As I settled into my seat on the Southwest plane in Oakland this morning, heading to Washington, D.C., I reflected how privileged I feel to be going to the Women’s March. Being a pastor in a congregation that is sending a large contingent all the way from San Francisco, having my way paid because they felt it was important for me to be here, hearing well-wishes and support from those unable to go – I do feel privileged. And I will do my best to represent our community of faith as we protest the offensive language and behavior that some men (including the president) think is appropriate.
Yet as soon as that word came into my consciousness, I was brought up short. “Privilege” is – rightly so – a word with a negative connotation. Sian Ferguson, in Privilege 101: A Quick and dirty Guide, defines privilege as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group.We’ve been hearing about it a lot more lately, but all the way back in the 1930s WEB DuBois wrote about the “psychological wage” that allowed whites to feel superior to black people. And in 1988, Peggy McIntosh, a women’s studies scholar at Wellesley, wrote “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies.”
As a white woman, I am very aware of my privilege in this sense. But I struggle. This morning, while waiting in the airport, I read a blog advising white women to be silent at the march, to allow our sisters of color to take the lead in voicing our protest against patriarchy and misogyny. I will admit that I’m struggling with this. Not because women of color don’t have reason to be heard and groups that have enjoyed privileged need to recognize it and be mindful. But I wonder how we might come to a way of sharing our voices. Will we ever reach that point?
I do not want to exercise or abuse my privilege as a white person. However, as a young girl who was devalued and taught to keep quiet, and as a woman who has been groped, grabbed, verbally and physically assaulted, and yes, raped, I know that I need to have a voice. As do all women who have experienced such violations – no matter what color.
In my years as a pastor, I’ve been accustomed to responding to those who thank me for my services with “It’s been my privilege.” And I truly have meant those words; I often find myself placing my hand over my heart as I say this. In my position of being invited into some of the most intimate thought/ emotional/ spiritual processes of people dealing with all manner of situations of life and death, I recognize what an extraordinary thing that is. I guess “honor” might convey the same sense. But frankly, I can’t think of a better word than privilege.
It’s a dilemma. I hope we’ll continue to challenge ourselves and one another. I also hope that as we come together for the Women’s March on Washington that we’ll be able to do so in spite of these prickly issues that need so much more work.
But you know, just last week, a Republican town representative in Greenwich, CT was arrested and charged with sexual assault for pinching a women’s genitals. Read article here.
And that is why I march.