We All Play by the Same Rules or Not

On the Point of Contact blog a while back was a post called Buddhists, racism and the selective application of local ordinances . It was about the recurring problem of Buddhist sanghas to obtain permission to build temples or conduct Buddhist practices in some areas. Zoning regulations among other things have been used to keep Buddhists out of neighborhoods or at least from making their presence well known.

Jack wrote there:

"…privilege and racial/religious discrimination does not necessarily come in a fury of angry voices, drama or violence. It is a cold, logical and well-rehearsed application of an undue burden placed upon certain groups while not on others."

"unreasonable expectation of burden" is a critical observation in how privilege plays out in this and other scenarios. It is the crux of privilege.

Privilege isn’t just about money or aristocratic behavior when we are talking about it in the socio-political sense. It is about access.

Money can buy a certain amount of access in many situations but the fact that it has to be bought by certain groups and is not afforded automatically again falls under the expectation of burden. To the privileged group a considerable amount of access is afforded automatically.

And that is why when privilege is enacted those who enact it don’t see it. There is often the retort "Everyone plays by the same rules". The questions are who set up the rules and who is enforcing them? Who is being complained against when the rules are violated? When rules and their social enactment are already stacked against a group then violations are pretty easy to come up with.

This reminds me of that business with the atheists and the cross at the 9-11 site. Atheists objected to a Christian symbol being portrayed. They were told to just shut up and get over it. Yet when Muslims wanted to build a community center in the vicinity-not even at the site-the backlash was long and loud.

It happens in many communities and on large and smaller scales.

I’ve gone to local planning meetings over the years and the NIMBY sentiment is definitely alive an well. The list of things people don’t want in their neighborhoods is long indeed.

Some I’ve noted, even in open minded Vancouver Canada include:

-certain kinds of ethnic restaurants (usually applied to late night sushi places even though there are bars across the street which are open later and are much noisier)
-half-way houses of any kind
-homeless shelters of any kind
-charitable organizations that deal with mental health issues (drop in centers, clinics)
-drug rehab facilities
-religious institutions who’s architecture doesn’t fit with the "character" of the neighborhood (this most usually applies to Hindu and Sikh temples)
-signage in languages other than English or French except in certain areas or if the signs have E/F as well.

Even within condominium complexes or apartment buildings there are often coded rules that are thinly disguised racism, mostly to do with cooking (“smells” or “odours” that might pervade hallways), the type of draperies one can use on their windows (no colors, only a white backing-this means no signs or flags as well), what can be done on balconies-no laundry hanging or "excessive" gardening. Some of these can get pretty detailed.

This is all what may be called the institutionalization of privilege. It’s written into various rules and enforced by the dominant groups. Of course it isn’t stated directly as racist or discriminatory and all kinds of other rationalizations are given but when you look at the actual practices and who is always on the receiving end of the additional scrutiny, it shows up pretty clearly. Those who set the rules win.

All playing by the same rules. I don’t think so.