Sunday, 12 August 2012
White privilege and why it's so hard to acknowledge:
Well for me anyway. Trigger warnings for discussion of social justice issues, irrational feelings, discussion of racism and having issues, privilege and other things.
I'm going to try to be honest here, I'm trying to feel my way through why I struggle with acknowledging and tackling my white privilege. This is how I feel, it may be right, it may be wrong, it is intended to be nothing more than an analysis of why I struggle.
Why I struggle with white privilege and it's acknowledgement:
1. It's awfully hard to feel you're privileged in some way, when all your life you've been treated like crap because of what's between your legs, who you love, your disabilities and your poverty.
The problem with having one privilege and multiple marginalisations is that it's like the emperor's clothing, everyone else says you have it but ultimately you just feel like you're running around naked while everyone insists you're dressed. It's hard to feel privileged when disablism, sexism, classism and many more isms take center stage in your life on a regular basis.
When someone says I have white privilege, well it's a little like being told that I didn't get shit on some tiny part of me that I can't really see after someone pushed me into a dungheap. The fact that everywhere else is covered tends to be far more noticeable and it's hard to feel grateful for a tiny clean part that isn't really beneficial, more so when someone who is say able bodied, straight, well off, and cis-gendered is holding forth about how great white privilege supposedly is and how it completely changes my life. (which is a form of belittling other marginalisations imho I may not suffer from racism but that doesn't magically make other isms disappear from my life)
This is perhaps what makes white privilege lists look rather ignorant about other marginalisations, I've yet to see one that didn't mostly include:
1a. Things that should be a human right. A right is not a privilege. The problem is someone doesn't have it not that someone else has it.
1b. Things which still happen to other minorities just for different reasons.
This is perhaps one thing I would criticise about the anti-racism social justice movement, there does seem to be an assumption and attitude that race, racism and race privilege exist in proverbial isolated towers untouched by anything around them. Intersectionalism seems to vanish in race and racism discussions replaced by an apparent belief on the part of many people that white = straight, able bodied, rich cis gendered man somehow to the rest of the world because apparently white privilege magically means my disability, gender, sexuality, disabilities, mental health issues, and everything else is suddenly treated like I'm privileged in those areas as well.
2. I don't feel very privileged when I'm nursing yet another black eye or recovering from abuse I've received at the hands of a PoC who is pissed at their marginalisation and decided to take it out on me because I couldn't fight back. I'm a good target for abuse and I've been abused lots, I think the biggest reason for PoC doing it is that I'm white and they can safely take their anger out on me.
Privilege isn't really any great shakes when not only is it largely swamped by your other marginalisations but it ends up nearly hospitalising you repeatedly.
3. Sadly sometimes it really does sound like many PoC are saying that no discrimination exists apart from Racism (and whatever other minorities they belong to). I'm not sure if it's me mishearing sometimes but sometimes it's quite clear that some people of color do think that discrimination is only something that happens to them.
People have a bad habit of treating privilege lists like they're absolute and like if you're not PoC then any negative consequences like not being hired for a job based on being a minority somehow doesn't happen to minority people who happen to be white. This can be bloody irritating, could you imagine being told that any privilege you have automatically cancels out racism entirely? If you can, you may understand just how infuriating this attitude can be.
4. Here's where we get into parts that are perhaps irrational and emotional. I often feel resentful that after all the shit I've been through from both sides, I'm often apparently expected to take the blame as well for the system that also fucks over me. Believe me, this system is the last thing I fucking want either.
I'm white, this does not make me the avatar of the whole white race or mean I'm responsible for every shitty thing a white person did ever. I can accept that as a whole white people help create and feed into this system, even when we don't intend to, I however object to being solely fucking responsible for it as some people seem to believe I am or at least act like I am.
5. I often resent that some people of color seemingly think that their anger at being marginalised on the basis of race makes it okay for them to say horribly bigoted things that hurt other minorities. There's a line between being pissed, and being a bigoted asshole because you're pissed then denying it just because a white person called you on the bigoted thing you said.
No, I'm not saying you should be "nice", but not having to ask nicely for your rights? Should not translate into a right to be a bigoted asshole to others and to get away with it because you're angry at your marginalisation as some people seem to think it does.
6. Yes, we've all heard the white guy whining about how "blacks can be racist as well" and bawling about how his PoC teacher was supposedly mean and against him, he's an asshole. But to me there's a difference between him and someone like me talking about how they've been subject to violence, abuse and prejudice because they're a target that can't fight back when some rich, cis-gendered, able bodied straight PoC man decides that he wants to take his experience of racial marginalisation out on someone weaker and more marginalised than him.
I often do get quite angry that we're basically treated the same, if I talk about the definite harm a PoC did to me on account of my race? I get jumped all over no matter where or how I do it. My intention is not to be that whiney guy crying "racism goes both ways", they are to sometimes remind PoC that privilege does not make having someone be a violent prejudiced assholes to us any more pleasant. It doesn't heal broken bones any faster, or stop the panic attacks caused by such treatment.
7. As I said before, I've been a victim of quite a bit of "revenge" attacks by PoC who decided I would make an adequate verbal or physical punchbag for their rage. It's hard to feel very privileged over a group that has used you as a punchbag quite a bit. I understand that anger isn't rational, but then neither is PTSD, and it's that which makes me feel like I have to make myself as small and nonthreatening as possible in the presence of PoC because they might get angry, and that's when I get hurt.
So realistically, I don't feel privilieged because I'm marginalised, because PoC and many others seem to be able to treat me as a punchbag without fear, because I find some of the things said to be quite irritating. These feelings might be irrational, they might be unacceptable, they definitely human, I think most of them have some basis, at the very least in terms of being feelings, whether or not they're non-problematic is another matter.
I was brought up in a very racist house, and sometimes I'll catch myself thinking things I should know better than to think, it's a constant effort to change. Somedays I'm not sure if I can, sometimes I realise I've gone a whole week without thinking something stupid about race.
My point in writing this was to organise my emotional thoughts, and to see if I could do better. I don't think I am very good at this social justice thing when it comes to race. I know I struggle with race issues. I'm hoping to continue to improve, and I'm hoping to grow.