The Topography of Privilege

October 19, 2018

By Tricia Hornback, Ph.D

I have been traversing the great expanse, trying to map the “lay of the land” between my reality as a Native American person, the privilege I experience because of my education, and the privilege I observe because of my position as a college professor. It is an interesting experience in walking the “safe” shore where my privilege keeps me out of the swirling deep waters of Native American hardship. But not too far away from the laughing waves that wash the shoreline. Contrasted with the reality that I, and my family, without a moment’s notice, can be plunged right back into the swirling water of hardship that comes with “being” Native American and everything that means.

The level of privilege is often disquieting and not-so-trustworthy to me. But it is also “solid ground”, the “shore”. I love the water, the Native American reality, and I am a child of it, a mother in it, a story keeper for it, and it also causes me to have to “find my legs” to walk the shore of privilege that often times I live on here.

So far, I find I am most comfortable just at the water’s edge, not fully in either place. And yet, to show others the beauty of the water, I often need to venture further in land to the sloping dunes or rising hills of their places of privilege and mine – where they say I can stay for a while. But something inside me resists my time on the dunes or the hills where the privilege is high enough to be uncomfortable, incongruous for me, even as I am drawn to showing people I find there the beauty of the “Indian” water rising and falling, sometimes clear as glass, but almost always in the distance.

At my core, I am a child of the swirling, sometimes peaceful, always powerful, water that is “Indian” existence. Every visit back to the reservation or to urban Indian communities reminds me of what is “real.” I need the Creator’s heart for the people that I experience in these reminders even though the reality is often “hard.” I need to experience the Creator’s heart for those who are deceived by privilege even though it causes apathy and blindness. I need the Creator’s heart for me, as I can be in either group without warning. Without eh Creator’s light, I wouldn’t keep venturing into the dunes and hills and I might grow weary of traveling into the deep swirling depths of the water as well – I would stay just at the shoreline, comfortable, never too far inland or too far out to sea…And I would miss, what is to me, the most important adventures, the most important work – finding and sharing the Creator’s heart for this world and for people.  I am glad we are on this adventure together.

--Tricia Hornback, Ph.D. (Cherokee Nation/Shawnee) is an assistant professor and program coordinator, for the George Fox University Center for Peace and Justice. She has spent much of her career assisting in the self-determination and empowerment of Indigenous Peoples: exploring issues of race/ethnicity, integrating equality and social justice themes in adult learning programs, doing international peace and justice work with non-government organizations, and building networks to further peace and justice in the local community.