Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The empty gesture of acknowledging privilege

At A Tale of Two Words | The Dream Café, L. Raymond asked,
How does it help you to deny society treats certain segments better than others? To acknowledge is not to endorse.
I answered,
You’re pointing at the problem without seeing it. To acknowledge is not to change. Identitarians and universalists both want a fair world and both recognize that sexism and racism and so many other isms exist. What identitarians fail to offer is a solution. Or rather, they think acknowledgement of a problem is an answer. But many Confederates acknowledged that slavery was unjust, and acknowledged their privilege as white men, and it still took a war to end slavery.
I was thinking of Robert E. Lee's letter to his wife in 1856 in which he said,
In this enlightened age, there are few I believe, but what will acknowledge, that slavery as an institution, is a moral & political evil in any Country.
In the same letter, he went on to rationalize his privilege, much like contemporary graduates of schools for the elite rationalize theirs. Checking privilege makes privilege-checkers feel righteous, but it does not help a single person who has less so the privilege-checkers may have more.

The part of me that loves the Rebel Jesus thinks privilege-checkers are contemporary Pharisees who make great shows of goodness. Jesus's harshest words were for them:

“ must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others." —Matthew 6:5 ESV

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness." —Matthew 23:27 ESV