A few weeks ago I came across Caryn Rivadeneira’s article Preach On, Victoria’s Secret Model, An unexpected realization about privilege. The article referenced model Cameron Russell’s TED Talks, in which she speaks candidly about her privilege as a beautiful white woman. I felt she was honest and insightful.
However, I can’t say the same for Ms. Rivadeneira’s article. She tries to develop a message for the Christian community based on Cameron’s speech: we should acknowledge our privilege and thank God for it because it is a blessing. Therefore, I am not surprised that Ms. Rivadeneira believes that her privilege as a tall, blonde, affluent white woman is from God.
But Ms. Rivadeneira glosses over some of the major points from Cameron’s speech about white female privilege.The reason is that socially constructed privilege i.e. white female privilege may be a lot harder for the Christian community to digest. Below are some more of my thoughts about Ms. Rivadeneira’s article and privilege:
1. Being a tall, blonde, white woman is not a privilege from God. The white female privilege that the author possesses is based on a social construction of beauty that lives off the vestiges of a legacy fraught with white supremacy and prejudice. It’s a man-made privilege. White female privilege extends beyond the sphere of beauty. If Ms. Rivadeneira and anyone else is confused about what is white female privilege, Andrea Plaid from Racialicious does a good job of providing examples in this post.
2. Privilege is complex. Underpinning privilege are legacies that are not altogether just, fair or reflective of Christian values. For example, I inherit a million dollars from my grandfather. Am I privileged? Yes. Am I blessed? Not necessarily so. If my grandfather earned the million dollars through theft, murder and nepotism, am I still blessed? I don’t t believe ill-gotten gains are a blessing from God. And sometimes the privilege that you possess is a tangled mess of good, bad and ugly. How do you pick out which parts are blessings and which aren’t?
3. Someone pays a cost for our privilege. As a model, Cameron recognizes the costs associated with her white female privilege. In her speech she references a study by a Phd student who in 2007 counted the number of models and out of the 677 that appeared on the runway only 27 (4%) were non-white. Non-white models bear the costs of a beauty standard that prefers “whiteness” although they make up over 30% of the US population and the majority in terms of world population.
4.Ms. Rivadeneira had the perfect platform to challenge Christians (not only white women) to reflect on the privileges that they possess and critically understand how these privileges are built. Do these privileges impact the church community? How? And what is our responsibility? Ms. Rivadeneira believes that we should share our privilege and help others see theirs. But what about challenging the attitudes, beliefs, social, political and economic structures that create those privileges? What about addressing the injustices that privilege creates?