Tuesday, November 10, 2015

All Y'all Need To Check ALL Y'all's Privilege

A few things to make clear from the get-go: 
-This is not an #alllivesmatter protest;
-This is not an attack on the PC police;
-This is in no way meant to poo-poo the daily struggles of the disadvantaged or oppressed;
-This is an attempt to get you to think of inherent privilege as a broad spectrum of advantage and disadvantage that has been and always be a big part of society, instead of just my "my people vs. yours".

Here goes, and apologies for the lack of snark you were probably expecting:

I am the most privileged of them all: a physically able, white, cis, straight, male with no disfigurements and with decent hair. I could use some more money, but I'm mostly ok. Next in line is all of the above except female. It's possible she makes less money than I, depending on her field. Otherwise, she's ok.

I recognize my privilege, I do. Still, it really grinds my gears when my privilege is used against me in an argument or debate, as if the colour of my skin, the shape of my genitals or the number of my limbs negates my opinions or makes me unable to empathize with someone less fortunate than I. But whatever, you can't expect every internet debate to be rational on all sides.

Here's the thing about privilege: we all have it. ALL. Privilege is contextual, and only works if you frame it within the context of another person's station in life. Privilege is a case by case basis, and there will always be someone with more or less privilege than you. Heck in some situations, you and the guy next to you can swap amounts of privilege based on particular circumstances.

An example:

A) A white man, born to dirt-poor parents and of average intelligence, can't afford to go to college.
B) A black man, born to middle class parents and of average intelligence, who can afford to go to college but just barely.

Who's more privileged? The white man might be when he walks into Starbucks or is stopped by the police, yes. But the black man is when it comes to getting a leg up on the job market. No guarantees that it'll land him a job and a great life long career, but you can't deny that his chances are much higher than the poor white guy with no degree.

I chose black and white for the above example because it's a hot topic right now: you've got your #blacklivesmatter people and you've got your #iamwhiteanddonotfeelguiltyaboutit people.

But privilege has SO SO SO many different forms that are unrelated to racial/ethnic or gender differences.

Let's look at a few. These will seem obvious on their own but I'm going for a big picture kinda thing here so bear with me...

  • Ablebodiedness: There are really obvious differences in privilege when you're talking about number of limbs and/or ability to use them, but there are subtle things too. Some people are disabled in ways that you can't see, and it seriously fucks with their lives. Diabetics who starve because they can barely afford insulin. People with chronic pain disorders, the cause of which is often a soul-crushing mystery. They'll always have struggles that you can't even begin to imagine, despite their privileged outward appearance.
  • Attractiveness: Besides the unrealistic standards foisted upon us by media/fashion/etc, there's a basic level of human attractiveness that drives us all in our mating rituals. And attractiveness equals privilege in non-sexual ways too. Pretty girls and handsome men will get better service, favourable treatment, that sort of thing. We all know it to be true, as ugly as it is.
  • Body weight: Skinny people have it made, we all know that. Assumptions are made about the obese, regarding their life choices or genetics, without ever knowing the true picture. And within the obese population, you've got privilege if you're at least conventionally attractive. 
  • Skin: Do you have nice skin with no blemishes or acne problems? Congratulations, you're privileged. I recently started getting red spots on my face that come and go at random, which could be eczema or rosacea. I sometimes have red blotchy cheeks when I leave the house and I'm kind of embarrassed about it. It blows. I feel super bad for anyone with a skin condition that they can't do anything about.
  • Bald vs not bald: Self-explanatory. Some bald guys can rock the Bruce Willis shaved look, but that's usually because they're tall, fit and handsome. Think about George Costanza rocking the Bruce Willis and get back to me about whether you think he's really pulling it off. He can't, because he's not tall and handsome. Sad but true.
  • Mental health/personality disorders: If you have a hard time talking to people, strangers or not, you're going to have to expect a rough ride through life.  You'll have to work harder to get and keep jobs and friends. Hell it doesn't even need to be a disorder - you can just be socially awkward and shy and BAM you have less privilege than the personable and friendly guy who just sold you a pair of weird loner pants.
  • Gender reassignment: A person who was born a man but chooses to live her life as a woman faces some non-obvious obstacles: how feminine will she ultimately look, after all the surgery and hormones? Hell, maybe she can't get the procedures and has to remain biologically male the rest of her life.  You can only go so far, and not everyone's gender reassignment ends up on the cover of Vanity Fair. As a result, her struggle for acceptance will be marred by the fact that no matter how hard she tries, she still looks like a man dressed as a woman.  Caitlyn Jenner has privilege over the person in this example, regardless of fame. She pulls off woman better, plain and simple.
  • Skin colour: Ok I said I'd stay away from race but I have to at least offer this up: no matter how much we hate to admit it, people of colour have a leg up in our society if their features are less... non-white. Lighter skin colour, skinny/pointy nose, lips that don't protrude too much, round eyes... people with these types of features have privilege over others of the same race. Look at your Denzel Washingtons and your Halle Berrys. This is another ugly truth about society, and I don't like it any more than you do.

The point I'm trying to make here is that you can't paint the privilege issue with broad strokes. Generalizing based on skin colour or gender is all well and good, but it's a generalization - the same people that cry foul over someone saying "All black people have bla bla bla feature or characteristic" turn around and say "All black people are less privileged". Instead of generalizing and spinning our wheels, let's focus on individuals, what their lack of privilege is, and how we can help them.

Look, whatever your station in life, no matter your skin colour or whatever, recognize the privilege that you have and do your best to give a leg up to those less privileged, but don't fuckin' feel guilty that you have two legs that work. And if you get your jollies yelling at "middle aged cis dudes" for their privilege, don't forget to check your own privilege, which you most definitely have - you need to recognize that you still got it made over the paraplegic transgendered latino woman with facial hair so thick that no amount of estrogen can hide her five o'clock shadow and also she's got Asperger's, and admit to yourself that you're thankful for what privilege you do have.

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