A quick thought on privilege

(This was a comment a made on a Facebook thread centered around this article, to which someone added this video, which ended up bringing in race, religion, and LGBTQ issues–in other words, a normal Friday morning for me. I figured I’d cut and paste my comments here for an inexpensive blog update! This is all verbatim what I wrote, except that I corrected a few spelling and grammar errors inherent to the Facebook commenting format.)

This will be a condensed treatment of the concept of privilege, but here goes: I’m a white, heterosexual, educated, affluent, originally-raised-Episcopalian, reasonably attractive and healthy American male. In other words, I am about as high up on the privilege ladder as you can get. About the only “minority” status I have is that of atheist, and people who don’t know me can’t exactly tell that just from looking at me. If I may borrow Stephanie for a second, if I were to tell Stephanie that sexism does not exist in America because I have never experienced it, or because her own stories of encountering sexism just don’t make sense to me, Stephanie would be within her rights to give me an epic rhetorical beatdown. As a guy, I have privilege in this society to ignore some pretty pervasive sexism. If I don’t want to see it or deal with it, it can be invisible to me. The same can be true for me about LGBTQ issues (no one has yet complained that, by advertising my engagement on my FB page, I am rubbing my sexuality in their faces. LGBTQ people don’t get that kind of deference from the whole freaking world). Christians can claim “persecution” when in reality they are just having to share the public sphere with others. Guys can claim unfair advantages for women when women haven’t even achieved parity. My actual point, though, is about the “race card.” When a person of color “plays the race card,” it is pretty much assumed that the sole purpose is to be divisive or to distract from something else, and that is a load of crap. There is racism all around us all the time, but most white (or white-identified) people do not have to deal with it as a daily fact of life. Just one example: I drove by four police cars yesterday, and in two instances I was going about 5 miles over the speed limit, but no one pulled me over. I have never been pulled over without verifiable evidence of speeding or making an illegal right turn on red, and I have never had my car searched for drugs “just in case.” For many if not most people of color in America, though, the simple act of driving a car down the street requires taking on more risk than my privileged ass can comprehend. I’m not claiming any greater knowledge of the reality of life in America, just that I get that there is much of daily life for others that I do not “get.” Claiming that a context-free allegation of racism is playing the “race card” is a cowardly refusal to even consider that the person might be correct. Note also that privilege is not limited specifically to white heterosexual males. The default setting of society is “white heterosexual male,” so nearly anything that unthinkingly falls into one of those categories can have the effect of propping up privilege, without awareness of how it might hurt others.

None of this means that I don’t get to have a say in issues pertaining to other groups. It just means that I need to listen for a change. It is really amazing how little privileged people actually listen to people without their same privilege. Google “mansplaining” if you want to have a sad chuckle.


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