Saturday, October 21, 2006

The "invisible knapsack" in action

From the Herald:

An Auckland woman is offended that Cabinet minister Phil Goff sent her a letter wishing her a happy Diwali when she is neither Indian nor Hindu.

Well, now she knows how those who are not Christian might feel when sent a letter wishing them a merry Christmas. But its clear from what follows that that thought would simply never occur to her:

Ms Chandra, who did not want her age or other details published, accused Mr Goff of "cheap political scoring" and said she was offended by the letter because it singled out one ethnic group for special treatment.

"He didn't treat all races the same ... It's reverse discrimination."

So, celebrating or mentioning the holidays of any religion other than the dominant one is some sort of privilege or "special treatment". Meanwhile, its not even Halloween, and shops are already sticking up their Christmas decorations - but this isn't any sort of "privilege" or "special treatment" - it's just assumed to be the natural, baseline state of affairs.

This story is a perfect example of the "invisible knapsack" in action. Originally applied to race and white privilege, there is also an invisible knapsack for Christians of unstated and undeserved privilege. The knapsack is smaller here - we are a far more religiously diverse and culturally tolerant society than the US, where these articles originated - but the fact that this story was even published rather than dismissed because people make assumptions and mistakes about religion all the time speaks to the fact that there are still some privileges in it. Mistakenly assuming for stupid reasons someone is Christian (as will happen to pretty much everyone over the next few months) is not news; mistakenly assuming (for similarly stupid reasons) that someone is not Christian shouldn't be either.


Certainly smaller:

"I am likely not judged by the improper actions of others in my religious group."

Exclusive Brethren

"It is likely that mass media represents my religion widely AND positively."

Pope hates Muslims, EB, Catholic Priests and many others

"I can speak or write about my religion, and even critique other religions, and have these perspectives listened to and published with relative ease and without much fear of reprisal."

Republishing Danish cartoons, Pope's forcing people to belong to your religion is bad-speech

"The elected and unelected officials of my government probably are members of my religious group."

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 10/21/2006 01:57:00 PM

Some Auckland kindergartens celebrate Diwali because of the high number of Indians who attend, so it's not _all_ assumed Christianity all the time everywhere.

Personally I wouldn't mind if Phil Goff wanted to wish me a happy Diwali but there you are.

Also I think it's fair to say that historically this is a Christian/Maori country, go to Pakistan and you aren't going to get your invisble knapsack unless you're Muslimn. C'est la vie.

Posted by Muerk : 10/21/2006 05:40:00 PM

Muerk: which religion gets the knapsack obviously depends on history and culture. In the US its Christians, in Pakistan Muslims, here at least we seem to be emptying it quite rapidly. Unfortunately, some people (such as Ms Chandra above) seem quite unwilling to give it up or acknowledge that it exists.

I likewise think its good that Goff is acknowledging the various cultures and religions of his constituents (according the article he does Eid and Chinese New Year as well). Certainly better than the old NZ where anyone who wasn't white and Christian was invisible and untouchable.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 10/21/2006 06:48:00 PM

As per the old saying,
never talk about religion or politics and definitly never talk about religion DURING politicing.

Having said that I really can't see why anyone would object to some one wishing them a happy day. Ill have a happy Diwali if its a good day for me. Tthe same for christmas which seem almost entirely stripped of christianity anyway.

I think maybe the problem is not that she complained (I expect LOTS of peopel complain when they are assumed to be christian) it is that it was reporteed that she was complaining.

Maybe that is because they know there are christians to be offended and political commentators to pull the "brash is racist" card possibly more tha latter than the former.


Posted by Anonymous : 10/22/2006 04:56:00 PM

The irony is, if she was Malaysian or Singaporean Chinese, she would have just gone: 'oh, nice, a Diwali card, just like we send out Tamil friends back home. How did Phil know that I was Malaysian/Singaporean?' Of course, if she was Malaysian/Singaporean Chinese, she wouldn't have been forced to change her name to a non-Chinese sounding name by the government post-Sukarno; wouldn't have accidentally ended up on an 'Indian community' address list; would still be called 'Lolita Chan' (poor thing); and would have been a bit bummed out that she didn't get a Diwali card.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/22/2006 05:42:00 PM

"we are a far more religiously diverse..."


"...and culturally tolerant society than the US"


Posted by Anonymous : 10/23/2006 05:15:00 PM

a non-Christian president is just impossible

I don't know. A non-religious president wouldn't have a hope in hell, but a god-fearing member of a non-christian group might have a chance?

Joe Lieberman got within a few chads of being VP.

Posted by dc_red : 10/24/2006 04:15:00 PM