Saturday, September 27, 2008


I came across this poem over at Hugo Schwyzer's blog. The writer is Wendell Berry and the subject is about straight white Protestant males (SWPM from here on out) and privilege. I've been thinking a lot about privilege in recent times (just check all the posts I have here with the "privilege" label) and I have come to notice something: People have a tendency to assume that just because a person is a SWPM the deck is already stacked in his favor. And that is what I get the feeling this poem does.

for we have no excuses,
nobody to blame but ourselves.

I personally try not to blame the child for the sins of the parent and that is what I get from this portion. Yes SWPM have a higher possibility of having the deck stacked in their favor but that does not mean all of today's SWPM are to blame for it. It doesn't mean that all SWPM of the past actively worked toward building up said privileges. And the same goes with any issues they may have to deal with.

Who is going to sit at our feet
and listen while we bewail
our historical sufferings? Who
will ever believe that we also
have wept in the night
with repressed longing to become
our real selves?

I would at least like to hear them out. Being a SWPM does not automatically mean you had a house full of servants waiting on your every whim. Yes there was a period of about 400 years where your ancestors could have if they had the money. But even having the money didn't ensure that they would have actively participated in it (there's a good chance that if all the SWPMs of this country had agreed on slavery it would have lasted much longer, if not still going). My point is while your story may not be the most tragic no one has the right to silence you.

Who will
stand forth and proclaim
that we have virtues and talents
peculiar to our category? Nobody,
and that is good.

I understand this to mean something to the effect of, "Who will stand up and tell our story?" Now on the large scale of things I would agree but the problem is you can't just look at history, see the SWPMs, and just assume that ALL SWPM had it that good. Individual people have individual stories. You may not need as much assistance in getting your story told but that doesn't mean you shouldn't have a say.

For here we are
at last with our real selves
in the real world. Therefore,
let us quiet our hearts, my brothers,
and settle down for a change
to picking up after ourselves
and a few centuries of honest work.

Its great to work towards change but this almost sounds like a guilt trip.

The point I'm trying to get at is that when it comes down to SWPM privileges people are so quick to call them out they they don't even bother to notice whether or not those privileges are actually making a difference in the person's life. Yes you can respond with, "But doesn't mean he doesn't have privileges." Then let me ask you, "If he had all those privileges, why does he have such a hard lot in life?" By "calling out" a SWPM on his privileges and telling him he shouldn't have any issues and if he does they are his fault without even bothering to find out him is creating for him to complain about.

I am not trying to say that SWPMs that don't fit the privilege model should be excused from actively working towards equality but by lumping them all together you run the risk of making them feel guilty or even pissing them off. And yes they would be right to be would you like it if someone just rolled up on you and started making statements about you and they don't even know you?