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 (please note, I am offering examples of experiences on a systemic level. Just because you, personally, have experienced something different doesn’t actually negate what I am saying below):
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.)
Able-bodied people: You have privilege. The world is basically designed for you. You don’t have to worry about elevators being out, people getting bitchy because you take up more space and time on public transit, or aisles being too narrow. You aren’t limited to specific jobs, specific forms of entertainment, or even specific locations. You get to complain about your inability to use handicapped parking spots.
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 please let me 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.
My dear friend Sasha pointed out that my blog composition has settled into a sort of triangle of topics. And I’m cool with that. It’s just not the topics I thought they would be. Witness:
Once again, the cats have won the internet. Resistance was futile. We’ve all been assimilated. And with that in mind, prepare yourselves for the most recent conversation with Otto, a guest blog from the abovementioned Sasha.
This is for the hordes of underage would-be drinkers who seem to think that:
- They have the best, most winning argument for why I should let them into the bar;
- They are the most trustworthy underage drinkers I will ever meet;
- I am just blindly following an unfair law;
- I’m just being an unsympathetic hardass who doesn’t want them to have a good time.
SOPA and PIPA and NDAA (Oh, my).
So, while we know they will be back in some form or another, we have, for the moment, defeated SOPA and PIPA. The President signed the NDAA, which was adjusted so that American citizens could not be indefinitely detained, but now we have HR 3166/S. 1698, also known as the Enemy Expatriation Act (EEA), which allows the government to strip Americans of their citizenship if they are suspected of being hostile to the United States—without conviction. I’ve seen virtually nothing about EEA, anywhere, and the only people who seem to be fighting it are Anonymous (and people who follow Anonymous) and, God help us all, everybody’s favorite racist, homophobic, fundamentalists-are-too-liberal, pro-integration-of-church-and-state libertarian Ron Paul.
I have learned a couple of lessons from this whole experience in the fight against such legislation.
1. We have to work a lot harder at getting the word out about dangerous and damaging legislation.
I mean, a lot. A LOT. We internet denizens have got to stop bemoaning the fact that important news is no longer being featured in the news, stop trying to augment what isn’t there, and simply do our damnedest to replace it. Lots of people know this and have already acted on it, but we need more. It seems like a great number of people know this on at least a subconscious level right now. It’s time to make it conscious.
- Educating our friends, families, kids.
My friend Rachel noticed a trend on the 18th, where informed adults trolled kids for not knowing what SOPA was. Give me a break, folks. They didn’t know what SOPA was because they are kids, and the adults around them were either uninformed or didn’t bother to inform them. Conversely, I heard of an entire class of 11-yr-olds that was deeply concerned. But it’s not just about letting them know that they need to be concerned. We need to make it clear to the people around us that the news being reported by the big news corporations is incomplete, that just because it isn’t being reported DOES NOT MEAN that it isn’t important, and that it’s time to pay some real attention to the other voices around them. And you may be reading this and thinking, “Well, I knew that.” Great! But what in the world makes you think the people around you, and the people around them also know it?
- Following up.
Posting links on Facebook is a great way of getting news out to the masses, but you don’t know who is reading, sharing, really paying attention. Follow up. I had to post about SOPA many, many times before I was able to galvanize even a handful of my friends into acting. Don’t confuse posting the occasional link with actually getting the information out there.
- Making it personal, if you can.
People were galvanized into action over SOPA/PIPA because the internet is precious to them. Because everybody, with the possible exception of the people making rulings and laws about it, uses the internet. Getting people to take action over an issue that doesn’t directly concern them is nearly impossible; when it comes to such political issues, people are happy to be lazy. “Don’t worry,” I have heard said far too many times, “If it’s really bad the Supreme Court will take care of it.” Right. Because SCOTUS just waves its nine wands and makes everything constitutional again. Yeah, well SCOTUS just ruled that creative works in the public domain can now be copyrighted again. Reminder: this is your SCOTUS right now.
I get that people are, politically, narcissists. If it isn’t obviously our fight, we don’t want to fight it. Hell, even if it is, we’d rather play video games and watch reality television than work to improve the world around us. I get that; honestly most days so would I. But a lot of what I am seeing is obviously our fight. And so…
2. We can’t stop fighting.
Yeah, we are all exhausted. We thought we’d have a break from all of this desperate fighting for our rights, and for legislation that is not based in fear and corporate interests when George W. Bush was replaced with Barack Obama. We thought we had won the battle, that we could rest on our laurels for a while. But much in the way soldiers who ought to have been allowed to come safely home from Iraq were sent back again and again to fight for their country, we don’t get a break. (And now that I have written that sentence I feel I should apologize; Occupy aside, most of us are fighting from the comforts of our homes. No less for the safety and sanctity of what we believe and for our country, but with—even in Oakland—fewer bullets, bombs, and breaking of bodies, spirits, and hearts.)
We are weary. I get it. Every time I see some new piece of legislation that scares the piss out of me, all I want to do is run to my bed and bury myself in the covers and pillows and never come out. But I don’t, because I love my country. I don’t love the way it is governed. I don’t love the all choices it makes. But I love my country, and I’m not ready to run from the challenge of trying to keep it from falling totally into fascist, corporate, or scary fundamentalist hands.
3. We can’t lose our sense of humor.
When times are dark, and we feel like our leadership is letting us down hard, and we are wondering what is going to become of this country, we cannot lose the light of humor. The more dour and unhappy we become, the more we need to laugh (and the less we will be heard, because nobody will want to listen). Quinn Norton pointed this out with regard to the protest against SOPA/PIPA. Humor is a fantastic tool in hooking interest and concern.
The thing is, taking action isn’t the most difficult thing any of you will ever do in this world, which is why I am so fascinated by people who refuse to do anything at all and let others do their fighting for them. In fact, it’s one of the easiest. It’s a phone call, an email, hitting “Share” on Facebook. It’s talking to your friends, informing your kids (so that they can inform their friends). Information has never stopped being power, and the internet is the most powerful tool we have to spread information right now. Since we have, for the time being, saved it from being broken, let’s enjoy it and remember, between videos of cats in boxes and porn o’clock, to hit the “Share” button.
The very first thing I did in 2011 was wake up, shower, and go to the grocery store to buy the ingredients to make Raspberry Crack† for Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman.
At the time, I thought: holy crap. I am leaving a year filled with pain, anxiety, emotional abuse, misery and more pain. And I am leaping into a year that begins with one of my favorite authors and one of my most beloved musical artists, as well as some of my best friends in the world (Hi Whitney and Alexei!). Around a kitchen table. At which I will be sitting. Wow.
What could possibly go wrong?
Ultimately, very little. Very little had to go wrong. 2011 was a year of trying to convince myself that I could survive the status quo. Little secret between me, you, and the rest of the internet? Almost didn’t happen. Survival, I mean. 2011 brought me the closest to suicide I have been in a decade.
Sounds dramatic, right? I guess suicide is dramatic, but I don’t intend to make a splash with the idea.
I mostly mention it to give you some context, Gentle Reader, for my mindset coming into 2012. I have spent 2011 trying to put my head and my heart back together. I have been questioning and trying to come to terms with who I am and the choices I have made. I have been wondering what my place is in this world, and if I even have one. I have been lost, personally and professionally. And with regard to 2012, I am not as optimistic as I might like to be. I see SOPA and NDAA and the economy. I see my empty bed and my empty wallet. I see my grad school loans only overshadowed by my law school loans. I see an election year that is terrifying in its lack of viable candidates and a surplus of terrifying candidates. I see rage waxing and worry that my strength is waning.
I have found strength in myself that I didn’t know I had. I have friends who are so phenomenal that it’s a little overwhelming. This blog has a nonzero number of readers (that nonzero? That’s you. You are not zero—not The Zeppo [that's Xander]. Mazel tov). I have things to work toward in 2012 that aren’t just about trying to find reasons to keep living. I’m still funny. My cat remains adorable.
So my resolutions for 2012 are:
- To remember that I am loved by amazing people.
- To come to terms with the decisions I have made to this point.
- To consciously and carefully let go of as much of the baggage I’ve been lugging around with me as I can.
- To stop carrying the world on my shoulders.
- To practice guitar more often.
- To try at least five Scotches I have never tried before.
- To find a hottie or two to hang out with/hook up with.
What, you thought they would all be emotionally intense and interesting?
My biggest resolution, and one I hope to keep more than anything is this, though: I want to live. 2011 was about survival and subsistence—emotional, physical, and economical. It’s time to find ways to live. I wish that were as easy as it sounds, but it’s without a doubt worth working and fighting for. So I guess 2012 is going to be less about just trying to hang on, and more about climbing.
Happy new year, Gentle Reader. I hope your resolutions are wonderfully easy (or nonexistent). I hope 2011 has been amazing for you, and that 2012 will be even better. I hope there is no climb for you. I hope when you look around at the world in the new year, that it’s either a world you know you can live with, or a world you know you can change for the better (or both). I don’t yet know what the world has in store for me. I guess…let’s all hope for the best.
†Raspberry Crack is something I make, that my friends named, and that appears to be fairly addictive. The look on Neil Gaiman’s face when he first tasted it will be something I hope to use to get some incredibly nerdy and hot girl into bed some day.
Americans will not recover economically if they live in fear of their government. Our success as a nation comes from the free-thinking and creativity that our constitutional rights afford.
I know y’all are all up in arms about BART’s ridiculous cell phone shutdown—and I do not deny that you should be. I just want to make sure you guys are paying attention to the other ways in which our rights and the law are being slapped around. The importance of this can’t possibly escape you.
ETA: YAY! That link is to the decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals, which states:
Ensuring the public’s right to gather information about their officials not only aids in the uncovering of abuses…but also may have a salutary effect on the functioning of government more generally[.]
If you don’t feel like reading the opinion, here’s an article.