Sunday, 1 June 2014

Check Our Privilege

I don't know if you know this, but I'm incredibly privileged. Of course, I didn't decide this, I didn't even realize this, but I am quite privileged. I'm young, I'm Caucasian, I'm male, I'm straight, I'm cisgendered, I'm able-bodied, I'm upper middle-class & I'm quite healthy.
So, apparently, I am considered privileged. But, y'know, the weird thing is that no one has ever said to me "check your privilege". That's what today's post is about, and that's what I want to discuss with you today, because I think it's worth exploring this phrase, and hopefully debunking it. But no one has ever said to me - despite my "astounding" amount of privilege - that I need to check it. Do you know why?
It's because I'm what you might call an "ally" to these minority issues. I'm pro-lgbt, I hate racism, I'm a feminist and I care about people's rights. So, the reason people don't say "check your privilege" to me, despite being one of the privileged, is because I'm an ally, I'm on this side of the field. Although I may be privileged, I'm not one of "them", I'm an ally, or "one of us", I'm not the enemy here.
After all, it's not us that's the problem, it's them. "Us vs. Them" . . .
Wait, that sounds familiar. Oh dear, we're going to have to talk about this.
The Word of the Day is: 'PRIVILEGE'.
Privilege /'privəlij/ n. 1. A special right or advantage enjoyed only by a certain person or people: We had the privilege of meeting the great composer. 2. A special right or protection given to people in authority or office; prerogative: Parliamentary privilege. 3. The principle or condition of enjoying special advantages: The rich live a life of privilege. 4. Any of the more important rights common to all citizens under a modern constitution: Free speech is a privilege we try to preserve. ♦v.t. 5. To give a privilege to. 6. To free; exempt (followed by from). 7. To allow (something otherwise forbidden) to happen or be done.
I want to start by saying, I get it. It's not always wrong that people use this phrase, I get its purpose, at least I get what I think its purpose is (or should be). It's supposed to mean: "Your opinions may be biased by your life experiences, as you have not experienced [my] life [as a minority], so please have an open mind before passing judgement [on this subject]." and that is kind of cool, it's basically "walk a mile in my shoes before you judge me" kind of thing, I get it.
However, this phrase is not used like this. I mean it might have been once, and there are definitely social commenters that try to explain this phrase in a kindly manner suggesting we appreciate one another's differences. But, it's not used like that these days. Mostly, it's used as an insult. Rather than saying "you should be more open-minded" people are using this to say "you're close-minded"; rather than "we need to put in the effort to understand one another" they're saying "you'll never understand, because you're [white/rich/male]". Okay, when I say people, what I really mean is S.J.W.s; that does not stand for "Some Jerk-Wad" as I first assumed, rather Social Justice Warriors. I'm sure that some S.J.W.s are nice people but, this being the internet, the majority are the kind of people that I was talking about in my Mishandling Equality post, people more interested in picking a fight than dealing with the real issues.

And this is a big problem, "check your privilege" is not supposed to be an insult, it's supposed to be (at best) a gentle reminder; opening the door of acceptance, not slamming it in your face. And the problem starts from the very beginning . . .
One of the first people to introduce this idea of privilege into the racism discourse - if not the very first - is Peggy McIntosh, with her paper "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack", and she did so with a list of privileges that white people, especially men, are privy to, which black people, especially women, are not.
The paper says, basically, that white men are the majority; white men feel safer because they are around white people & white men usually have more money than black people (which is a little rude, but okay).
Now, the thing is, that's true . . . for Americans. However, in Africa, it's the other way around. Ironically, it's because Ms McIntosh herself forgot to check her privilege writing this piece (being in a first world country). In Africa there are a group of local Caucasians known as "Boer", originally Dutch settlers. I heard one light-skinned, South African girl talk about how, because she is white, she was bullied at school by the black kids and suffers the prejudice often suffered by African Americans, because she is the minority there, and I'm sure she's not the only one. So I want to point that out to start with, race does not define who is the underdog or the privileged.

So, does that mean this should be considered a "majority privilege"? Well, obviously not. For starters, there are more women than there are men, and that doesn't change who we consider privileged. But more importantly, minorities are just as capable of prejudice as those considered "privileged". I read an enlightening piece by a man named Rohin called "On Gay Male Privilege", and it speaks of how many gay men can be quite sexist towards women. Things like grabbing a woman's breasts without her permission, referring to them with sexist slurs and referring to female genitalia as "disgusting" (and there's nothing more sexist than insulting your . . . well, sex). It's a good piece and I recommend you read it, because I have seen this with my own eyes, and it's more prevalent than it should be.

But, it's not just against women, famous gay icon Dan Savage is biphobic. Despite being an advocate for gays has been called out by quite a few people as biphobic, and looking at the facts, I can't help but feel that he is indeed quite unkind to the bisexual label. This really bugs me because some of the people I know and love are bisexual, but he has claimed that it's a "phase" that homosexuals go through, and he says that most self-proclaimed bisexuals are lying.
Obviously you don't have to have "straight privilege" to badmouth a minority.

And it's not just "privileged" people; gay people & black people that practice such prejudice, there was a meme that was started in early 2012 known simply as "Die Cis Scum"; I'm not going to link to it again, but I was saying in my post about misandry, this is not how you solve the problem. Because, NO, "die cis scum" is not cute, it's just aggressive and confrontational, and all its doing is creating an air of aggesion (and outright violence) towards cis; and has the potential to create a backlash of even more people threatening transgendered people. And even worse, it's not just cisgendered people that have to deal with this, I've heard tale of transgendered people who people within the trans community care said to be "not trans enough", and are thus called "cis scum". This is why I say we need to get rid of this aggressive dialogue, people, hate begets hate.
But hey, let's not say you can't have a fun anti-cisgendered tirade. How about this, as a better pro-trans meme (to replace "die cis scum"); you take star wars quotes, but replace "sith" with "cis", you'd be surprised how well it works:
  "Only a cis deals in absolutes . . ."
There, now stop telling me to die, it's rude and makes me want to avoid you, in case you, or your haters, turn violent.

These are just the examples I found that inspired this post, but there are many more out there. Because, the fact of the matter is, everyone is capable of prejudice. The basic rule of thumb is:
"Nobody understands one another, until they do."
- The Absurd Word Nerd
You don't have to be privileged to have to misunderstand other people, you just have to be human; and claiming that one group is more privileged than another just creates animosity between us. I don't deny that minorities have to deal with the sort of physical violence, threats, insults, hatred & exclusion that I will not be able to understand on a personal level.
However, I don't feel privileged knowing that there are yet still more people out there that take pleasure in dehumanizing other people. It doesn't feel advantageous that there are those that are trying to tear apart our community, just because I am not the target of their ire.  I take no pleasure in knowing that this beautiful multiculture will continue to be divided and that several of us will continue to be disadvantaged, for no logical reason at all.
That never felt like a privilege, to me . . .

I'm the Absurd Word Nerd, and no, I don't know what it's like to be you. But I want to know, and as a writer and a reader, I can imagine what it's like to feel like someone else. All you have to do is tell me, and I'll listen; it would be my absolute privilege . . .


  1. This is why more people should grow up watching public television, because shows made for children like Sesame Street tell us what we need to know as adults: that instead of poking fingers at each other to spread hatred we should be striving to educate each other and remind ourselves that we have to live with human beings. Technically I'm in a minority, being Indian, and I think racial prejudice is ridiculous, but I try not to isolate my WASP friends when commenting on profiling and blatant hate crimes.

    1. Indeed, and it's shocking how much better some kids are at the whole "kindness" thing compared to adults. It's just a case of teaching kids right, because racism and sexism must be taught, just as much as equality.


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