Mystic Micro-Gospels; small spiritual stories in and around my neighborhood in Southeast CT
Forty gather on the grassy lawn in front of the church, nervously laughing as the facilitators line us up across the green. There have been a lot of nervous sounds today. The topic is a hard one, and few of us (at least as I see it) are finding it easy. Ahead of the line is a stretch of grass that ends at a sidewalk. Behind us is a similar spread of grass that stretches to the church door.
As we get quiet, the facilitators start: "If there were more than 50 books in your house when you grew up, take one step forward." I step forward, a little surprised that there weren't many others who did. "If your ancestors were forced to come to the USA not by choice, take one step back." I stay put, but I see others stepping back. "If you were taken to art galleries or plays by your parents, take one step forward." I step forward. And so it goes....
Soon, it's me and one other at the front of forty, almost to the sidewalk, while thirty-eight behind us are scattered all over the lawn. "If your parents told you that you could be anything you wanted to be, take one step forward." I step forward; my partner does not. I am farthest ahead. As I look back across the green, there are two people all the way back, standing in the church door. It seems metaphorical: God's preferential option for the poor. And it makes me, who is farthest from the church door... uncomfortable.
This is what Privilege looks like. I didn't do anything to earn this place at the front and I didn't intentionally engage in practices that put others behind. None of the steps forward were about things I said or did to others, but rather about things I have (health insurance), experiences I enjoyed (summer camp), or things that others said to me (that I was smart and capable). I like to think that I’m a pretty good person, all things considered, but as the steps moved forward, I began to see that I live a pretty charmed life relative to many .
In my Georgia home town, there are some who share my last name who do not look like me. I wonder about the lives of Steeds in this generation, and whether there was a connection between the abundance of books in my house as a child and the enslavement of some Steeds to others. We may share a name, but not much else, and it hurts to think about the circumstances that gave us a common name and what that says about us... about me. These are not easy thoughts.
What to do with this? Over and over I find privilege one of the hardest things to talk about. The hackles go up, as though, just by raising the topic, an accusing finger gets pointed, "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting". I brought it up at a recent meeting of collegues who were talking about race, and not too gently I'm afraid. I'm not sure it was helpful. And yet, I have a sense that it needs to be chewed on for a long time... to be acknowledged and owned by those who have it if we are ever going step forward together.
You can read the full list of questions for The Privilege Walk here.