The Privilege of Writing About Privilege

Emily DeTar, Traces of Privilege, 8

I have been sitting on this blog post for over a month, mainly because I want to make sure that itcarries the nuance and degree of importance that it should. In the face of all that has happen in recent gun violence and police shootings, I find this blog vital.

Over the past two or three months, I have been writing a blog reflecting on the privileges I carry as a white cis-gender bisexual woman. My aim has been to raise awareness around injustices and cause others to reflect on their privilege, especially around race, in congregations with majority white congregants.

However, I recognize that even my attempt to use my privilege to examine injustice is a very privileged and safe space to start from.

Injustice and oppression, if they are to really be stopped and changed, must be heard from the voices of those who experience it. It is not enough to recognize that injustice happens from a perspective of privilege. One must listen to the voices of the marginalized and center the voices of those who face injustice regularly.

I have noticed a trend in blog series, academic writings, newspaper articles, and even in Unitarian Unviersalist congregations. The trend is that the conversations around racial justice tends to start from recognizing privilege. Recognizing privilege is a wonderful place to start, especially for those that carry many forms of privilege. But it is not a place to stay. I see so many communities that simply stay inside what they feel they can talk about, or simply examine the privileges they carry, instead of trying to really find ways of centering the voices of those who are marganlized.

Do you notice that newspaper articles or think pieces that start from perspectives on privilege are shared more often and get more publicity than those that start from those of perspectives of oppression or people of color? Even in activism, there is a sense that those who are white are listened to more often and get more credit for protests or activism than people of color.

Talking about white privilege is easy precisely because it shares the narrative and perspective of those who are white, which is already the dominant voice. The stories and voices of those of oppression, such as those who are black or transgender or both, are less heard in a society that deems as normal the perspective of those who are white and cisgendered.

What seems counter intuitive is that the normal or dominant voice is heard more often even when the topic is about an issues of oppression. You would think that people would listen to the voices of people of color about race more than they would listen to the voices of white people. Yet time and time again, conferences, seminars, or other speakers bring white leadership to talk about race relations. That is a problem, because no matter how informed those voices of privilege may be, they have a very limited scope and cannot ever truly express the depth of truth about oppression and racism.

I have been writing about privilege because that is my narrative and is the only perspective I can actively own when it comes to racial justice. But to be honest, I realize that has been an excuse for sloppy and easy writing. I am lucky to have a fiancé, friends, and colleagues who hold me accountable and point out that this is easy writing. They ask me to center the voices of those that are oppressed, by reposting their writings, quoting their blogs, and by reflecting but not speaking to their experiences. Therefore, on this blog in the future, I will repost or display articles others have written from the voices of the oppressed, along with other topics I will blog about.

Centering oppressed voices is not something off-limits to those of privilege. This has taken me time to learn. I know that sometimes we fear tokenizing others or speaking for other people. But with nuanced and careful expression, in our activism, writings, and work we can center voices of oppression and people of color without owning it. It takes work, and a lot of mistakes, but it is more than possible.

I feel it is our mission as Unitarian Universalists to center the voices of the marginalized. Not only because in believing in the inherent, scared worth of each and every person, should we listen to and center the voices that are treated as the least of these. Also because, if we continue to persist in talking about UUs needing to deal with their privilege, UUs who are majority white and cisgender and middle class, or UUs who need to stand in solidarity, we will only promote communities of privilege and leave the voices of those marginalized within UU spaces far behind. If we continue to talk about ourselves as white and middle class, than that is all our churches will ever be. If we continue to only talk about recognizing privilege, then we will perpetuate privilege.

I only hope that in my future writing and activism, I will continue to challenge myself to center voices other than my own, while not misquoting, paraphrasing, owning, or casting wrong lenses on their work. I also hope to engage UU communities with the recognition that being aware of privilege is vital to grow, but centering the voices of the oppressed and of people of color is more important. As all aspirations, I know myself and our communities will continue to make mistakes. But will never grow into our vision of a beloved community of diverse people, who know in their bones their own inherent worth and dignity, if we do not try. May we take the privileges we have to nuance our own perspectives and writings, and center the voices that need, deserve, and want to be heard.

Therefore, I ask every Unitarian Universalist to listen to the wisdom of our Black Lives of UU leaders and members. Their stories and narratives will lead us to understand how our Unitarian Universalism perpetuates privilege. Listen to Kenny Wiley talk about his experience at a recent camp for black and people of color youth.

"I badly want white UUs and other progressive folks to know and see that carrying out white supremacy isn't always obvious. It can look like never asking "How can I help?" or "How are you holding up?" It can be never asking "I wonder how this black person is handling two black persons' murders." It looks like responding to a white person's statement of "next year Kenny can't be the only POC on staff" with "beware of affirmative action," like there aren't fifty wonderful religious professionals/young adults of color we couldn't pay and have join us." - Kenny Wiley

In order to gain the narratives, we need to compassionately ask! We should start asking "How are you?", "What are you feeling?", and "What would you want to see?" in our camps, our churches, and other regular places to gather. We can live into the beloved community, as faithful UUs, if we truly learn the patience and beloved action of listening and centering. So when we have General Assemblies, and have UU denominational asks from groups like the Black Lives of U.U., we should have faith in their stories and demands. We should ask people how they are, who they are, and what they hope for our UU faith.

For their hope is our faith's most sacred calling. The only way to get to our faith's calling, is to ask "How can I help?"

To listen to more stories of the Black Lives of UU, follow the links here:

Black Lives of UU Main Page: http://www.blacklivesuu.com/connect/
Seven Principles of Black Lives of UU: http://www.blacklivesuu.com/7-principles/
For worship, stories for Black Lives: http://www.uua.org/worship/collections/black-lives-matter

This is part 8 of an ongoing series, "Traces of Privilege," which explores privileges I possess, and what my faith as a Unitarian Universalist calls me to do about them.
See also

Traces of Privilege, 1: The UU Privileges and Purposes
Traces of Privilege, 2: Unitarian Universalism Has Class -- Meaning Economic Privilege
Traces of Privilege, 3: A Memory of Privilege and The Importance of Personhood
Traces of Privlege, 4: The Privlege of Working for Black Lives Matter
Traces of Privlege, 5: The Privlege of Being a White Woman.
Traces of Privilege, 6: Privileges of Being an American Civilan: The Systemic Issues of American Veterans and Wars
Traces of Privilege, 7: The Privilege of Being Cis-Gender

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