rhiannonlouve (rhiannonlouve) wrote,

5 things to remember in discussions of systemic privilege:

1) Systemic privilege is complicated, and there are LOTS of types of it, not just race and physical sex. Religion privilege exists, as well as sexual orientation privilege, gender-normative privilege (advantages for people whose genders match their male or female physical sexes), ablism privilege (disenfranchising those with physical disabilities), class privilege (inheriting contacts, opportunities, and “upper class” mannerisms/traditions from family), money privilege (usually goes with class, but not always), education privilege (also often goes with class, but also has to do with parents' ability to help children with homework and scholarship acquisition), neurotypical privilege (disadvantaging those on the autism spectrum, having ADHD, having inconvenient learning styles, etc), health privilege (discrimination against those with chronic physical or mental illness). Heck, there are even systemic forms of beauty privilege and height privilege, and others.

All of these interact. Someone can be advantaged in all these ways. Someone can be disadvantaged in all these ways. Someone can be advantaged in some and disadvantaged in others. It's no simple or useful task to point fingers and make judgments about other people's privilege-webs. Be aware of your own. If you have a lot of privilege, be decent enough to give some slack to others who may not. If you don't have a lot of privilege, set healthy boundaries and stand up for them. In fact, everyone, give slack whenever you can spare it, but keep healthy boundaries and don't be afraid to stick up for them.

Blame games and victim competitions are not helpful.

2) It is human nature to hide vulnerabilities. Most people can't hide their races, physical sexes, or physical abilities/disabilities, save in online discussions. Nearly all other types of privilege/disadvantage can be hidden or faked. All of them can be hidden or faked on the internet. Never assume you know what privileges and disadvantages a stranger has. You know your own privilege webs and those of your close friends and family members. That's it.

If someone willingly admits to a disadvantage that could otherwise be hidden, that person is either A) very brave, B) able for some reason to feel safe doing so, or C) being somehow disingenuous. None of these are mutually exclusive, though people with reasonable, rational points are less likely to have much of C going on – they neither need ulterior motives nor have such agendas clouding their arguments. (However, always remember that oppressed populations learn to be disingenuous as a form of necessary self-defense – if someone _is_ being disingenuous, the person probably has a good reason, so always give slack wherever possible, within healthy boundaries.)

All of this means, however, that you NEVER KNOW what privileges another person does and does not enjoy. A white man MAY be less privileged than you. He may suffer from 27 different chronic illnesses, 6 learning disabilities, be Muslim, gay, trans, mostly deaf and reading your lips, and have never enjoyed class, money, or education privilege, no matter how much more common they are among white people.

He's not going to explain that stuff in the majority of circumstances. People just don't. With the way we raise little boys, it's even harder for men to share vulnerabilities.

Never assume you know.

3) No one can share privilege with another person, except offspring. Privilege isn't a commodity. You can't stockpile it and dole it out. It's a thing that happens to you, by accident.

Think of it like a game. We've all got a bunch of dice, and whoever rolls highest wins. Privilege is like having extra dice, options to re-roll, and bonuses to your rolls. It's still random. A very privileged person can still roll crappy numbers. This unlucky person can't help you, because this person has nothing to give you. Society doesn't allow the sharing of bonuses, re-rolls, or extra dice. It only allows sharing of stuff. Only a person with stuff can share it.

A privileged person is WAY MORE LIKELY to have stuff (and contacts, opportunities, etc), and if you have enough to share, the decent thing to do is share. But you can't assume a privileged person has had decent luck. Yeah, if a really privileged guy roles nothing over 3 (even on the re-roll), and a really disadvantaged guy rolls nothing over 3, the privileged guy still has it better with his bonuses and extra dice, BUT he doesn't have it as good as someone who rolled well (unless he's got some _really_ crazy bonuses, which does happen, but still).

The point is, you can't get blood from a stone. Doesn't matter WHY a white guy is impoverished and struggling; if he is, he can't help you. Let him be. He's not the problem, unless he's a jerk, in which case go on sticking to your healthy boundaries.

4) No one can take your privilege away. We can all change society together, but only with the permission and collaboration of the privileged. The privileged have the power to make the changes. EVEN WITH A BLOODY REVOLUTION (which I would personally prefer to avoid), we're not going to take away the privilege of the privileged for more than maybe a few years, and we'll pay harshly for those few years.

The powerful have the power. If we can't convince them to create a more equal and socially-just world, we won't get one.

Also, look, anybody who wants to make anybody's life worse needs to do some serious self-examination. That's not the goal here. That's not social justice. We want to make the world better for the disadvantaged, not harder for the privileged. We want to change the system to create more fairness and liberty.

This isn't about revenge. This is about uplifting the human species.

5) Privilege sucks.

Yeah, sure, it's better than not having it. Of course the privileged have it better than the disadvantaged. But privilege is this lifelong conformity-anxiety. It's constantly terrifying and emotionally deadening. What if “they” find out you're actually weird? Or sad? Or ill? And trust me, people who choose not to conform DO NOT have the same privileges as those who do, even if they're born into the same families. Sure, privileged non-conformists have the _option_ of going back and re-conforming someday (as the disadvantaged do not), and that _is_ better than a true lack of privilege, but ...

Face it, it's still hell.

Never make the mistake of thinking that if you had what the privileged have you'd be happy. They're not a lot more likely to be happy than a disadvantaged person, not unless they (exactly like disadvantaged people) are unusually wise and have done a lot of introspection.

The more you have, the more you have to lose. Also, honestly, the more you have to feel guilty or sick about. It's terrifying. That's why so many privileged people get defensive about their privilege. In their own perspectives, many privileged people already have it rougher than they can handle. This is because the _entire hierarchical system_ is rotten and harmful.

Again, I'm not saying privilege is worse than being disadvantaged. It _is_ better. It's just still awful.

This is why we're all on the same side. A free and just society is a society where everyone benefits. We've proven that happy, fulfilled people are more productive and creative at work, more dedicated to their jobs. Whole societies function better, produce more, and progress faster when the poorest are also doing well. The rich do better when the poor do better. The smaller the gap between rich and poor, the more luxuries and freedoms the rich actually enjoy. Uplifting the disadvantaged uplifts everyone. Everyone is safer from persecution in a society that practices less persecution.

The privileged will win alongside the disadvantaged when we create a more socially-just world. This has happened over and over in history, and we can make it happen again and again, inch by inch, until we get where we want to be.

We're all in this together. We're all allies in this fight.
Tags: decency, human uplift, isms, philosophy, privilege, social justice, unity

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