Sunday, February 21, 2010

Privileged

Before I get to the main post, I want to share a quick story with you.

When I was in kindergarten we had a mean substitute teacher fill in for our teacher who was sick. That day more than half the class had their names on the board for being bad, according to the sub. It was a rare occasion to have any names on the board and mine had never made it on there until that day. While we were out for recess, I asked the sub if I could use the bathroom. She looked at me with a mean face and said, "No. Using the bathroom is a privilege, not a right." I asked again when we got back to the classroom and she replied, "No, April. See your name up here? You lost your privilege to use the bathroom, so stop asking me." I ended up shitting my pants. I didn't tell a single person that I shit my pants until I got home, although I'm certain someone had to smell it. I started crying and told my mom what the sub said and then apologized because I couldn't hold it in anymore. She was furious and wrote a note to the principal and we never saw that mean sub again.

Now on to the post.

I was reading Britni's post about privilege which was in response to a post from Champagne and Benzedrine. After reading through all of the comments, I was inspired to write a post.

I found myself *mostly* agreeing with Champagne and Benzedrine (CB from here on out) after I actually read his comments and whole post and not just the select excerpts Britni chose, which honestly made him look bad at first. The reason why I'm agreeing with him is complicated and I'm not sure that I can articulate it well, but I'm going to try.

In the comments, the people who sided with Britni basically just wanted CB to acknowledge that privilege does exist, which he did. To which he asked, "I recognize my privilege. What the fuck do you expect me to do?" One response was that he should recognize that because he has a penis he'll always be seen as more serious in the workplace than someone with a vagina. Another was, "We expect you to use that knowledge to be respectful to people who don’t have the same privileges." Here's where I take issue.

Who knows CB to say that he isn't respectful to others who don't have the same privileges as him? Who knows him to say that he doesn't recognize that in some workplaces, men are taken more seriously than women? Who knows him to say that he is privileged? I suppose that because he's a white male, it's assumed he has privilege. Here is where I take issue with privilege.

Now, I can only speak on white privilege because, well, I'm white. My whiteness couldn't get me any assistance from the government when I needed a little financial help go to college. The same help that I would've gotten had I been a minority. My whiteness almost didn't get me medical assistance when I got pregnant with my son because the black lady who had to approve my assistance couldn't understand why, "A little white girl who is the daughter of a school board worker couldn't afford to have her own insurance." (yes, those were her exact words) My whiteness didn't get me not one, not two, but THREE different promotions at the same company even though I was more qualified than the three minority women they gave the promotions to. BUT, I'm most certainly not complaining because I'm sure that's nothing compared to the struggles that minorities face. Please do not misconstrue what I'm saying.

I can also say that I've never been made to feel inferior to a man in a workplace and I've never lost a job to a man. Therefore, I'm not going stress the "male privilege" because it's not something I've had to deal with.

The point I'm trying to make is that drive and determination do not see color, sex or religion. Anyone can truly do anything they set their mind to. And I truly believe that by having groups continuing to force the issue of privilege, we'll continue to have privilege. When you tell a child of a minority that they don't have the same privileges as a white man, well then, that child isn't going to know any different, now is he? Using terms like privilege just keeps people down, even when you use the term because you're trying to eliminate it. I know many successful people from many different backgrounds and these people are not the exceptions.

The problem with using the term privilege was summed up best by CB in the comments of his post linked above. "Privilege is a bullshit notion because it doesn't mean or achieve anything. The people who decide who is and isn't privileged aren't qualified to do so. No offense, but people like you and I really should steer clear of accusing people of any form of privilege because it's wildly hypocritical. Ultimately, we should be looking to live in a society in which people look beyond race, or gender, or sexuality and are TRULY equal rather than trying to buoy up one demographic and denigrate another with a flawed system of social conscience."

I believe the issue isn't privilege. The issues are racism, sexism, and any other ism you want to put in there. (Is transism a word? If not, I want to coin it) When you start throwing the words privileged and underprivileged around, you start to make people feel bad for being born into what ever privilege or under-privilege you think they have. Or at least it seems that you're trying to make that person feel bad who supposedly has privilege because it's often used negatively. When in fact, the problem isn't that that person needs to recognize that he/she has some privilege that you deemed them to have. The problem is that there are racists and sexists who feel that white men can do the job better than a woman or minority. Those are the people you need to target.

Another person commented on Britni's post saying that people are throwing the word privilege around like it's an insult and she's most certainly right. The same thing with calling someone cisgendered. When I read posts that refer to someone as cisgendered, it's almost always in a negative connotation. So what does this mean when used negatively? Am I supposed feel bad about myself because I happily identify with the gender I was born with? I'm sure the answer to this is, "We just want you to recognize that there are people who do not identify with the gender they were born with." I can say I recognize it until I'm blue in the face but I don't believe recognition is what's really wanted. What's wanted is for me to join the cause. Can I still accept that there are transgendered people without fighting for their equality? Is it not enough for me to just treat them as my equal like I do everyone? Or does that make me a transphobe?

On another post of Britni's she posted a Cis-Privilege Bingo card that has statements in quotations which supposedly show how someone can demonstrate their "cis-privilege". I could certainly see how some of them are inappropriate to say but I found many of them to be ridiculous. One in particular struck a nerve with me. "My taxpayer's dollars shouldn't have to pay for someone's personal choice." How is this demonstrating cis-privilege? I don't want my tax money to pay for someone's nose job, boob job or gastric bypass either. Does that mean that I dislike people with messed up noses, small boobs or are morbidly obese? Or does it mean that I have more privilege than those people because my nose and boobs are fine and I'm height/weight proportioned? And if it does mean that am I just supposed to be happy about my hard earned money going to their surgeries?

If you state that you use the term privilege because you want it to go away and you want everyone to be treated fairly, then stop using the term. Stop telling white men they're privileged. Stop telling minorities they're underprivileged. Stop putting people into categories and labeling them just because of their skin color, sex, gender, religion, etc. Because as far as I can tell, doing this is only keeping people in those categories. Not only that but not all white men or white women have the same privileges. Just like not all minorities have the same under-privileges. There's so many different factors that go into privilege that you cannot just label "privileged" or "underprivileged" on people as you see them.

I believe that by using terms like privilege and cisgender, especially negatively, people are just creating more lines and distinctions. Is there a fight that still needs to be fought for equality? Absolutely. But it's not about placing a "privileged" label on every white man or woman just because you feel they have privilege. Like I mentioned, the people who need to be blamed for causing people to have "privilege" or to be "underprivileged" in the first place are the people who are racists and sexists.

Deep Throat of the Day: Yeah, I shit my pants. So what? =)

13 comments:

Dark Damian said...

I agree. Anytime people apply labels, whether for good or for evil, it diminishes the subject. The issue isn't privilege or lack thereof; it's what people do with/about their situations. If being a white male was all the privilege needed, there'd be no white male homeless people. Obviously the key is what you DO with this 'privilege'. If you use it to keep others down, you're an asshole. If you use it to uplift people around you, you're a good person. If you use it to advance yourself with no eye toward others....well, that's your right, and you owe nothing to anyone. Instead of looking for labels, let's just take 'em all off and live our lives to the best of our abilities.

hotdrwife said...

Long ass comment on the horizon!!

I grew up in a small town. My dad was a successful farmer and rancher. He has a ag business degree and taught math for many years prior. I remember getting bullied by one girl in my class who kept saying, "you're rich" and "you have everything" because we had a nice house (and really, it was average at best, but it sat up on a hill and apparently that meant something?). Regardless, I came home crying. My dad sat me down and said, "I worked HARD for this. Don't let her get to you, because this was my blood, sweat and tears. Be proud of this." My parents didn't give us TV's in our room or money just because. We worked on the farm. We earned our allowance. We had jobs. We had responsibility.

My husband grew up in a home where his parents were both school teachers in the public school system, and his dad worked two extra jobs so they (my husband and his sister) could go to college, and so the family wouldn't have any debt (I'm pretty damn sure he paid his house off in record time in the 60's).

My husband went to state school and was an alternate (barely) to get into medical school. He busted his ass to get good grades, went through residency and fellowship, and now has a good job (never mind that he curses his career choice every other day).

I'd never say he was a "privileged person" by how he grew up, but that hard work and dedication put him where he is today. He busted ASS and this is his reward.

Anyway, I liked your post, honey. You did a great job of making your point and you did it fabulously. And I love you even more for the pant-shitting story. xooxoxoxo

f1trey said...

oh ...i am so sorry darlin... i know yorue ok with it now....if i had been there...in kindergardwn...ida gotten ma ball out and let her have it!

Hubman said...

"The point I'm trying to make is that drive and determination do not see color, sex or religion." <-- this statement says it all for me, and captures why the discussion of privilege drives me nuts.

I'm confused by all the cis- and trans- stuff. The only cis- and trans- I know are used to describe stereoisomers in chemistry. (Yes, I'm a dork, so sue me...)

You rock April! Even if you did shit yourself as a kid ;-)

Southern Sage said...

I'm with Hubman believe it or not on the trans and cis, the only trans I know is Trans Am.

The problem with the vigilant is they more often than not hurt their cause. What they aren't smart enough to understand is THEY are the ones applying tags and categorizing themselves.

I am privileged though. I am privileged that my parents taught me that I needed to earn what I got. They taught me that you judge a man by the content of his character only. And I am privileged to have been born free, even though we are voting that away every chance we get, I was born free. Being born and living in America makes me privileged compared to the rest of the world, I can be whatever I want to be as long as I am willing to work for it.

True story to go with yours about your color, the bride ran child care for the state when we first got married HER BOSS told her once when she was trying to help some folks get state paid child care "Honey dem folks ain't the right color to git they stuffs paid fo"

HER FUCKING BOSS SAID THAT!

Anyway, great post. Perfect.

If you could go back you coulda done like a chimp at the zoo and just reached in your drawers and thrown it at the sub!

Barefoot Dreamer said...

*done laughing at Sage's last line.

Now... didn't read any of the posts you are referring to - and not going to pretend I did.

But - I love that you shared your story. But, more so I love how you stated your case. you have me convinced.

I do agree that when we start making issues where they don't need to be we cause problems. I believe we work for what we have and we lose it when we feel "deserving"

love your fire girl

Grant said...

I was once in a writer's group that was run by a group of women pursuing a degree in literature. I discovered that the degree was actually about feminism. They rigidly taught (and had graphs to back their views) that privilege comes from three things - race, sex, and wealth/power. According to their charts, any homeless white dude in America is twice as privileged as, say, Condaleeza Rice. Somehow it escaped their notice that the black woman in our group was receiving enough financial aid that she was able to live on her own while pregnant and was finishing her PhD for free, the white women were getting nearly free education (they had to teach a few classes) and were able to get by on their boyfriends' salaries, and I, the one member of the uber-privileged majority present, was paying for an undergraduate degree with a combination of work and government loans. I love it when education overrides reality.

ceedee said...

Sorry for the long comment!

I agree that drawing lines through society alienates people and tends to keep people down. In my mind, privilege is more centered upon poverty - specifically growing up without poverty. Before I moved to Philly, I thought everyone had a (somewhat) equal shot at life - to be whatever they wanted to be. However, after seeing the poverty that is rampant in the city, I can see that privilege has it's, for lack of a better term, privileges, so to speak. I'm at an Ivy League school, surrounded by the bounty of privilege. Just a few blocks from here is a high school that does not have books. A school without books? What kind of a school is that? Well, it's a school without computers, without educational tools and with a nearly 60% drop out rate. It's a school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. The majority of these kids, despite being within a few miles of several different universities and colleges, do not attend college. Some kids just seem to have insurmountable odds against them, and those odds seem to be centered around poverty. I like the idea of "curing poverty", and, thus, making the playing field more even, but I'm not sure how we can do this. I think improving education is a good start, but with all the bureaucracy in Philly, lord knows when that will happen. Sadly, a school district right outside the city has such an excess of money they can give each incoming 9th grader laptops (and have been using them to spy on the kids). The inequality is staggering, but what can be done?
While I'm not disagreeing with people whose families have worked hard and earned everything they have through hard work and determiniation, I do believe inequality exists and we should do something to change that.
Thanks for this post, April, it was well written and I think it made a lot of valid points.

ceedee said...

Sorry for the long comment!

I agree that drawing lines through society alienates people and tends to keep people down. In my mind, privilege is more centered upon poverty - specifically growing up without poverty. Before I moved to Philly, I thought everyone had a (somewhat) equal shot at life - to be whatever they wanted to be. However, after seeing the poverty that is rampant in the city, I can see that privilege has it's, for lack of a better term, privileges, so to speak. I'm at an Ivy League school, surrounded by the bounty of privilege. Just a few blocks from here is a high school that does not have books. A school without books? What kind of a school is that? Well, it's a school without computers, without educational tools and with a nearly 60% drop out rate. It's a school in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. The majority of these kids, despite being within a few miles of several different universities and colleges, do not attend college. Some kids just seem to have insurmountable odds against them, and those odds seem to be centered around poverty. I like the idea of "curing poverty", and, thus, making the playing field more even, but I'm not sure how we can do this. I think improving education is a good start, but with all the bureaucracy in Philly, lord knows when that will happen. Sadly, a school district right outside the city has such an excess of money they can give each incoming 9th grader laptops (and have been using them to spy on the kids). The inequality is staggering, but what can be done?
While I'm not disagreeing with people whose families have worked hard and earned everything they have through hard work and determiniation, I do believe inequality exists and we should do something to change that.
Thanks for this post, April, it was well written and I think it made a lot of valid points.

April said...

Ceedee: No need to apologize for the long comment. (I feel I have one coming too.) I agree with everything you wrote. I do believe there are inequalities and I do believe that education is poorer for some people than it is for others. And I most certainly believe that these things need to be fixed.

But I don't believe the answer to fixing these things is to pin the labels of privileged and under-privileged on people. (not that you said it was) I'm sure the people who use these terms will tell me that they're not trying to make people feel bad, but that's not how it's perceived at all by many people.

Now if someone who is deemed to have privilege acts like an asshole to those who are deemed to be under-privileged? Well that's a problem. Not because he/she is privileged but because he/she is an asshole.

My bottom line is that privilege isn't the problem and labeling people isn't the answer. The people who live in the school district with money for laptops are not the reason why the inner city schools don't have money. Privilege isn't something that's clear cut either.

It's funny you mention Philly because I have an Aunt who's taught in Philly (where I was also born) for over 20 years. She's told me about some of the schools who don't have the proper teaching tools. What she says (I don't have proof to back this up, only her words) the reason they don't have resources for the schools in the poverty stricken neighborhoods is because the children steal and vandalize the books and equipment and there isn't enough money to keep replacing it. If that IS true, then who do you feel bad for? It's hard to feel bad for someone who ruins their only means of learning. Maybe that sounds cold hearted because maybe those children don't know any better. And if that's the case, then what do you do to teach these children right from wrong? Do you have to start with the parents?

I completely understand that it's a vicious cycle but I do not have an answer as to how to fix it. I just know that labeling people isn't helping the cause.

Thank you for your comment, Ceedee, and thank you for your compliment.

九份 said...

以簡單的行為愉悅他人的心靈,勝過千人低頭禱告。........................................

Southern Sage said...

I had an additional comment but the commenter right above me took the words right outta my mouth.

The Gold Digger said...

My husband thinks I should be more in favor of government handouts because I come from such an "underprivileged" background and hence should feel sympathy for The Poor. You know - my dad in the air force, so I had to pay for my own college. Oh, the horror!

He thinks that because I managed to put myself through college and grad school and because my dad put himself through college (GI Bill, first and only one in his family to go to college) that I am too hard on other people, thinking that they too can accomplish such a thing.

I am SO MEAN, expecting people to work for things instead of getting a handout.