What you don’t realize you have

Working in higher education, I’ve learned a lot about privilege. I’ve had to confront my own position in the world as it relates to those around me. In fact, starting during my undergraduate career I began having the uncomfortable conversation of white privilege. From a racial standpoint, there are so many things I don’t consider as being part of my role as a privileged member of our society. I don’t have to think about the color makeup I might want to purchase, or if the Band-Aids I’ve selected match my skin tone. 

I’ve never been followed in a grocery store, nor have I been pulled over because of the color of my skin. These are all things that situate me in a position of privilege, one that is often not considered as such, because it is simply not thought of that way. It makes me sad to say, but it’s uncomfortable to think about privilege because you can’t think about that without thinking about those who don’t benefit from the same advantages. This semester it hit me that religious privilege is a reality among us as well. On our campus we put up a holiday tree at the head of our quad.

It’s not called a Christmas tree, as to be inclusive of those on campus who don’t celebrate the holiday, however it’s caused some discussion. The tree, after all, looks like a Christmas tree, and for it to be a focal point of the campus, has some students wondering how and where they can demonstrate their own religious and holiday symbols. 

After lots of conversation and deliberation, the university now has a holiday display policy, and an application in place, for students wishing to display symbols of their religion in designated spaces on campus. What a wonderful step in a progressive direction, right? Right! Except I challenge you to think about something. I challenge you to think about why this has to happen in the first place. Because so many students felt they didn’t have a voice, a way to represent their faith on our campus. A Menorah is not the go-to symbol for the season, nor is Happy Hanukkah the first expression of holiday tidings. There is rarely mention of Kwanza and there is in fact a Hindu celebration in December called Pancha Ganapati, celebrating the lord of culture and new beginnings. For those who celebrate these faith traditions, they often go unrecognized in the wake of a Christian-focused society.

 And I think as Catholics and Christians we often feel we get overlooked in the wake of commercialism. Aren’t we important, more important than the presents under the tree and the newest, latest, greatest gadgets? What about Jesus being the reason for the season? Because we’re so busy looking at all the commercial signs of our faith plastered around us, we forget that we actually hold a privileged position in our society. Because when you push aside the candy canes and the ribbons and the bows, it’s easy to see our faith everywhere. 

Merry Christmas is still the first expression of faith that comes to mind for the season, manger scenes are proudly displayed on lawns, and angels are hung on tops of trees. We can see our religion everywhere we look, and this is beautiful and a reminder that in a season during which we are called to be humbled by the birth of our Christ, our Heart, the One Who died for our sins, that somewhere else someone is honoring their faith tradition and may not always have the freedom to do so in a society that accepts them. 

That being said, I challenge you all this Christmas to recognize the privilege it is to be Catholic and Christian, to love your God with all your heart, and to admire those around us that do the same in their own way.

Anchor columnist Renee Bernier graduated from Stonehill College and is a graduate student in the College Student Personnel Program at James Madison University in Harrison, Va.

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