I See You: The Privilege of Invisibility

We seem to be slowly coming to recognise the “privilege of invisibility” that majority groups have in our society. (I think I heard the term from Yaba Blay but I am not certain!) Those of us who enjoy passing as the norm, who don’t have to fight for or justify parts of our identity, enjoy the privilege of invisibility in those areas.

It can be really challenging to shine a light into our own blind spots. Firstly, of course, they are blind spots. We don’t know what we don’t know! Often, we need help to realise that we have a blind spot. It’s one of the reasons I’ve been reading, watching, and listening to voices that I have not usually been exposed to: of different races, sexualities, views. We can attempt to do this actively for ourselves, but often we need someone to highlight our areas of privilege for us! Secondly, it can be really challenging to confront the blind spots once we realise they are there. It is all-too-easy to slip into defense mode. This is when we start using our privilege to protect our power, rather than looking for ways to ensure everyone has access to the same privilege that we are enjoying. I’ve seen some unfortunate examples of this recently, with women actively working to uphold patriarchal structures in which they have been granted some privilege.

One activity I’ve had the opportunity to do with senior students in school and first year university students is from Anthony G. Reddie’s Is God Colour Blind? It involves drawing concentric circles and writing words that express your identity in the layers going inwards towards a word or phrase that expresses your core identity in the centre. If you haven’t heard of this activity, stop reading and have a go for yourself before reading on. I did this and it was very revealing – I wish I still had my first attempt!

Who are you?

Doing this can tell us a lot about how we think about ourselves, but, more importantly, about the realms of privilege that we overlook or don’t realise we have! The first time I did this, guided by Reddie’s book, I realised afterwards that I had made no statement about my race or cultural identity. This is because, as a white Brit living in Australia, I have taken it for granted. Doing this activity in a classroom of male, mostly white, students, has met with varying levels of resistance. I have had them complete their circles, then asked them if they have written a word which reveals their gender, sexuality, cultural heritage, race, religion… and mostly they haven’t! They’ve often written words like mate, footballer, words that describe their personality and interactions. I ask them why – following Reddie’s lead – someone might feel obliged to write ‘queer black woman’ in the core of their identity circles when they have not written ‘straight white male’ (if that applies to them). The privilege of invisibility is what leads us not to feel the need to name parts of our identity – because they are taken for granted. This is a starting point to begin shifting perspectives and uncover blind spots. So, obviously, I recommend reading Reddie’s book! It has some thought-provoking practical activities.

Another way of demonstrating this to students in the classroom is to watch or do a privilege line activity. It is another way of visualising our layers of privilege. It also allows us to visualise the intersectionality of these.

I haven’t had a lot of time to read this month – thanks to moving house and it being the last month of a hectic term – but I have ‘read’ James Cone’s The Cross and The Lynching Tree by audiobook on my way to and from work this month. This really brings home the way in which white Christianity has oppressed black people. The stories told in this book are horrific but important to remember. It is a strong reminder that Christianity has been – and is – the oppressor in so many areas! It has inflicted pain and caused death. White Christianity remains problematic, but that is not Christianity’s only problem.

We’ve also seen oppressive Christianity in the arena of sexuality this month, with Pope Francis signing the CDF’s decree to ban priests from blessing same-sex marriage. This is problematic on so many levels, but I think the worst of this is that it is harmful to so many people around the world. It encourages a ‘less than’ attitude towards some expressions of humanity and love. It supports systems of oppression. I could go on but I won’t. Unfortunately, it seems to have undone some of the small steps towards progress that Francis seemed to be taking.

I should note that today (March 31) is Trans Day of Visibility. In the areas of gender and sexuality, trans people are often the most oppressed. Head over to twitter and search for #TransDayOfVisibility to hear trans people’s experiences.

You would think it goes without saying, but apparently not, so here goes. If you enjoy privilege in terms of your gender, sexuality, race, or any other area – don’t use it to oppress those who don’t! In fact, work out how you can use your privilege to ensure more and more people have access to those privileges!

Thanks to @sylviaduckworth on twitter for this wheel of power/privilege (which is still not exclusive) and intersectionality:

ONTSpecialNeeds on Twitter: "The Wheel of Power/Privilege thanks  @sylviaduckworth… "
Racial inequality in academia: The journey to equity and inclusion starts  within.

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