Tuesday, April 20, 2010

But what about me?

Now I am back from my hiatus and as you'll notice I'm a.)not on wordpress and b.) there was not a huge redesign.

I had quite the adventure in web mastering, I got wordpress installed all by myself and discovered that my hosting package does not include the correct Mysql so I was fucked.

Now before anyone shakes a fist at my (seriously awesome and green webhost) I have seriously had the same hosting package for something like 9 years and it does not include the right mysql and that's okay.

For right now we're going to roll with what we got while I birth some new idea.

To that end there will be a wee poll at the bottom there that I would really appreciate if y'all did.

OKAY now for my real post.

Today what to do with privilege.

I see some of you cringing but hold on, stay with me here.

All too often in activist circles when you're first starting out you can be slapped right upside the head with the whole concept of privilege.

People might tell you to unpack yours, might tell you that your point of view is heavily skewed because of your privilege and it stings.

I've watched lots of people run right out of discussions or kind of wandering off. That's unfortunate.

Now it's an intimidating thing because a.) not all of us are coming from an academic perspective or understanding of any given issue and b.) a lot of us get that yes we might have some particular kind of privilege but all too often there's no what to do next or now.

That's where I'm coming in today my friends.

First things first let's understand where I'm coming from here.

Most often when privilege is brought up a lot of people will just leave a link to this by Peggy McIntosh.

Frequently the first reaction when someone is just handed this link is that the person giving it to them assumes that just link flinging is going to accomplish something and the person the link has been flung out is kind of mystefied and takes it personally.

This is where it starts to run off the rails.

Privilege does not usually include things that define you personally. In other words, it's nothing personal that you did. And no, most people can do fuck all about how they are born and that's okay no one is downing you for being born how you are.

At this point let's switch out the word advantage for privilege.

Let's take it to you and me. Yes just the two of us.

For argument let's say that you and I are the same age (33 and have a lot of the same stats_ but, you're white and I am not.

Now let's say you and I are having a conversation where I mention how I went into a store to buy some earrings and was treated extremely rudely while a White person just ahead of me was not in any way.

Let's say that your first response is that the clerk must've been having a bad day and that it couldn't have been racial.

I might respond that, that's your privilege showing.

What I would mean by that specifically is that you as a White person have the advantage of not having your skin color come into issue if you don't want it to be.

I being a woman of color do not have that advantage in life.

I am not angry about it, I don't blame you for it, I don't hold you responsible for it. I do want you to be aware of it and how your skin might change how your movement in the world goes.

When people are talking about advantages in society that you may or may not have been born with, no one wants you to say you're sorry for having X or being whatever.

We want you to realize that a person who doesn't have those advantages is going to have a different experience of life than you are even if you and someone else are the same in every other respect.

Now if you want to just leave it at remembering to keep your own advantages in mind when talking to other people great.

If you want to learn more about how to navigate these things here is what I suggest.

Shut up and listen.

Oh yes, we return to that.

The only way (at least in my opinion) to learn about experiences that are not your own is to listen to them.

You have to learn to listen without that moment of "what about me?" because most likely it's not about you as in the personal YOU.

A lot of the time it is about you in the large sense of you.

If you find that your first reaction to someone someone says is instant personal hurt, chances are it is your issue not theirs.

At this point I would encourage you to take a deep breath and think about what about whatever someone said pushes that button.

Is it because you may have displayed the same behavior that's being discussed?
Is it because you're uncomfortable with the fact that (insert thing here) still happens to people?

Whatever the reason is I suggest you don't comment until you've digested your feelings.

Try very hard to understand where the other person is coming from while realizing that most likely, you'll never really know.

Accept the above statement as truth.

Now these things are damn hard. It's harder yet if you're intimidated by the academic approach to talking about issues but hang in there.

You don't have to have the text book understanding or have taken a class or what have you to get it.

Until you're comfortable feel free to make these things as simple as you can in order for you to digest them and then understand them.

Understand that yes it might hurt your feelings but there is more if you just keep pushing past the hurt feelings part.

Now a word for those who already have a good understanding of privilege and discussions of privilege.

I must admonish a lot of you because you must remember that not all of us are college grads, not all of us are already familiar with these concepts and constructive ways to discuss them. Yes it's frustrating to feel like you're giving 101 all the time but, if you wield your academic privilege like a hammer you're probably only preaching to the choir and losing the rest of the congregation.

So when you're getting to that angry point I will remind you to take a breath too.

Remember, we're not all starting from the same place nor are we all already there with any given issue and that's okay.

Activism only gets stale when you are only talking to the people who get it.

Okay that's it.

OH no wait my poll.

I am too brain fried from having EPIC STOMACH virus over the weekend to make an actual poll so tell me this my homies:

If I decide to expand this here thingy from just a blog to a fully functional website with link listings, etc etc is there anything you'd be super into?

Would you find that useful or are you just here for the blog?

Anything else to say?

Now, while I'm deciding what to do next, I am going to redo the appearance herebouts and all so if shit is broken along the way I apologize in advance.

Okay my darlings, now I am really done.

Homo Out.


Haddayr said...

oh my god this was AWESOME.

JeninCanada said...

Poll? I see no poll.

"When people are talking about advantages in society that you may or may not have been born with, no one wants you to say you're sorry for having X or being whatever."

THIS! omg yes this. Thank you! So many people get defensive when talking about privilege/advantage because they know, hey, there's nothing they can do about being white/able-bodied/thin/intelligent/whatever. Its' just the luck of the draw for us ALL. Also, shut up and listen is priceless.

jaed said...

you as a White person have the advantage of not having your skin color come into issue if you don't want it to be.

I see something like this, and I have to ask (with all politeness and everything), which planet are you resident on again? Because on Planet Earth, it's an issue if you're white. It's an issue if you're looking for a job - not always and invariably, but in a big company, it matters and you know it matters. In relations with workmates of another color, it matters, and it can matter quite a bit if someone decides to be a jerk about it. In social relations with someone who's another color, it usually matters at least somewhat. It can get you fired, It can lose you the presumption of innocence. It's something you're reminded of every time an official or bureaucrat demands you identify yourself in terms of race.

Now this is not the *same* experience as contemporary black people have with race (which in turn isn't the same as Asian experience, etc.), but it's just plain silly to say it doesn't matter for white people or isn't an issue. It matters quite a bit.

I'd be tempted to say that a statement like that is a symptom of minority privilege, if the misuse of that word didn't irritate me so much already. People don't always notice things that don't affect them personally; that is a human thing, not a political thing. The assignment of "privilege" to one side of these disjunctions of experience is pretty much always done so that the differences can be used as a moral club against that side.

One more thing: this comes as a shock to some people, but it is completely possible to earn a degree or several without ever coming into contact with the concepts and terminology of academic grievance studies. The fact that someone is not familiar with this particular method of shutting other people up, nor with the associated documents and phrases, is not a sign that that someone is uneducated or not a "college grad".

(I am now tempted to use the term "women's-studies major privilege", because this really highlights what I find useful about the idea along with why I don't like the word "privilege" or the related assumptions. Someone who majored in a field where this sort of analysis is important may erroneously assume everyone educated has had the same experience. That's the "this concept is useful" part. The "this is the wrong term" part happens because very few people would refer to women's studies majors as "privileged" compared to physics majors. The groups have different experiences, and when they forget that, they can trip over their assumptions.)

"Shut up and listen."
I don't think so, no. I'll listen but I won't shut up.

Subscribe To My Podcast