Monday, September 30, 2013

Tell Me of My Privilege

Late night catching up on Twitter brought me to this blog post by a woman named Trudy who goes by @TheTrudz on Twitter. The title of it is "All Whites Have White Privilege, Even If Oppressed For Other Facets Of Identity", and its theme seems to be making damn sure that...well...let me let @TheTrudz speak for herself...

White ppl who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, genderfluid, non-binary, trans, poor, fat, disabled = STILL have White privilege. Thus, they need to recognize the MASSIVE SPACE that White privilege, racism and White supremacy occupy globally. Whites oppressed on other axes who single out PoC as bigots on non-racial axes yet don't hold Whites accountable for shit = racist. Here's a clue as to how White privilege works even in the margins. Examine the life of a White trans man and a Black trans woman. Selah.

She then goes on to promote an essay regarding how white marginalized people get to be the spokesperson for their cause, because of all of their white privilege. Then, the rest of the 'storify' post seems to be focused on a conversation of poverty and recognizing the differences between class privilege and race privilege.

There are two issues that seem to be driving this article, a kind of thought process that I've seen time and time again on social media, socially-minded blogs, and every corner of the internet and cable TV. Issue one:

  • Racism is bad. People that are white experience less racism in this country - mostly not at all, though that's not always true - and therefore need to be leaders when it comes to keeping racism in check and working towards eliminating it.
Let me say up front and immediately that I agree with this sentiment. It is everyone's responsibility to work towards ending racial inequality. As a former corrections officer, I am fully aware that, while white people commit more crime, we imprison more black and hispanic offenders. There is a huge racial disparity when it comes to the criminal justice system, social systems, welfare, and...well...just about most aspects of society. It's wrong, and it needs to end. And, in every way that I can, every chance I can, I personally attempt to take a stand against racial inequality.

Now that I've said that, I'd like to take a look at the second issue in this post and in posts like it, in the thought process like it. That brings us to the second issue:

  • If you're white, it doesn't matter how marginalized you are, whether you were discriminated against for sexual orientation, gender identity, social standing, disability, or whatever...because at least you weren't both gay and black.

The term privilege is incredibly loaded. Merriam-Webster defines 'privilege' as:

A right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor...especially as attached to a position or office.

In its transitive property, it means more specifically 'to accord a higher value or superior position to'. What are some examples of privilege being used correctly? "It is a privilege to have learned from a true master in the field." "New tax legislation privileges the wealthy." "Only people that put in the time and effort are privileged to use the title of Doctor."

The word deems the bearer as having a leg up on others. It speaks of the fact that a person or group is perceived as better by other people or groups.

Let me tell you why I have such issues with arguments like those presented in the linked article. When you start telling people that are marginalized for something other than race how much privilege they have, how awful it is that a white person was used as a spokesmodel for that marginalized group, how much worse they would have it if they were both marginalized for a non-race issue AND a race issue, it makes it sound as though someone who is marginalized while being white needs to shut their mouth.

Oh... You're gay? You've had issues because you're gay? Problems getting a job or keeping a job? Called names? Lost friends or family? Well, buddy, you've got privilege because you were gay while white, so shut up, sit down, and focus on all the racial inequality in the world. Your problems aren't as bad as you think they are.

@TheTrudz says in her post that we should compare the issue of being a white trans person with being a black trans person. Following her logic out to its conclusion, we're led to believe that the black trans person has it much worse than the white trans person. I'm not really sure when it became acceptable to compare and contrast one's discrimination history in order to...what...create some sort of marginalized hierarchy? How many levels of marginalization do you have? How marginalized are you? How many privileges do you have? Are there trading cards? Is there a point system I'm not aware of?

I was beaten up constantly in school. I had bruises - both physical and psychological - that came from classmates who loathed me because I committed the crime of being gay in a small town. I was The Other. I was privileged to be called names, have my tires slashed, my windows broken in. People chased me down on the street just to throw things at me or...you guessed it...beat me up. I've lost jobs because people were uncomfortable working with a gay man. But, what I'm told from social bloggers, posts like the one above, is that my issues weren't that bad because...well...I got beaten up while being white.

What am I supposed to think when people start comparing privilege? Why is this a thing that we do? It's like a back-handed compliment or something. It's gross. My skin color discrimination is (more/less difficult? better? worse?) than your gay discrimination. My trans discrimination is (better? worse? more/less difficult?) than your disability discrimination. Ugh

Editorially speaking, I don't believe it furthers the cause of racial inequality by belittling other marginalized groups. I am not speaking from a place of academia, and I'm not citing sources. Today, I'm telling you how I feel about this. How it makes me feel to constantly be told how much privilege I have because I'm white, never mind that I'm gay. Never mind all the issues and problems and the host of detritus I've had heaped upon me over the years. Never mind the years of therapy. Never mind the Christian counselors trying to cure me. Never mind the body dysmorphia and suicidal thoughts I had. Because...at least I'm white.

I have to say, I don't feel that privilege. And, I get what is being said. I'm white, so I've never been called the N word. I've never been victim to the disparity in our criminal justice system. I'm more likely to be hired for a job because of my race. I'm less likely to serve extended prison time because of my race. In this country and age, my skin color affords me some statistical perks. But, it certainly doesn't feel like I've had much privilege.

We need a new word. The word privilege reeks of its own privilege. And, we need to stop comparing and contrasting privilege. How about we just say that inequality sucks. Period. Generally speaking. Racial inequality isn't more or less hard to deal with than disability inequality or sexual identity inequality or gender identity inequality or weight inequality or whatever marginalized group someone belongs to. It's all really, really shitty. It all gives whoever is in the majority the perceived right to judge you based on a set of statistics or characteristics instead of who you are as a person.

When I was in high school, I was in a program called PALs that gave peer counseling to other students. We were taught that, when dealing with very young students (think 5-10 years old), we needed to be very careful about how we reacted to the major speed bumps in that child's life. If the family dog dies it can feel just as psychologically traumatic to that child as you losing your parent or spouse. Just because they haven't had your life experience, it doesn't mean that they have less a right to their grief or feelings, and they should be treated with exactly as much importance as the child places on them.

The same is true for adults. Just because I don't have the life experience of being Asian or trans or from a same-sex household or from a divorced household or from a wealthy family or an extremely poor family doesn't mean that whatever life detritus I experience is more or less valid.

In summary: STOP. COMPARING. DISCRIMINATION. Nobody wins. Everybody loses. It all sucks.

I'm sure you'll all have lots of thoughts on the topic. Please keep them civil, and please read the article thoroughly before you post.

Love and Lyte,

Fire Lyte

6 comments:

  1. True. Some feminist/anti-racist/LGBT blogs I've seen make me feel BAD that I'm white. I don't think that's fair. I didn't choose to be white, just as someone else can help that they're (enter minority here).

    There is a point in that a white woman can be discriminated against for being a woman, a black man can be discriminated against for being black, but a black woman can be discriminated against for one, the other or both. That must be hell to live with.

    But we need to stop comparing discrimination, as you said. Don't belittle someone else's hurt because you have more things that CAN be discriminated against. Someone who is beaten up for being a certain color is just as hurt as someone who dealt with the same because of sexual orientation... or, again, both.

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  2. Comparing levels of racial discrimination to establish some leg up in the hierarchy only perpetuates one thing: eternal victimhood. Marginalizing anyone who has faced discrimination to show that you are a bigger victim and always will be serves no one.... It will never move the discussion forward or eliminate the need to hide from people who would want you to ignore your pain at the expense of their own....

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  3. A few years ago my kid introduced me to privilege. Coming from a poor southern home and growing up identifying as a lesbian I hardly felt any of this privilege she was referring to. I get paid less, I have to work to not be raped, I have to ensure that my female friends don't feel I want to have sex with them, I have to explain to my female friends why I don't want to have sex with them and on and on and on.

    I've had my car window busted out for bumpers stickers I had, I've lost jobs for wearing a pentacle, on the same hand however, I had a HR rep not write me up because she was afraid I'd put a spell on her. (LOL)

    What we're really talking about here is the assumption of our character based on our skin color. No one sees my pentacle unless I show them. No one knows my LGBTQ identity until I share it. With our skin color, that's there, on the outside. Right there. We can't hide it.

    The idea of that white people have privilege is based on how we are judge from afar. Is this wrong? Absolutely. When I'm in my car alone and I see a man in walking in the parking lot, I lock my door. Automatically my brain says, this could be dangerous. It doesn't change based on his skin color because in my life, in my experience, men have been harmful to me. Is it right? No. By no means is ever man on the planet a rapist. Most men are not violent, however my automatic assumption is that it is possible that he *could* be, so I lock my door.
    *Some* people use this same idea and apply it to race. Privilege doesn't mean that we are racist. It means that someone somewhere at some point in our lives gave us the benefit of the doubt. Something that we should give everyone.

    I'm not sure the OP on Twitter was specifically trying to make this exact point, but I believe that when we're talking about privilege, what we really are talking about is the benefit of the doubt. Something that non-whites are often not given.

    The culture in the US is designed to benefit white males. I was talking to 30 something FtM a few years ago regarding the rights of LGBT in the US and he said, I just want the same rights as every other white guy out there. It was a powerful statement. People of color are one of the most discriminated groups in the US. When you begin at add other minority markers to them, such as gender, gender identity, orientation or HIV status the amount of hate skyrockets. Murder of trans* people for example is nearly double than Gays & Lesbians.

    My kid writes a blog at http://boldlygo.co/ and talks a lot about this topic.

    I completely agree, that saying my abuse is worse than yours has no positive outcome. I also believe however, that at someone point we have to stop saying, yes but I'm a victim too. We have to acknowledge that there is some benefit to being white and white people through the ages and probably well into the future will continue to benefit from it. Maybe if we can see that yes, there are benefits to being perceived as white, then we can set a course to change our society so that we start to see a benefit in just being.

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    Replies
    1. What you say makes sense. But what I have trouble dealing with is what seems to be the mentality that if you are white and not using a large portion of your time trying to fight prejudice, then you are racist. I HATE the N word, or any other racial slur. I tell off my family members when they generalize about people of another ethnicity. Whenever I see or hear discrimination, I say something. No I don't think this deserves pat on the back. It's called being a decent human being. I am just tired of being made to feel that since I am white, I will always be a bad person because I am privileged.

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  4. Whites have it better and should complain less, no matter what the problem, because at least they are white? Sounds kind of racist to me. Just saying.

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  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for voicing this. Social media (particularly sites like Tumblr) tend to have this extremely skewed viewpoint about privilege and how it works, much to the detriment of, well, everyone. I can't tell you how many times I've been called a racist for suggesting that whites can be treated just as poorly when it comes to things like LGBT+ rights, weight/sex/age discrimination, and the like. There's this odd victim mentality on social media that creates this horrible feedback loop of 'yes, this behaviour is acceptable', when all it does is isolate any potential allies and makes their causes look really bad.

    Internets, man.

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