Last week we took our boys to the Air and Space Museum at Balboa Park here in San Diego. At the museum they have a 4D theater. You know, where the movie is in 3D, but the environment also participates in the movie experience? Giant fans blowing on you, chairs that rocked up/down/back/forth, children that crawl on your lap because they get scared (oh, your theater didn’t have that? Too bad).
All the dimensions are accessible.
The point of the glasses, of course, is that when you put them on you are now empowered with the proper tools to see what you otherwise could not see. Depth, nuance, and layers are all suddenly accessible to you, enriching the movie watching experience.
I think in a similar (but also sorta totally opposite way) being the recipients of Privilege is like having multiple glasses on, and the grueling-but-necessary work of understanding what Privileges you have will lead you to realize how many different sets of glasses you are wearing. Each set of lenses inherently impact and color what you see and how you see it.
What awareness does, then, is it gives us the ability to remove that particular lens (not entirely, but hopefully close).
For instance, when awareness empowers me to take off the glasses of male privilege, I see the experience of the female in a whole new way. I begin to see how many aspects of our everyday life are slanted towards us as men, and how many things women have to experience that we never will. But beyond that, I recognize that certain doors and opportunities are open to us simply by being male. The world responds differently to us. They have different expectations of us. And so on…
When I take off the glasses of white privilege I can see how the world is a different place for people of color. In the words of Peggy Macintosh (the famous feminist author of White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies, one of the original works around the ideas of Privilege), as a white person I am struck how:
I am never asked to speak for all the people of my racial group.
I am really not even SEEN as a racial group, I’m seen as the “normal.”
I can go home from most meetings or organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in rather than isolated, out of place, out numbered, unheard, held at a distance, or feared.
I can be sure that if I need legal or medical help my race will not work against me.
If my day, week, or year is going badly, I need not ask of each negative episode or situation whether it has racial overtones.
When I take off the glasses of straight privilege, I see a fuller picture of the world around me as I see how LGBTQ people are denied rights that I enjoy simply because I’m attracted to women. How I never had to wonder, growing up, what it looked like to date people, to hold their hand, to have crushes. I never had to consider hiding my feelings, or pretend to be attracted people. I never had to withhold my significant other from my workplace because I wasn’t quite sure how people would respond. I never had to question whether or not my vocation was even an option.
When I take off the glasses of my middle-class privilege, the world around me is even further detailed and nuanced. Vast dimensions of the human experience become visible. I can see how, because I grew up in a middle class family, that I basically just assumed that I could do stuff in life if I tried hard. College seemed like the norm, the expectation, not some far fetched dream that I need untold amounts of luck to achieve. When I got jobs at minimum wage I always just assumed that was the beginning point, and that my life would be a slow climb up some sort of ladder. Whereas many people in the world assume that bagging groceries or working construction is where the train ends for them.
The more I am aware of these glasses I wear–glasses that I did not earn but that were given to me simply by being born–the more I can make conscious decisions to remove them.
And the more I remove them, the more dimensions I see.
And the larger the world becomes.
And the more expansive my heart becomes.
And the more empowered I am to work towards building a world where all people have equal access to rights and a fair shot at opportunity.
Unlike 3D glasses, the glasses of Privilege make the world a flatter, colder, less interesting place.
If you’re further interested in ideas around Privilege, I encourage you to check out my sermon from last week.
Or go here
Or Google, “help me understand privilege. “Lots of great stuff out there.