Privilege Is A Sacred Bubble

Privilege Is A Sacred Bubble March 22, 2016

A few days ago, I posted Reclaiming Los Angeles‘s ritual intention for Ostara on our Facebook page and received a perplexing comment:

“Politics? Seriously? Not the place.”

A Reclaiming ritual? Not the place for politics?

What on Earth?

At first, we scratched our heads over how this person had ended up in the Reclaiming LA Facebook group. The group is closed. We screen everyone who wants to join. Why had this person requested to join when they apparently knew absolutely nothing about the Reclaiming Tradition?

Then we scratched our heads for a bit over the idea–which, unfortunately, isn’t unheard of–that witchcraft and Paganism should be apolitical. (Peter Grey has a few thoughts on the subject that are worth reading, if you haven’t yet.) An apolitical Paganism is an immensely privileged Paganism. Those who are able to disregard politics are living lives of remarkable luxury.

Image: "The Island of White Privilege, written in chalk with a palm tree and footprints, surrounded by the names of Black people killed by police.
Image credit: Waywuwei. CC license: Attribution No-Derivs 2.0 Generic.

After that first comment, the conversation only got stranger. It turned out that by “politics,” the commenter meant “left-wing politics.” I’ve seen this kind of belief before: it’s the idea that something only counts as political if it’s something you don’t happen to agree with. When I mentioned the thread to my husband, he said he’s seen it among conservatives in the sports world. When a sports commentator expresses a left-wing opinion, they’re told to stop writing about politics and “stick to sports;” when they express a right-wing opinion, though, the peanut gallery doesn’t seem to notice.

The weirdest thing was that this person wasn’t willing to admit that perhaps she’d simply stumbled into the wrong group. When it became clear that our core values–the values that define an entire decades-old international tradition–didn’t align with hers, she accused us of being fundamentalists and fascists with a “my way or the highway” attitude. And yet, despite multiple threats(?) to do so, she didn’t leave the group.

And here, I think, we get to a core attribute of privilege.

See, in my experience, when members of marginalized groups inadvertently end up in a space that is fundamentally opposed to what we believe in, we tend to just leave. If the space is trying to be inclusive to people like us, we may stick around for a bit, but if it’s just not a good fit, then we go elsewhere. And I’m not just talking about political spaces here. Earlier today I read an article by a woman recounting the sexual harassment she received when she went to a bar alone. My very first instinctual reaction? She went to a bar ALONE? But bars aren’t for us–they’re for men! Is it objectively true? Of course not. But it’s the message that’s been ingrained in me throughout my entire life. Marginalized and minoritized people must constantly navigate around spaces that privileged groups have claimed for themselves.

People with privilege, though? Okay, let me tell you a little story about a very nice white guy I know. His wife worked with a feminist organization, and when she and another white woman went to distribute flyers in a predominantly Black shopping area, they were politely asked to leave. Turns out the community was trying to keep it a Black space–a safe, racism-free space in a majority Black part of town–and didn’t really allow white solicitors. My friend the white guy had never heard of this place before she mentioned it, nor did he have even the slightest interest in ever shopping there, but the moment he found out there was a space where he, a white man, was not explicitly welcome…well, judging from his reaction, you’d think he was forced to sit at the back of the bus. He’d never had the experience of being unwelcome because of his race before. He’d never had to grapple with that feeling.

Likewise, this person in our Facebook group–an upper-class, white, right-wing business owner, from what I could put together from the several comments she left–seemed accustomed to spaces molding themselves around her preferences. I’m sure that she’s experienced sexism, but I’m willing to bet that in many cases, the other facets of her identity buffer it. (That’s kyriarchy, folks!) So when she encountered a group that wasn’t willing to abandon its political views for the sake of her personal comfort, she didn’t have any coping strategies. In her eyes, her politics were normal and central to human experience, and everything else was deviant. Why on Earth did we insist on being deviant? Why, after she attempted to fix us, did we refuse to correct ourselves and be more like her? She simply couldn’t make sense of it.

Privilege is a pretty thick bubble.


So, what happens when that bubble pops?

No, I don’t mean situations like the ones above. Those situations are more like glancing outside of the bubble for a moment and then forgetting what you saw. You don’t have to think about it any longer than that moment, because you’re safely in the bubble! But what happens when the bubble disappears?

While the Facebook conversation was unfolding, I came across this excellent post at the Kinfolk Collective about Otto Warmbier, the American who was sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in North Korea for stealing a banner:

As shocked as I am by the sentence handed down to Warmbier, I am even more shocked that a grown man, an American citizen, would not only voluntarily enter North Korea but also commit what’s been described a “college-style prank.” That kind of reckless gall is an unfortunate side effect of being socialized first as a white boy, and then as a white man in this country. Every economic, academic, legal and social system in this country has for more than three centuries functioned with the implicit purpose of ensuring that white men are the primary benefactors of all privilege. The kind of arrogance bred by that kind of conditioning is pathogenic, causing its host to develop a subconscious yet no less obnoxious perception that the rules do not apply to him, or at least that their application is negotiable.

The woman in our Facebook group or my friend who was shocked at the existence of a Black shopping center merely experienced some discomfort when their privilege was challenged. People who howl at the charge of cultural appropriation are only contending with that anxious knot in their gut at the thought of the war bonnet they want to wear to Coachella. This young man, however, has learned–in an unfathomable, sickening turn of events–what happens when your bubble of privilege gives you a distorted view of reality.

Could it be that, although oppressed groups benefit the most, everyone has something to gain from the dismantling of kyriarchy?

Of course, it’s hard to get people to see that when they’re in the bubble. Especially when they see the bubble as too sacred to question.

Imagine what our culture and our world would be like if people really thought about what was worth worshipping?

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