10
Dec

Liberal Privilege

   Posted by: Robert   in Uncategorized

From the way the term gets promoted and used, and even from the recent description I gave, one might be inclined to think that the idea of privilege extends only to groups who we traditionally consider to have been disadvantaged.  White privilege is easily the most well known flavor of identity privilege, with male privilege not too far behind.  In reality, the concept of privilege can be applied to any group which holds the dominant social/cultural position.  As a white male, it isn’t often that I find myself outside of America’s social/cultural orthodoxy; I’m not usually a minority.  One area where I likely am a victim of privilege, however, is in politics.  What follows are some initial thoughts about political identity and liberal privilege.

The realization of liberal privilege began last weekend during a crew dinner at my volunteer job.  One of my colleagues, entirely unprompted, decided to start talking to me in some extreme generalities about politics.  His essential statement on the subject was that he looked at the difference between Republicans and Democrats by saying that Republicans are about making money, and Democrats are about peace.  He went on to explain that he is a Libertarian, and that Libertarians are about freedom.  “Money, peace, and freedom,” he would echo a couple more times before the conversation drew to its uninspiring close.  “Money, peace, and Freedom.”

Despite the, uh, hard hitting nature of his comments, it struck me that my internal response was somewhat interesting.

Before I found out that my colleague is Libertarian, the first thing that caught my attention was his description of Republicans as being really good at making money.  In particular, I was completely unsure how to take that remark.  On its face it sounded like praise, but under our current political speech codes, being someone “good at making money” isn’t necessarily something to be proud of.  My defenses went up, thinking, “is this guy about to start smearing conservatives?”  I never did find out the answer to that question.

What ultimately kept me in the dark about his opinion of conservatism was my own concern about looking for an answer.  To seek an answer would likely have kept me tied up in the conversation much longer, and may well have led to me expressing some conservative thoughts.  After all, whether he was smearing Republicans or not, that they make a lot of money is hardly the first association I want someone to have with them.  But to replace money with something more widely regarded as positive would give away my own conservatism.  Knowing the crew consists mostly of liberals, that was something I didn’t want to do.

As I thought about that aversion further, I realized that somewhere along the line I internalized the message that there is something improper about expressing conservative beliefs.  That somehow saying conservative things was impolite, in a way that goes beyond “religion and politics” as conversation topics to avoid.  Were I to become identified as conservative, that might cause people to view me in a negative light.  For the same reason, when I do talk politics in mixed company, I’ll tend to deflect toward my more liberal sounding positions, in hope of at least coming across as a moderate.  Despite being a conservative, raised in a conservative family, and living in a Republican leaning city, I’ve still been conditioned to feel like my beliefs are best left hidden from public view.

Concern over speech codes and feelings of “wrongness” are exactly the types of feelings I see in discussions regarding identity privileges of more traditional sorts, like race, gender, and sexual orientation.  To the extent that political affiliation is an identity, I’m fairly certain I experienced a moment of liberal privilege.  What that may mean for conservatism should be an interesting topic to explore.

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