I’m picking up where I left off last week: after the Charleston massacre, considering urgent questions about faith and identity. Then, I shared an exercise on identifying your “social location,” which is no more or less than the story of you and “where you’re at” within society. This exercise changed my life, so I encourage you to try it.
Here’s my social location and what I learned through the exercise.
I’m white, male, middle-class, able-bodied and in good health at age 35. I’m a U.S. citizen by birth, a native English-speaker, with German and English ancestry. I grew up in suburbs in the northeastern U.S., with a younger sister and my mom and dad. My parents are divorced. I’m Protestant by upbringing, Lutheran by choice. I’m college-educated, seminary-trained, and an ordained clergy-person. I’m also married, a father of two, and a homeowner. My commitments to racial equity and economic justice took root while living on the southside of Chicago, while living with people from Nigeria and Tanzinia, and when meeting poor working people in urban Mexico, rural Nicaragua, and urban southern India.
I could say more. (Any one of us could write a book!) But I came to see myself in a new way from even a short description of my social location. In fact, I find it useful to remind myself of the very basics, which are easy to take for granted. Take just the first three. I’m white, male, and middle-class.
What I learned:
- My “social location” is somewhere, not everywhere. In other words, my experience is particular, not universal.
- Accidents of my birth have had more influence on who I am than I used to think–maybe even more influence than my choices and achievements.
- Some “social locations” grant more social power and privilege, and others grant less.
- Even though I did not used to think so, I’m located at the intersection of a great deal of social power and privilege, nearly all of which I simply inherited, not because I earned or deserve it.
- All of this has a huge influence on what I hear, by default, in scripture and how, by default, I live life. The defaults are powerful but not necessarily “right.”
- Awareness of my social location and the intention to listen with others of different social locations opens new possibilities for hearing scripture and for living life. If it’s not grace for others, it’s probably not true grace for me either, and I get to listen again, even in discomfort, and be changed.
- This change is not automatic. It takes considerable intention and effort. (Exactly because I have the privilege to ignore it with little social cost.) But it is a Christian way to live, and it is worth it.
Next week, I’ll dig more deeply into this power and privilege stuff. Peace, PC