Bill Bennett's recent racist remarks and Leonard Pitts' column this morning in response have given me some good fuel for reflection. Pitts own experiences of racism directed toward his family in particular gave his remarks a deeper level of credibility. In short, his race (African American) seems to have played a role in the integrity of his remarks. If I were to make similar observations, would my race (European American) somehow detract from them?
Can a white person speak on behalf of a black person? Can a straight person speak out against homophobia? Can a rich person advocate on behalf of the poor? Can a man take a stand against sexism? Can a person who lives in a three-story suburban home and owns two cars be an environmentalist? And so on ...
A seminary friend of mine was rather notorious for speaking on behalf of others whose particular context she did not share. I remember her asking one time, "How does this assignment affect those who do not necessarily believe in the divinity of Jesus?" Since I happened to know that she was 100% in tune with the divinity of Jesus, I was puzzled as to for whom in the room she had chosen to speak this time, and whether or not that person had granted her the authority to do so. It seemed to me that she had crossed a boundary with that one.
Another example: my good friend Roger was in the first Gulf War. I wasn't. We are just about the same age, so it would have been quite possible for me to be there with him. But I wasn't. Now, Roger and I find ourselves of a similar mind with regard to the war in Iraq - both of us are strongly opposed to it. But it just sounds different when Roger speaks out against it than when I do. He was there - I wasn't.
When does advocacy cross the boundary into condescension?
What cause can I (white, male, straight, mainline protestant, rich) honestly claim to advocate without risking hypocritical status?
How much legitimacy does one's own identity lend one's opinions?