A little while ago, I got an email from Tim relating to the latest poll. He wanted to know if I had any thoughts to share on the issue of gender balance and women’s participation in particular on YAR. This has been discussed some before on YAR but it continues to be an issue. This is pretty much what I sent him, but he’s currently out of the country and I felt compelled to share it now.
As many of you know, I used to write more and now I don’t at all. This is largely due to being back in school and spending a lot less time in front of my computer and thinking about being young, anabaptist, or radical. If I really wanted to, I could make time to read YAR more than I do, even comment and contribute.
But I got tired. I got tired of the same stupid discussions over and over with basically the same person (actually different people, but it started to feel so familiar). I got tired of watching my friends and allies get tired and burned out (sometimes they just got quieter, sometimes they gave up and walked away in frustration), I got tired of having to defend my own existence and belief to straight white men who, as a friend of mine so aptly described it, “come on the blog for a while and do the virtual equivalent of beating their chests and yelling.”*
It isn’t even reassuring to know that eventually they’ll lose interest and leave because there seems to be a limitless supply of them out there in the interwebs just waiting their turn. I’ve seen this in so many virtual groups, listservs, blogs, etc. Why is it almost always men? What is wrong with these men and why don’t they just get over themselves? What inadequacies are they trying to compensate for with these behaviors?
As long as YAR is a safe place for certain straight white men to be gadflies who shit in everyones lemonade while hiding behind a veil of earnest piety and godtalk, it will never be a safe place for women, people of color, lgbt people, or even decent straight white men who just want to read and write and be a respectful, privilege aware, part of this blog. Women, people of color, and lgbt people have more than enough bullshit and unsafe places to deal with in our real lives, work, family, and churches, we won’t spend much time and energy on virtual bullshit and unsafe places.
We have tried to ignore them, we have tried to challenge them, we have tried patience, love, and reason. Maybe we should try respecting ourselves and our community and block their lowdown ways from the conversation. If we don’t, we are effectively blocking everyone else from relevant conversation and decent, life affirming community.
*PS to all you indignant straight white men out there who are just about to write a comment here. Yeah, you know who you are. You are the ones who refuse to check your privilege, or engage power dynamics. And you are the ones who whine about political correctness. “If you feel the burning desire to leap to your own defense and declare, “I’m not the problem!” then you just might be.” (two points if you actually read the piece that quote came out of)
I was also tired. I think I still am, since I came back to YAR after three months away, and I see more of the same old same old. If I wanted to read debates about whether racism really happens, if gay people have all the rights straights do, or if sexism is still a relevant topic for the current world, I’d go to crosswalk.com or some other place devout evangelicals and fundies congregate. I’d rather not see it on YAR.
Although, that would take some re-evaluating of what the admins allow to be said on here. Is it OK to be a regular contributor if you don’t agree with X, Y, or Z, but you agree not to push your viewpoint? Would we have to have an infraction system for people who don’t comply, like large message boards do?
I get two points! Yea!
I agree with the far majority of what the article you linked to said, and I see how it applies to my minority– the 1% of the homeless in the U.S., who have absolutely NO opportunity to be in power, nor do they have the opportunity or education to use the computer as articulately as you have.
When I read your post, unlike when I read the article you linked, I get the sense that you would prefer to have us white, heterosexual males to just shut up some. Hey, I understand what you are saying, I’m privilaged. I get it. I appreciate it. I understand that I stand on the backs of many African Americans and women in the past. I regret the past, even though some of my ancestors were Quakers who opposed slavery and stood for women’s rights, there are others who were racist and many of them received their opportunities simply because they were male and white.
Not the women, obviously. They were my ancestors, too.
But should I leave aside the privlige that I have not earned? Should I not use the privilage for those who are not privilaged today? Well, I have done that to a certain degree. I have set aside my wealth and my opportunities in the church. I could be a well-off evangelical pastor, but I decided to be a poor minister among the homeless and mentally ill instead.
But lo and behold, my privilage follows me around, like it or not. Because of my privilage I have a six bedroom house for my family and for the six other homeless folks living with us, including a trans-gender person. I still have enough resources to feed more than a hundred people a week. I still have the education to speak up for the homeless and mentally ill to both the government and to the church.
Should I set that privilige aside? Should I be silent, and allow those who are suffering now to fend for themselves? Or, perhaps, should I be like Jesus, the most priviliged human being who ever existed. And he used all of his resources for the weak. He was not silent. Anything but. He said that which the powers did not want to hear, but he spoke.
I am trying to do the same.
But are you asking me to be quiet? I can’t promise to do that. But I do promise to stand for God’s truth for the poor and oppressed. And to be pretty noisy about it, actually.
What do you want me to do?
Another question. While I agree that the pro-privliged gets more than their fair share of posts, is it the fault of the pro-privliged? Is it because the pro-oppressed get tired and give up when the pro-privliged are just getting started? Is it because the pro-priviliged have more testosterone (I can say this because I have the testosterone of an eighty year old, or so my doctor says)? Is it because of the medium, which is better for the pro-privilaged than the pro-oppressed? Is it because the pro-privilaged have got arguments from the entire history of humanity to choose from while the pro-oppressed have to look in dark alleys and hidden cabinets for their arguments?
I’ve never posted much on YAR, but read often. I’ve been inclined to write or respond less often recently because I felt like I was speaking a different language. I’m young ish, Anabaptist, and radical. I fit the bill. But why don’t I feel like I’ve ever fit in to what’s happening in this group?
I almost submitted a post in a similar vein to this one, but mine was nicer, and frankly, didn’t say it quite as succinctly. And I didn’t know if I had the emotional energy to engage in the discussion. I’m in seminary, and have enough work to do just engaging my seminary community (none of whom are anabaptist, or even want to try to understand the tradition).
So, thanks for putting yourself out there, Katie.
First, I am a frequent reader and infrequent contributor, so many of you may not know who I am.
I don’t think it is an issue of having the pro-privilege people shut up, though hopefully katie will correct me if I am wrong.
Having privilege isn’t in itself a bad thing, but refusing to recognize the privilege that we have is where the problem lies. I would like to think that there are many white middle-class males that can understand the immense privilege that they have and in turn respond appropriately. And I hope that I am one of them.
Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think that I am perfect, not is anyone else here, on issues of privilege.
But the bigger issue (at least in my mind) here is not about the conflict between those with privilege and those without privilege (or with less privilege). The issue is that all too often those with privilege do not understand the very privilege that they live in. They do not understand the oppression against people of color, women, queers, the poor, the homeless, etc.
I agree with Katie – it is very difficult to continually argue about whether racism exists. It is very difficult to argue with people who believe that queer identified individuals do not have the same rights as I do.
So what does that mean? I am not sure that the answer is to shut people up. I actually hate the very idea of doing that. But I am not sure how to make this a safer place for marginalized voices and for voices coming from those who are less privileged.
Of course, perhaps I could display my “privlige” better if I could spell “privilege” correctly. Sorry for those of you that this must have irritated.
Hey everyone, I enjoyed reading your comments to my post and I’m glad it resonated with others and it wasn’t just me feeling this way.
I also like the questions you brought up. I think Dave hit it on the head with this part: “Having privilege isn’t in itself a bad thing, but refusing to recognize the privilege that we have is where the problem lies. I would like to think that there are many white middle-class males that can understand the immense privilege that they have and in turn respond appropriately. And I hope that I am one of them.”
That’s what I was really trying to get at. I have privilege in many ways too. But in other ways I fall on the other end of the power dynamics. Using the privilege we all have for good and being able to recognize and wrestle with that privilege is what being an ally is all about. When we can see how our own privilege limits our own lives and relationships is when we can have the motivation to work for some change and be great allies. That often means giving something up (like SteveK has done by choosing to live a life of simplicity to better relate to homeless people as well as to help when he can).
If you have privilege, I’m not asking you to shut up but rather to engage your privilege and speak out as an ally with those who don’t.
It may be tougher for straight white males with lots of privilege to relate to how those without that privilege experience life, since they might not have significant parts of their identity that challenge their privilege. My queer female lack of privilege helps give me a framework for thinking about my white, educated, middle class privilege.
The trouble occurs when white (or male, or non-gay, or wealthy, or educated, or abled, etc) people refuse to acknowledge and try to understand racism (sexism, heterosexism, poverty, ableism, etc) and try to define the lives of people of color (you get the idea). It is especially troubling when this is done in a way that feels spiteful, uncaring, gadfly-ish.
If you get a kick out of poking at and/or trolling spaces that are supposed to be safe, you are the problem. If you are sincerely trying to understand, learn, listen, engage, and create positive change, (even when it’s hard or you make mistakes) you aren’t the people I was talking about.
No, we aren’t asking anyone to wallow in guilt or never disagree, but if you feel the need to whine about political correctness, deny your privilege, or use it to deny or define other people’s lived experience, those would be good examples of rude and annoying behaviors that are unwelcome here. Try to avoid the virtual chest beating and yelling and I’ll feel a lot better about it.
I don’t like how this post comes from the perspective of divisiveness and teams. You seem to put straight people, whites, and males on one team and minority groups on another. I didn’t even get a free uniform.
Your perspective is one of dividing. You even went so far as to use the term “allies”. Does that make me, a straight white male, your enemy?
If so, I never called you such nor never thought of you as such; but you seem to think that.
I’m tired of this Christianity/Agendized/Socio-Political team mentality. You might be tired of white men. I’m tired of being part of some white male conspiracy that others on this board seem to think exists. I’m tired of all this fucking divisivness, bitterness, and anger.
I’ve felt personally attacked because of my skin color and my sexuality on this site as of late.
This open-mindedness? This is diversity?
If you’re not the problem, you’re not the problem.
If your immediate response to under-privileged people pointing out your privilege is defensive, you probably are the problem. Being an ally is great, but you don’t get to claim the title.
Listen a lot, speak up to your own people when you are the lone voice. The point isn’t if you speak, but what you say to who and in what contexts. Know when to shut up.
Thanks Katie, great post. Worth coming back to read. You’ve said what I didn’t say when I disappeared (and better than I would have).
As a straight white male I’d like to say that some privilege is obviously wrong.
Legal privilege which systematically allocates more goodies to one group based on some arbitrary distinction is obviously wrong.
Legal privilege for heterosexual couples in the form of lower taxes, easier access to certain legal contracts, etc. is obviously wrong. It would also be wrong to extend an illegitimate franchise based on privilege.
Natural privileges are obviously not wrong. How we use these privileges can demonstrate either courage or cowardice. Fair competition for resources results in proportionate allocation of goodies, though not equal. For those who cannot compete, who have no natural talents or abilities, there is little hope for anything other than to accept the charity of others. Shall we get rid of competition then? No! For without it we have no way of knowing who is good at what, and we can’t get decent division of labor.
We must be brave enough to admit that there is nothing to be done for those without any natural talents if the church is not going to do it. For it is often those who lack natural talents who possess wonderful spiritual talents – privileges.
So, I renounce any legal privilege I have as a straight white male, and refuse to exercise that privilege. But I also embrace the natural talents God has given me, and dedicate them to His service through service to the least of these.
Hmmm… what does this look like for you?
I understand where you are coming from, but I am not completely sure what it looks like to “refuse to exercise that privilege.” Does this mean that you do not get married? I am just curious to see how this “refusal” actually plays out.
This is not a post about how bad straight, white men are. This is a post about how people need to be willing to try to understand and engage with the privilege that they have. And how it is really frustrating when people are not willing to do so.
I can say that as a straight, white, male that I have never felt attacked reading or commenting on this site.
Many thanks for the comments — you should be able to vent without it meaning that all white men should shut up.
I’ve hesitated to respond to some of your posts, since we’re friends and I think you’re a good guy. But I have been puzzled by the combative tone of your posts — it doesn’t seem to fit with what I know of you otherwise.
I believe that it’s important for us white men to listen to the voices of sexual/cultural/racial minorities. I believe that for too long “universal” experience has been defined by the experiences of white men. Too many “other” voices were silenced. So I do believe that we white men need to “own” this history and listen to these “other” voices.
What do you think that you’re telling people when you declare that there are no “teams?” You’re telling people to shut up. You’re telling people that you don’t want to listen. I think this is why people like Katie are pissed — they’re constantly being told in one way or another to shut up. YAR was intended to be a safe place for these voices, and yet here again are white men telling them to shut up.
I know that you have your own experiences and that you probably feel your voice isn’t being listened to. I bet you feel frustrated. And it’s okay for you to feel these things, but perhaps this is not the space for you to voice these frustrations.
You don’t have to buy into concepts like “white privilege,” but I invite you to listen for a while. And ask respectful questions. I know you want other people to listen to you, but I think that in this case, we white men need to listen first.
One of the things that strikes me about the Early Church is that while both the powerful and powerless were part of the community, they didn’t always get it right either. A number of Paul’s letters deal with power imbalances in the churches (I am thinking particularly of Ephesians 5 & 6 and Paul’s condemnation of the abuse of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11). There’s a lot of divisiveness in the New Testament, and clearly we are still struggling with these issues.
Thanks Katie – you always lay things right out on the line! I’ve been part of a number of the discussions you refer to as feeling like the exact same thing over & over again, especially as regards us queers. I have a slightly more hopeful take on them, because I feel like a few of these discussions have actually resulted in useful dialogue where that “same straight guy” it seems we’re always talking to is at least willing to reexamine his viewpoint and the space he’s speaking from. Maybe I’m too optimistic.
What is the right attitude and posture to take? We have this nebulous space of the web forum, where anyone can drift in & out of participation. Personally, I would feel a lot more open about using YAR as a place to discuss my spiritual life and struggles with social justice if I felt like queer-positiveness was a given. But can I demand that? Can I get angry about it if it turns out to not be true? I honestly don’t know. The truth is, besides being gay, I usually feel like I am speaking from a position of lots of privilege, so my posture is usually one of more listening and trying to take the conversation to where other people are at – I’m not sure I have the right to dictate what this space should be like. The weakness of this approach is that my tendency, like many others it seems, would be to fade away if I constantly find myself not wanting to go to where others are at, rather than attempt to reclaim the space.
If physical communities of people, the listeners & questioners are absolutely essential to the life of the community. Think about any church you’ve been a part of. But an online space can very easily become dominated by those who are least willing to listen, since all we have are words, and this shuts down even more the listeners/questioners. Once that imbalance has taken hold, that’s when the conversations all start to have that special testosterone flavor, and, frankly, usually become pretty uninteresting, at least to me.
I’d love to see more personal sharing from people’s lives on here, especially from the ones who’ve said they haven’t felt like this is a space they can really share in. Maybe we’ll get some good things going. Then, as inevitably will happen, when these never-ending cycles of “your privilege vs. everyone else’s voice” conversations come up, they can happen in a space where some fruitful communication has a chance to occur.
Somasoul, if you’re willing to follow me on this one, then I’ll say that your response of feeling under attack for being a straight white male is pretty common when beginning to enter into spaces where you’re hearing minority voices. I hope you really try to understand this, rather than just blowing it off as being nothing more than other people’s “agendas,” because examining your response is absolutely key to being able to meaningfully talk to minority people. The best place to start to think about it that I know of, which has come up before on this forum, is this series of reflections:
Seriously, check it out, and then let us know what you think.
Oh… heh… just got my two points – that link has come up QUITE recently on this site.
“Somasoul, if you’re willing to follow me on this one, then I’ll say that your response of feeling under attack for being a straight white male………..*and all similar comments*”
No. The feeling is more of one of others wanting some sort of apology for me being straight or white or male. I have no apology to offer. Just like Conservatives seem to worship those who have money/power liberals seem to be more concerned with tearing down. I don’t like the feeling of being “torn down” because of my skin color or my gender. I certainly have no interest in tearing down queers or females or anyone else. But the attitude that eminates from this site is one of “If you won’t belittle yourself like you (meaning straight white males) have belittled others than you are not with us.
I don’t buy into that.
Build up. Edify.
My straight white male heritage comes from a divorced family with a corporatly laid off father and a welfare mother. I grew up eating cereal for years for dinner all by myself. If that’s white privilage you can have it.
Let me guess – Somasoul – you weren’t raised Mennonite? You’re supposed to be PASSIVE in your aggressiveness…. unless you’re a lesbian. Then you can express your anger and we’re all secretly thrilled.
(anyone who doesn’t get these jokes, please don’t worry about them.)
Listen, Somasoul… there are a lot of people on this site who have a lot of experience working for social justice among a variety of groups – various people, and – guess what – a lot of them are straight white males. None of these straight white males who are accustomed to working in minority spaces have taken any personal offense to this discussion. Instead, they (try to) approach discussions about people of different race, gender, sexuality, etc. with sensitivity, openness, questioning, and humility. You don’t. If you can’t listen at this point if your life to what minority people are trying to tell you about how you affect their ability to have their own spaces, then please at least try to model yourself on your more experienced peers. Otherwise you’ll make a complete boor of yourself, and you’ll ruin this site for everyone who wants to be able to write here.
TouchÃ© luke, touchÃ©
Good question. Should I refuse to get married? Well, I am already, but how should I treat the privilege my marriage certificate creates? Shall I not claim exemptions on my income taxes? Should I refuse any family discounts offered by commercial interests unless they also offer these to unmarried couples, or legally-unable-to-be-married couples?
I am open to suggestions about this.
Nathanael… I really don’t know the answers to those questions.
Which is why I was hoping you would! :)
It is a challenge to truly “refuse to exercise” the privilege that we have. I have often wrestled with what that looks like.
As Katie said, I’m out of the country right noÆ° (hence my dubya’s don’t Æ°á»rk), so I do not have time (or keyboáº£rd) to Æ°rite a long and thoughtful respÃ³nse. But I Æ°ill say it makes me váº»ry happy to see so many familiar faces posting.
I’ve felt kind of alone on decision making on this blog for the past 6 months or so and so I’m very happy to see an emerging consensus in the commÃ©nt. It Æ°ould be great if Æ°e could find concrete steps to move forá»ad Æ°ith bÃ¡sed on this agreement. So specific suggÃ©stions for policies and tools are especially Æ°elcome.
I can’t but help agree with a lot that Somasoul has to say.
I’m relatively new to this place, but I don’t see much of the love of Christ in singling out straight white men. It seems that a lot of people who feel marginalized in other places want to use this forum to get back at their percieved enemy, ‘the straight white man’.
As a guy who has been white for the past 30 years, I agree that its wrong that a lot of you have been discriminated against. Its terrible! Its not God’s heart in the matter. God never intended for you to be treated that way.
However, singling out a particular demographic as the culprit doesn’t do anything for the cause. It misses the point. Its the same non-sensical view that some people have that says the Jew’s killed Jesus. Its nonsense. We’re all sinful and we all need a savior.
Ephesians 4:31-32 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
I know that some of you may have been wronged SWM, but nevertheless, we are all called to forgive. I want to live in unity with you guys, but you can’t constantly tear me down here simply b/c of my race.
Again… where are “straight white men” singled out and attacked? I don’t see it, and I am a straight white man. I don’t see anyone tearing down white people or tearing down males.
Again, the problem is not with single white men, or with people of privilege. The problem is when people refuse to listen, refuse to understand, or refuse to acknowledge the privilege that they have and what it means.
And even that, I don’t necessarily see people tearing down those that do not or will not wrestle with their privilege. I see people expressing frustration with the way that they do not feel safe on this site.
Katie is right. There are people who refuse to wrestle with their privilege. And Katie is right when she says it is almost always straight white males. I think part of this is that many of us really do not understand the privilege that we live in. Which is why I hesitate to say we need to “block” these people from the conversations. People need to understand. But in order to understand, they first need to become aware.
Now… just to be clear, coming from a place of privilege or power does NOT mean that one does not have struggles. It does not mean that there are not times where the person of privilege is oppressed or discriminated against for various reasons. It does not mean that you are wealthy. What it means is that, in our society, you have an implicit (and at times explicit) privilege and power that others do not have.
The best I can explain it is like this. In terms of privilege and power, would you rather be treated the way a poor black lesbian woman would be treated? Or the way a poor white straight male would be treated? Now… there are of course other issues and preferences in these questions, but in terms of privilege and power, and you are treated in society, I think that the question is pretty clear.
I can’t really think of a time in my life when I didn’t need a reality check. As I straight white man I say keep up the attack, keep tearing down…you can choose to do so lovingly or spitefully, either way it is good for us.
I look at this in two ways: as followers of Christ, we should always be humbling ourselves, because we tend to “think of ourselves more highly than we ought.” That is the personal, pious position that could apply to all Christians. The other way I look at is the same as what has been expressed here on this blog. I have an overwhelming amount of privilege, and the more I am aware of it, the more I can use it in positive, life-giving ways. I say use it, because washing our hands of this privilege is not a possibility. It is here, and we have to deal with it.
What do we make of the scripture which says, “You have not suffered anything except that which is common to man”?
Shit happens. Can anyone say that more of it comes from our fellow man than that which comes from nature? Can anyone claim that their entire ancestral history was more or less privileged than anyone else? Can anyone capture that butterfly before it creates a tornado? Is there scriptural support for delving into such histories? (I Timothy 1:4)
Are we statically minded or future focussed?
The best strategy is not to try to get distributions corrected, but to make processes more just.
You raise some really interesting questions. I have an anecdote to share related to your ideas. When my partner and I had our commitment ceremony a couple years ago, I sent in an announcement of it to the alumni bulletin of my alma mater, Goshen College (a Mennonite spot in Indiana where the leafy maples grow, for anyone who’s not familiar.) I had previously had announcements printed about my work, travel, school, etc., and I thought that my former classmates might be interested to know of the ceremony. I got a letter about why they were declining to print the announcement. Now, this could raise another discussion about when, where, and how they decide to screen all alumni announcements for possible violations of church doctrine, but let’s not go there for now. I was understandably pissed off about this and shared it with a number of friends. A couple of good friends, also both alumni of Goshen (you hear from 1/2 of this couple on this site quite a bit), happened to be getting married at the same time – heterosexually, I should add. Their response to my situation was to send in a note to the alumni bulletin saying they had been married but didn’t want the information to be printed because others had been refused the same privilege.
I thought this was a powerful witness. What made it powerful wasn’t so much the act of not printing their message as the way in which they let others know exactly what they were doing and why they were doing it. I think that that note from them probably (sadly) had much more of an impact than anything I could have written – the bulletin obviously assumed that I wouldn’t be happy about it. But to hear from a young straight couple refusing to print have their info printed probably made much more on eye-opening impression. I very much appreciated the solidarity, as well.
It’s that witness part that is the real key to your ideas, I think. Someone with a certain privilege – in this case, having one’s choice of partner recognized by institutional powers – can make a powerful witness by divesting themselves of that privilege and letting everyone know exactly what they’re doing and why. The powers-that-be don’t give a $hit that a gay couple (multiple gay couples, actually) didn’t get their announcement printed in a church-affiliated organization. But if a number of straight couples let everyone know that they’re refusing to print theirs, and why, then suddenly someone who needs to feel uncomfortable might start feeling a bit uncomfortable. People in privilege can very blithely accept without question the disenfranchisement and disempowerment of minority folks as a natural part of the world and never think twice, but if their claim on the advantages of their privilege gets called into question even just a little bit, then suddenly they feel very emotional about the whole thing.
You said this perfectly.
This conversation has never been about why any combination of straight/white/or male is bad in any way. It’s about how this space can be welcoming for minority voices, and how & why it isn’t so right now, and what everyone needs to do to make it be so in the future. The real key, which I believe has been YAR consensus in the past, is that anyone engaging in discussions about a minority group should operate by the ideas & spirit of the “check your privilege” post (yet again) under the assigned reading tab.
I understand you you wishing to be recognized with your partner. But I think we need to ask “What does Goshen owe you? Or anyone else?”
I believe that Goshen has the right to refuse to print homosexual union ceremony announcements, heterosexual ceremony announcements, classified ads, job ads, lost dog announcements, or anything else they wish to refuse for whatever reason.
I want to be clear on this. This specific situation you cite, for me, isn’t a gay issue. It’s a property rights issue. Goshen and every other entity on the planet has the right to decide how to use their own property. I can’t tell my neighbor how to trim his lawn, nor can I command minor or major media to bend to my will or any other.
Your friends have the right to refuse submitting their own marriages or announcements in an attempt to get Goshen (or whomever) to see the light. But by no means does Goshen owe us the right to use their property to benefit us.
Perhaps this is my reason for this whole “white privilage” debacle on this site at the moment. I don’t feel that by simply being born white, male, and straight that I owe anybody an apology. I don’t need to justify my existance to anyone. I don’t need to apologize for being alive.
Nor does anyone else. Not Luke for being Gay. Or Katie for being a woman. Nor Jason for being white.
I don’t believe anyone of us needs to apologize for simply existing.
I was cleaning the attic the other day and I found my old NOFX Punk in Drublic CD. I think the lyrics to Don’t Call me White can sum up my thought process at the moment:
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
The connotations wearing my nerves thin
Could it be semantics generating the mess we’re in? (Emphasis mine)
I understand that language breeds stereotype
But what’s the explanation for the malice, for the spite?
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
I wasn’t brought here, I was born
Circumsized, categorized, allegiance sworn,
Does this mean I have to take such shit
For being fairskinned? No!
I ain’t a part of no conspiracy,
I’m just you’re average Joe.
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Represents everything I hate,
The soap shoved in your mouth to cleanse the mind
The vast majority of sheep
A buttoned collar, starched and bleached
Constricting veins, the blood flow to the brain slows
They’re so fuckin’ ordinary white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
We’re better off this way
Say what you’re gonna say
So go ahead and label me
An asshole cause I can
Accept responsibility, for what I’ve done
But not for who I am
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Don’t call me white, Don’t call me white
Perhaps… but that really is not the issue. The issue is not whether or not they have a “right” to post the announcement. The issue is whether or not they should post the announcement. This discussion really is not about the “rights” of the university but instead about the ethics of whether or not they post the announcement.
You keep saying things like this, as if someone is asking you do apologize for existing, but it is an obvious straw man.
No one is asking you to apologize for “simply existing.” No one is asking you “to justify my existance.” No one is asking you do “apologize for being alive.”
We are asking you to listen. We are asking you to try and understand the privilege that comes with being a straight white male. We are asking you to try and engage with this privilege.
Please stop implying that anyone is telling you to apologize for being a straight white male.
I do agree with white privilage. But perhaps not your definition of it. In another thread I agreed that things like our justice system benefit whites. But I disagree that whites have an advantage when it comes to, say, mortgages and lending.
It isn’t that white privilage does not exist but that it does not exist to the extent that some others believe it does.
After World War II people began to get life back to normal. The machinery of industry was still in place. Homes were beggining to built like planes, bombs, and cars. Enter Levittown, the first American Suburb. An assembly line of American ingenuity.
All the homes looked the same. They were big for their time. And cheap. And had lawns. William Levitt was a pioneer.
But the first suburb like almost all the following suburbs had a condition: No Blacks. And often No Asians. No Jews.
Whites left the city for cheap suburban housing. Blacks largely couldn’t buy into the new American dream because they were not allowed to.
Whether we realized it or not we moved American life outside of big cities and left some citizens there. The American Dream was no longer North Avenue, Downtown, and Belevedere Square. The American dream was the backyard, barbecues, and garages. Those citizens left behind became the urban poor.
Levittown and other suburban developments left whites an advantage. Neighborhoods. Jobs inaccessible to those without transportation. This is white privilage.
Today anyone can own a home in Levittown based on the same standards. On this we are all equal. On this, we disagree.
What you describe is a confrontation over social pressures with no legal backing, necessarily, but a large potential legal influence. In other words, privileged individuals sitting back on their haunches, not even recognizing their privilege, and enjoying it. When their privilege is threatened they claim it as a right. In my experience, people are always more protective of their privileges than they are of their rights. This incumbent position is the most difficult to rattle. What is required is for someone who enjoys the privilege to willingly, publicly, give it up and call it evil. That’s what your friends did, and that’s what made the difference. It made people who need to feel uncomfortable cringe.
This is what the church exists for, to make the world uncomfortable. To live a life so peculiar, according to an ethic so different, and to do so so publicly, that the world can’t help notice that they are NOT in the church.
This ethic requires first and foremost death to self. Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls a man, He bids him come and die.” This is what makes the Church peculiar from the world — a regenerate nature capable of denying self-interest.
Since the privileges we are now discussing are enforced through mere social pressures, and not by legal structures, we need to recognize that the solution is not legal sanctions over the social norms. Avoid the temptation to say, “There ought to be a law.” Instead, say with Chesterton, “In response to your question, ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ I am. Yours truly. GKC”
Hi Katie, First off, I love your posts!! Keep it up! :)
I’m a lurker, here are some thoughts.
You’re asking how can we encourage more diversity on the blog.
Well – I’m not a part of an Anabaptist church or community now, but I grew up Mennonite, went to a Mennonite college and have been to a number of Mennonite churches. One thing I’ve noticed is that most of the people I’ve seen in these places are white. I know that’s not true when you look at Anabaptists worldwide, but in my experience, when I’ve been involved with the Mennonites in North America, they’ve been pretty white. So it isn’t surprising that most of the people who post on an Anabaptist blog are white.
Then there’s the LGBT issue. I’m queer. The church – in general – just doesn’t get it. They spend a lot of time arguing about whether or not we should be allowed to join the church or not, whether we should be allowed to have relationships and with whom. It’s really just not relevant to my life. Why would I want to be a part of a church that goes back and forth about it deciding whether I should be allowed in? The answer is I don’t. I get more support from my friends, most of whom aren’t Christian. The church is many years behind society on LGBT. Bisexual and transgender people don’t even seem to be on the church’s radar, for example.
From this outsider’s perspective, Anabaptism = mainstream Christianity. There are some differences, especially around issues such as pacifism, but overall, Anabaptists are somewhere in the middle of the mainstream. Radical? Not anymore.
So —- it doesn’t suprise me that people who write on an Anabaptist blog are people who buy into mainstream Christianity. My guess is people who are more on the fringes, like myself, are voting with their feet because it wasn’t working for us.
As for what to do about it? I don’t know, what do y’all think?
Katie, thanks so much for posting this. It feels like there used to be much more willingness to intelligently engage each other and see what came out of it — and now lots of arguments and people sitting firmly in their corners. The most thoughtful and insightful people on this blog have disappeared, and I miss you. I want people like you to tell me when I’m cranky, hypocritical or just plain wrong–or sometimes right! :) Just today I was pondering removing myself entirely from the blog, and then I read this. I’ll stick around a bit longer.
Somasoul – I honestly don’t understand your argument. You seem to criticize Levittown for “red lining” (i.e. preventing minorities from moving into the neighborhood), yet a few posts earlier you defended Goshen College’s decision not to print Luke’s wedding announcement on the basis of property rights. The argument you used is precisely the argument used to defend “red lining” (it’s my property, I can rent and sell it to whomever I want to). Where are you making this distinction?
Furthermore, we’re not talking about red lining or forcing minorities to sit in the back of the bus. “White Privilege” confronts some of the continued imbalances that the Civil Rights Movement was unable to solve — the intangibles of power.
Thanks for your post. I’m straight, “ethnic” and in Seminary. I’m pretty far “inside” the Mennonite Church and I feel pretty damn frustrated about the church’s continued unwillingness to let my queer brothers and sisters in.
I felt this frustration acutely a couple of months ago at Eastern Mennonite Seminary’s School of Leadership Training. The topic this year (about ten years too late) was on “sexual brokeness.” For me the positive aspect of the conference was that we were talking about this issue at all — I never thought I’d sit in a room full of pastors and talk about sex. But it’s also clear to me that we have a very long way to go on issues of sexuality.
It’s not just homosexuality — we’re way behind on issues sexual abuse. I heard a number of participants ask about or make comments on integrating perpetrators of sexual violence into the congregation. It seems to me that churches are more willing to accept pedophiles than singe-sex couples.
The latest spin on the “Homosexual Problem” was presented by an EMS professor who argued that the church should be “Welcoming but Not Affirming.” In other words, we should allow queers into our churches, but still teach that it’s a sin. This is some ways an improvement. An argument over what it means to “love” is better than outright condemnation. However, I’m concerned that this kind of “love” language will provide cover for continued discrimination as Goshen College “lovingly” refuses to print Luke’s wedding announcement.
So I can’t blame you for voting with your feet. Yet I do also care passionately about the Church and for me the “radical” part of YAR is the hope that things will be different.
I have a growing awareness that perhaps I cannot just do “social justice” outside the Church, I must also do “social justice” inside the Church.
Thanks for your clarification. Honestly, there were a couple statements made in your original post that made me think that you were asking ALL SWMs to just not post. But I understand better now. I think that the blog posting that both you and luke linked to was really helpful and to the point.
Even if Katie’s original post wasn’t clear, certainly her and Dave’s and luke’s clarifications were. If you can’t handle the fact that in some ways you DO have privilege and that it is really EASY to abuse, then fine. But don’t blame the people who are trying to help you see it. These posts are supposed to be FOR the SWMs not against them. Because the only way we obtain salvation is through humility and surrender of our power– you know, like what Jesus did and taught.
Nathanael and Luke bring up some interesting and practical questions about giving up privilege. But I think it can be carried too far. My homeless folks have no where to go to the bathroom because the public bathrooms have been closed to them and, of course, it is illegal to urinate or deficate in public. But this does not mean that I should refrain from using my bathroom in my house and do it on the street. I’d be too embarasssed, for one thing.
I think that the example Luke gave was excellent. The couple who refused to announce their marriage not only gave up their right, but they did it in such a way that it brought up the issue to others.
Thus, I think that the issue is not only surrendering privilege, but doing so for the purpose of love. Jesus didn’t only say “sell your possessions”, thus be rid of your privilege, but also “give to the poor” so that the reduction of your privilege also OFFERS privilege to those who lack it. We need to not only sacrifice and be humble, but we must do it in a context of love.
You’re cranky, hypocritical and just plain wrong.
Feel better? ;)
Haha, thanks Luke! Guess I will have to stay…
*Ah shit, this is gonna be long*
I think there is a significant difference between printing up an announcement in a small publication and selling property and disenfranchising folks from entire regional areas.
People certainly should be able to choose who they buy or rent to or whom they choose serve. But what we did wasn’t simply about homes or jobs or lawns. It was about creating a permenate under-class. It was more than homes. It was education. It was jobs. It was water fountains. Bathrooms. Seats on public transit.
It was physcological warfare.
We did this once, not even 50 years ago. And we will do it again. We have a new underclass. An underclass we tolerate in our country but refuse to do anything about. We will compromise and let the South Americans stay in droves. We won’t give them citizenship. We will give them temporary worker visas. We will legislate into existance two very seperate classes. We will watch as the two underclasses we created battle it out in our major cities. We will create animosity between the races/classes. It’s already starting in Florida and Texas and California. Welcome to ghetto 2.0 . You’d think we’d learn.
I thought about this alot today when I was naked in the shower. (Am I the only one who does his best thinking naked in the shower or do you do it too?)
Here’s my beef with all the shenanigans on YAR recently. We, as a society, want things from other people. We think it be best if those people over there give whatever they have to ourselves or some other group of people. If whites would give reparations……….if Americans would give the natives their land back……….if Israel would give something to the palestinians……if Walmart paid more….it goes on and on. Pick your agenda. It’s never about “me” it’s always about “they”.
I think I’m at the point where I’m just plain old sick and tired of being told what to do or what to think or who I should be. I don’t want to force people to do stuff nor do I want to feel forced. As a Christian I want to say “How can I serve?” not “How can I make you serve?”
And on this site I’ve been told “This is how you, Tim, should serve……..”
And no matter how much I agree with anyone’s perspective I hate being felt forced to believe something. That’s how this board has responded to comments I’ve made. Like people want to mold me into their image.
I wonder if we do that to God?
Oppression is found wherever there is dehumanization. Perhaps, as you say, the not allowing an ad being published is a small thing. But that is a symptom of a major disease. Homosexuals being degraded and called “immoral” by Christians, when they don’t even know them? Christians not allowing homosexuals to rent their apartments? Homosexual partners not being allowed to see their partner in the hospital because the “real family” wouldn’t allow it? These are real issues, and are, at heart, declaring a certain group sub-human. We, as Christians, need to take this seriously, because it is we, who are supposed to represent Christ, who are doing the oppression.
The same thing is happening, as you say, against immigrants. And against homeless. But rather than picking or choosing between oppressions, let’s name it all as evil and unjust and all to be judged by God, okay? And lets all do all we can to recognize this and to stop it happening in our lives.
I’m not trying to mold you into my image, SS. I am hoping that you will be willing to be molded into Jesus’.
Why I need YAR, why I lurk and don’t post much, what I want YAR to be
I am a straight white male. I am a pastor. I am young (28), Anabaptist, and I like to think I’m radical. I need the intellectual stimulation and engaging thinking that comes from YAR. I need the reminder that the Mennonite Church still has a prophetic edge, and that I am not alone. I need to hear from the voices that the institutional church too-often silences.
I mostly lurk because I recognize that as a straight white male within the institutional church, I can’t usually offer a perspective that a majority of readers aren’t already familiar with. I often find myself poised to post a cranky or clever response to a response to a response to a post. By the time I start typing, I get over the idea that what I have to say would be any more valuable or convincing that what anyone else could say or has already said. I also recognize that this format is incredibly limited in terms of potential for transformative conversation.
My vision of the YAR that I would like to continue to read:
A limited slate of diverse writers who agree to post once a week or once every other week. My favorite posters are Tim, Katie and Luke. Add a couple more (Sarah T? Are you still out there?) and keep provoking us. Close off regular postings to other writers except perhaps in extrarodinary circumstances. Give us consistent quality, and we will come.
I do think it is important for the comments section to remain a free-for-all. As frustrating as the posts can be, this is the only opportunity for engagement with the original poster. Give folks a place to rant if they need to, but let the front page be a high-quality, worthwhile voice for a select group of YARs.
For what it is worth,
“Homosexuals being degraded and called “immoral” by Christians, when they don’t even know them?”
Aren’t people here essentially calling Goshen immoral because they won’t post the wedding announcement even though they don’t them?
This is a two way street. We all judge each-other. Rightly or wrongly. Justly or Unjustly.
I do it. You do it. We all hold standards that we ourselves do not keep.
I get the feeling from my gay/transgenered neighbors that they do not have contact with their parents due to religious reasons. I can’t prove this. For all I know their parents might be dead. But there is animosity there toward religion, specifically Christianity.
1) If we are so readily swayed toward what is or is not sin based on cultural taboos or our own personal tastes then what did Christ die for?
2) If we participate in behavior that pushes people away from the cross then what good is it?
Is there a balance? If not, can there be one at all?
I don’t have any easy answers toward things like homosexuality or illegal-immigration or the apathy in many Christian churches. These are complex issues. Issues bigger than either you or I are capable of handling, me thinks.
“I am hoping that you will be willing to be molded into Jesus’.”
I’m wondering if anyone knows what Jesus’ image really is.
Tim, et. al.:
I heartily agree with Adam’s comment, on a number of points. While I used to post more often, I’m firmly entrenched in institutional Mennonites circles (graduating from Goshen College and beginning at AMBS–a Mennonite seminary–in the fall) and often feel like what I would say is already well-represented on YAR. And, I’m trying to shut up more, because I agree with Katie that it’s something SWMs need to learn to do more.
I consider myself one of the founding members of YAR, in that I was part of the face-to-face meeting that took place before the website was launched. One of my greatest regrets (related to YAR) since then is that we didn’t decide at the time to make YAR a “closed” group, in the sense that Adam described it. I think there should be a core group of 5-7 people (and I don’t want to be one of them) who agree to post regularly, and the rest of us can comment at will. The core group should represent different viewpoints to a certain extent, but should share some basic understandings of what it means to be a YAR. Like Adam said, this ensures quality and consistency, and would certainly make me more excited about reading and commenting regularly. Sure, it’s a bit more exclusive. But that’s okay sometimes, and I think it’s what YAR needs.
It’s great to hear so many voices of people who care about this site.
I’d like to say: please, on the thing about the Goshen wedding announcement — it was never meant to be a discussion about the morality of them not printing it. The whole point was to bring up that example of how people with privilege can give up that privilege in a creative way that creates solidarity & change, as it related to the idea brought up by Nathaneal about relinquishing privilege. (The more I thought about that idea, the more ultra-Anabaptist it sounds, a la Schleitheim confession, as in kingdom of the world vs. kingdom of God. If social injustice is the ultimate sin for modern Anabapstist, then the only way to separate ourselves from the “kingdom of the world/privilege” would be by relinquishing privilege & identifying with the downtrodden. SteveK talks about this kind of idea a lot. I’m not sure the absolute separation between the world & heaven could work anymore in this context than it ever did in the original – but still…our paradigm has never changed.) Anyway — please, let’s not talk anymore about Goshen and their evil alumni bulletin — talk about what Tim & Charletta did. That’s the really interesting thing. If we want to talk about the real oppression of queers in the U States then we’ll talk about the spiritual & psychological devastation of queer children & teens, and the devastation of children & teens who are taught such fear & hatred of queers that their own lives are destroyed in perpetrating hatred & violence. (Google Lawrence King if you haven’t heard about the recent killing of the boy in California.)
Interesting ideas about changing the format of the blog. I’ve always had this thought that the current blog format is only half-right for the way YAR works, and I’m not sure it makes sense as purely a blog. There seem to be two things going on — front-page blog posts (which should be of the highest quality), and free-for-all discussion, which should be a freefrall. My idea is to separate the blog into two different areas. One would be the front-page blog posts. There could be a core of regular posters, like others have suggested, plus invited guest posters. It wouldn’t have to be ultra-exclusive in any way. There could be a small number of weekly blog spots that any regular community member could sign up for. Maybe by limiting it everyone would save their best & highest quality stuff for the blog. The comment section would remain the same.
The second section could be more of a forum/message board/discussion area, with multiple threads of discussion, and anyone could start a new discussion and write in this area. I think this would make a lot more sense — currently, when a discussion really gets going (like this one now) there are usually a number of interesting sub-threads that get started, but in this strict comment section it’s really hard to keep all of them going, and they tend to either trail off or get copied over as a new blog post, which makes things a bit sloppy. Plus, more of an informal discussion area could loosen up the need for discussion to always be serious, and people could just talk about their lives or goings-on — it could make for more of an effective community.
Hmm… sounds like a complicated task for someone who knows more about the web than I. Are you back in the states yet Tim?
It’s kind of Anabaptist, too. We have the priesthood of all believers but we’ve also chosen people from among us to bring the Word. We’re not like those crazy Quakers and their complete free-for-all on Sunday morning — although I’m sure we would all benefit from a lot more silence before the Spirit moves us to speak.
Hehe – also very Mennonite – Sunday morning message with some comments from the congregation, and then coffee hour/potluck where everybody chats forever.
Hmm… now I’m really thinking about this. Maybe a third section, open to anyone, for posting creative work – poems, stories, music, artwork. Our hymns. Tim? You don’t need time to work for money, do you? Sorry. I’m swept up in my metaphor here.
Luke and Adam,
Thanks for your very specific suggestions. I’m still in Vietnam, but will be back at the end of next week. Will think more about this then.
Any further comments on Adam or Luke’s suggestions? Any further ideas?
Seems like Goshen limiting input and this site limiting input are one and the same.
You know what’s (not so) funny about this discussion It’s mostly men talking. again.
Katie, your point has been proven in this thread alone.
Yes, we do all judge, sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly. But we should NEVER just ignore our judgment and hypocrisy and say, “Oh well, that’s how we all are.” We should notice our sin and repent. That’s the basic message of Jesus’ gospel. As far as knowing Jesus’ message and example, I understand your frustration. But again, the way to know Jesus way is by doing what we DO know and listening to those who live it out. We should never throw up our hands because of our limited understanding.
I don’t think your comment is in tune with Katie’s post. Yes, it is mostly men who are posting here, but almost all the posts are in tune (I think) with Katie’s post. She was complaining about the reactionary posts from a perspective of privilege, which are few here. We have people here who recognize their privilege, we have people who are gay posting, we have the poor posting, we have some who have radically surrendered their privilege, and that is much of what we are talking about.
Yes, it is interesting that it is mostly men posting. But I wonder if that isn’t a social phenomenon (or possibly biological?) rather than a problem of privilege.
So Amy and Katie, do you think that we should have never had this discussion because it is mostly men?
One final note:
Perhaps instead of discussion posts only being invited, could they all be moderated first? In other words, if someone offers up a post, perhaps it could be examined for content and for the frequency of the author to make sure that different perspectives are given fair speaking time.
But this whole thing brings up questions in my mind: What is the philosophy of YAR that some might not be able to post? Does YAR want to be exclusionary? Should YAR exclude certain voices, or should it specifically invite people to post more.
My main issue with the perspective like what Amy gave is the idea that because some people don’t choose to speak as frequently, that others who do should be quiet. But it seems to me that rather than limiting some, we should be encouraging other, more minority voices to speak more. Frankly, I think YAR should be busier than it is.
Hmm… I would say that I would rather have a limited number of “front pagers” than to see moderation of posts.
Moderation leads to censoring certain thing and judgment calls, which inevitably leads to issues.
I like Luke and Adam’s ideas… though I am a bit cynical about the effectiveness of open discussion boards/forums. I just haven’t seen many discussion boards that have been done well.
One possible idea would be to allow for front page posts and then diaries (something similar to the Daily Kos model).
j alan meyer said ‘One of my greatest regrets (related to YAR) since then is that we didn’t decide at the time to make YAR a “closed” group, in the sense that Adam described it. I think there should be a core group of 5-7 people’
Funny (not) how a discussion about white male privilege has turned into a discussion about how some people in the group should be given the power and privilege to post and moderate comments because of all of us oppressive white men that apparently are ruining the party.
J Alan Meyer, you scolded me on privilege the other day, yet you seem to have no problem exercising power for the right set of people with the right set of beliefs.
What a sick joke.
I have said this several times, but I see none of the unity of Christ in any of these posts and I’m starting to think that a lot of people here have no interest in it.
There is some talk about putting restrictions on who can post here – I don’t think it’s such a good idea… Conflict is a *good* thing if it challenges you and gets you to engage with different views. And passionate discussion makes more interesting reading.
Maybe we encourage people to listen and to speak their truth?
I’m not sure that it’s really about restricting/excluding. It’s just a question of what function the site should have, and what format would best to fit that function. Do we want to be:
A.) a blog with high-quality, thoughtful content that attracts a diverse array of readers
B.) a community of back-and-forth, passionate & free-wheeling discussion
Although the two aren’t absolutely exclusive, they do tend to pull in opposite directions. The problem with the current format is that discussion tends to drop directly down toward the lowest common denominator – in other words, whoever makes the most controversial, offensive, flashy, etc. statement will get all the attention and all the energy of the whole site will go toward engaging that one person (who, as Katie has noted, has always turned out to be a straight white male who sticks around for a few weeks and then moves on.)
This turns away a LOT of people – probably more than you any of us realize. For some, argumentation and free-wheeling discussion about ideas can be fun and non-threatening. But for a lot of people it isn’t always that way. For one, if you happen to be a member of a vulnerable demographic who is carries inside the pain of what it means to be non-white, queer, female, etc. in this society, then a discussion about your demographic will be much more personal and hurt a lot more. It’s not just a free-wheeling exchange of ideas – it’s something much more potent, and the more insensitive the people involved in the discussion, the more likely it will be you who ends up just leaving & not necessarily coming back. And for two, a lot of thoughtful & mature people simply don’t have the time nor desire to engage whoever happens to be the chest-beater of the moment, and become lurkers or leavers.
My idea is to embrace both functions of the site but strengthen both of them by giving them each the appropriate format. For the high-quality front-page content that would attract a lot of people to the site, we could choose a small but diverse group of regular posters and have invited & volunteer guest posters (open to any regular community members on a limited basis.) It would be exclusive only in the sense that it would be a quantitative limit on how much most people could post (maybe once a month or so) – and true, would tend to concentrate the blog into fewer voices. For the discussion board, we would have more of a forum/message board setting, which would be much more advantageous than the current blog/response format – right now there can only be ten active discussions at any time, and if one discussion ever splits into two or more topics, then it gets very messy and tough to follow.
See? I’m afraid that what we’ve already found is that we’re losing tons of people who might want to be part of site but don’t, because they simply don’t have the energy to engage in the same old basic discussions about queer issues and basic understanding of privilege as it relates to minority groups over and over and over again. And I think we’ve already lost the majority of female & non-white voices – Katie & I (others?) come back to be the queer voices but I’m not sure either of us feel very comfortable sharing too personally from our lives anymore (I did more of that when first posting on this site but now I usually just engage in objective discussions.)
I don’t know. If tons of people will be pissed off & feel personally attacked/offended by any change then it probably isn’t worth doing. Maybe it’s just inevitable with this words-only web format, that almost any open site ends up being dominated by the most testosterone-driven and insensitive.
Thanks for explaining that, Luke, the proposal makes more sense now. But then I must ask the inevitable question, who determines who gets to post? Who will take on the power to speak? Just the fact that we can speak in this context gives us all some privilege.
I’m not disagreeing with the idea. Perhaps those who have been shy from speaking should be given a chance, or those who speak for those who cannot or are too afraid to speak. But it is tricky just giving this power. And it IS a power. This site is important. Too important to allow it to be taken over by the testosterone-driven. Too important to be forced to be just another debate between the same old lines. But what should it be? And who should hold the keys?
I don’t think I have the answers for that.
I think the idea that power can be given or taken away is absurd by someone else absurd.
I’m not saying it can’t happen, I’m saying that controlling power or believing you can control power is probably short-sighted.
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The proposals in this thread have kept on popping to the top of my mind even while I took a 36 hour break from the internet and visited the amazing Ha Long bay here in Vietnam.
One idea that came to mind that blends open participation and quality content is a democratic editing system which allows users to vote on their favorite stories to promote them to the front page. Digg.com is one well known example of this system. In our case there would probably be a page with all incoming articles. Once an article had received three or four thumbs up from users (or a group of editors) the post would go to the front page. Thumbs down could provide a way for users to express their disaproval of a post.
As far as the discussion forum goes, one hybrid solution is to simply provide “open threads” which are posts set up so YAR readers can discuss anything they want to. The benefit is that this doesn’t require any new software and integrates easily with the existing posts. Here’s one example of an open thread on one high traffic blog.
Jason J., I generally assume that everyone who comes here has a strong commitment to Anabaptism in one form or another, and cares about social justice. That said, I have found that calls to unity (or its close relatives, order and conformity) often are a way of shutting off conversation and maintaining the status quo. At what cost does unity come, and to whom? Paul called for women to be silent in the Corinth church, for the good of the community, and we still haven’t fully recovered from that one.
If you find yourself consistently being shut down, it might be because we’re all asses who are employing the same standards used by the denomination and its organizations; it might also be because everyone whom Tim involved at the beginning of YAR wanted this to be a space where those who, for whatever reason, found themselves on the margins of the Mennonite church, could have a space to express themselves–and perhaps your perspective at that point is a fairly traditional one we’ve all heard many times.
Listen for awhile. These aren’t just issues; some of the people who contribute to this blog have to listen to others discuss whether they deserve their very dignity, something those of us with a lot of privilege have never had to understand. Katie and others have said this better than me, but part of the nature of having power is that when it broadens away from your view, it can feel very threatening. I don’t think this needs to be the case, and I’d prefer that the discussions we have on YAR not come at the cost of anyone’s voice, much less yours. Perhaps what is important to remember that we don’t agree on everything here, and I don’t think we have to. Steve’s words on heresy and truth make me a little nervous, and I’ve told him that. But I also really, really admire what he’s doing with poverty and homelessness, and the way in which he consistently holds this up to us all. This may not be a space in which you’ll find a validation for all your thoughts, but I hope you’ll stick around anyway. In fact, I’d be happy to move conversations to email, with you or anyone else. I’m tired, too, but I still think that what we have in common is probably more than what divides us.
I’ve waited a while to post here because the point I wanted to make didn’t seem to be in step with the majority of the comments. And I think a lot of you have made some great comments. Here’s my two cents
One of the biggest roles I think those with privilege on this blog can play is assisting those who come from similar privilege in recognizing how that privilege actually gets played out in the very core of their thinking.
For example, as a straight white male, I’ve been observing certain things that keep popping up among the straight white men who post on the blog. And, I think, knowing where those perceptions come from because I am of a similar background, I am able to address them.
This may sound confusing, because it’s hard for me to put into words, I think it might best be illustrated in an example:
One thing I’ve noticed keeps popping up among straight white men, and I think is a particularly strong tendency in much of Euro-American theology that I have read, is to believe that one is “blazing a trail” and one has a “unique” theology/interpretation of Scripture/Jesus that is “what Jesus intended”. Now, it is important to grasp at what it is that Jesus intends us to be; yet, often that “unique” and “trail blazing” theology comes with a very exclusive tone, consciously or unconsciously (i.e., this is “my Jesus” and this is “radical”, and if you think otherwise you just “don’t get it”).
I think that there is some level of “nerve” in this approach, in the sense that one is saying, “Hey everybody, you haven’t understood what faith means for your whole life, let me explain it to you”. This has within it a paternalistic tone, one that provides the answers without ever being asked the questions.
This simultaneously highly individualistic and (in the mind of the “straight white male”) “unqiue, original, and dangerous” interpretation allows him to not only indulge his privilege of being able to “be individual” (opposed to the lack of identity that the marginalized often report) while also calling into question the identity of others, all under the guise of being “prophetic”.
What I find most helpful about the marginalized voices on this blog is that they raise questions about assumptions, but don’t expect that they are going to have all the answers, nor will anyone else. Instead, they allow space for conversation where imaginative new understandings of Christian identity, ethics, and understanding can be formulated within the context of an interpretive “community” of inclusion. And we Anabaptists are all about the interpretive community, aren’t we?
If you are straight white male and feel like I’ve made “generalizations” about you, I understand what you are feeling. I’ve been there. My first encounters with marginalized people discussing privilege felt uncomfortable.
But, understand that as Lora mentioned, your calls for unity are calls for those marginalized voices to shut up, whether you want to believe that or not (thanks for point that out Lora) also understand that those feelings of frustration, hurt, and anger are the same feelings that many marginalized voices on this blog have to feel every single day. Straight white men don’t have to justify their identity from day-to-day; queer identities, people of color, working class, and others, sadly, have to justify their identities. And, therefore, YAR should be and is intended to be a space where these voices shouldn’t have to feel like they should justify their existence, but rather question the forces that make them justify their existence. That’s why, straight white men, they are telling us to “listen”.
I don’t think marginalized voices are saying they have the “right set of beliefs” as Jason J mentioned, but I think want to create space for their voices to be heard and taken seriously. And, we as straight white men really have to face the facts that we have been in charge far too long.
Moreover, it is our tendency to think that these marginalized voices want to “colonize” (in other words, usurp power) from us by making us believe what they believe. Because that’s what we’ve been doing for centuries. And I don’t think that’s the point (as Lora noted). We just need to be willing to listen, because they want to call into question the very nature of power and how it has operated to exclude them, not heap the same power structure upon us with them on top and us on the bottom.
If you have the ears to hear, then I invite you to open them; you will learn much more about yourself and your world then you realize.
You hit on the point that I was saying earlier. When I talk about unity in Christ, I’m not talking about conformity or even forced compliance. I think if we are believers in Christ, then we already have more in common than not.
I know that some want to make that “unity” into a form fit mold for how all Christians should all look and act, but thats just wrong. It marginalizes those who don’t fit that traditional mold.
Its our unity that should bind our causes together. If our brothers and sisters are suffering, we need to take up their cause, not further marginalize them.
I just read through all the comments that have been posted (quickly, of course), and began to think about why I often read but rarely comment on YAR. I actually believe this is due to the fact that my point of view is so often eloquently stated by others. However, I did find it ironic that males dominated the conversation (even if they were mostly agreeing with Katie’s post). In my Liberation Theologies class, this same pattern continued throughout the semester (I allowed men in the classroom to add to class discussions and remained silent). And I was not alone. Overall, men commented more frequently than women. The difference was that my professor, Malinda Berry, took notice of it, and began to question it. I began to realize that I was getting too concerned about how I worded what I had to say, and that because of that, I got left out of the conversation. It also seemed that most men in the class were more eager and more confident to voice their ideas before many women in the class.
Interesting. To me, the gist of what Katie is saying is that too much input from certain SWMs silences those without white, male privilege. As I have often said to well-meaning male friends, “Even though you agree with me, I still don’t need you to speak for me.”
Excellent point, Emily. Now, I often speak “for” the homeless, because they aren’t on this forum, nor on the many forums I post at. Although I would prefer the homeless to post themselves, for the most part, their educational and cultural background makes them uncomfortable in this kind of setting.
But I wonder why women don’t naturally speak out more. If it is their issues, then why don’t they say more?
I think, for the most part, it is the confrontational/debating tone that many hetero WMs have. This is not to say that others don’t have such a tone, but it is interesting that culturally hetero WMs are usually praised for being confrontational, while women and others of alternative race or sexuality are subtlely (or sometimes not-so-subtlely) put down for it. Women– like Hillary– are called “bit—s” for just speaking their opinion in a way that offers no room for disagreement– in other words, talks like a white American male.
This isn’t just about race, sex or sexuality, either. The homeless are also supposed to be passive, and if they stand up for their rights, they are literally, legally beaten, tazed and shot for their actions. And the police are praised for such actions.
Okay, but what can we do about it, at least here in this forum? I think, first of all, that us hetero WMs should tone down our argumentation. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t present our viewpoint, but we should invite disagreement instead of trying to verbally shut the door to it. Perhaps then Katie wouldn’t feel so tired or find it necessary to amp up her own arguments.
On the other hand, Emily and other women, I would encourage you to find the energy to post. You can’t be heard unless you speak. You don’t have to give in to the tone of argumentation if you don’t want to. All you need to do is to speak your mind, even with misspellings and misplaced phrases. All misunderstanding can be worked out in discussion, but if you never speak, then how will your point of view be heard?
And, please, don’t think that others can speak for you. They can’t. They won’t. I can’t. I don’t have your life experience, your point of view– heck, my brain doesn’t function the way yours does. We all have a responsibility to each other to speak the truths we understand in our own words. And if any one of us fails in that responsibility, then we all lose out.
Yes, the HWMCM (Hetero White Middle Class Male) privilege should be challenged. But the only way it will happen is if others who don’t fit in that category drown them out!
Steve K (a HWLCM– hetero white lower class male)
I get tired of persons labeling the disagreements they have with others as “the same stupid discussions” simply because they disagree with them.
I may be a privileged white heterosexual male, but that does not negate what strikes me as a consistent truth in the Scriptures, something that happens to immediately subvert one’s experience, mind included.
You brought up an idea that I find extremely interesting – that the straight white male experience might predispose one toward certain theological tendencies and/or perspectives. Could you say more about this? I think you were getting at ways in which a straight white male’s approaches to theology tend to focus on themselves having a full, unique view of faith & God which they feel are driven to personally perfect and then convince others of.
I find this particularly interesting because this is exactly the approach that I took to thinking about God & theology back when I was (sort of) a straight white male (ie before coming out to myself & others.) I felt that my spiritual life had to be focused on moral perfection, on fully channeling the will of the external father-God (I now refer to that old guy, since retired in my mind, as the “fire-breathing God”) – which of course meant fully figuring out his will, and therefore “figuring out” the Bible. In my reflections since then I’ve identified this posture with adolescent tendencies, and possibly a kind of compensation for my sub-conscious knowledge that I was gay. Since this spiritual life meant dividing my own self into pro-God’s-will and anti-God’s-will, it necessarily meant dividing all others & the entire world into such categories.
And then once I came out of the closet my spiritual life shifted very radically, and I now feel much more unity with others & with the world, and no longer that reflexive perspective of judgment. I’ve never really thought that part of that shift might have something to do with exiting the place of the straight white male in this society and entering the place of the marginalized. But it’s a very intriguing notion.
What is it, do you think, that tells the straight white males that they need to take on this kind of quest? It can be that marginalized people are simply forced to learned lessons about humility and about understanding others in a way that the very privileged aren’t forced to learn (although they are capable of learning.) Are there maybe certain chains/shackles of expectations placed on straight white males – pressure to take on the role of the powerful & the solitary, that their identity is built in competition & conquering – which manifests itself in this kind of theology?
I’d be interested to hear anyone’s thoughts on this.
luke, good post. what you’re talking about reminds me of the “white man’s burden” – the idea that it’s the burden of the white man to bring knowledge, civilization, salvation to non-white societies, such as Native Americans, African societies, Asian societies. This idea is not as in fashion as it used to be, but it’s still here and you still see it around, for instance, there is the idea of Americans bringing democracy to Iraq, or the idea that it’s America’s role (burdensome though it is of course) to be the world’s policeman. It’s basically a superiority complex, the idea that my race (or country or religion) has the answers, and it is my duty to tell you what the answers are. Woe is me, I did not ask for this burden, my life is so hard, I must sacrifice and tell these unfortunate people the answers I’ve figured out because it will help them so!
Then… when you feel that you have the answers… it’s hard to listen to others who see things differently and it becomes easy to make judgments, to judge what behaviors are right, what are wrong, what beliefs are right and wrong.
I’m also saying this as a formerly straight white male. When I was a SWM, it was easier for me to judge people, to think less of people because of various actions I didn’t approve of. What I *didn’t* realize is that when I judge other people, I judge myself. If I’m hard on other people, I’m even harder on myself. When I came out, it was a wake-up call, and I realized I don’t have to judge other people or myself, I don’t care if I have the theological answers, and that the people I was judging are in fact my community.
so yes, to rearrange your words luke, I do believe that exiting the place of the straight white male and entering the place of the marginalized has allowed me to feel unity with others. It’s not just an intriguing notion, it’s real. -skye
Actually, Luke, you are right when you point to the association with adolescence. Part of maturing is moving from a cut and dry good vs. bad world to a messy world that defies categorization. That isn’t specific to gender or orientation. (Various developmental theorists discuss this–see James Loder, “Logic of the Spirit” for one.)
Perhaps, though, you are right that society encourages SWMs to remain in the adolescent mentality. The stereotype of the strong male leader fits that mold.
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I think you summed up my points really well and your personal testimony I think gives weight to how this kind of theology arises.
I find this kind of theology to be very present in many mainstream Christian apologists, who need to iron out every detail of scripture and faith in light of reason and that grace and mystery have no room in that. I think it has a very chauvinistic approach. It would seem, to me, that they box-in God so that God has finality and totality ( which indeed God does) but I think only in respect to what they view as “reasonable” or “logical”. Their systematic theology must be totalizing; though they speak of grace, they rarely use it.
But this is only one tendency within the larger framework of white I identify as Euro-American SWM theology. There is another tendency that is “macho liberalism”, i.e., that one comes across something which is wildly “new” in scripture (or is very old but is re-captured in a new context) and that the macho/liberal/SWM must then articulate to everyone else because they clearly haven’t “gotten it”. And to disguise the fact that they have stuck up their nose at everyone else, they guard this by saying “I’m merely being prophetic”, yet that prophecy carries with it a great deal of egoism.
What I mean to point out is not that conservative theology is “wrong”, or that liberal theology is “wrong, but rather that in order to iron out every wrinkle in their approach, a lot of intellectual SWM theologians have taken a wholesale approach to theology where everything must have a logical end, with no room for grace, or for the interpretive community to conjure up a new direction for interpretation.
And, in my opinion, you hit the nail right on the head when you say that it is the competition/conquering tendency of SWM that fosters this kind of approach.
I would like to know/read more about what you are saying here. Could you suggest some books, articles, authors etc. that push out this idea? Thanks.
As a hetro WM, I fully admit that I have taken on a good portion of the very theology that has been discussed. As you can see in my post “An Invitation”, my basic theology is the very idea of “I know what Jesus meant, it is radical, and others just don’t get it”, as folknotions proposed. But this isn’t where the problem lies, I believe (of course it’s what I believe, after all, it’s my theology, right?)
The problem, as I see it, is the liberal or conservative theology looking at Jesus as the approver of their theology rather than the communicator of truth. If they would openly look at the Jesus as presented in the NT– in all the various traditions presented there– they would see Jesus as:
*The one who sees sinners as oppressed people needing assistance, not as evil, bad people
*The one who outcasts only those who claim to be of God, but rejects the ones in need, no matter what they’ve done
*The one who has harsh words for the materialistic, but welcomes those involved in pornia (sexual immorality)
*The one who asserts that his followers would be killed as dissidents against the government
This is not either conservative or liberal theology. Jesus wouldn’t be accepted even by the “prophetic” because his message would be too outlandish.
I think that often there is a fear to get too far “into” the Bible, as if we would discover that our morality would be challenged by it and that the conservative’s take on ethics is fundamentally correct. I took the other approach and got into the details of every single thing Jesus said.
Let me tell you, they aren’t.
Sure, the WM tendancy to be “prophetic” and “narrow-minded” is frightening, especially when most WMs use the Bible as a bayonet. And, frankly, they need to do that with other WMs, otherwise they will not be heard.
But WMs also need to remember– myself included, perhaps especially– that many of those who have been oppressed need to be dealt with in a more gentle manner.
In my context, the homeless and mentally ill in Portland, you have to be loud and sometimes obnoxious. You have to use strong language just to be heard. But many are put off by that.
I apologize to anyone who feels that they have been “speared” by my words. I see the beauty of strong words, and will use such words to support the needy and oppressed (much like Swift’s “A Modest Proposal”). But not everyone sees that cultural beauty. I want to make it clear that I do not mean to harm with my words, as much as I would like for everyone to see the Unseen in our society.
i’m glad to read katie’s comments. thanks for reminding me of the blindspots that come with my privilege. i come here for these perspectives, not the ones from people exactly like me.
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Katie, thanks for taking time to voice your frustrations. I’m glad you called out us white men. We need it..I need it a lot more than it happens (because I’m not usually listening carefully enough and not really open to it either). I’ve learned a lot from this thread. I also want to thank folknotions for opening my eyes to my own brokenness. I know exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks for naming it. peace
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