Mother's Day, after a week of hard thinking

Mother’s Day has been over for almost a week, but it’s still on my mind.  I’ve been thinking so much lately about the privilege of peace, and of all those mothers who live in terror and horror that I never have to even think about.

At the heart of my starting this blog was a desire to write about the privilege of peace.  I wanted to write a book about it, but that proved to be far more time consuming than the bite-sized chunks that a blog entails.

My premise is based in oppression theory.  We all have privilege that we are unaware of.  Some people get very defensive when you point out that they have privilege, and those same people get upset when folks who don’t have as much privilege as they do aren’t getting as far in life, because they don’t experience the invisible glass ceiling that others live with.

My introduction to this topic was the work of Peggy McIntosh, who wrote about white privilege.  I never considered myself a racist by any means, and it was very unsettling to entertain the concept that I was walking around with privilege just by being white.  One of her seminal works is the list of white privilege, which is a real eye-opener.  Go ahead, take a minute and read it the 50-item list of the daily effects of white privilege:

It never occurred to me that these things weren’t true for others until it was pointed out, because I was in the majority and my experience was the “norm.”  Thus began some research into privilege, and I found lists for male privilege, able-bodied privilege, thin privilege, class privilege, hetero privilege, you name it.  The majority of us move in and out of privilege throughout our lives in one way or another, and that comes with some responsibility.  As a white, hetero person, I feel a strong sense of obligation to be an ally and supporter of people who are LGBT or persons of color.  Because I have built-in credibility that I did nothing to earn, the least I can do is use it to do the right thing, right?

I have taught classes on oppression theory, and I could write pages and pages about this issue alone.  People who deny their unearned privilege aren’t doing the world any favors.  It just is what it is, and rather than be defensive and deny it, isn’t it better to work together to create a society where nobody feels marginalized?

Looking at this from a global view, it’s important to realize there is additional privilege that nobody is really talking about, and that is what I call the privilege of peace.  While our lives aren’t perfect, we also are living in bombed out buildings, or in non-stop terror of imminent attacks and death.  We do not have to worry that we will put our child on a school bus in the morning, and that bus will be bombed, or the school will be bombed and our child will not come home because of wide-spread terror and war.  We don’t have to worry that soldiers will bust into our home, drag off our loved ones to torture and death.  We don’t have to worry that our sons and daughters will be forced to be child soldiers, or that we will have to watch them slowly die of hunger or disease because some corrupt government or regime is withholding food or medicine for political gain.  We don’t have to wonder if our unborn child will be born with deadly deformities because of the U.S. military using chemical weapons such as white phosphorus in our neighborhoods.  We have the amazing luxury of thinking and dreaming ahead, planning concerts and events and outings without worrying about whether we will survive the day.

Yet nobody is talking about it.  We think the world is a lot bigger than it is, and let’s face it, all that misery and drama is a lot less upsetting if we pretend it isn’t happening, and maybe those other people on the “other” side of the world don’t matter quite as much as we do.  We can turn on the TV or the computer and tune it out, and be glad it isn’t us.  Well, some people can do that, but I just can’t.

I spent Mother’s Day thinking about this, because I was thinking about how being a mother, and a grandmother, changed my life completely.  I learned so much from those little people about what love really means.  This isn’t exclusive to Americans; this is a universal experience.  The mothers of those little girls kidnapped in Nigeria are enduring the kind of hell I can’t imagine.  The temptation, because it’s so horrific, is to say, “Thank God that’s not my little girl,” shudder, then try not to think about it.  But we must.  We must realize that by being able to push it out of our mind, we have privilege.  Those mothers don’t have that privilege. 

If we are really going to honor mothers on Mother’s Day, we need to remember all of the mothers.  We need to acknowledge the universal things we humans have in common, and know that people in war-torn regions love their children just as much as we do.  Then we need to commit ourselves to not being part of the cause of their pain.

Considering the fact that the U.S. far outspends the rest of the world on “defense,” (see this link:, and there aren’t any bombs dropping on us, it’s reasonable to assume that we are a big part of the problem.  We have the privilege of all this wealth and we are using it to make the lives of others hell, all over the world.  The figures don’t include the money we make by selling arms to despots and tyrants to use against their own people, so we are complicit in that as well.  And as long as we’re talking complicity, we are complicit if we are aware of these things and aren’t speaking out against them.

On Mother’s Day, my heart went out to mother’s everywhere who were suffering.  I reaffirmed my commitment to devote my life to ending war, whatever it takes.  I’m ashamed to be one of the oppressors, and I’m ashamed that my government has caused so much pain and suffering and death for others.  And on behalf of my country, I apologize to mothers everywhere.  I’m aware of my privilege, and I will be an ally, even if it means alienating other Americans who refuse to see their own privilege.  I will continue to speak out about the atrocities being funded by my tax dollars, and I know of many others who feel the same way I do.

The only way we are going to change things, the only way to end war, is for there to be no profit and no glory in fighting.  Pointing out this concept to people may result in you being called Un-American or unpatriotic, or other silly things, but let the name-callers say what they will because you will be speaking truth; some just can't handle it, and that's their problem.  At the heart of this is remembering that some people will have a tragic Mother's Day indeed, and live that tragedy every day, and those of us who don't have a moral obligation to try to stop that.

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