My friend Cathi has been, of late, struggling with the issue of white privilege, or religious privilege of some sort or heterosexual privilege or something. I, too, have been struggling with the issue. When a therapy magazine came to my house recently and talked about transgender rights and being sensitive to “trans” clients, I said I didn’t need another issue to feel guilty about. Of course, I was burned out at the time, but the thought still stands. I told my wife then, “I know how to treat people” and it’s still true.
So, I may not have this right, but as I understand it, “Privilege” in terms of politics and “the -isms” means this: I have the freedoms and protections guaranteed me under law, and I don’t have to worry about my safety or what I say or what I do in public all the time.
The way I see it, though, the problem is not that I have these rights. The problem is that others don’t. Instead of assuming that I have these rights and others can’t have them — and I don’t want them to have them — why don’t we assume that I should have these rights, that others should have them, and I want them to have them? Because that is the truth. I do, they should, and I want them to.
I get nothing from having my brothers and sisters lose their rights. (OK, I get “privileges” that they don’t. But that assumes there’s only so many rights to go around, and I don’t think that’s how it works.)I get nothing good from oppression. Nothing good comes out of my making your life hell. I don’t like myself, you don’t like me. If you are in the closet, and don’t feel like you can talk about your life partner to a party I’m having, then I lose out on seeing all of what makes you you. I don’t gain anything from that. If you’re trans and you and I don’t get to know each other, I lose, as well as you do. Why is that the norm? If you’re a young Black man and I don’t support your education and you would discover the cure for cancer, how have I gained anything — especially if someone I love (or me) comes down with cancer? If you’re a poor woman and I keep you poor and you develop health problems, I’m going to end up paying more for them, right? What do I get from that?
See, I don’t want to prove I’m an ally. I want to be an ally. I want to be a member of the human race. I want to be a Christian. I want to do what’s right, simply because it’s right. Further, I suspect that I’m not the only one. If you want to ask why someone’s hurting you, ask them. They are abnormal. They are the problem. I could ask them for you, after I stop them from hurting you, but I don’t need the answer. And if you think I’m doing something wrong, something hurtful to you, tell me and I’ll stop. Assume that you have rights, act like you should, and I’ll support you.
Oppression is the problem. My being an ally shouldn’t be.