March 1, 2010

Brad Warner on Privilege

A bit late on reposting, but here’s a post I deeply appreciated—Brad Warner’s response to the following question about privilege: “Have you ever considered that it may be easier for you to give up attachment to identity because your identities are not problematic, are in fact usually not considered identities at all? I honestly do want to know what your thoughts are about your position in the world, so please tell me.”

His comments struck me as incisive. Here’s the meat of his response.

I do not think that attachment to identity is something that can be quantified. I don’t think it’s something some people have more of than others, at least at the outset of practice. Except perhaps in some very rare and extraordinary cases.

[...]

I believe that all of us, no matter what our race, sexual orientation, gender, etc., are socialized to cling tightly to individual identity and to believe in it very strongly. This goes far beyond matters of race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. Those aspects of identity are very superficial compared to the much deeper issues of seeing oneself as separate from the rest of humanity and from the Universe itself. So my guess is that maybe someone who has forged a strong identity based on his/her/zher race, culture, sexual orientation etc. might have a tiny fraction of a percent more attachment to identity than someone for whom the questioner says identity is not an issue. Maybe. Maybe. Just a teeeny, weeny, itty bitty bit.

But in terms of what we’re dealing with in Buddhist practice this would hardly make any difference at all. In those terms, even for members of the ruling class, identity is a HUGE issue. Perhaps it’s even worse for members of the ruling class because they’ve never seen their identity as an identity, having been able to take so much for granted. I’d say a person who has grown up having to understand their identity as identity actually has a small head start on what Buddhism is dealing with in these areas.

I was surprised he took on this question, and he has some very solid points here. His personal anecdotes on privilege are also worth reading. I hope he blogs on it more.

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