Privilege and the Division of the United States

divided-american-flag

 

In Hillary Clinton’s concession speech she expressed that America was “more deeply divided than anyone had thought.” It was the dark cloud that hung over the entire year. 2016 was filled with race riots, religious opposition, political fights, and generational criticism unlike any in my lifetime. And all parties enjoyed throwing around the blame. “Obama is the reason race is so divided.” “Millenials are the most unpatriotic group there has ever been.” “White evangelicals are imposing their beliefs on us.” “Anyone who votes for Hillary Clinton should leave this country.” “Donal Trump has brought our evil out into the light.” Each of these statements I personally heard in 2016.

I’ve had numerous conversations recently about why America is so divided and I felt it only fitting to type it out.

The word I put forth is  privilege. At the core of it all the perpetuation of people groups having privileges that others do not is why this nation is more divided than ever.

We are at an interesting point in our nation, where due to the advancement of technology and social media, everyone has a voice. I can spend ten minutes scrolling down my facebook feed and see a myriad of opinions and beliefs about whatever is happening in the world today. I can see “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter” I can see “Trump will be the downfall of America” and I can see “Hillary Clinton will make us the weakest nation in the world.” Everyone has a voice in a way like never before. Anyone can go viral and anyone can be heard.

This means that we are in an environment where people who historically have not had a voice, now have a voice. This is the root of much of the “Political Correctness” we see in our nation. We’re trying to figure out how to navigate the new insights and understanding we may have been able to overlook historically. Race and Law Enforcement has always been an issue. But now we get to see the act minutes after it happens (or even live) and we all get to share our voice on it. Social media is drawing people to see more voices and be exposed to other realities than our own. Which for any Liberal is like steroids.

Let’s give the dictionary definitions here.

con·serv·a·tive
kənˈsərvədiv/
adjective: conservative.
  1. holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.
lib·er·al

ˈlib(ə)rəl/

adjective: liberal
  1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.

Tradition has never had an opportunity to be more drawn into question. We are exposed to diversity in ways no prior generation has ever been before. And such diversity demands we question our foundations. Have we been doing things right the whole time? Were these ideas, and people, taken into account when our nation was formed? Think about this for a moment: White privilege, discussion on gender, Feminism, same-sex marriage, “Happy Holidays”,  “In God We Trust”, each of these things, have pushed their way to the fore-front especially in recent years. The foundations of what has “always been” have been put on trial and as the definition would suggest Conservatives have built a brick wall around their traditions and their values. The election results should make this point very clear.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Any time a new technology that breeds new information is brought into the world, people push forward and people pull back.  It happened with the Enlightenment in the 18th century where science and reason took over as an authoritative understanding of the world. These new questions brought into speculation religious orthodoxy. The Protestants responded with the innerancy of the Scriptures and the Catholics responded with the infallibility of the Pope. The conservative method created a wall around its values so that any liberal idea could be kept out from tearing down orthodoxy. Men like John Locke would lead society towards the separation of church and state. Which is why quite often the secular is liberal and the religious is conservative. Especially in our nation.

But there’s a problem with the brick wall. It creates violent opposition. When any group decides there’s only one true way to be in the world, or that holding to the current values because “that’s the way it’s always been” they are ignoring the voices who can show that this isn’t true. And when people aren’t listened to, when people are silenced, they’ll find a way to make themselves be heard.

Before we fantasized the Syrian Refugee, the great threat to conservative America was the LGBTQ community. “They are coming after our values.” “They are changing the fabric of our nation.” “You can’t change marriage.” “It’s always and only been between a man and a woman.” Things of this nature. This was a “straight privilege” that heterosexual people could benefit from because of a foundation that was void of a homosexual voice. They can’t have it. The brick wall is built up. And the church and conservatives created in the LGBTQ people a special kind of anger. Because of the unwillingness of many to have such a conversation, many homosexuals want little to do with organized religion.

Many Conservatives feel as though the venom the LGBTQ community aimed towards the church was “violent” without understanding that the brick wall is the mechanism that creates violence.

Last year there were two high-profile instances in Dallas and Baton Rouge where armed black men opened fire on police officers killing them. It was a response to the perceived brick wall shown towards black lives in the hands of police officers. A belief that nothing would be done to change the system that oppresses them. Silence and a lack of empathy from the public, can create hopeless people who will do whatever they must to be heard.


Right after the Florida State Seminoles won the 2013 College Football National Championship, the university announced a re-brand of the long traditional and famous logo that’s been plastered on every FSU item since the seventies. When the new logo leaked many of the fans were outraged. Petitions, protests, beggars begging for it to be left as it was in all of its perfect glory. “This is the way it’s always been.”

But time passed and people began to accept that this was how it was going to be. The university was not going to budge. The Seminole tribe endorsed it. So people stopped complaining, people started identifying, people stopped signing petitions. It seems as though all but a small few remained loyal towards their passions against it. And the rest moved on…allowed it…accepted it….proclaimed it….identified with it. This almost always happens to the conservative brick wall when faced with something new.

So all the questions we come to ultimately end with how do we know what we have interpreted today was right from the start? Did we have the right foundation as it were? Whose to say the logo Florida State has now wasn’t the logo they were meant and destined to have since day one? Maybe the logo of the last forty years was actually the wrong logo, not good enough, and only now do they have the awareness to create a better foundation for the years to come.


Our nation was developed by and large by White Christian Men. The systems and structures, the laws, the law enforcement, the nation: was developed by White Christian Men. Should it be of any surprise that to this day the conservatives fighting for “the way things have always been” are stereo-typically White Christian Men? The social values upheld by Conservatives are the values that are perceived to have existed the longest. Values that come from a time where White Christian Men decided everything.

But now: in the diverse America, where everyone has a voice, diversity is standing up and asking should we discuss our foundations? Should we reconstruct our systems? And what is happening again in 2016 is that fear has built up another Conservative brick wall.

When all you have ever known is privilege, lifting others to equality will feel like something is being taken from you. It’s what Woody experiences when Andy is gifted a Buzz Lightyear. The problem is when Conservatives push back with a brick wall and call equality oppression. I can think of no greater example of this than the fictional “War on Christmas.”  Yes, Merry Christmas is something our nation has declared for forever. It’s a cheerful tiding that for years was decorated on our malls and TV shows. It was America’s favorite Holiday. But with the rise of social media and the experience of other voices (with greater volume) we shifted towards something more “Politically Correct.” This shift was inclusive of the diverse America that celebrates about 30 different religious holidays between November and January. Not Just the Christian holiday of Christmas. Now companies shifting towards something more inclusive meant they would say “Merry Christmas” less. Not because there’s anything wrong with saying Merry Christmas, or because we need to attack Christians, but because it, in practicality,  only represents one people group. And Christians lost their minds. We actually had a Presidential Candidate whose website policies listed “Saying Merry Christmas again.” That brick wall response. Equality in this case felt like oppression to many Conservative Christians. So to help those on the Conservative and traditional side see this I ask that we flip the shoes for a moment.

Imagine if our nation was founded instead on Jewish principles. On all our tv programs and magazines read Happy Hanukah and there was rarely if ever any acknowledgment of Merry Christmas. Christianity wasn’t a big factor of the formation of the nation but now due to immigration and diversity more and more religions moved into the U.S. and wanted to receive some national recognition or at least something more inclusive during the holiday season. But the Jewish people said NO! It’s not Merry Christmas, it has always been Happy Hanukah and we’re not going to change this. Who would really be the people displaying oppression?

We need to become aware that in a large way we run our nation like this. Those with privilege often (maybe without even realizing it) fight against equality because it would mean well…sharing. As a person who tends to lean left on issues like this my patriotism is often brought into question because of an assumption that I want to “change America and our values.” But that’s quite far from the truth. My patriotism is seeing the beauty our founders hoped for- that the entire world is represented by my diverse nation. That equality is to be found in all men. That all peoples, races, religions, orientations, genders are present. My patriotism is a belief that if WE can work it out, we can be a beacon to the world of love and inclusion. Of tolerance instead of violence. That our United States could be a diverse nation united towards the betterment of each other and the world. That for me, means having a discourse instead of a culture war. To offer my time and my ears instead of building up a wall. To me this was best captured by a man named Dan Cathy the president and CEO of Chick-fil-A.

In 2012, the public became aware that profits from Chick-fil-A were going to organizations that the LGBTQ community felt discriminated against them. The public began to protest Chick-fil-A because of the Christian belief in the heterosexual union found in marriage. Conservatives like Mike Huckabee responded with a “Chick-fil-A” appreciation day. And the LGBTQ community responded with “kiss-ins” where they would show public affection inside the stores. And how did founder Dan Cathy respond?

Dan Cathy reached out to the LGBTQ community and invited the founder of Campus Pride to come and help him understand. In an article by the Huffington Post, Campus Pride founder and equality activist, Shane Windmeyer speaks of how through this controversy he came to have a great friendship with a man who shared beliefs very differently than his own.

Because of these meetings and a growing awareness, both parties were able to diffuse their hostility, simply because they chose a discourse rather than a war. Chick-fil-A took away funding from discriminatory organizations.  Because Dan didn’t build up a wall, he invited the “other” in.

On the encounter Windmeyer wrote: “Now it is all about the future, one defined, let’s hope, by continued mutual respect. I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that happens when we know each other better. I hope that our nation’s political leaders and campus leaders might do the same.”

When those with privilege don’t listen to those without, a nation will never progress and people will be oppressed.

When we silence tradition, we can lose sight of who we are and where we came from.

We need both. Not one or the other. We need what’s found in the middle. What’s found in the discourse. What’s found in the embrace of one another. The union of the conservative and the liberal.

May all with privilege come to see those who don’t share the same ease of existence. Whether it be Black Lives, women, transgenders, same-sex couples, athiests, immigrants, Muslims, may we come to see that not everyone was able to play a part in the way things have “always been.” And may we all reach out to others and lift up their voice so that the future of our nation, of our humanity, and of the world may be inclusive of all of us.

Beginnings are often ignorant of the experiences that will be had. Beginnings are often ignorant of who we will become on the other side. The journey always changes us. May we not walk through our lives without the beautiful experience of another way to be in the world.

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