Saturday, April 11, 2009

Christian Privilege

The thing is, until someone points out privilege to the privileged, the privileged are unlikely to see their own privilege.

Got that?

That is to say, in college, someone pointed out to me the fact of life in America known as White Privilege. Because I am white, a whole host of opportunities and experiences and perceived advantages are available to me. I also am the beneficiary of Male Privilege, U.S. Citizen Privilege, Middle-Class Privilege, English-Speaking Privilege, Bachelor-Degree-Having Privilege, and probably a whole bunch of other Privileges that I don't even know I enjoy.

But it wasn't until earlier this week when I was listening to a "webinar" (add that one to the list) that I even heard of Christian Privilege. Which, I guess, is just another example of how the privileged don't realize the extent (or even the existence) of their privilege. Or is it?

Confronted with this new opportunity to learn about myself (the most interesting topic about which one can learn, as far as I'm concerned), I did some research. Hooray, Google! While there's not that much online about Christian Privilege, here's some of the stuff I found, which I pretty much* get:
  • Because I am Christian, I don't have to worry about the school/work year coinciding with Christmas; school calendars are set up to give us two weeks off at the end of the year and often work calendars are similarly arranged. One step further, that means I never had to worry about observing one of my major religious holidays while school was going on -- I never had a final or a midterm on Christmas Day -- nor am I expected to be super-productive at work at the end of the year.
  • The very organization of our work week -- Monday through Friday, with Saturday and Sunday off -- could be perceived as an expression of Christian Privilege.
  • I probably do not need to learn the religious or spiritual customs of others, and I am likely not penalized for not knowing them.
  • Inaugurations feature ministers reciting prayers and officials taking oaths on the Bible.
  • Christians are less likely to be singled out for their faith and are not targeted for attacks.
And now some perceived benefits of Christian Privilege that I don't exactly agree are necessarily benefits of Christian Privilege:
  • I can talk openly about my religious practices without concern for how it will be received by others. [I'm not sure this is true any more. These days, at least based on the friends and co-workers I have, my talking about my Christianity is neither more nor less weird or foreign than someone discussing Judaism, Wicca, Islam, or anything else.]
  • I can be sure to hear music on the radio and watch specials on television that celebrate the holidays of my religion. [But considering that my religion -- or at least my expression of my religion -- is more solidly based on the Resurrection we're about to celebrate than on Jesus's birth that we celebrate in December -- I'm not sure I buy into that. When Easter specials dominate, let me know. Also, except for ABC/Family's 25 Days of Christmas, televised Christmas specials are becoming less and less frequent.**]
  • I can have a “Jesus is Lord” bumper sticker or Jesus Fish on my car and not worry about someone vandalizing my car because of it. [I mean I guess I can, but I wouldn't, because come on.***]
  • The availability of Christian music stations on the radio is standard. [Again, yeah, I can probably choose to listen to a Christian music station on the radio. However, (a) come on, and (b) am I wrong to see that as a marketplace issue, and not as an issue of Privilege? That is to say, because 3/4 of Americans label themselves Christian, there's probably more of a market for Christian music -- and the associated advertising dollars -- than a Contemporary Buddhist Music station.****]
So, why is this so hard for me to get my head around? Why am I so resistant to embrace this notion -- or, at least, why is it so hard for me to enumerate the benefits of Christian Privilege in my life, when I can name for you case after case of specific examples of all the other Privileges I enjoy? I wonder if part of it is my own experience: growing up in church, losing touch with church, coming back to church, and now still figuring out the public expression of my relationship with God through Jesus.

So, anyway, if you have ideas for helping me understand this -- or specific examples of how my Christian Privilege has manifested itself -- I hope you'll leave a comment or two.
* Though not entirely, but for argument's sake, let's just say I do.
** Of course, that could just be my perception as a Christian.
*** Of course, that could just be my perception as a snarky person.

**** See also: ** And I probably would listen to a Contemporary Buddhist Music station, if you're wondering.


Clifton said...

Sorry, Scott ... All I got is a
Christian headache from a long lifetime of trying to figure it all out. I love that old gospel song, "We'll understand it better bye and bye."

shouldhavezagged said...

I'm not having any trouble seeing this one. I think it's obvious how much better Christians have it in our society versus other religions. Hell, God is on our money and in our pledge and I'm *sure* the word isn't referring to Yahwe or Allah (not to mention, what about atheists?). Also, despite years of persecutions of other religions, missions to convert "uncivilized" people against their will, and various other atrocities through the eras done in the name of God, Christians do not have the taint of "terrorists" that Muslims do even though Islam preaches peace and inclusion (as, I believe, Christianity does). That's my two cents.

Scott S. Semester said...

Thanks, Cliffie -- I hope we'll understand it better at SOME point! :)

Sacha, thank you! See, all that is stuff I would never have thought of. Although I happen to think "...under God..." and "In God We Trust" are customizable to the believer's belief system, you're right - (a) I don't think everyone thinks that and I could see how one might find that pervasive and negative, and (b) I'd not thought about how an atheist or agnostic would feel about that.

shouldhavezagged said...

I thought of something else: holiday greetings. No one thinks twice about saying Merry Christmas or Happy Easter to a perfect stranger, e.g. cashiers and greeters say it to me regularly during the associated shopping seasons. Now, I wouldn't be bothered in the least if someone said Happy Passover, Joyous Solstice, or Happy Kwanzaa to me but it is considered safe to assume that the general public is Christian. I'm not some PC nutjob who insists that we stop saying Merry Christmas, I just think it's valuable to recognize that this kind of greeting is not inclusive. For a moment, imagine that everywhere you went to buy Easter candy someone asked you about your seder plans; or everyone asked you about your solstice celebration or your Eid feast while you were shopping for Christmas gifts; or you never saw a single Christmas tree, ornament, or stocking but menorahs and Hebrew-decorated items abounded at every retail outlet you patronized for MONTHS before Hanukkah -- does that help give you a taste of what it might be like for a non-Christian to live on our world? The fact that we don't feel on the outside at all is our privilege.