This post from Bruce Reyes-Chow is a great example of a concrete answer to the question I tried to address in my previous post, “well what do you expect me to do if I have this privilege you’re talking about?”
Chow is a Presbyterian minister with a certain amount of pull in his church, having served a two-year term as Moderator of the general assembly, and a reasonably well-known author and blogger. He is Asian-American, so he doesn’t benefit from white privilege, but as a man, a heterosexual, a Christian, an educated person, and a person with a fairly large audience, he has both some forms of privilege, and a small amount of power.
The blog I’ve linked to is Reyes-Chow’s effort to address a recent video of an evangelical Christian pastor, Charles Worley, advocating that gays and lesbians should be put in concentration camps and left to die. (This comes just a few weeks after another evangelical Christian pastor was shown advocating that Christians should punch their young sons if they act gay, and should “reign in” their young daughters if they are “butch” by forcing them into dresses. He also spouts some lovely anti-trans rhetoric.)
So, Reyes-Chow does three interesting and powerful things with his privilege in this post.
First, he wrote it at all. He’s a straight man. This isn’t “his issue.” He’s not threatened in any way by suggestions that violence and repression should be used to control and subjugate GLB people. In fact, by talking about violently anti-gay rhetoric from Christians, he in some ways makes himself vulnerable – he loses face with many Christians, including some of those within his own denomination. He actually undermines some of his own power by even bringing the subject up, and makes himself a target for criticism and ostracism.
He actually identifies the fact that he could afford to not have this conversation if he wanted. He writes, “I for one don’t care how tired we all get talking about this ‘issue’ because, as long as people are being killed because of their sexuality, those of us who have the privilege of thinking about LGBTQ bothers and sisters as ‘issues’ in the first place, must choose to speak out against the violence or risk continuing being part of it.“ Being able to say “I’m tired of this conversation” and walk away knowing you won’t be harmed by the ongoing fight is a great example of privilege, and Reyes-Chow explicitly rejects that option for himself here.
Second, he identifies himself as speaking from a position of privilege right at the beginning of his essay. He writes “As a straight, married, Asian American Presbyterian, I agree . . . [the argument over sexual orientation] is getting old. I dread the fact that issues of gender, race, economics and sexuality are still issues that the church must struggle with in order to fully be who I hope the church to be. And I dread that some of us feel t]he calling to use whatever privilege we may have to keep fighting on behalf of those who are and have been excluded from community and call and subjected to violence in word and action.“ Identifying his own privilege communicates to others “I am more like you than like the people we are discussing.” It serves as a way to both make himself credible to other privileged people (who often are more willing to hear about oppression from members of their own group than from actual oppressed people – frustrating but true!), and to make it clear that this issue still matters to him even though it isn’t “his issue.”
Third, he uses his position as a straight, male Christian to address others like himself, particularly heterosexual Christians. He writes, among other things, “those of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.
He challenges members of his own faith to see themselves differently. He privileges the well-being of a marginalized group to which he doesn’t belong, over the comfort of those like himself, and the validation and acceptance they might give him if he would only be silent and “not rock the boat.”
Three things: speaking up on an issue that is “not yours,” identifying your position(s) of privilege as you frame the conversation, and challenging people like yourself even if it costs you something. A perfect example of “so I have privilege; now what?” Taking action in this way doesn’t require you to be a well-followed blogger; it could be as simple as choosing items to re-share on Facebook, or talking to people in your life about a social justice issue that you don’t “own,” or the previously-mentioned “not cool, dude” (or “knock it off” or whatever language you want to use) when someone says something racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.
Sounds a bit like that whole “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” thing (whether you attribute it to Finley Peter Dunne or Claire Booth Luce or Mother Jones), which seems to me like a great, pocket-sized answer to that question as well.