, too. We are only as strong as we all are together.

We can have a better world, but we've GOT to get rid of this notion that we're entitled to shit because we EARNED it somehow. No on earns anything. We do what we do, and it works out for some of us and not for others. We're entitled to shit because we breathe. And if we're not greedy about our air, there'll be enough for everyone. God loves us all.

So own your privilege and then let it go. Breathe. Love.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

'We are miseducated as a people'

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was on Bill Moyers' Journal Friday night. Go watch. Or read.

REVEREND WRIGHT: I think I come at that as a historian of religion. That we are miseducated as a people. Or because we're miseducated, you end up with the majority of the people not wanting to hear the truth. Because they would rather cling to what they are taught. James Washington, now a deceased church historian, says that after every revolution, the winners of that revolution write down what the revolution was about so that their children can learn it, whether it's true or not. They don't learn anything at all about the Arawak, they don't learn anything at all about the Seminole, the Cheek-Trail of Tears, the Cherokee. They don't learn anything. No, they don't learn that. What they learn is 1776, Crispus Attucks was the one black guy in there. Fight against the British, the- terrible. "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal while we're holding slaves." No, keep that part out. They learn that. And they cling to that. And when you start trying to show them you only got a piece of the story, and lemme show you the rest of the story, you run into vitriolic hatred because you're desecrating our myth. You're desecrating what we hold sacred. And when you're holding sacred is a miseducational system that has not taught you the truth. I also think people don't understand condemn, D-E-M-N, D-A-M-N. They don't understand the root, the etymology of the word in terms of God condemning the practices that are against God's people. But again, what is happening is I talk a truth. Reading the scripture or the hermeneutic of a people who have-

BILL MOYERS: Hermeneutic?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Hermeneutic is an interpretation, it's the window from which you're looking is your hermeneutic. And when you don't realize that I've been framed- this whole thing has been framed through this window, there's another world out here that I'm not looking at or taking into account, it gives you a perspective that-- that is-- that is informed by and limited by your hermeneutic. Dr. James Cone put it this way. The God of the people who riding on the decks of the slave ship is not the God of the people who are riding underneath the decks as slaves in chains. If the God you're praying to, "Bless our slavery" is not the God to whom these people are praying, saying, "God, get us out of slavery." And it's not like Notre Dame playing Michigan. You're saying flip a coin; hope God blesses the winning team, no. That the perception of God who allows slavery, who allows rape, who allows misogyny, who allows sodomy, who allows murder of a people, lynching, that's not the God of the people being lynched and sodomized and raped, and carried away into a foreign country. Same thing you find in Psalm 137. That those people who are carried away into slavery have a very different concept of what it means to be the people of God than the ones who carried them away.

Amen, brother

(I mean that in a completely secular way ...)

Atheist soldier claims harassment:

Hall said he enjoys being a team leader but has been told that having faith would make him a better leader.

"I will take care of my soldiers. Nowhere does it say I have to pray with my soldiers, but I do have to make sure my soldiers' religious needs are met," he said.

"Religion brings comfort to a lot of people," he said. "Personally, I don't want it or need it. But I'm not going to get down on anybody else for it."

Friday, April 25, 2008

"... but His girlfriend was a whore."

(Above title comes from a line in The Wolves of the Calla, book five in the phenomenal Dark Tower series by Stephen King. The exchange goes like this:

"Your Man Jesus seems to be a bit of a son of a bitch when it comes to women," Roland said. "Was He ever married?"

The corners of Callahan's mouth quirked. "No," he said, "but His girlfriend was a whore."

"Well," Roland said, "that's a start."

Which, despite the Old Catholic School understanding of the Magdalene and Jesus' relationships with women, is a pretty damn good line in my book.

Anyway, I bring this up because I saw this posting this morning:

“I’m not comparing myself to Rosa Parks or Jesus Christ. I’m comparing myself to someone standing up for their rights. I’m just saying you can have an unpopular person who is criminalized and demonized. Jesus Christ was crucified by Pontius Pilate at my age. He was not a popular guy.” POST
-- From The Prisoner in Cell Block DD in GQ

Yes, folks, that's Girls Gone Wild producer Joe Francis comparing himself to Jesus! And that automatically brings to mind a rather surreal image of Buddy Christ hanging out at Padre (where else?) on Spring Break and getting drunk young coeds to take off their shirts in front of a video camera and make out. Take that, Willam DaFoe's hallucination about marrying the prostitute!

Seriously, though, everyone go read Mark Lewis Taylor's The Executed God so we can be sure about what we're talking about here. I find that dialogue best begins when we've defined the terms properly. Kind of like you really can't talk about privilege until we make sure that everyone understands that the word doesn't mean, "I'm buying my second Hummer because my first one was too small," but rather "I can drive to work at Princeton in my Hummer and not get stopped simply because I resemble the stereotype of someone who steals Hummers for a living." (Cornel West). Because losing a popularity contest is not what gets you executed by the state.

I hate this Jesus meek and mild shit. Really I do. This Jesus walks with me and talks with me and laughs at all my jokes bullcrap.

Jesus was tortured and terrible done to death for opposing a system that brutally dehumanized a majority of the world. For daring to tell people that they were worth more than the sacrifices they were paying or making. For letting them know that they were human beings, even though they were treated like dirt and property. And even though we in the West have reduced Jesus to a personal Superman who rescues us from our individual psychic distress, at the heart of the matter is, we all deep down understand that something is robbing us of our true human feeling, our willingness to reach out and touch a stranger with love because we really do love ourselves and when you love yourself you can't help but love another, because if we're all in-Christ, then we see our Others as Ourselves, we realize that we are Others to Others -- that we are even Others to Ourselves -- and we can bridge that gap anyway. Jesus loves us so we can do that.

So think about who or what are keeping us from that? Our desire to really live in community with the gentiles in our lives?

And let's also think about people who we can really compare with Jesus. NOT Joe Francis. Let's see ... Gandhi. Martin Luther King Jr. Oscar Romero. Malcolm X. Jean Donovan. Dorothy Kazel. Maura Clarke and Ita Ford. John Brown. James Chaney. Andrew Goodman. Michael Schwerner. Many more who die so that others will not be brutalized or tortured any more.

Monday, April 21, 2008

"A carpenter, worked a miracle, his name was J.C. ..."

Did you hear that former President Carter got the leaders of Hamas to agree on the right of Israel to exist. STORY

Hamas leaders "said that they would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders" and they would "accept the right of Israel to live as a neighbor next door in peace," Carter said.


Carter urged Israel to engage in direct negotiations with Hamas, saying failure to do so was hampering peace efforts.

"We do not believe that peace is likely and certainly that peace is not sustainable unless a way is found to bring Hamas into the discussions in some way," he said. "The present strategy of excluding Hamas and excluding Syria is just not working."

You can hear NPR's Steve Inskeep talk with Carter here.

As I listened to Carter talk with Inskeep I was struck by how dead-on accurate the King of the Hill episode "The Father, the son and the J.C." was. (I'm a big fan of King of the Hill, although I'm often quite baffled at how anyone outside of Texas or Oklahoma can find it remotely amusing. It's so Red River specific.) Anyway, in that episode, Carter brokers peace between Hank, the main character, and his father during a Christmas Eve Habitat for Humanity building event. Tell me if this line doesn't sound like something that he could have said during his talks with Hamas:

JIMMY CARTER: Say there was a magic button you could push that would make Hank disappear. Everything else in the world would stay the same, but Hank would never have existed. Would you push that button?
COTTON: I ain't got to answer no hypothetical sitchyations!
JIMMY CARTER: Would you push that button!?
COTTON (growls): No, not yet.


JIMMY CARTER: You both seem to prefer a universe in which the other person hasn't magically disappeared. I think we have a framework for peace.

Monday, April 14, 2008


On Saturday as I was going to work, I noted a woman with straggly hair and a dirty face walking down the street, carrying a ratty red blanket in one hand and a stem of blue-violet wisteria in the other. She was either singing or talking to herself, or someone I just couldn't see with her.

That night, as I was driving home, I spied that blanket in the doorway of a business, covering a woman-shaped lump. The temperature was about to drop below freezing.

Today I paid $3.23 a gallon for gasoline for my car. A quarter-tank fill-up cost $10. Not six years ago that was a little less than what I paid to fill up the car.

And this:
Riots from Haiti to Bangladesh to Egypt over the soaring costs of basic foods have brought the issue to a boiling point and catapulted it to the forefront of the world's attention, the head of an agency focused on global development said Monday. SOURCE

It's not a very cheerful nor hopeful day.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

New York minute

I am tired and cranky from a very long there-and-back-again trip to Union Theological Seminary, in which there was too much to do, not enough time or space to do it. Will share more later, but will leave this thought:

How do Paul's letters change if while you're reading them you think "Roman law" or "nomos" instead of "Jewish Law" or "Torah"?