The test of how racist you are is not how many people of color you can count as friends,” I recall someone telling me—I can’t remember who now. “It’s how many white people you’re willing to talk to about racism.”
This article is exactly as great as the quotation would suggest.
I know not everyone who says, “Stop being so sensitive” comes from a place of privilege, but the phrase “Stop being so sensitive” comes from the place of ultimate privilege. It comes from a place where no one has ever erased your identity and experiences. It comes from a place where your concerns are taken seriously and the concerns of others not like you are dismissed as secondary. It comes from a place where you haven’t thought about and acknowledged the fundamental humanity in every other person, regardless of race, sex, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender orientation, or disability. It comes from a thoughtless place.”
— (via letsgetoutofthiscountry)
For Future Reference
And when ‘progress for women’ comes at the expense of, say, the gay community, that’s not actually progress for women at all. That’s just progress for straight women. When it comes at the expense of women of color, that’s just progress for white women. When it comes at the expense of trans women, that’s just progress for cis women. And so on.
That’s why an inclusive feminism is the only feminism that ultimately makes any sense—and an inclusive feminism is only possible when privileged women (white women, straight women, cis women, thin women, able-bodied women, Western women, wealthy women, employed women, etc.) acknowledge their relative privilege to other women.
Nobody said your individual experiences weren’t valid, or you never suffered, or you’ve had a perfect life. What other people are trying to say, and you aren’t really hearing properly, is that the way you have experienced the world has been shaped by a series of factors that you’ve probably never had to think about before. Not because you’re a bad person, or you’re s****d, or you’re mean, but probably because nobody ever sat you down and said, “Listen, your house is actually super nice, but that’s because your parents made a decent amount of money. Not everybody’s parents can make that much money, so you’re sort of blessed to be able to have this life”.
Privilege is about gaps in experience, on some basic level. It’s like, if nobody ever told you the world was supposed to not be blurry, you would never know you needed glasses. Sort of thing.
THIS. I see so many reblogs where people think “privilege” is an insult. It’s not. It’s an acknowledgement that your life circumstances are different than another person’s. Does anyone really disagree with that?
THIS POST IS RELEVANT RIGHT NOW.
Reason #34: “I-wasn’t-sexually-abused” privilege
[i’mma go ahead and slap a trigger warning on this. lengthy discussion of the aftereffects of childhood abuse/complex ptsd symptoms.]
Let’s talk about privilege.
Usually when we think of privilege, it’s simple things like your parents giving the privilege to drive their car, or having the privilege to go to school or not go hungry. But privilege is much more than that— it’s about the everyday, ordinary things in our lives that we take for granted. A black person, for example, cannot go to the mall without being followed by security (because all black people are shoplifters, or course). A white person doesn’t have to worry about that— they can go to the mall and be perfectly fine. Similarly, many women cannot walk down the street without having people yell sexist things out of passing cars. A man can walk down the street and think about puppies and kittens. That’s what privilege is— you can do ordinary things without harassment or without feeling self-conscious or unsafe, and you won’t even notice it as something extraordinary.
The other day, a friend told me about how she was hanging out with some friends when they suddenly started telling jokes— jokes about sexually abused children. The thing about privilege is, you can do or say things about other people under the assumption that those people are not present. Or, if they were present, their opinion and their feelings wouldn’t matter anyway. This is all, of course, in spite of those very inconvenient statistics that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men have been raped, molested, or sexually abused.
Privilege is also about convenience; the conscious and sometimes subconscious desire to ignore issues or problems. A white person can say things like “hey, let’s all just be color-blind. People are just people” because they’ve never been made to feel like less than a person because of the way they look. A person who hasn’t been sexually abused can say “Why is the internet signal in here so retarded and gay?” (answer: because it was abused as a child), all without even realizing that if there are at least six people in the room, it’s pretty likely that someone is going to be hurt by what you say. For you, it’s a joke— but for that person, it’s an experience or multiple experiences that are so horrible that they’d rather die than have to relive them.
The fact is that you probably know a friend or a family member who has been sexually abused. Maybe they’ve even considered telling you about their experience before— at least, they did until you shut them out with your rape jokes. How many people in your life will never be able completely trust you, will never feel safe around you because of that? 10? 20? 30? It could be your mother, your brother, your daughter, or your best friend.
You might never know.
Following in the steps of Peggy McIntosh, I am going to generate a list of “I-wasn’t-sexually-abused” privileges. When we think about privilege, we should ask ourselves these questions:
- What can I do, say, or feel safely that others cannot? Would people of other groups be able to do these safely?
- If I speak out about how I feel or voice my opinion, will others take me seriously? What if I was in X group or minority?
- Are people of my group equally represented in popular media?
- Do I ever feel like I have to “prove myself” to other people because I am different?
- Do I ever look at other people and envy what they have or can do?
- Are my needs being met when I express them?
You might notice that the majority of the following privileges are about safety, sexuality, love, and power—it makes sense when sexual abuse is so much about powerlessness and violation of private/personal space, and so much of it takes place under the pretense of love.
Just as a note: this list is not meant to completely represent anyone. We all have different experiences with sexual abuse, and I am sure that no one fits everything on this list. It’s not meant to be an explicitly universal thing— it’s just meant to point out the things that people who are not sexually abused may take for granted. In terms of other intersectionality, I am aware that some of these problems (such as the ones related to bodies, for example) may also be shared by people who experience different forms of oppression. These are not meant to be exclusive or to imply any one experience of sexual abuse.
“I wasn’t-sexually-abused” privileges:
- When I am on a school trip, at a conference, on the road, or in similar situations, I rarely feel unsafe if I have to stay at a friend or even a stranger’s house.
- I am comfortable watching popular media portrayals of abuse, kidnapping, sexual assault, rape, molestation, or murder; if these things do bother me, it is because of my moral beliefs, not because it is personal.
- I can easily trust people.
- If I am in a public place and a person stands behind or near me, it does not make me feel unsafe.
- I can make crude jokes about sexual abuse or rape with my friends.
- I feel safe around other people when I am in a crowded space, such as an elevator, stairwell, or train.
- I am not regularly scared or shaken by shouts, bangs, sirens, thunder, or other loud noises. If this does happen, I can easily laugh it off.
- People can trust me to take care of their children without worrying about whether or not I will abuse them.
- If I have children, I can easily trust family members, friends, teachers, or babysitters to take care of them.
- I can take care of children without worrying about potentially abusing them.
- I can rely on and trust every person in my family.
- Family reunions, the holiday season, and other family gatherings are happy occasions for me.
- I believe that I am a good person and that I deserve to be loved.
- If I am in the bathroom, my room, or another small, private space, I feel safe enough to leave the door unlocked.
- I do not regularly have unexplained bouts of anger, depression, or fear.
- Although I occasionally might want to be more healthy, I generally believe that my body is okay and that there isn’t anything wrong with it.
- I can trust my body to behave the way that I want it to.
- I have never felt or rarely feel as if there is something terrible, evil, or wrong with who I am as a person.
- If I have had an abortion, it was because of economic, social, or other personal reasons— not because I felt as if something terrible, evil, or wrong was growing inside of me, or because I did not want to be reminded of someone on a daily basis.
- I can have a healthy sex life.
- When I do have sex, I never have to suddenly stop or ask my partner to stop because it has brought up bad feelings or memories.
- I can go to parties and kiss, make out with, or engage in sexual acts with strangers and not feel violated.
- I am comfortable and confident enough to have one-night stands.
- I feel safe enough for sexual experimentation with my partner, even in situations which could leave me powerless, such as BDSM.
- I believe that I will someday find the “right person” for me. In fact, I even look forward to it.
- I believe that relationships can be loving and kind.
- I believe in true love.
- When I date someone, I don’t try to “buy” their love with lots of gifts and presents because I am afraid of losing them.
- I have good memories of and feelings about my childhood.
- I can live and sleep alone and not feel unsafe.
- I can sleep in the same bed as someone else and not feel unsafe.
- I am not afraid of falling asleep for fear of having bad dreams or nightmares.
- I can watch heterosexual couples and not be afraid for the woman in the relationship.
- I can watch children playing with adults and not be afraid for them.
- I feel safe and comfortable speaking with adults, teachers, priests, pastors, professors, police, and other authority figures, even when I am alone with them. I trust these authority figures and never feel as if they have ulterior motives or bad intentions.
- I do not have moments when a sound, a word, a thing, a smell, a taste, a place, a movie, an act, or a person brings back unpleasant memories.
- I can wear exposed clothing and feel comfortable doing so. I rarely feel like I need to cover myself up, or feel ashamed for looking “sexy”.
- I do not cope with stress through an eating disorder, drugs, compulsive buying, or other bad habits.
- Believing in God or a higher power is easy for me.
- I like telling others about myself, my family, and my childhood.
- I can hug, touch, kiss, shake hands with, or hold other people without feeling unsafe or awkward.
- Bugs or other creepy crawlies creep me out, but they certainly don’t make me feel powerless.
- I have lost or will lose my “virginity” under the circumstances of my choosing, with the person I want(ed) to be with.
- When I make a mistake, I don’t expect violent consequences for it.
I am sure that there are more out there. Please feel free to add your own.
Edited: I made this list a lot less binary to reflect what I’ve learned about gender fluidity and Trans experience. I am still new to this— I’m trying my best! Please tell me if you see something problematic and I’ll try to fix it.
I also added a few more things.
45. I don’t have gaping holes in my memories from childhood/the sense that bad things happened that I don’t know about/the fear that I’m making it all up, simultaneously.
46. In the absence of other mental health issues/traumatic experiences, I don’t have to pay for therapy. Shit’s expensive.
thin privilege rides again (to respond to derailers)
I noticed some privilege-denying/questioning arguments being floated in response to the thin privilege stuff from yesterday, and I wanted to take a quick swipe at some of them because I can:
1. “Thin women are oppressed, too.”
Do thin women (and by thin, rest assured I don’t just mean size 0 or whatever) experience disadvantages? Of course. Body size isn’t the only dimension of privilege that exists; in fact, it is one kind of privilege among a whole constellation of privileges. Does thinness negate the experience of the disadvantages of womanness for thin women? Or the experience of the disadvantages of non-Whiteness? Or poorness? No, no, and no.
Thin people are treated preferentially, both personally and structurally, for their thinness, but as with other kinds of privilege, simply because they have it doesn’t mean it dominates the experience of their lives.
Thin women feel the full force of gender disadvantage, too, although for them, it manifests in their daily lives differently - you know, because when different privileges and disadvantages intersect, they create different outcomes - than it does for larger women. They are still subjected to gender norms and body policing and shit that affects all women, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have body size privilege, too.
2. “It’s just that making things for thin people is cheaper, so thin privilege is just a consequence of efficiency.”
Because efficiency always trumps an obligation to treat - personally and through social structures - people as human beings with dignity, amirite?
Even if this were true — which is dubious: many of the products/places that privilege the thin are that way through design inertia, which is often antithetical to efficiency — it doesn’t mean the world ought to be this way. If you think efficiency has moral content that trumps other moral considerations, then you best be prepared to argue that straight down the line, and not just with regard to chair widths and clothing sizes. (And - spoilers - you’ll still be wrong if you do.)
3. “You can choose what size your body is, and you can only be privileged/disadvantaged for things you haven’t chosen.”
a. It is simply not true that you can “choose” your body size. And, see also: the first point about intersectionality. Even if you can change your body size, you don’t always have the resources (material, physical, and psychological) to do so.
b. We recognize other dimensions of privilege that are matters of “choice”: education (“go to college!”), class (“bootstraps!”), religion (“convert!”), occupation (“what color is your parachute?”), etc.
c. What does choice really have to do with it? Should you not be treated with dignity in public because you choose not to exercise (or, rather, people assume that you don’t)? What role does the ability to exit really play in discussions of privilege? Being disadvantaged and treated poorly is really a-okay if you are “responsible” (in some ass-backwards way) for your own disadvantage? It’s not the fault of social inequality and systemic oppression: it’s your fault for choosing to be/remain disadvantaged! Just no.
Not everyone will agree with me on this latter point, but the questions are worth thinking about, and point a) and b) still stand.
4. “Accommodating larger people is unhealthy and bad because it makes being fat okay.”
Hey there, asshole!
You know what’s really unhealthy for the US population? How about … not having universal health care? You want a fucking public health problem, there’s your fucking public health problem.
Thinness is not inherently good. Thinness does not indicate health. Fatness is not inherently bad. Fatness does not indicate poor health. Hurting and humiliating those who are not thin does not encourage them to become thin … it just hurts them and humiliates them because they are human beings who have feelings - not just fat flesh - and who ought to be respected as such.
5. “Being thin is hard because people make fun of you.”
Everyone tends to privilege their own experiences; it is hard not to. We also tend to overinflate our own challenges. In some minds, being told to, “Ew, go eat a sandwich” is equivalent to being told, “Ew, you’re gross and not welcome here because you’re fat.” It sucks to be insulted, and an insult is an insult, right? Well, sort of. Insults occur in a fully developed social world, where privilege and disadvantage is in full bloom. Even when told to “eat a sandwich,” a thin person has a body that is idealized, a body that can easily fit in an airplane seat, a body that is associated with goodness, status, and prosperity, a body that can easily be clothed, etc. That thin person may be insulted, but she is still thin and still privileged. Being insulted hurts personally, but it doesn’t take one’s social privilege away.
And, it sure as fuck isn’t silencing to thin women to point out thin privilege because it “ignores” the experiences of thin women. Identifying privilege is not ever itself silencing, nor is it a personal attack on the individual. A thin woman benefits from being thin in a variety of ways, but that isn’t her “fault” as a thin person, and calling out her privilege oughtn’t be construed as such. (It is derailing and misses the point.) However, it is her fault if she is a privilege denying asshole when she encounters evidence of her privilege. That’s the point at which she turns into an oppressor.
6. “God, people complain about everything. Doesn’t this just dilute the idea of privilege?”
Nope, sorry. Where groups of people are systemically treated unfairly and unequally, I - and many others - will “complain,” even if others don’t deem those issues “worthy” of complaint.
Carefully applying the concept of privilege (which is general and widely applicable) outside the most commonly identified dimensions of privilege (race, gender, class) does not dilute the concept, nor does it take away from discussion of those kinds of privilege. Dialogues about privilege don’t occupy a “zero-sum” critical space, and talking or writing about thin privilege does trivialize or distract from discussions of other types of privilege. For example, talking about thin privilege isn’t stopping anyone from talking about class privilege, and you know what? Talking about thin privilege might illuminate certain aspects of class privilege that would otherwise go unnoticed. Why is it, for example, that Saks stocks women’s sizes that are so much smaller than Old Navy’s? And, really, the practice of social critique generally ought to be broadened, not narrowed … especially when that narrowing is according to arbitrary (and often biased-by-privilege) standards of what is “worthy” of discussion and what is not.
There’s no Oppression Olympics. Oppression is oppression, social disadvantage is social disadvantage, privilege is privilege. It isn’t a contest about who has it worse, or which kinds of privilege are more socially noxious, or whatever.
we are all working within a flawed system.
that’s what i have to keep reminding myself.
i’m finding housing for myself for the first time and it’s so hard because i’m underemployed. that is a word that applies to me. i have a part-time internship that pays really well for an internship, but that doesn’t negate that it’s an internship and it’s part-time. i’m working an average of 30 hours a week, but that’s still not 40, and we’re in a fucking recession, and the housing market in dc is brutal, and i’m new at this.
i’m new at this, and i’m from a background privileged enough that i don’t know to ask about roaches and plumbing quirks, because my parents have been homeowners since before i was born. so i’m living in a room in a house with roaches and plumbing issues and nobody else really seems to care which makes it difficult to deal with the roaches.
so i took this room in this house, without looking in the microwave to see if it was disgusting (it was), or really looking at the fridge itself (ditto) or making sure the house is up to fucking code and actually asking “but things do get fixed, right?” when people are evasive. and my housemates are essentially nocturnal and the living room is right above my head, so between that and the roaches, it’s not really working out.
thankfully it’s month to month, so i’m planning on moving out sometime mid-to-late next month. a friend from school is moving here and we’re gonna find a place together. and now i know to ask about roaches and look in the fridge and generally be more vigilant.
but a lot of the reason i’m living here is because it’s cheap, for me, on the low end of the budget recommendations I got from the Wall Street Guide to Beginning Your Financial Life my mother bought me, and my mom keeps saying, dad and i will help with your rent if it means you can stay in a nicer place, and i feel so fucking guilty, i’m so keenly aware that for so many people that would not be an option.
and i just keep trying to remind myself that guilt does not solve problems and we are all working within a flawed system but i still can’t bring myself to say i’ll take my parents’ money. so i remind myself that self-care is a radical act, and if that means moving out because i don’t believe the roach problem is fixable here and taking my parents’ money to do it and not fucking torturing myself, then i will not fucking torture myself. i will acknowledge that i have a shitty, oppressive advantage in a shitty, oppressive system, and i will work to fight that system in other ways, when i’m living in a way that ensures that i am in a condition to fight.
(and i remind myself that self-care is a radical act, and if that means writing this blog post in order to be able to hear these thoughts better, then i will not fucking torture myself wondering if i’m wrong and horrible and oppressive and going to be flayed on the internet—because it will happen, or it won’t. now i’m gonna go watch some parks & rec.)
Nine things I wish economically privileged people in my life knew.
- I am poor, I exist, and I’m right here. Hi! Many people who meet and get to know me without knowing my background are rather surprised to find this out. It matters to me on a very personal level when people do things like make nasty comments or assumptions about poor people, or assume that everyone in a given space is wealthy, thereby erasing the fact that I exist and am present. There are better reasons to not be classist (namely: it’s just plain wrong) than worrying about whether a poor person will hear you, but assuming that I’m not poor or that poor people are not present adds insult to injury and creates another communication barrier.
- I may not look like what you imagine poor people should look like- but neither do most poor people. I’m smart, well-spoken, and a careful dresser. I’m highly educated because of financial aid. I avoid doing certain things and remember to do others because I don’t want to “look poor” and be judged for that. Then again, the commonly held stereotypes of poor people- that we’re stupid, “trashy,” lazy, waiting for handouts instead of taking care of ourselves, and so on- are just that, stereotypes, not true assessments based in reality. Just because I don’t match the stereotype doesn’t even necessarily make me unusual, just one more of so many different faces of being economically underprivileged.
- I need and deserve as much space to talk about my experiences as you do to talk about yours. Talking about money- especially money one doesn’t have- is considered crass and impolite, but I can’t be fully myself without bringing that up. I know it makes people uncomfortable sometimes, but honestly, that’s not a good enough reason to expect me to keep quiet. As much as anyone else does, I deserve the right to talk openly about my background, my challenges, the reasons behind decisions I make- the realities of my life.
- Being poor has substantial, everyday, direct effects on my life, and if you spend time with me, you will have to deal with those effects. Nearly everything I do, every decision I make, is in some way affected by my financial status. If you’re close to me, you will watch me struggle with money and financial decisions on a daily basis. If you want to do something with me, it has to be something I can afford. If you give me advice or recommendations, you will have to take into account my budget, or else your attempt at help will just sound laughably insensitive. There’s no way around it.
- Being poor also has a large indirect impact on me in terms of how people think of me and the community I come from. Stereotypes of poor people abound. People frequently assume that my parents are unintelligent, ignorant, and bad parents. They treat me as an anomaly, an escapee from a uniformly horrible situation that they can pity and make fun of. People who know me treat me as an exception to a classist rule, not realizing that their upholding of that rule allows people who don’t know me to stereotype and mistreat me. That’s the world I live in.
- I don’t want your pity. For me, pity is one of the most hurtful sentiments I can experience. It assumes a really troublesome hierarchy; if you are able to pity me, you must be better than or above me in some way. Also, it’s completely useless, and doesn’t do anything to actually address or talk about the reality of my situation. It’s a copout, and it’s often a way to shut me up so that I stop “making people feel bad.”
- Yes, I know full well that there are many people in this world who are worse off than me, but that doesn’t invalidate my experiences. I’m aware that I am privileged in many ways, and that in a broad view, I’m better off financially than many, many people. Between privilege and luck, I’ve found myself in a position where I will likely no longer be poor once I’m a full-fledged independent adult, and I’ve been thinking a lot about how to handle that in an ethical way. But that admission doesn’t make the substantial disadvantages that I have experienced and continue to experience disappear. They are still real, painful, and very important to my life.
- Me saying that you are (economically) privileged doesn’t mean I’m calling you a bad person, that I want you to feel guilty, or that I don’t think you deserve to have a good life. I don’t go around wanting people to feel bad. In fact, I rarely bring up things like this- too rarely, probably- because I know that people will take it personally and get defensive. Being poor is so much a part of me that it’s very emotionally difficult to handle when people totally dismiss the idea that there are substantial, important differences between my experience and theirs. But I have a responsibility to challenge the ideas- often unspoken, but present everywhere- that wealthy people are morally and functionally superior to poor people, that poor people could be wealthy if they only worked hard, and that my background, my family, my current reality can be dismissed with choice insults and assumptions that I’ve brought this on myself. If that makes you feel bad about yourself and your behavior, well, it probably should.
- If you can’t deal reasonably and respectfully with me being poor, I’m not going to be able to keep you in my life. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: I can never forget that I’m poor, or behave like I’m not poor. It is with me every moment, in everything I do and every decision that I make. If you constantly lean on classist stereotypes, if you insult my background, if you patronize and pity me, if you yell at me for “making you feel bad,” if you won’t let me talk about my financial struggles or get too uncomfortable to let me continue, if you forget every time that I can’t afford to do the things you want to do or don’t share your experiences and perspective- well, I’m sorry, but you’re not worth being around. I have no interest in spending time with someone who will not give me the space to be myself, or who cares more about their own zone of privileged comfort than respecting another human being.
all of this
things I would like to say to some (privileged, whiny) people
- Being an asshole doesn’t make you sophisticated, edgy, a courageous warrior against the oppression of political correctness, or a truth-teller. It makes you an asshole.
- If the harder of two options is to keep your mouth shut and refrain from making a comment or joke that perpetuates racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, rape culture… that is far more courageous, and innovative, than opening your mouth and making said comment. And that makes you not an asshole, or at least not as much of one.
- Arguing that intolerance should not be tolerated is not, in fact, a paradox. Saying “But if you say ‘don’t tolerate intolerance,’ that makes you intolerant too, and that’s hypocritical!” doesn’t make you some kind of intellectual giant. It makes you an asshole who would rather mess around with seeming “conundrums” instead of thinking about things like free choice, bodily autonomy, basic human rights, and the limits of religiously-imposed morality in a secular state.
- If you are yourself a girl or woman, hating on other women is not some novel, transgressive or subversive act. Women have actively participating in upholding misogyny for thousands of years. If you want to be novel and subversive, try supporting your fellow women.
- Becoming an ally to marginalized groups will not turn you into a saint. It will, hopefully, make you less of an asshole.
- Recognizing people’s basic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness should not be a paradigm-shifting exertion of mental effort. Angels will not come down from heaven with trumpets, and deprivileged groups will not come to you with offerings of cookies. Just recognize that people have the right to live freely and happily, and do what you can to help them. Not because you get something out of it, but because it’s the decent-non-asshole thing to do.
Bolded for emphasis.
Yes, the first one is exactly what i want to say 90% of the time.