The ultimate symbol of privilege

The idea of white privilege made its way into common culture over the last few years. I’ve gotten into several FaceBook spats about whether or not there’s a certain privilege associated with being white. I think the word “privilege” might put people off, and make them defensive, but when you get to the heart of the matter, it’s really about a sense that the world revolves around white americans. It’s common here in the United States to hear people say that we don’t have accents. Of course some do, but when somebody speaks and you can’t tell if they’re from the north or south or midwest of the United States, they are said to not have an accent. But they DO have an accent, and it’s easy to tell that they are from the US (or Canada). It’s that, in our self-centered world, sounding like “us” means being “normal” and not having an accent. We don’t talk about people having an American accent, like we talk about Australian or British or Hispanic accents. We see it in how we talk about food in terms of “ethnic” and “non-ethnic” also. Restaurants are classified as chinese, ethiopian, mexican, burmese, indian…and then there’s the others. Not “american,” just unclassified. All of this makes it clear that our culture, specifically white American culture, acts as if we are the “norm” and everything else is different. Not bad, but not the norm. But these are small potatoes compared to the biggest of all…

For me, the ultimate symbol of self-importance (and when I say “self” I don’t mean the individual, but the group) isn’t that bandages are made to match white skin, or that “flesh” colored crayons are the color of caucasian flesh, or that “nude” stockings are only nude on caucasian legs, or that “normal” hair care products are made for white hair. For me, the ultimate symbol is the year. The world accepts that the year is 2017. Almost every country in the world has adopted the Gregorian calendar. A few hold on to vestiges of their own cultures. Israel recognizes the Hebrew calendar, and Jews around the world still celebrate Rosh Hashana (new year). Afghanistan and Iran use the Solar Hejri calendar as their official date, and India uses the Saka calendar. There are others, but they all recognize and adapt to the Gregorian calendar.

We have no problem accepting that it’s 2017, but it’s 1466 according to the Armenian calendar. It’s 6767 on the Assyrian calendar. It’s 5778 on the Hebrew calendar, and in the Hindu calendar it’s 2074, 1938, or 5119. It’s 1396 on the Iranian calendar and 1439 on the Islamic calendar. It’s Heisei 29 on the Japanese calendar, and 4350 on the Korean calendar. In earth time, it’s about the 4.54 billionth year and in human time it’s about the 2 millionth year. So all of these calendars are wrong, but the one and only one that everybody knows about, and everybody follows (even if they keep theirs in mind), is the Gregorian calendar, which is a modification of the Julian calendar (named for Caesar) that was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in what most of us call 1592, but even before then, we were working on a calendar that was widely accepted to mark the birth of Jesus Christ. Think about that for a minute…the calendar we use flips over to mark the time of Jesus’s birth (sort of, it’s imperfect in many ways, but that’s the gist).

So next time you hear somebody complaining that Christianity is being pushed out, or that Christians (in the United States) are being persecuted, just remember that the year, the descriptor of time, is part of Christian culture. The whole thing is a Christian cultural reference. It doesn’t get much more Christian-centric than that, right?

Just to be clear, I’m not bashing Christians here, and I’m not proposing a change in the calendar (although I could get behind changing our year based on some scientific beginning that applies to all of us). I’m pointing out something that I’m betting lots of people don’t think about, because it fits with their “norm.” It fits with their surroundings, without much thought to how it doesn’t fit with the surroundings of others. That’s the point here, and I’m not chastising anybody for doing this. We all do it. I do it all the time. It’s human. My main point is not controversial. It’s that others have different experiences and different frames of reference, and this is one way that we ignore those differences.


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