Religious Privilege Primer – 2 – What is Privilege?

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In Reaction to the Passing of Proposition 8:
A Conversation of Privilege around Religion and Faith
Zack Ford – November 8, 2008

Preface: Roots of ZFB
Part 1 – Introduction: Reflections on Prop 8
Part 2 – What is Privilege?

Allan Johnson talks about systems of privilege as being dominated by privileged groups, identified with privileged groups, and centered on privileged groups.  Positions of power tend to be dominated by members of the privileged group.  Privileged groups are also usually taken as the standard of comparison that represents the best that society has to offer.  And, society focuses its attention on the privileged group, who they are, what they do and say, and how they do it.  The result creates an imbalance of power, such that all other groups are in some way oppressed or taken advantage of.  Affirmative Action and other equity-driven programs are designed to compensate for this imbalance of power.  (These definitions have been paraphrased/excerpted from Johnson’s Privilege, Power, and Difference.)

Discussing issues of privilege can be very challenging.  I know that when I teach my Gender Justice class, one of the most important things we have to do (especially for the men) is help them understand the difference between the system and ourselves as individuals.  This is important, because in the class, many of the men feel that the topic of patriarchy attacks them, as if they are the individuals that use, abuse, and control women.  They, as individuals, are not (hopefully).  But, they still exist within a system that delivers that connotation.  They should not take it personally, for example, if a woman is afraid when walking alone at night.  They are not personally responsible for that fear, but they do have a responsibility to resist the system that promotes that fear through their words and behaviors as individuals.  This is where the conversation opens to talking about men becoming allies, realizing the privilege they have, and proactively addressing and being aware of the way that privilege affects the way they relate to society.  This same notion is the same in all other systems of privilege: race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, etc., as well as the two I shall discuss.  I think this concept of a difference between systems and individuals is important to keep in mind as you read on.

Part 3 – Christian Privilege
Part 4 – Religious Privilege
Part 5 – Atheism and Privilege of Beliefs
Part 6 – Critical Thinking and Indoctrination
Part 7 – Undeserved Respect
Part 8 – Concluding Reflections

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