It was by chance – or maybe not – that I read again in the Book of Mormon this week the prayer of the Prophet Alma as he and others began a mission to the wicked Zoramites. The phrase that jumps out at me and has at times pricked my conscience, struck me as such an important reminder today –
This wicked community turned out to be comprised of two groups. One was disadvantaged, marginalized, oppressed and excluded from full participation in society. Thinking of their situation does resonate with the concerns and objectives of #blacklivesmatter. Maybe #theirsoulsareprecious could be just as appropriate a reminder.
Yet, Alma’s prayer was not just for these poor, oppressed people. His prayer was for the whole community. It was also for the prideful, privileged who were persecuting the others. Their souls were also precious to their Father in Heaven. They were His children too.
I am aware of reactions toward #alllivesmatter and the feeling that it misses the point and trivializes the injustices of so many years. But can you say the souls of some who may not have been treated as precious, are indeed precious, without recognizing the preciousness of all souls?
Hasn’t the problem all along been the human tendency to put people into a category judged to be somehow worth less than others or inherently bad and then using that judgment as justification for depriving them of privileges or treating them badly? Is it really any different when that judgment is made based on the color or one’s skin or the uniform one wears? Or maybe even the color and words on a hat they wear?
Yes, some people do horrible things to other people and they do need to be held accountable for their behavior. Does this justify putting all who share some identifying characteristic with an offender, into a category judged as bad and therefore deserving of disrespect, contempt, attacks and mistreatment?
Does mistreating others make one’s soul less precious to their Father? I am sure such behavior offends and pains Him. Seeing all souls as precious and condemning unacceptable behavior are not mutually exclusive. Any good parent knows that the preciousness of the souls of their children is the very reason they must learn right from wrong, even at times through suffering hard consequences.
Maybe, whenever we have feelings other than love toward a group or an individual human being, or a tendency to ignore or discount someone, we need to get on our knees and pray to the Father of us all, acknowledging to Him as Alma did, that “their souls are precious.” Pray for them, for their needs, but also pray for ourselves, that our hearts may be softened and that we may see others as He sees them – as the precious souls they are.
I share Martin Luther King’s dream of people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Sadly, I have seen that in recent years we seem to be moving further away from that dream.
The dream is of a colorblind world where are all given equal opportunity, with character and skill and ability forming the basis of determinations of accomplishment.
A dream of a world where job applications, promotions, scholarship and University admissions are based solely on ability and objective qualifications.
A dream where we all see and treat each other as individuals with the same consideration and respect.
Sure things like gender, ethnicity, etc are a part of what makes a person unique, but they are not what a person is. If we can’t get past those identity markers, we can not form real relationships with each other. In getting to know people and forming relationships, we come to see a person as a unique individual – we see their personality, character, strengths and weaknesses. Just as we would want to be known and treated well because of who we are, not what we are, we would treat others well.
The Privilege Pyramid based on Oppression Points
After I started writing this, I read an article by Matt Walsh where he describes “The Left’s Victimization Flow Chart.” White men are at the top, followed by white women, then non-whites, then various LGBTQ combinations. He explains leftist thinking as oppression can only go from the top down, with higher groups oppressing those lower down. It is impossible with this thinking for someone in a lower group to oppress someone in a group above.
One way to look at privilege and oppression is an inverse pyramid. The larger majority at the top have greater privilege and oppress the gradually smaller minorities toward the bottom. Those at the top – white males – are seen as the most privileged and the greatest oppressors. An inverse pyramid is top heavy – it looks oppressive.
What I see happening is that now that inverse privilege pyramid has been flipped. It now looks like a regular pyramid, with reversed privilege and oppression. “Priviledged” white men are now at the bottom, with non-white LGBTQ people at the peak.
This is because society now awards people “oppression points”. Those acquiring the most have greater actual privilege in the way of political power and social influence. These greatly oppressed are able to claim victimhood to get what they want – things ordinary and even formerly privileged people must rely on their own efforts to obtain, or may not ever be able to have or do.
These at the top of this new Oppression Pyramid (formerly the bottom of the flow chart) are automatically believed and do not need any facts or evidence to back them up. Their “oppressed” status gives them freedom to pretty much say what they want. They can spew hate speech. They can claim discrimination and accuse others. They can ruin people’s lives if they don’t get what they want. The thinking is that they can’t really “offend” anyone, because they are the most offended.
Conversely those who are considered “white privilege”, especially rich white males, find themselves now on the bottom – the most despised, least believed and less able to use what had been considered advantages to their own or to society’s benefit. Definitely judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.
I don’t think this is what Dr. King had in mind – the oppressed turned into oppressors.
Irony of Diversity
I find it ironic, baffling and disturbing that this is all occurring at a time when diversity has never been so great. The US is especially a nation of immigrants. We have neighbors from all nationalities and ethnic groups. We have intermingled and produced people with all kinds of ethnic and racial combinations. We have easily accessible DNA testing providing evidence of our multi-racial and multi-ethnic combinations. There are fewer and fewer people who can claim to be pure anything. We are almost all mongrels.
Why then, are we putting people into pigeonholes of identity based on characteristics that have become blurred? How hard has it become to accurately identify someone on first glance – by race, religion, or even gender? Yet, assumptions and actions are taken based on such superficial instant judgments.
Why do some people have a need to identify as an oppressed group? Why do some judge people, and others want to be judged, by the hyphenated part before American or the alphabet letter they choose? Wouldn’t they rather be judged by their unique personality or character?
Why can’t we just see each other as individuals with multi-faceted identities? Why can’t we be a people who judge others based on their actions and the content of their character? It is the dream, after all.
Ominous Warning Signs
History provides some ominous warning signs. Looking back on the Holocaust, the Jews were initially targeted, not because of their oppressed position, but for their privilege. Rather, it was the perception of their privilege – having wealth and power and influence that they did not deserve. Resentment for their perceived privilege fueled and justified others oppressing them. Then having been stripped of all privilege they became totally oppressed.
The great communist regimes didn’t target those lowest on the socio-economic ladder, though peasants eventually suffered greatly. The largest regimes were largely racially homogeneous populations, so race was not really a factor. Communists and Socialists targeted the privileged – the elite, the wealthy, the educated.
The presumed oppressed became the oppressors – or were used by those with some power seeking greater power to remove and destroy those previously having social and political power. The results were disastrous. The elite were destroyed, the poor remained poor and oppressed now by the government. But the newly elite party leaders enjoyed the spoils.
The challenge and choice for us in America is to find a way to recognize and accept differences without value judgments and accusations. We need to return to the principles upon which our government and country were founded. We all have the same God-given rights. Justice requires that we be judged by our actions, not our identity. Can we give up the competition for victimhood? Can we replace identity politics with justice and liberty for all?
My earliest memories of anything political were in 1960 when John F. Kennedy was elected President. After the election, I remember asking my parents who they had voted for. I was shocked to learn that they had voted for the loser. To my 5-year-old mind, what seemed important was being on the winning side – to pick the winner, not the loser.
After many years and many elections, I must admit I have voted for many losers. This is not always something I have felt bad about.
In recent years, I have had much exposure to Reality TV contests. Many of these involve viewers in the process of picking a winner. I admit I am not one who actually calls in votes. But I do take some pride in being able to “predict” who will win, or who I think “should” win.
We all have constant exposure to sports contests. Some loyal fans cheer for their team no matter what, but others take pride in predicting the winner of any particular contest. We all want our team to win. No one wants to be a loser, or be mocked for supporting a loser.
Winning and Losing in Politics
Is our political process becoming much the same as these Reality TV contests? We have become so partisan. Are we so concerned about our party winning that we are not looking at individual candidates, their character, record, and stand on issues? How many approach elections like like my 5-year-old self where being on the winning side is more important than making an informed decision and acting according to conscience?
We have people taking polls, people analyzing and predicting who will win political contests, and news commentators constantly telling us these predictions. Before any actual votes are cast, we are told who will win. As the process proceeds, we are reminded daily of who the “front-runner” is – the likely winner. Is this a self-fulfilling prophesy?
When someone wins on a show there is a celebration and maybe brief talk show appearances – the 15 minutes of fame. Then the winner goes home with the prize. The next season starts over with new contestants.
With elections we are stuck with the winner, who actually has to do some work for a whole term in office. And they have to work with others elected from the opposing party. Real consequences result from elections. The sad reality is that we can all end up losers.
I just had the privilege of participating in a citizenship ceremony which has caused me to reflect on some things related to some of my Word of the Month posts, including this month’s word which is Privilege.
I attended a Court of Naturalization and witnessed a number of individuals become Citizens of the United States of America. My simple part in the ceremony was leading the singing of the National Anthem, which was certainly not a highlight of the day, especially considering technical difficulties with audio.
The highlight for me was when the new citizens stood and introduced themselves, telling where they had come from and their feelings about this new citizenship. In spite of, or perhaps more accurately because of, the fact that this journey had taken a great deal of desire, time and effort on their part, it was apparent that they did feel that this was a great privilege. They came from an interesting assortment of countries and backgrounds. There was a recognition that there is something special about being “American”, including rights and opportunities unavailable to them in other countries. There were expressions of gratitude for this new citizenship and those who had helped and supported them in their journeys. Some expressed excitement about new opportunities to participate and immediately afterwards registered to vote.
Do we who have been privileged to be born into citizenship appreciate what we have? Do we recognized that among all the inhabitants of this world past and present, we are among the most privileged? Do we appreciate the sacrifice others have made for us to enjoy these privileges?
When did “privilege” become a dirty word? Is privilege a blessing or a cause of shame? The more I ponder on privilege and the way the word is being used today, the more I realize that the real problem is not privilege at all – it is pride.*
I have heard the word “privilege”, especially “white privilege” being hurled at people as an insult. I have had the phrase “your privilege is showing” thrown at me, as if that somehow meant I have no social conscience. This is not how I remember this word being used.