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On equality, humility, and privilege: A response to Matt Appling

When I first began blogging, one blogger that I both read and respected was Matt Appling of “The Church of No People.” He was even on my blogroll for quite awhile. I start with this because I want you to know that I once thought like he did. I was raised to think like he did, and I’m sure he was raised in a similar way.

I want you to understand, before I write this response, that I do so with as much understanding and empathy as I can sum up, because I’ve “been there.”

But I want to write this response because all the understanding and empathy in the world cannot neutralize the harmful effects of the teachings that it seems both Appling and I have received our whole lives. I want to write this response because I’ve been hurt badly by these teachings. I’ve probably hurt others with these teachings.

What teachings am I talking about here?

The idea that Christ-like humility means that it is wrong to stand up for our rights.

Matt Appling, in particular, takes up issue with bloggers who fight for equality. In his first post on the subject, he describes those who blog about equality as a “nearly deafening cacophony of noise and disparate voices.”

He continues (emphasis mine):

Every day, someone is marching on, demanding equality where some perceived inequality exists: between the sexes, the races, the classes, whomever.  And the people who feel slighted or abused cheer them on, anxious to finally feel that their injustice has been righted.

He then explains why he does not stand with their struggle for equality. He doesn’t believe in it. Why? He quotes six “reasons,” which are really just out-of-context Bible verses having to do with humility, putting others first, and taking up a cross to follow Christ.

In a follow-up post, he claims that he was talking about himself–as a privileged white male–yet his calling out other bloggers and his statements about “perceived inequality” and those who “feel slighted or abused” are never mentioned. He continues to assume that legitimate struggles like classism (he mentions the “1%”) are just silly complaints, comparable to those complaining about “soda sizes in New York.” He also goes on to pull the whole “people over THERE have it so much worse” line, saying (emphasis his):

But complaining about your own rights being infringed on while millions of people survive in slums under tyrannical dictators, that is what strikes me as coming from an egregiously oblivious position of “privilege.”

I want to take a moment to talk about where Matt Appling gets the concepts of equality, humility, and privilege wrong.

Matt Appling, by admission, is a “middle-class, white, American male.” He believes that no one is oppressing him or abusing him. That’s good for him!

So when he says he doesn’t believe in equality? He says it as someone who apparently has no understanding of what it’s like to not feel fully human, not feel fully a part of society. 

Perhaps his angle was meant to mean “I don’t need to fight for equality for myself because I am already treated as human,” which would be fine. However, he makes claims about groups that he doesn’t understand when he talks about those who complain about the 1%, about those who “perceive” racism/sexism/classism or “feel” abused.

That’s the problem with privilege. When one is privileged, one assumes that he/she is the norm. One assumes that everyone else has the same experiences as him/her. 

One assumes, as Matt does in an older post, that There is no war on…blacks…or women…at least in Americajust a lot of stupidity.”

In this post and in his two more recent posts, he not only dismisses the idea of equality for himself, but appears to do the same for black people and women. For those involved in class struggle. For those who “feel” hurt and abused. He chooses to ignore the readily available statistics and stories of the rapes, beatings, murders, and abuses that happen to oppressed groups on a daily basis…yes, in America. Because there is no war on him, because he does not see, understand, or experience war, he claims that there is no war.

He claims being Christ-like. He calls this humility.

But this is not humility. It is the epitome of pride. 

I’ve written on humility before.

I’ve written about how this idea that humility means we stop fighting for our rights turns the concept of humility into a “twisted tool of oppression.” I don’t believe Matt Appling means to be an oppressive person. I don’t believe he really wants to bring women down or hurt people of color. But he is buying into ideas about humility that are being fed to him and to the rest of the church by a culture of domination and oppression. 

Ideas that are used to neutralize struggles for liberation. To silence victims and survivors. To protect the powerful who already have all the rights they could ever need.

Regardless of Matt Appling’s intentions, his words have consequences. His vision for humility dismisses the very real, often life threatening oppression that people face as “just a lot of stupidity.”

I propose a different kind of humility.

One that means listening to the experiences of those who say they have been hurt by racism, sexism, and classism, instead of assuming that their oppression is only “perceived.”

One that means believing abuse survivors instead of assuming that they only “feel” abused or want to “put themselves in the role of the victim.”

One that means considering the fact that just because I have not been oppressed in ____ way doesn’t mean that this oppression is not happening.

I want a humility that affirms the struggles of those who fight for justice rather than trying to shut them down with Bible verses.

I want a humility that inspires privileged people to join those who are less privileged in their fight for justice, instead of one that inspires privileged people to say “I don’t believe in equality.”

We need to stop eating this harmful, oppressive version of “humble pie.” We can do better. 

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Sick of being “miss represented”

I watched a video today that made me cry.

That’s saying something, because my tear ducts are fairly selective about who they work for. I didn’t even cry on The Lion King (and yes, I do have a heart, thank you very much).

But this video, a trailer for the film Miss Representation,  made me cry, in sadness and in anger. In desperation and in frustration. I sincerely hope you’ll take the time to watch it:

This video made me cry because it hit so close to home.

The video observes:

“Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look…and boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls. So, no matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look.”

As one young lady in the video says, with a hint of desperation in her voice, “There is no appreciation for woman intellectuals.”

I’m a 21 year old woman intellectual. I’ve made it through 3 years of college (thus far) in an intense degree program. I’ve won debate contests. I’ve written and presented research papers. I’ve had articles published. I want to write books. I want to get my PhD. I want to join the Peace Corps.

And yet, I still have to fight to get the world to appreciate my brain and not just my boobs.

From junior high, when I was told by several friends, “Sarah, you’re pretty. You could have so many boys if you didn’t act so smart and scare them away. You can be smart, just don’t act so smart.”

To the ex-boyfriend who convinced me that I was worthless so that he could treat me like a sex object.

To the Sunday School teacher who looked me in the eye and said, “Why are you even bothering to go to college? A woman’s place is in the home.”

To now, when I’m told fairly often, “Oh, you want to get your PhD? That’s good, because all the female professors I had in college were ugly. You’ll actually be a pretty one.”

I feel weighed down by the idea that my brains, my talents, my gifts and abilities are not enough–will never be enough. Unless I can get through another 10 grueling years of school and still look as young and pretty as I do now at age 21, unless I can somehow afford fashionable clothing, make-up, and hair-stylists on a graduate student’s salary…

It won’t matter.

To the world, I’ll just be another “ugly” professor.

I am sick of this. I am damn sick of this.

I’m sick of hearing people put down the intelligent, hard-working (and beautiful. More that just pretty) female professors that I look up to just because  those professors spend their time writing books and winning academic awards instead of getting their hair done and reading fashion magazines.

I’m sick of hearing news reporters ask Sarah Palin if she’s gotten breast implants (would a professional reporter ask Mitt Romney if he ever uses a penis pump? Didn’t think so) or compare Hilary Clinton to a nagging wife when she stands up for issues she cares about.

I’m sick of men being taught that their masculinity is at stake when women make achievements. I’m sick of men growing up to believe that the measure of their manhood is how much power they have over the women in their lives.

And I’m sick of the media– from magazines to music videos to the daily news–reinforcing all of these ideas.

I’m sick of this misrepresentation.

I’m ready for a change. Who’s with me?