Talking About Privilege

Earlier this week, I participated in a conversation with some colleagues at the University of St. Thomas School of Law on Amy Julia Becker’s book, White Picket Fences: Turning Toward Love in a World Divided by Privilege.  I can’t say our group was very mixed; it was a somewhat self-selected group of white, upper middle class, heterosexual folks, all of whom are well-aware of their privilege.  But we had a good and worthwhile discussion.

While I can’t express agreement with everything Becker writes in her book, there were a number of lines that prompt some good inquiry.  Let me share a few random quotes from the book with some questions (some of which we addressed the other night) her statements might prompt reflection on.  (Her statements are in quotations and my questions in italics.)

“Perhaps the reason knocking down the wall of privilege is so hard for me to envision is because it would require more sacrifice than I am willing to bear.”

What sacrifices do you think are required for you to help knock down the wall of privilege?

“I used to think that privilege provided a foundation for personal growth and for discovering a purpose bigger than me because it took care of my material needs.  But time and again I have found that the provisions of affluence suck me into a web of self-centeredness where I focus on myself, my own resentments and disappointments.”

Do you think this is inherently the case?

She raises the question “whether identity is always about power and privilege, about some group being oppressed and another asserting superiority”

Does identity always do that?

“Privilege means being given a special status – legal or social –  by virtue of something you didn’t’ earn.”

Is that a good definition of privilege?  Do you have a better one?