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.
This conversation has been fact checked by Thumper and my left boot.
Lackey: I have put many beautiful women in the binders, each of them filled with little suprises.
Mitt: Many women?
Lackey: Oh yes, many!
Mit: Would you say I have binders full of women?
Mitt: Binders full of women.
Lackey: Oh yes, you have binders of women.
Mitt: Lackey, what is “binders full of women”?
Lackey: Why, El Romney?
Mitt: Well, you told me I have binders full of women. And I just would like to know if you know what “binders full of women” is. I would not like to think that a person would tell someone he has binders full of women, and then find out that that person has no idea what it means to have binders full of women.
Lackey: Forgive me, El Romney. I know that I, Lackey, do not have your superior intellect and education. But could it be that once again, you are angry at China, and are looking to take it out on me?
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.
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.
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.
Right now, liberally-minded people are in a bit of a bind, because we are stuck between a weak and a crazy place. Seems to me, the political picture looks a bit like this:
Part of the issue, of course, is that right now the two primary parties in this country have largely forgotten themselves—who they are and why they even exist. They’ve become lost in the mire that is politics, and right now the viable candidates for both have failed to impress. The Republicans are stronger, because they have no problem breaking the rules and salting the earth to get what they want out of political negotiations, and the Democrats are less terrifying, but seem to accomplish virtually nothing in comparison. Also, right now the candidates for the parties fall somewhere on these respective spectra:
(Click on them if the blurring is as irritating to you as it is to me)
So, what to do?
I’ve seen three solutions to the problem:
1. Vote for Obama anyway.
2. Vote for Ron Paul.
3. Vote some other third party and stick it to the 2-party system.
If I leave the first option alone, since I already discussed Obama here, and pretend that people aren’t seriously considering the racist, homophobic, anti-EPA, pro-religion in schools, anti-separation of church and state wingnut that is Ron Paul (discussed beautifully and thoroughly, with sources, here), I still have to consider the third.
If a third party were to come up with a strong candidate—one with actual political experience, one who knows how the system works and can be strong within it, and one with enough charisma to carry a country, now would be the time. This country is filled with people who are disgruntled, angry, depressed, and disappointed. If ever there were a time to vote outside the two-party system, it’s now.
But here is why I don’t buy the third party argument, and I am
plagiarizingexpanding on a reply I gave to thoughtful commenter Dana:
Let’s pretend we have a viable third-party candidate (we don’t). I still seriously doubt the option, because everybody who is disgruntled with the current situation would have to do it. The only way to make that statement is to get everybody (or at least a majority) to sign onto it and proudly and publicly so that other people won’t worry about being castigated or ridiculed for throwing votes away. Unless they vote for Nader, because, duh.
Every time somebody brings up a third party option, it’s like we are daring each other to break the mold, but ultimately we all know that not enough people will take up the dare and go with it, and that if not enough people take the dare, everybody will get hurt.
I would love for my country to prove me wrong on this, but my pessimism is getting the better of me.
So, people who insist that voting for a third party is the answer to all of our problems: How about finding a viable third-party candidate who is strong enough to make people consider voting outside of the two party system, and if you think you have such a candidate, do you know a feasible† solution to getting enough people to vote for them without simply handing the election to a party that appears to be actively trying to destroy our country?
†By “feasible” I mean, “will actually work.”
ETA: There’s no good answer for the 2012 elections forthcoming, so I am putting forth my own third-party candidate:
Note: Beyonce + “Knock Knock, Motherfucker” belong to The Bloggess (if you haven’t read the relevant blog post, because you live under a rock in a barn in a cave in TibeChinAfrica, it’s here). The godawful Photoshop job is all me. Yeah, baby.
I am not going to say anything new in this post.
We live in a time when we can murder without once getting our hands dirty. By merely murmuring the right words in the right—or wrong—ears (or putting gun sights over geographical locations of politicians), we can make lives disappear. We don’t have to push the button anymore, we can find somebody else to push the button. Blame somebody else. Power (and I do not speak specifically of political power) is not merely the ability to do, but also the ability to not do and yet still have your will done.
Intelligence, finesse, delicacy, moderation—these are the elements that should be required for wielding power. Sarah Palin has none of them.
Sarah Palin amplified by the internet and followed by people (with access to guns, etc) is a threat to this country that cannot be ignored because she’s a rich white lady. We can throw the word “crackpot” around, and we can have the brilliant Tina Fey to help us laugh ourselves out of fear of what this woman could do if somebody takes her seriously. But it doesn’t help us when somebody does.
Lo and behold, somebody did. And if we think that’s just the beginning of things to come, well…we are probably correct.
According to legend, in 1170, Henry II of England cried out in a fit of pique, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest!” The legend is in the wording—there are other interpretations of what he said. Either way, same result: words were said, and taken by four young knights as an order and an opportunity to prove their loyalty to their cranky king—a man who, like his mother and grandfather, never really did learn how to filter.
They rode out to challenge and ultimately kill the priest in question, one Thomas Becket. By all accounts the assassination was pretty brutal, and those are eyewitness accounts. Alive, Becket was a peck of trouble to Henry. Dead, he brought far more trouble than Henry’s frustration could possibly have been worth.
The thing that brought this story to mind was today’s shooting in Arizona of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and several others at a grocery store in Tucson. Oh, and Sarah Palin’s Hit List. Just sayin’.