eirias: (Default)
[personal profile] eirias
I have two sentiments about privilege today.

One is that it's fascinating to think about -- in part because it's like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard. I think it tickles the same part of the psyche that responds to books like The Da Vinci Code -- the part that likes invisible, unifying, infuriating threads. Maybe it also appeals to the part of the psyche that likes to get high and stare at its hands. Seeing the world in a new way is always -- well, a joy isn't the right word, exactly -- but a meaningful experience. Things just make sense that didn't before.

The other is that, nevertheless, there is something kind of creepy, perhaps even prurient, about privileged people talking about privilege. It's like the bastard child of self-flagellation and noblesse oblige. So maybe I should think about that the next time I'm tempted to spout off.

On another note, I was recently reading about sickle cell anemia and it struck me, for some reason, as a weird example of unmarked vs. marked class -- weird-shaped blood cells contrasted with normal-shaped ones. But isn't that just the fallout of history, of how evolution has gone? Maybe there is a universe somewhere where sickle-shaped blood cells are the normal ones for humans, where the advantages it confers outweigh the disadvantages, or where something else came up to compensate for those disadvantages. Every species has an Achilles heel that's just considered normal for that species. Maybe there is a universe where dogs can eat chocolate and humans can't. Well, I'm glad I'm not in that universe, anyway. I'll gladly benefit from human privilege if it tastes like chocolate.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 07:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyonesse.livejournal.com
isn't that actually the case with sickle cell, where it conferred disease resistance of some sort....?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 07:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
Yep! Having one copy of the relevant gene confers resistance to malaria. Having two copies makes you fairly likely to die young. Or so Wikipedia tells me. (I didn't remember the specifics.) In the current universe it seems like having two copies is uncontestedly not awesome, but I imagine it could have been otherwise.
Edited Date: 2009-08-20 07:49 pm (UTC)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 08:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
The other is that, nevertheless, there is something kind of creepy, perhaps even prurient, about privileged people talking about privilege. It's like the bastard child of self-flagellation and noblesse oblige. So maybe I should think about that the next time I'm tempted to spout off.

Exactly. This is where I sit in every privilege discussion I see. I feel like, if I say anything, I'm white-knighting in from my haughty position, to Provide the Enlightened Example - while probably typifying ignorance and privilege in a dozen different ways so subconscious I haven't started to unpack them yet. Meanwhile, if I say nothing, I feel like I'm tacitly complicit in an even greater attempt to ignore or downplay the issue. Like, I should step in, because it's unfair to leave the burden to people already working from a position lacking the privileges I have, but at the same time I shouldn't step in, because it's downplaying the very real role and situations of the people who suffer the most. I think this is why every discussion of privilege in race/creed/gender/orientation/religion leaves me so stressed and uncomfortable, because regardless of my course of action, I feel like I'm leveraging my privilege to someone else's detriment.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 08:10 pm (UTC)
feuervogel: photo of the statue of Victory and her chariot on the Brandenburg Gate (Default)
From: [personal profile] feuervogel
It's an unfortunate side effect of privilege that white men are more likely to listen to white men, so sometimes being a white male ally can help. (Like being a straight ally, or an anti-racist ally, etc.)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:07 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
I know - and even that knowledge is a little uncomfortable, because it's now "I must speak, because I know People Like Me won't listen to the [woman/PoC/homosexual/etc] who can speak much more authoritatively on the topic."

It may have truth, but it still feels like hubris and privilege to exploit it while being aware of your own privilege and ignorance.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:15 pm (UTC)
feuervogel: photo of the statue of Victory and her chariot on the Brandenburg Gate (Default)
From: [personal profile] feuervogel
Sometimes, the unprivileged get tired of talking to brick walls ;)

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
I know, which is part of why I feel like it's cowardly not to engage... but it doesn't stop me from also feeling like I'm playing Enlightened White Man To The Rescue.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyonesse.livejournal.com
i think "race traitor" magazine used to try to take that viewpoint and figure out ways to make it useful. haven't seen it in a good long while though.

i figure we all do the best with the perspective we happen to have, and the authority we happen to project. can't do much else.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
Agreed. I'm just saying, it's even uncomfortable when you think you're doing the best you can, if only because you're aware of a lot of baggage in doing so...

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 10:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lyonesse.livejournal.com
oh, i completely agree -- it can be extremely uncomfortable. it's just less dissonant than keeping silent though, you know? refusing to speak because of your position of empowerment is wasteful of your unique voice and perspective. it may not be perfect, it may not be representative, but it's all that any of us have, is one single point of perspective to share.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
I think I actually meant something opposite to this. When privileged people talk about privilege it often strikes me as this oblique way of bragging, of having found a socially acceptable way to remind everyone that you're at the top of the pile; or else of being "a million times as humble as thou art," of jerking off with a hairshirt, hoping God's watching. There's some livejournal community or other that seems to be entirely about this practice vis a vis whites and blacks. I find it strange and uncomfortable.

I think what gets me is -- all the Conversations I see about privilege do not seem like real attempts to solve the practical problems of people who don't have a lot of clout -- they seem more like attempts to jockey for social and moral standing. Get in line at a soup kitchen or make conversation with a badly-dressed stranger on a bus and I think you're closer to an answer. But then, I suppose that's my Catholic heritage talking...

Don't get me wrong; I think hidden privilege is a very good idea for me to have come across and I'm glad I did. I in no way question its existence. But I am starting to get the skeeves every time it comes up in conversation.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 09:44 pm (UTC)
feuervogel: photo of the statue of Victory and her chariot on the Brandenburg Gate (Default)
From: [personal profile] feuervogel
Privilege isn't just about money, though.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 10:05 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
See, I took it from the side of being part of that conversation, and feeling like any engagement projects that sense of bragging/masturbatory self-indulgence. It's kind of meta, but the point was, as a white guy who gets into conversations about cultural appropriation, privilege, etc, I'm afraid that my attempts to engage on the issue turn into that kind of Conversation.

For my part, I don't think I've ever seen a conversation that attempted to solve a damn thing. At best, I've been hoping to be part of a conversation that helped a scant few people at least acknowledge the concept of privilege, because I damn sure can't get them to do anything about it when they insist it's a misunderstanding, a tool underprivileged individuals use to make them guilty, or an exaggeration of a problem they think is already behind us.

So, yeah, I feel like the conversations are seldom productive, but I also feel like they're necessary, because the first step is still admitting there is a problem.

And all the same, I feel like that arrogant prick in the hairshirt when I try to take part in the discussion. Even talking about how I feel engaging in the conversations, when I look back on it, feels like that.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 10:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
For my part, I don't think I've ever seen a conversation that attempted to solve a damn thing. At best, I've been hoping to be part of a conversation that helped a scant few people at least acknowledge the concept of privilege...

I guess the problem I have with the whole thing is that most of the time I think these conversations are not just unproductive, but are serving goals that turn me off. In general, if I get the sense that the subtext of what a person's saying is more about self-promotion than it is about understanding, I lose interest pretty fast. (Which may explain some of how I felt about grad school. Heh.) And I get that sense *all the time* in these conversations. All the time. It's like, dudes, if I wanted to see a penis size contest, I would've stayed home and rented a porno.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 10:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] leora.livejournal.com
I find this interesting because I just don't recall feeling this way in any of the discussions on the subject I've seen and can think of. I wonder if I just don't tend to interpret things this way, if it's ambiguous tone, or if we're seeing different discussions.

I can see how the sorts of things you bring up could be projected during such conversations and that does seem awkward. I just don't tend to feel that they are.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-21 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] eirias.livejournal.com
You may well be more charitable than I am on this count.

FWIW, though, your post about left-handedness a year or two ago remains one of the best things I've seen about privilege anywhere on the internet.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 11:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ksledgemoore.livejournal.com
Hey Eirias,

I think I see what you're saying. A lot of conversations go that way. But if you have the right kind of conversation, you really can do a lot.

At Michigan I'm in this group that facilitates dialogues about social identity and social justice, so we talk about power/privilege/oppression a lot. We are commissioned to do these dialogues by student groups. Though most of the time participants are "on board" with what we're doing and the topic, there's always some people who don't get it at first, and are able to learn something even in just the hr-long workshop. Even among all of the "enlightened" participants (and us facilitators), people still learn something. You might be a social justice person who has only thought deeply about race and class, but then in a conversation you learn more about sexuality.

After learning something, people will take this knowledge out to the real world. They'll encounter instances of -isms and they'll address them. We even discuss how to address these issues in a non-offensive/attacking way (you learn this by realizing your fellow participants mean well, but often say quite ignorant things...so you realize when someone does it in the real world it might be totally by accident.)

Sorry for the long comment, but in sum I DO think that talking about privilege can lead to positive change. But sometimes it is just as you characterize it -- I won't deny that.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-21 02:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
While I think that's the case, the majority of these conversations into which I find myself leaping start from the basis of "I've been told X thing is a problematic thing for me to do because I'm not Y." with a subtext of "But that's bullshit, amirite?"

And I feel like being silent means that everyone will only hear all the people who haven't unpacked their privilege in the slightest going "Sure, you can make a traditional ethnic practice into a kitschy bit of exoticism for your own amusement."

While it's usually approached from a position of "People accuse me of being racist, but that's just because Those People are oversensitive, right?", which is a form of "Ain't I Enlightened", and while it certainly is about self-promotion in 90% of the discussion, I think that just letting that sort of circle jerk go is tacitly accepting it, and I can't bring myself to do that. So, basically, I try not to start those discussions, but when they show up in places I frequent or from folks I know, I feel compelled to engage on them.

It's sad and depressing not to even hope to accomplish more than basic awareness, but it's literally better than nothing, you know?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-21 01:24 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] corpsefairy.livejournal.com
Huh. I think you visit different places than I do.

I suspect having a diversity of voices helps with the problem you're describing. Have you tried places like Shakesville or Racialicious, which have a spectrum of commentators?

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-20 10:53 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ksledgemoore.livejournal.com
I totally know what you mean, but I think it's better to step in than not. As long as you acknowledge the privilege on that meta-level, it's really ok. I've had that exact conversation before. Also, as akiko said, almost by definition those of us who are privileged have the most POWER to do something. It is the privilege that gives us the power. We are listened to. We make good allies.

I believe you are correct, though, that it is important to try to build some trust before leaping in full force, because you don't want to sound like you know something about oppression when you haven't experienced it the way others have.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-08-21 02:39 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smarriveurr.livejournal.com
I think it's the "building trust" part that I find most problematic. Because I don't seek this kind of conversation, I'm not involved in groups that have it often. Because of that, when it comes up in the circles where I operate, no one has a real history or a sense of each other on the issue. It's just voices in the aether as far as this discussion goes, and frankly, it's disturbing how many people you previously thought to be levelheaded and laudable haven't even begun to question their assumptions on [insert axis of privilege here], or acknowledged that there exists such a thing at all.

It kind of makes the atmosphere automatically more uncertain and aggressive, which aggravates all these concerned.

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