Typically narcissistic blogging.

Privilege

Okay, I have been observing an incredibly frustrating pattern in conversations relating to privilege, which is that, in short, people who have privilege loathe being told they have it and will bend over backward to try to invalidate any claim they might have to it, as if being sensitive to various issues, or at least not outright misogynist/racist/antisemitic/homophobic/transphobic/etc. somehow removes any inherent privilege, like fancy stain remover.

People will point to some action they have taken in the past to support the rights of some group of people—be it women, minorities, GLBTQ, the socially awkward, whatever—and say, “But I did this thing. So I’m totally not acting privileged, so you should totally shut up and stop attacking me (because criticism totally = attack).” Worse, I’ve seen people say, “Whatever, I don’t know why you are whining. Get over it.” This response is extremely common in discussions about misogyny in comic books and the video game industry, and pretty much always comes from men. Go figure.

So I am going to boil privilege down for you, and for very easy reference. Because privilege is not something you got on you, like dirt. Privilege is not an accessory you can discard when it seems inconvenient. Privilege is not something you can whittle down with actions, like it’s just below your health bar in a video game.

You need to stop thinking about privilege in terms of attitude (although, that’s part of it), action, inaction. Privilege is, if we condense it down to its most fundamental aspect, the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle. Privilege is the ability to throw up your hands and say, “I’m done arguing about this,” or, “this can wait for the next election,” or, “Why are we still discussing this— isn’t this settled/aren’t there more important issues in the world?” It’s the ability to say, “I don’t like the criticism I have gotten over my part in this discussion, so I am leaving the discussion entirely.”

I’m going to repeat the primary point, here, just to be as clear as possible: Privilege is the ability to walk away from a given struggle and know that your rights will not be affected in the slightest bit by the outcome of that struggle.

So, folks: stop being bitches about being called out about your privilege. Recognize it for what it is. Make damn sure you understand what it means—about your approach to the world around you, about the issues you have never had to study and fully understand, about the opportunities you take for granted—and own it.

12 responses

  1. That’s a pretty good definition, yeah. It is my observation that nothing enrages a person who has lived shrouded by the warm comfy padding of privilege quite like suddenly being exposed to a situation where that privilege gets stripped away a bit. In particular, I think a good deal of homophobia — at least, the flavor that doesn’t come from self-hating gays — has to do with men who have embraced the patriarchal mythology suddenly being the object of the “male gaze” rather than the subject.

    (We could complicate this by pointing out that women can look with objectifying sexual desire; that objectification can be a positive or negative experience for the object; and that men are capable of assessing an entire person rather than merely treating sexually attractive people as objects. But I’m shorthanding, here, to talk about the way your typical dudebro thinks about women, and how he reacts to suddenly feeling as though somebody is looking at him like that.)

    In any case, if women reacted to male gaze the way straight men do, there’d be a lot of frat boys in hospitals.

    February 21, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    • Oh, yeah. That’s a good example. Last night I had to walk away from a conversation where a friend of mine was lamenting the loss of his privilege (via a claim that women get more benefit of the doubt about rape than men do–a claim that is both false and flawed).

      February 21, 2012 at 3:03 pm

      • Larry

        I’m not sure about the loss of what you call “privilege” but I would support the claim that women get more benefit of the doubt about rape them women do. Our society believe that men are never a victim of rape. The attitude is slowly changing but it’s there. From what I’ve just read you won’t be willing to admit to it but then…

        January 19, 2014 at 9:32 am

        • Dude, women do not get the benefit of the doubt about rape. Full stop. Men don’t either, and male rape goes woefully underreported. However, 1 in 4 men have not been raped. 1 in 4 women have. You can try to make this all about how men have it so hard in this world, but this is the wrong forum for it.

          January 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm

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  6. Privilege is a word in the dictionary as all are. The interpretation of the definition is completely different depending on your socioeconomic upbringing. Your intelligence, social skills and various other learned attributes contribute to your own personal privilege. The way you do or do not use these skills has much to do with the outcome of many circumstances that you will find yourself in during your life. Privilege is something that you might use to mitigate a bad situation you find yourself in. Or this could blow up in your face. Depending on the situation I might have an advantage due to my socioeconomic back ground or I might be at a disadvantage. What are we talking about generalities or specifics. Other wise I am going to use my privilege to tune this out. Here is my background 5′ 11″ blond hair blue eyes raised by a single parent with 8 siblings. Raised in HUD on food stamps left the neighborhood (It did not define me) as soon as I could afford support myself and help my brothers and sisters. I now am pretty well off because of the things I did in my life which in the long run might have ruined the naive little boy that I was while growing up, but however this helped me raise my own children to be responsible caring adults. I have so many ways to contradict what you are saying that it drove me to write this comment. Peel the onion back more than once or leave it be.

    January 9, 2014 at 8:21 pm

  7. John Narofsky

    While your intentions are good, your essay here has some serious issues. Your central thesis is the conflating of a common characteristic of someone who is privileged with the core and necessary characteristics of someone who is privileged. The lack of personal context with a particular struggle does not mean one is privileged because there is more than one way to arrive or exist in a state of lacking context. Furthermore, the having of an unflagging connection with a given struggle is not a sufficient basis to say the person is without privilege with regards to that struggle.

    January 14, 2014 at 9:11 pm

    • You’ve sorta missed the point, though. If you are a white male, you can walk away from the struggles of women and people of color without once having to give up the benefits that your Y chromosome and lack of melanin affords you. If you are straight, you can walk away from the struggles for marriage equality without once having the legitimacy of your relationships questioned. If you are able-bodied, you can shrug off elevators being out and a lack of ramps at restaurants and other venues and never have your quality of life affected. It’s not about personal context.

      January 15, 2014 at 8:24 am

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