“What I’ve Been Told Was Mine”

Malcolm X Quote

“It’s interesting how those in power always feel so victimized by those without it.”

I found myself tweeting this observation today in response to an article in Religion Dispatches.  It quotes Vatican representative Archbishop Silvano Tomasi making the case that those who oppose equal rights for LGBT people are the real victims.

He said there was “a disturbing trend in some of these social debates: People are being attacked for taking positions that do not support sexual behavior between people of the same sex… they are stigmatized, and worse—they are vilified, and prosecuted.”

There is a current of anger and a cry of unfair treatment that has come from those in dominant social positions throughout history.  Virginia Woolf observed it 1929 in A Room of One’s Own.  She was baffled by the tone of the men who wrote anti-feminist articles and books:

“The most transient visitor to this planet, I thought, who picked up this paper could not fail to be aware, even from this scattered testimony that England is under the rule of a patriarchy.  Nobody in their senses could fail to detect the dominance of the professor.  His was the power and the money and the influence.  He was the proprietor of the paper and its editor and sub-editor.  He was the Foreign Secretary and the Judge…He was the director of the company that pays two hundred per cent to its shareholders.  He left millions to charities and colleges that were ruled by himself…he it is who will acquit or convict the murderer, and hang him, or let him go free.  With the exception of the fog he seemed to control everything.  Yet he was angry… It seemed absurd that a man with all this power should be angry.”

Joe Perez, in his book Soulfully Gay, made a similar observation about the emotional urgency of anti-gay arguments:  “Their facade of confidence, self-righteousness, and certainty are all too often betrayed by the anxiousness of their tone, their adamancy, and their quickness to feel that their very world-view will collapse upon them if they give but an inch in the argument.”

Jon Stewart, who happens to be Jewish, made a similar point to his guest Mike Huckabee, who had been arguing that there is, in this country, a cultural war on Christianity.

“I have to say,” Stewart said, “as someone who is not Christian, it’s hard for me to believe Christians are a persecuted people in America. God-willing, maybe one of you one day will even rise up and get to be president of this country – or maybe forty-four in a row. But, that’s my point, is they’ve taken this idea of no establishment as persecution, because they feel entitled, not to equal status, but to greater status.”

The anger and outrage of people who have been blessed with social advantage intrigues me.  I have tried to understand where it comes from.  The answer is surely not simple.  It is a mix of psychological and social forces I cannot entirely unravel.

The best that I have been able to come up with is that people who have lived their lives within a framework that bestowed a certain status on them are afraid of what they might lose.  They are afraid that they might wake up one day and find that they were lied to when they were told that if they just followed the rules society would take care of them.  What if the rules that set them apart as honorable and advantaged members of their society were not there.  Might they be left behind?

I think of Beau Sia’s poem “Asians in the Library of the World,” which concludes:

“If only they understood that I’m here too.  That I share this place with them.  That I belong here.  That the hoards and swarms invading the system I’ve learned remember who I am as the world changes.  I’m so afraid I’ll have to fend for myself without what I’ve been told was mine.”

*image reblogged from The Zeitgeist Movement

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