Are We Misusing the Term Privilege?

June 24, 2014 at 11:53 pm 5 comments

I decided to let some more time pass for emotions to cool down before I posted this. Another blogger, Jackal & Crescent linked to my earlier post on “Wiccanate” privilege, and I thought this person gave a valid critique of the possible misuse of the term privilege– he suggested “Wiccan bias” might be a better term, and that the word privilege should be used for more widespread systemic oppression such as race, class, gender etc. Now this concept was brought up by individuals that do have personal experiences with other forms of oppression, and they were bringing that perspective in mind.

I have also seen some thoughtful critiques of the use of “privilege” in general- here’s one from a disability studies blog.

Not every form of social advantage is a “privilege” in the sense of white/non-disabled/cisgendered/class/male privilege (I’m sure I’m forgetting other isms) I found a great Tumblr whose entire purpose is collecting iffy privilege lists. They are listing real advantages that some people have over others, that are in fact unfair, but it is ridiculous for the most part to equate them as being on the same level as other isms. Also note the lack of intersectionality in some of them- for example most of the items on the “monosexual” checklist (And I’m a politically aware bisexual, so yes, I’d already heard of “monosexism”.)

Privilege is Not Hierarchical and Mock Privilege Exists by Toni D’Orsay

Excellent essay by Ms. D’Orsay discusses the false idea of hierarchies of oppression, and the idea (new to me, but familiar) of mock privilege. A relevant example of this for Pagans would be the assumption of that many of us are Christian (or agnostic/secular), an assumption that we find annoying but works to our advantage if we are (in general or situationally) in “the closet” about our religion.

Some questions about the culture of well, privilege that surrounds discussion of privilege.

Other inappropriate uses of “privilege”- this Youtube video about “Geek Privilege“- as a geek myself I very much agree that we should stop shaming/bullying other geeks for being less knowledgeable about our pet topics, and I am thankful to this fellow for putting the message out there, but privilege is not how I’d phrase it. (heck I’d say the same about various Pagans/Polytheists…)

Some atheists/agnostics are also using the concept of “Religious privilege“, Christian privilege (or even monotheist privilege) is definitely A Thing, but religious privilege assumes all religious people get social benefit cookies regardless of how marginalized their religion is. In fact, I think there are some contexts in which secularism is dominant, (though religious people as an entire group are rarely prosecuted)

Ruadhan J. McElroy: Perhaps I’ve been unclearWhat “Wiccanate” Actually Means, “Wiccanate” is the New “Cisgender

Finnchuill’s Mast: The Wiccanate Privilege

EmberVoices: Wiccanate Privilege & Spackle

“To be sure, privilege is a serious problem in the San Francisco Bay Area Pagan community, and at PantheaCon, but I really don’t feel the Wiccanate privilege is anything like the biggest problem to tackle except to the degree that it reflects groundings in other problems like classism, racism, sexism, cis- and hetero-normativity, etc.” Spot on, thanks, Ember!

Yvonne Aburrow: Wiccanate Privilege & Polytheist Wiccans

Macha NightMare: My Perspective on “Wiccanate Privilege”

Mistress of the Hearth: Wiccan Bias, Not Wiccanate Privilege

Reclaiming Warlock: My Take on Wiccanate Privilege

“As somebody who deals in privilege discourse, I think it’s a mistake to attach every power critique to a brand new “____ privilege” type label, and in this case in particular it’s important to recognize that being Wiccan is not itself a privileged state.  Wiccans hold a lot of power over the discourse within the Pagan community–something that needs to be controlled–but calling them “privileged” ignores that in the wider community Wicca is a minority faith and subject to all the bullshit that that entitles them.”- Jack



Entry filed under: Concepts & Definitions, Ethics. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , .

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. EmberVoices  |  June 25, 2014 at 5:14 am

    You’re welcome 🙂

    It’s an interesting question. I’m not sure I agree that privilege is the wrong word. I supposed it depends on which counter-argument we’re addressing.

    I agree that it’s not per se privilege in play when a disadvantaged group has a small advantage that a privileged group does not partially as a product of being disadvantaged. “Women can have lots of free drinks when they go to a bar because of all the men hitting on them,” example, for one. I also think it’s a very astute point that passing privilege is not at all the same scale of privilege as is had by those they are passing for, because as soon as it’s known they’re only passing, it vanishes.

    But that’s not the manner of privilege Wiccanate traditions have within the Pagan community, or in larger social situations (like Military and Prison/Jail complexes) where Wicca and Pagan are treated as synonyms, and other Pagan religions are ignored. There are places where religious freedom requires active inclusion, not just failure to exclude. In those cases, Wicca is often (but not always) recognized, and most other Pagan traditions aren’t. (Asatru is the most common second Pagan inclusion that I’m aware of, because of the strong presence in Prison particular settings, but also has a bad reputation for it. :/)

    I think using the word “privilege” is helpful for recognizing the nature of the mechanism, that it’s grounded in widespread (within certain contexts) social assumptions that correcting individuals won’t easily solve, right up to and including government systems. Granted, the scale is different, and it would be inappropriate to act as though the scales were equivalent.

    All that said, bennybargas’ point about the element of the oppressed being obliged to participate in the system of their own oppression is relevant, and one I need to contemplate. At a glance, I think the obligation of various non-Wiccan Pagans to request Wiccan chaplains in contexts where other forms of Paganism aren’t recognised might be an example, but it’s a drop in the bucket relative to other forms of oppression, and the areas in which Pagans in general ARE at a major social disadvantage in this way apply to Wiccans and Wiccanate Pagans as well.

    Good food for thought, thank you for bringing it to my attention!


  • 2. caelesti  |  July 1, 2014 at 4:14 am

    Kudos to you for doing prison ministry!
    It’s really a numbers game with things like prisons and the military- in some places, only forms of monotheism are allowed, sometimes they include Hinduism & Buddhism (the so-called “Five Faiths policy”) The problem is so many Pagans pretty much have their own unique religion, and these are typically required to be practiced in groups. I’d like more diversity to be recognized, but for now, we may need to lump ourselves under inexact labels to get religious rights. I often use “Unitarian” as a cover when I don’t feel like explaining more specific stuff (people think “well, that’s some sort of church…”but ironically in those institutional contexts I think I wouldn’t because UUism is vague and broad enough that it doesn’t really have much in the way of specific requirements for holidays/food/practices etc. Lighting a flaming chalice? That’s about it!

    • 3. EmberVoices  |  July 1, 2014 at 1:22 pm

      I only do Jail ministry, not Prison. Prison is a whole lot more work, as people are there for years on end, and thus can create ongoing congregations, covens, kindreds, etc. Jail is temporary, and I usually only see any given inmate once or twice for one-on-one spiritual counseling.

      Yes, it’s definitely a numbers game. I live in an area where the local chaplains happen to be very cooperative and open-minded. If they can find a suitable volunteer for your faith, they’ll invite them to come help you. They’re not concerned with which faith you claim. The only restriction is that you can only claim the privileges and restrictions of ONE faith, and whichever chaplain they can find has to confirm those limitations. And obviously they can’t be limitations or privileges that contradict any safety rules or whatever.

      I spend as much or more time explaining to the folks I help that they need to consider themselves the equivalent of sailors at sea – they have to be resourceful in the face of very limited resources and an environment over which they have almost no control. I’m not there to get them more privileges, I’m there to help them sort out how to continue their relationships with the gods, spirits, and ancestors in that setting. It’s telling who wants that answer and who doesn’t.


      • 4. caelesti  |  July 2, 2014 at 1:20 am

        Right, I made the mistake of using “prison” generically- those are state institutions, jails belong to counties. I’ve heard more about prison ministry, glad to hear about jail ministry too. (though I’d rather we just abolish the whole system, but that’s a whole nother story!)

      • 5. EmberVoices  |  July 2, 2014 at 1:36 am

        Heh, yeah, that’s a whole ‘nother story. The system clearly needs an overhaul. I’m not sure I can agree that it should go away entirely. I’m not sorry some of these folks aren’t walking around in public.

        And yeah, a lot of people do conflate them. I feel a need to clarify because of how much MORE work Prison Ministry really is, and I feel those folks deserve extra credit 😉


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