Musings on privilege

4 May

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a friend about politics, sexism, authoritarianism, and more. At one point, he mentioned that he despises the way privilege is often deployed to shut people up.

Which is a fair criticism, as we’ve all seen cries of “privilege” used to police what other people say and how they say it.

On the other hand, privilege exists, most people have at least some in one area or another, and it shields them from other people’s experiences and suffering.

Thing is, people rarely see their own privilege, however limited it may be, and therefore tend not to be receptive when it’s pointed out to them.

Like, say, people who have the privilege of choosing what they engage with, and how. Another form privilege manifests is in what we even see happening in the world around us.

Most women, for example, would be happy to never engage with misogyny, yet, as currently all-the-fucking-planet is one large misogynistic patriarchy of varying degrees, I don’t know of any women who can avoid misogyny fully. Many men don’t seem to understand this. That is privilege.

Most men who are in any way different from the idealized image of Alpha Macho Manwhore, would probably prefer not to engage with toxic masculinity. However, since it’s as pervasive as the air we breathe, I don’t know of any man who has successfully avoided toxic masculinity in its entirety, most especially as children or teens. Many men who, at least outwardly, fit that image, seem to have trouble understanding this. That is privilege.

Most Black and Brown people would rather not engage with racism and white fragility, but as even existing in public as a Black or Brown person is a problem for so many white people, most Black and Brown people don’t have the freedom to not engage with both on the daily. Too many white people don’t seem able to comprehend this. That is privilege.

Most Black mothers in the USA would rather never engage with police brutality and the industrial prison complex, but they don’t have the freedom to choose to not engage with it, or even to shield their children from it. Flatly denying this reality, or shifting blame for a system designed to victimize primarily Black children, to its victims, is privilege.

Most people would rather not work minimum wage, hourly dead end jobs, without any benefits, at the mercy of a corporation/franchise/manager doling out a handful of work hours per week, unable to seek a second concurrent hourly job due to availability requirements. Most poor people don’t have a choice. Telling people who work these jobs that they should “get a better job” rather than mobilize to increase minimum wage, is privilege.

Many sex workers would rather work in other fields, but due to circumstances beyond their control, find themselves backed into it–perhaps because it pays better than whatever other work they are qualified for, and they have little to no control over the size of their monthly bills, be it because they are supporting others or have a disability, or large debt, or, or, or. There are also many for whom this is simply a work field like any other.¹  Looking down on sex workers as either depraved souls or worthless victims, is privilege.

Most queer/gay/trans people would rather just live their lives like everyone else, not caring about what county/state/federal legislature do in their day to day operations, yet they can’t, for their very right to exist is under constant threat. Looking away from queer/gay/trans people’s fight to use public toilets, to remain employed, to serve their country, to foster and/or adopt children, to access healthcare, is privilege.

Most fat people, especially women, would rather not be constantly bombarded with a world aesthetic that favors the extremely thin, or dealing with a medical establishment that has decreed an arbitrary body mass index as healthy and desirable, and everything else as laziness. Ignoring fatphobia and sneering at fat people who point it out as “whiners” and “haters,” is privilege.

Most disabled people, whatever their disability, would rather live their lives and be productive in whichever way suits them best, instead of constantly fighting for their right to access–to education, to jobs, to healthcare, to public spaces. Not seeing this lack of accessibility, in its many and varied ways, is privilege.

Most people from religious and religious ethnic minorities would happily live their entire lives letting everyone else around them worship as they will, so long as they themselves are left alone to worship in their own way, while harming none. Very few of them are allowed the luxury to not engage with the constant and active hate fostered by a mostly white and pretty fanatical Evangelical ~christianity~ that puts their very lives at risk, every single day. Not being aware of this happening in our communities, is privilege.

Being able to disengage from the news, from politics, from activism, is a privilege. People who belong to groups under constant threat do not have the choice to disengage from that threat.

Being able to shrug off racist/homophobic/xenophobic/white supremacist family members/neighbors/friends/co-workers with a gesture and a “oh, well you know how (person) is, don’t take it personally. Just ignore (person),” is privilege.

Politicians who operate in a world of precedent, norms, optics and political strategy, have the privilege of believing (or pretending to believe), that we are just living through a phase, that tRump will eventually move on, that democratic institutions will endure, and that in a couple of years, tops, life in the USA will return to whatever passed for normal back sometime before tRump came down the fucking escalator to claim that all Mexicans are rapists. Most of them feel safe from the consequences of the current political climate. That’s privilege.

Other politicians see the current chaos as the perfect opportunity for announce they are running for president. Others see it as the perfect time to announce that they won’t seek re-election for a Democratic Senate seat. That, too, is privilege.

Then there are the people who could make an immense difference in the current descent into authoritarianism simply by speaking up in public, or offering to speak before the House. Robert Mueller, Marine, glorified institutionalist, and imagined savior of democracy, has chosen to do neither, and that is very much a mark of privilege.

Have you ever noticed who the most vocal people fighting for the rights of the most marginalized in society are? Most of the people exposing their safety, their livelihood, and their very lives for the sake of those targeted by society, are themselves members of marginalized and targeted groups, often belonging to several intersecting groups under attack.

How often do cis straight men speak, let alone act, against misogyny and toxic masculinity? Not performative, but unprompted, daily, habitual vigilance, intervention, education of their peers.

How often do white women speak in defense of women of color? Especially against another white person.

How often do the physically/mentally abled speak on behalf of those who aren’t? Or, much more importantly, elevate and amplify the voices of those who are disabled so their actual needs are met, instead of whatever abled people perceive to be in disabled peoples’ best interests.

Rarely.

If ever.

I understand that people have to disengage from the shittiness, when they can, for their own mental health.

I do understand it. And I wish, I hope, everyone who needs to disengage is able to do it, as much as they possibly can, for their own survival.

I only wish that more people who have the privilege to turn away acknowledged it for what it is, instead of sighing in exasperation at those of us who can’t.

I am an hourly employee, I don’t have a college degree, my resume is, to put it charitably, spotty at best. I have no savings, no retirement funds, no safety net/better off relative to come rescue me if/when disaster strikes. I cannot disengage from the anxiety of subsisting barely above poverty.

I am a woman. I cannot disengage from misogyny.

I am a Latino woman. I cannot disengage from racism and racist microaggressions.

I am an immigrant. I cannot disengage from xenophobia, white supremacy, and a powerful lobby for a white ethnostate in the country where I live.

I am mother to two adult Latinx children, one of whom is darker skinned than I, one of whom is also a Latino woman. Though they are both US citizens by birth, I cannot disengage from what the current administration’s rapacious and cruel policies mean to their future.

Do what you must to protect yourself, to the extent your privilege allows you to. But please, if you can, as you can, please, be kind to those who, like me, can’t.

Do not begrudge me my constant, loud, incandescent, exploding rage and fear.

They are all I have to protect my own sanity, as I cannot protect my children or myself, or anyone more vulnerable than I, in any tangible, permanent, definitive way.

 

~ * ~

 

¹ Sex work, and whether or not people can choose it freely or is always a “desperate last resort” type of work, is probably best for another post; however, something to consider: athletes and performers make their living through their bodies, and they are much celebrated. Those are considered entirely respectable careers, even in those cases where professional careers rarely last more than ten years or so (gymnast, skaters, etc). Balking at sex work is more about a puritanical view of sex than about the inherent immorality of any particular act.

~ * ~

Lots of gratitude to Samantha George (@nobadcats) for a quick round of copy editing. Moral of the story: everyone can benefit from a second set of eyes.

4 Responses to “Musings on privilege”

  1. twooldfartstalkingromance 04/05/2019 at 8:15 PM #

    Brava woman. Very well expressed. There’s a lot of people I’d like to share this with.

  2. shallowreader 05/05/2019 at 8:50 AM #

    I would never begrudge you your need to rage rage rage against the injustices of the world. Shout it out loud. I admire your ability to articulate your rage and to see injustices so clearly.

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