The Belonging of Privilege

In yesterday’s blog, I tried to explore the universal need that human beings have for belonging and how, once we belong to a group, we experience the privilege, the birthright of being human.  It is our birthright to belong.

Yet, all do not always belong.  The very thing that can empower us in all of our human giftedness becomes the very thing that we use, knowingly and unknowingly, against others who don’t belong to our group.

Historically, a “privilege” was a law written to favor a particular person or group of people. It could originally also be one written against a person or group of people, but ultimately came to only reflect the positive.

As we delve into the meaning of belonging, what strikes me intensely are the inverse relationships of belonging and privilege.  It is in our very nature to want to belong, and we are only healthiest when belonging is a central part of our experience.  When we do belong, we enjoy that set of experiences as if they were a special  law written just to benefit us.  In fact, it is a kind of law written by the generosity of the hearts and lives of those who take us into their belonging.  Belonging gifts us the privilege of the embrace of our community.  That kind of privilege is grace.

Inversely, once we enjoy the privilege of belonging, the safety of that position may allow us to grow dull and complacent.  Our belonging belongs to us, we think. We take our belonging so for granted that we really don’t think about it at all.  We have always belonged.  If anyone ever suggests that we are enjoying a privilege of belonging, we become offended and act as if we are lone rangers with no connection at all to the others to whom we belong.   Others not only do not belong to our group, but we begin to see them as a problem and threat to the privilege that we deny we have.  Privilege that is ensconced in laws and customs of a society creates walls between those who belong and those who do not.  That kind of belonging creates injustice and violence.

Like all things of spiritual nurture and value, belonging requires a mindfulness in us, a tending.  In fact, experiences of belonging can call us to that renewing practice:  when we are aware that we belong to any group, that belonging and sense of security can allow us to ponder:  by what gifts we came here; through which gestures we invite others here; how belonging belongs to us all.

I am privileged in so many ways.  Not a single one of those ways of privilege comes to me without belonging–someones extended their circle to include me.  Who, now, am I reaching toward for inclusion as well?

Bob Patrick

This entry was posted in Belonging and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The Belonging of Privilege

  1. June Warfield says:

    This idea of groups can be viewed on multiple levels. We are all part of some groups – we all belong to the group called homo sapiens. Most (but not all) of us at UUCG belong to the group of native born citizens. These are groups into which we are born. There is nothing we can do about it other than to acknowledge the privileges afforded to us by membership in these groups.

    There are socio-economic groups. Those who are born into economically advantaged families immediately belong to a group that has more privilege. It will be much easier for them to retain that level of privilege than for someone born into a low income family to achieve it. This seems to be a key challenge in terms of the issue of justice. There are also issues of social justice when it comes to groups based on other factors such as race, immigration status, etc.

    But what about other groups that are more social in nature? For me, my greatest sense of “not belonging” occurred during my high school and college years. In retrospect, I now see that I very MUCH belonged to MANY groups, but not the groups that I viewed as “popular” and wished to be able to join. I viewed the athletes and cheerleaders as the “popular” group. But I don’t enjoy team sports and even today roll my eyes when people start talking about the “great game” they watched. I viewed sorority girls as the “popular” group. But I don’t like the idea that an organization could tell me what kind of clothes I should wear or whom I should date.

    As adults, we need to realize that while we all feel affirmed when we are a part of a group, it is important to realize which groups are the “right fit” for us. We need to recognize that as attractive as some groups may seem on the outside, they may simply not be the right groups for us. I don’t want to belong to a group whose primary purpose is to organize skydiving trips!!!! And they should not be expected to change in order to include me.

    My two cents.

    • Bob Patrick says:

      I appreciate the reflection on these issues, June. That’s something I think we simply have to do in order to prevent our belonging to become a “privileged” status. Too few people, in my experience, do that. Watch the reaction in the room when questions about white privilege or male privilege or heterosexual privilege are brought up. Suddenly, white people, men, and straight people want to defend themselves as never having experienced any privilege, always having been the lone wolf, fought their way for everything they have, experiencing no benefits for just belonging to the white group, the men’s group or the straight group. I happen to belong to all three groups, and I know that I enjoy privileges for all three.

      When any of those is transferred to another group–through employment, housing, or elected leadership, we have real problems. And, of course, that has been happening for a long time. It still happens. So, while you can justifiably never expect the skydiving club to extend its circle to you because you simply aren’t interested, we can expect an employer to extend job openings and opportunities for advancement to people of all enthnicities, genders and sexual orientations. When it is “naturally” assumed that a straight white male is a shoe-in for a promotion, he is enjoying privilege without having to reflect on whether he belongs or not. He might be the perfect candidate, and the perfect candidate might just have been overlooked because he/she wasn’t straight, white and male. When belonging becomes simply privileged, injustice is waiting just around the corner, and the unreflecting privileged never bother to look around the corner.

  2. Rather instructive, look forth to visiting again

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *