Since I posted “Privilege“, I’ve had a number of discussions with clueless folk about the privilege they do not believe they have or would like to discard because they are tired of being called out on it.
First, I am going to go over some basics (in a list that is not comprehensive):
Congratulations! You have privilege.
White people: You have privilege. You aren’t immediately flagged as potential trouble in stores and airports. You are more likely to get a job than the more melanin-enabled. People don’t assume you will be lazy, or late, or trouble on the streets. You don’t get extra targeted by cops. There is no such thing as Driving While White. You get to wonder why the brown people are upset about racism in movies and tv, because it’s just entertainment.
Men: You have privilege. You don’t worry about being sexually assaulted if you go out alone. You don’t have to automatically wonder if that guy in the elevator with you is a creep. You get paid more than women. Nobody assumes that you don’t know what you are talking about professionally just based on your gender. You don’t have to sue companies for promotions, universities for tenure, newspapers to be allowed to get out of the researcher/secretary pool. You get to wonder why women get so upset when you approach them on the street.
Rich folk: You have privilege, and everybody knows it. You get to wonder how families can possibly live on only $250,000/year.
Straight people: You have privilege. You don’t have to constantly fight for the legitimacy of your intimate relationships. Your right to marry is not up for a vote. Nobody says things like, “I’m not heterophobic, but…”. You don’t have to wonder if your state will let you adopt a kid, or if you will have any parental rights over the kids you are helping to raise. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for being openly straight. You get to wonder why the queer folk want to deal with the misery and complications of marriage.
Cisgendered people: You have privilege. You haven’t had to go through an extensive (and expensive) medical, psychological, and emotional process just to feel like your body is your own. You haven’t faced bigotry from every single community around you because your outsides don’t match your insides and you need to do something about it. You don’t get bullied, beat up, maimed, or killed for identifying as a gender that does not match the one on your birth certificate. You get to say stupid shit like, “That’s so weird. I would never put myself through that.”
Educated people: You have privilege. You have never had to have somebody read a document to you because you cannot. You have never faced the embarrassment and shame that our culture heaps on the uneducated. You aren’t stuck in jobs that nobody else wants because you never had the opportunity to finish grade school, let alone high school and college. You have never been without a voice. You get to wonder about and mock all the godawful grammar on the internet. (Approximately one in seven people in the US can’t even read this post I am writing.)
Tall people: You have privilege. Just kidding! I know it sucks to be able to reach everything.
Second, I am going to make a point I seem to have to make repeatedly, but never seems to get taken to heart:
The lack of one kind of privilege does not cancel out all other forms of privilege.
Grew up poor as shit, but still straight, white, cisgendered male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Grew up poor, brown, gay, and male? Guess what? You still have privilege. Poor, brown, queer, female with an amazing education? You still have privilege.
I can keep going with the combinations until this looks like an LSAT question, but I won’t, because the LSAT sucks. (I get to make that shitty joke because I get to claim educational privilege.)
Third, I am going to expand on what I discussed in “Privilege”:
It’s just something you have.
No, you didn’t ask for privilege. You aren’t necessarily looking for the special treatment you receive because of it. You may not even be conscious of it. That’s all well and good, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have it.
The thing about privilege is that the benefits are automatic and not always visible to the privileged. Which is another way of saying, you don’t notice you aren’t being discriminated against. Men don’t notice that they aren’t on constant alert against being sexually assaulted on the street. Straight people don’t notice that they aren’t being treated differently when with their partners.
When you get called out on your privilege, nobody is telling you to change it. Nobody is telling you that you are a bad person because of it. Nobody is saying that it’s your fault. What you are being told is, people who do not field specific kinds of discrimination have a very different perspective on the world than people who do. What you are being told is, what is an intellectual exercise for you may not be for somebody else.
What you are being told is, take yourself out of your privileged shoes and put them in somebody else’s (let me guess—they don’t fit. Kinda uncomfortable, right? You’d like to take them right back off, right? Yeah. That’s what people are talking about when they call you out on privilege). This goes back to my initial post. Because ultimately you need to recognize that you have it. You should acknowledge it. And while acknowledging it doesn’t change the fact that you have it, it does go a long way toward helping you understand where people are coming from when they say, “Dude. You realize you just spilled a bunch of cold unpleasant privilege into my lap.”
Don’t be afraid of those uncomfortable shoes. Seek them out. Walk in them for a minute, if you can. Marvel at the blisters and bruises. So that when you put yours back on, you can appreciate how well they fit, and how comfortable they are. That, metaphorically, is what you should be doing when your privilege is pointed out to you.
ETA: Since enough people have the need to make this argument, I feel it ought to be addressed. There seems to be a new “solution” to the use of the word “privilege” that seems to have been created by people who are deeply afraid of the word. I have tried to unpack it in this post, but I guess I can’t stop people just reacting to it instead of seeing that. So let me please state: calling discrimination “human rights violations” instead of using the word “privilege” changes absolutely nothing about the above post. All it does is try to shift focus and say, “I don’t have privilege, these people are simply being wronged.” Not only is the use of “human rights violations” a bit overwrought, it doesn’t work that way. People are being wronged, it’s true. But it is on a systemic level, and thus it is what actually creates privilege. The fact that people are suffering from various kinds of discrimination and lack of safety on a systemic level is the very reason that people who do not suffer—on that same systemic level—experience privilege. Taking the focus off of the privileged for these discussions does nothing to change that, it just makes those who are uncomfortable with it and think people who are using it are calling them bad people feel a little better in the moment. My suggestion is that you stop reacting to the word and start really considering what it means in this context.
Last night I was talking to a friend of mine who is going through a really tough time, and she mentioned something that I related to entirely: the active and conscious effort she is having to put in to not jump in front of a bus. Now, before you all start screaming about intervention and 5150, let me explain something, first.
Because I think, given some of the ridiculously stupid shit people say about suicide to me and to others, it’s time to come out of the closet: almost every day for the past couple years (and actually, for much of my life) has included the conscious decision to survive the day. Some days, that’s easy. Some days I have to actively remind myself of why I should choose to live. Some days I just make myself numb with weed, watch tv and let the hours slide by, because that’s all I trust myself to do. But I choose to live, every day, whether it is a good day, or a bad day, or a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
People talk about suicide in terms of weakness and strength, selfishness, rudeness. All of those things are factors. But there’s also the issue of perspective. Which is to say, what might seem like piddlyshit to one person might be devastating to the next. I have yet to meet the circumstance that would be sufficiently devastating to send me over the edge, but that doesn’t mean I won’t (doesn’t mean I will, either).
2010 and 2011 were brutal, and 2012 has brought blow after blow after blow and let me tell you, I am fucking tired of wishing that my heart had an “Eject” button. I am tired of living with everything I’ve had to live with (here is where I will get the “Buck up! That’s just life!” comment from some jackass who has never experienced the desire to just fucking end it. Save it. I know life is hard. But when every day in a given week—or every other day, or even a single day—feels like being thigh-deep in the Swamps of Sadness after watching Artax die, it becomes a little overwhelming).
Thus far there is nothing I haven’t been able to weather. People call this strength. But strength is a trap. When people expect you to be strong all the fucking time, showing weakness is nigh on impossible, which is why for the vast majority of my friends, this post is going to be news. There is no real break from being strong. There’s (prescription) drugs, but in the rare event that they work—my body laughs at most drugs and tells them to come back with something stronger, next time, in a bad Russian accent—while they mute the depression they also mute everything the fuck else, and I would rather feel everything I am feeling than feel nothing. I will resort to them when I know it is impossible to drag myself out of some pit without them, but not before.
And it’s really difficult some days when somebody says, “You’re strong, you can do this” to respond with, “I know,” and not with, “Fuck you. I want to be weak, this time. I want to give up.”
I don’t call it “strength”. I call it “determination”.
People talk about how selfish people have to be to commit suicide. Yes. Ultimately it is a selfish act. It is an act done for that person and that person, alone. They may have convinced themselves that people would be better off without them; obviously most of the time they are utterly incorrect. But that justification at its foundation remains a selfish one.
The experience will be different for everybody, but part of my conscious decision to live involves remembering all the people who would be hurt and confused by my death. But, as I said, I have yet to experience something devastating enough to make me lose sight of them, and I remain fully aware that this is a possibility. So I never judge people who have genuinely attempted or committed suicide—not for their selfishness. I just assume that the decision was made at a point where the people they loved stopped being real to them in the face of whatever anguish drove them to the act.
I find that the people who don’t understand this have little-to-no experience with that level of depression and pain, and are assuming that whatever depths of sadness they have experienced are the most extreme anybody else might suffer as well. I have begun calling it “emotional privilege” in my head. I’ll never forget the day I was watching The Wall with a woman I was seeing and she turned to me halfway through the movie and said, “But why doesn’t he just get over it?”
(Click to see entire picture @ the source)
Now, let me make something clear: I am not defending suicide as an option. If I thought it was viable, I might not be sitting here in my messy room writing this post while I have Top Gun on in the background to unheavy this shit a little bit. I have lost people to suicide. Both friends and family. I have experienced that particular hurt and confusion, the search for answers, the need to find meaning in an act that causes such extraordinary pain to those who have been left behind, the endless questioning—what if I had been there, called more, texted back, remembered to say “I love you”? Oh, God, what did they need? What could I have done?
But what I am saying is that this has been my experience. And I am not the only one who feels that way. And talking to my friend yesterday was helpful to me, and hopefully to her, because when it becomes a shared experience, when you can remember that one other person has some understanding of it, then it becomes more difficult to forget that there are other people in your life, in general, and more difficult to lose sight of them.
Most days I’m fine. I’m not always walking around in a lightless slimy pit of despair, and I don’t want to give the impression that I am.
This post isn’t a ploy for attention. It is not a plea for help. I am not writing this for your advice (in fact, unless you have something in mind that is mind-blowingly new and possibly alien, don’t fucking bother. I’ve been dealing with my own issues far longer than you have and I have made my decisions for how to manage my situation consciously and with pretty comprehensive knowledge of what is available to me). Actually, it was really difficult to make the decision to write it, because I don’t want my friends to change the way they act around me or talk to me. I don’t want people to freak out, or worry. I am hoping that everybody realizes that this is not new and that I am still exactly the same person they knew before they read this. I want the opposite of attention.
This post is partly an attempt to educate, but mostly putting myself out there in the hopes that the people who need to find this post, do. And when they do, I hope they reach out. I’ll be waiting right here.
Last night, C. and I came home from the memorial party for Donovan, fell into bed, and wrapped ourselves around each other, seeking warmth, comfort, affection, love. I lay there, forcing myself to be in the moment for as long as I could, and focused on appreciating how absolutely perfect it was: her head resting on my shoulder, my arms wrapped around her, our legs tangled together—like we were puzzle pieces that had been snapped into place.
She eventually slept, and I did everything I could to memorize how wonderful she felt in that moment.
Memorials exist as things or events that help us remember. Monuments, sculptures, benches, trees, parties. They are how we attempt to honor those who have left us behind, how we create ways to maintain a connection with people we can no longer see, hear, or touch. Simultaneously, death reminds us that we live and are surrounded by the living and that we must remember to connect with the people around us, to not take them for granted.
But often the moments we most want to remember are the ones we are least able to capture.
The past couple of weeks has also reminded me how random and stupid life—and death—can be and as much as I want to, I can never assume that such a moment will happen again. That reminder is terrifying; it has made me face how vulnerable we all are when we allow ourselves to love our friends, our families, our boyfriends/girlfriends/partners/lovers/husbands/wives. It has made me face all the ways in which we cannot protect the ones we love. We just have to let them go and hope they come back to us safe, whole, with the smiles, laughter, hugs, and voices we adore. We have to let them go with our blessings every day, and be grateful when they think to let us know they are okay. And we have to do it like it’s the most natural thing in the world.
Most of the time, I can, and do. Right now, it’s incredibly difficult for me, and it will be until the rawness from and hyperawareness of this fades with time.
I kissed C. goodbye this afternoon and sent her off to her cousin’s, and I did it with a smile. But I would be lying if I said there was no part of me that wanted to hold her tight for hours longer, days longer, possibly just forever. It’s just not a part of me to which I wish to succumb. As we all learned from the ever-amusing Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half-lived.” But acknowledging the fear is as necessary, sometimes, as acknowledging the grief that it follows.