Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Guilt, Privilege and the Pain of Living in a World of Domination

Someone close to me is in pain because he feels marginalized for who he is: a white male.

He's basically a "gender-blind", "colour-blind" regular Nice GuyTM who believes in equality for all. He sees people as human first and wants the same from others. The common definitions of sexist and/or racist (seen as individual attitudes or prejudices) do not apply to him.

But there's a deeper, structural understanding of racism & sexism as a system of power that goes far beyond any individual beliefs or discrimination. In other words, we are all racist and sexist because we participate (i.e. live) in a racist, patriarchal system of dominance. That doesn't mean we're all Ann Coulter. It also doesn't remove our responsibility to try to do something about the system.

As a feminist, anti-racist activist, this interests me, of course. This is a situation in which all the theories I read are pretty irrelevant - here there is pain; there is real anger and hurt.

This young man hurts because he is labeled privileged, simply because he's a white male, something he did not choose and cannot change. But as a youth who grew up poor, in a household with violence, in an unhelpful school system with bullies, believe me, he had no silver spoon. He looks at his life and asks a very fair question: how can this be what privilege looks like?

If it wasn't someone I care about I could perhaps blithely respond: yes there is privilege, if you don't see it it's because you don't have to (your denial proves your privilege and dominance, which is maintained precisely because of its invisibility to those who possess it), there's nothing more to discuss. Of course, that is me talking to the figurative, metaphorical, representation which is "White Man", not to every real individual white man. This is is the real world, and individuals have real feelings and experiences that cannot be adequately captured in such simple statements. As progressives I believe we don't want to alienate those who are trying to make the world a better place, especially by hurting them. That simply drives them into the arms of the right-wingers: Might as well get a shotgun and a gas guzzler and become a real racist sexist prick, since that is what I'm assumed to be anyways.

When we are able and have the energy to do so, I think there is a point to helping those with privilege learn how to accept and understand it, so they can become our allies, even as we continue to learn about our own privilege, and how we ourselves perpetuate oppressions.

The truth is, privilege and oppression are extremely complex. White people and men of different backgrounds have different levels of access to social resources, power and status. Economic class, language, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, even the neighbourhood a person lives in makes a difference. Aside from the intersection of many forms of oppression exist other contradictory examples. Here's one for ya: Patriarchy harms men. Patriarchy privileges men. I believe those two statements are not mutually exclusive.

From Pain and Progress (on the awesome XY site):
Because sexism hurts all men as well as women the ending of sexism is entirely in the interests of all men and all women. The "privileges" of patriarchy are paltry compared to the enormous cost we pay to maintain them. We give up so much of our humanness to become sexist patriarchs and no man who could clearly see what he has lost and is still losing by maintaining patriarchy would hesitate to give it all up. For example the power accorded to us by patriarchy is as nothing compared to the joy of real human connections to other people, men, women and children, based on equality and true relationship. We can't exercise this power and have truly equal relationships with women.

Interestingly, marginalization is at issue here too. Now we know that it is the white male perspective that is the "invisible" perspective: the universal position of imagined objectivity. Those on the margins have historically been silenced. Recognizing viewpoints that come from different experiences is an important part of our work. This does not necessarily mean that an individual white male is given a forum or platform (which are of course not identical to the dominant mainstream white supremacist viewpoint), meaning our theories do not resonate within him. They don't jive with his experience, so he may turn away from feminism and anti-racist activism completely.

I think growing our movements and building coalitions means trying to understand the pain we all experience as both oppressors and oppressed.

From Trauma and Oppression, Chapter 4 of Power-Under: Trauma and Nonviolent Social Change, from which I've quoted before:
One of the distinctive features of our social/economic/political system is the way in which it parcels out privilege and power-over. While there are enormous concentrations of wealth, status and power at the top, there are also infinite gradations of economic, social and political standing throughout the rest of the society. The result is that while virtually everyone is oppressed in some significant way, almost everyone also has access to some type of privilege and to one or more oppressor roles. This is an aspect of what Aurora Levins Morales calls the "interpenetration of institutional systems of power."
Most white people and most heterosexuals and most able-bodied people and most people who hold wealth beyond their needs simply think of themselves as normal, and think of their privileges as something that they have earned or that they deserve or that give them some modicum of social value and self-respect. People from oppressed constituencies who aspire to privilege and dominance surely do not think in terms of aspiring to become oppressors, but in terms of achieving statuses and positions from which they have been categorically excluded.

At the other end of the spectrum, when people identify as victims of oppression, it can all too easily block their willingness or ability to recognize the ways in which they also hold privilege and dominant roles.
As victims we are understandably preoccupied with our own experience of being acted upon in utter disregard for our worth as human beings. Our suffering unavoidably fills up our entire psychological landscape and – to the extent that we are politically conscious of oppression – our political landscape. The overwhelming impact of trauma can make it difficult or impossible to believe that the suffering of other oppressed groups could be as serious or as profound as our own.

I know this has been a long and rambling post. I'd be interested to hear other thoughts on this.


Dr.Dawg said...

In brief: neither sexism nor racism exist on a level playing field. They're not just about attitude: they're about power. Funny how we subjugate a "race" or a gender--and then we whine about "colour-blindness" or "gender-blindness" when the subjugated ask for rectification.

Your young white male needn't worry about being in certain areas of town after dark; need never worry about (his own) unwanted pregnancy; is not used to sell commodities. When he walks into a room, there is real and implied power that possesses that he most likely isn't even aware of.

If he wants to find out about privilege, let him challenge other men--on sexist jokes or abuse, for example. He'll discover pretty quickly that this is no easy row to hoe.

That guy said...

I mostly agree with Dr Dawg, although I'm not actually sure that your friend "needn't worry about being in certain areas of town after dark;" it depends on the part of town.

But I think there's another problem here, which your post is more or less circling: that privilege varies widely on the individual level. Most of what we think about how power and privilege operate in society derives from a social science model: in other words, it depends on statistical generalizations. While those generalizations do have merit, they tell the story of groups, not individuals.

So, for example, there's no way that your friend can possibly think of himself as privileged compared to, say, the Governor General (implying nothing derogatory about her, of course). He's not.

Chris Benjamin said...

This was a thoughtful and excellent post, RJ. As a white male, also from a not great economic background, also with what most lefties would consider progressive politics, I too feel that hurt when people reject me because of my assumed priviledge.

My perspective is that I do have certain priviledges that are based on being a white male, of a certain age as well, culturally christian - no one ever sees me as just a token or looks at the things I've accomplished and says I got them by being a minority. rarely do people follow me around a store assuming I'll steal shit. i've never had to wonder if I didn't get the job because of my name or my looks. these are priviledges.

but as you said, priviledge and oppression are very complex, and my own priviledge can be oppressive in that, I feel, if anyone remains oppressed than we all do. and if people assume bad things about me because of my race and gender, then that does hurt me. this has hurt me most when i travelled to places where i was no longer of the racial majority and the same bad assumptions were amplifed and thrown in my face regularly, but even in canada it can hurt me.

on the subject of colour blind and gender blind, i wouldn't describe myself that way. i'm not blind to colour, gender, religion, or other ways people identify themselves are are identified by others - i'm very aware of them, and their importance, but also the danger of reducing one's identity to categories. that is part of what i feel makes me progressive.

Chris Benjamin said...

I want to add that the problem with priviledge is that the term implies that some have it and others don't. It is not what white men have that is the problem so much as what everyone else is denied. Obviously the two are linked, but sometimes I think too much focus is given to what white men or whatever priviledged group has, versus giving the same to others.

Also, just read 'The Age of Iron' by Coatzee; it's a thought-provoking treatment of a dying white woman in 1990 South Africa trying to come to terms with her own priviledge and guilt in the face of a national racial war.

Red Jenny said...

Very interesting comments. I've been feeling a bit disenchanted lately, largely sparked by some of the vitriole we saw flying around the Aboriginal Day of Action last week. My concern with this post was not about proving the existence of privilege and oppression, which of course exists. My concern was more about how to draw allies. So, Dawg, the privileges you list are all true, of course, but sometimes pushing them without any understanding and validation simply alienates allies because they feel hurt. Now it is not the obligation of women or people of colour to learn men or white people about what sexism and racism means, but when we have the energy to do so and when people are reaching out it can be productive. I think particularly for feminists, there needs to be an understanding of how patriarchy harms men - for example, having to fit into a strictly dictated masculinity. A boy who is beat up for being too feminine (like maybe he doesn't feel comfortable making rude and sexist comments about girls) suffers because of patriarchy. A man who feels what we call "maternal" instinct but would be ridiculed and maybe fired if he asked to take paternity leave. These are not equivalents to the threat of sexual violence, and other feminist concerns, but validating them can be an important stepping stone for getting beyond this weird anti-feminism that is the norm today.

Also, as Chester points out, oppression and privilege are social conditions not necessarily individual conditions. Why? Because individuals are made up of an intersection of identities: a white person could also be homeless, mentally ill, disabled, gay. That's a lot of intersections of oppression and privilege. A wealthy woman of colour might look at the man and see a privileged white person while the white guy looks at the WOC and see a privileged wealthy person. Oppression and privilege are important concepts, but they describe structural, social conditions, not necessarily conditions of individual experience. We live in a culture of domination - dominate or be dominated - and this infects even our progressive movements. How can it not?

Many people are also angry, usually based on individual hurt and fear, but often stereotyped to a group. For example, who wouldn't understand a woman who was raped who might have a generalized fear of men - which might come out as rage against men sometimes. I think this is part of our protective psychological mechanisms, but sometimes they can themselves be harmful. What about the man that loves and enters into a relationship with that woman, and he now has to feel the consequences caused by another man.

Then, too, what about when we are the agents of our own oppression. A simple example is that I see many young women (myself included) who automatically serve their boy friends, boyfriends, and husbands - with sex, or food, or whatever. This is usually because it is a way to show we care, but it can perpetuate our own oppressions. The man can get used to it, and when we finally say: gee could you cook some time, he might say: but I thought you liked it, you do it so much.

Dr.Dawg said...

I'm OK with making allies, usually pretty good at doing it in my former line of work, and recognize that one has to be strategic about confronting these things. I would argue that privilege is a conjuncture of class, "race" and gender, and hence individuals will be placed at different rungs of the ladder. The young man in question doesn't have to be confronted, but long discussions might be useful as the bridge-building continues.

The point is, however, to build bridges to somewhere. We simply cannot accept the fact that "racism is racism," or "sexism is sexism," placing the same moral weight upon a Black man or a woman using an insult against the oppressor as the oppressor does to keep the oppressed in their place.

In any case, we do get placed at different rungs, as noted--the task is to get rid of the ladder.

Dr.Dawg said...

Not "the fact," of course, but "the claim."

KC said...

As I've commented on your blog before I just think that "privilege" is far too complex and nuanced for blunt policies based on generalizations about privilege and predjudice based on race/gender/etc to actually increase justice and fairness. "Privilege" is so multidimensional. Whatever privilege one might have vis-a-vis another because they are white and male (two factors that are considered in affirmative action type policies) are often counter balanced by the fact that one comes from a lower class family, that they are phyically unattractive, or that they have experienced other prejudices in life based on other irrelevant factors, etc. The latter are all factors that are never addressed (and for practical reasons perhaps never can be) in programs designed to correct what you call "privilege".

In other words, an ugly poor white male whose parents never read to him as a child, who was bullied at school, and has big bucked teeth because he could never afford braces, and a minority female who came from a good family and had all the advantages of life (straight teeth, popular in school, parents read to her) walk into a room. You cant tell me that the white male is--in the end--in a "privileged" position. Hes just not. And whats worse because of blunt policies based on simplistic generalized assumptions about the nature of peoples life experiences based on only a few dimensions of "privilege" (race, gender, etc.) that person suffers a further disadvantage. Some might call that justice. I certainly dont.

My view is that even if the ends of creating a playing field justifies the procedural discrimination--and I dont believe it does--you still have to deal with the fact that to the extent that "justice" is enhanced by recognizing and adjusting for a few dimensions of privilege it detracts from justice because it exacerbates the injustice of other dimentions of privilege.

Those are my two cents. And before anyone accuses me of just trying to protect my existing privilege I should note that while I consider myself to be a caucasian male (I am 7/8 European and 1/8 Chinese) and have never "checked the box" so to speak on an application, the overwhelming majority of people with whom the topic has came up assumed I was either First Nations, asian, or generally "not quite white" because of my quite dark complexion and facial features generally. Almost no one has ever told me they think I'm just white. When I look back at all of the factors that have shaped who I am and the "privilege" that I have the calculus is far far more complex than the colour of my skin. Even my lower class background is decieving because my parents (both extremely intelligent people by objective measures) chose a lifestyle that didnt involve making a lot of money but were still intellectually nurturing.

Anonymous said...

I think your friend has a point. I know as a working class kid that i have had far more barriers to social mobility than all the rich kid women you get at my university and thats despite living in patriarchy. Its something that really gets pushed way to the margins your side of the atlantic in leftie discourse: the issue of class

TomCat said...

My perspective: white, male, fat, not very good looking, very poor.

Stereotypes into which I fit easily: none.

Positions on rights: have always supported equal rights for Women and minorities. Supporting equal rights tor the LGBT community took longer, but I got there.

As long as we see each other as groups, there will be friction and stereotyping. Seeing each other as individuals, without bias, is hard to so, but shouldn't that be our goal?

Anonymous said...

Hey Jenny

very thoughtful post, and comments.

my perspective is that everything is relative, and everything is constructed, and we often cannot see past our own perspectives. I tend to think along the lines of the common philosophical point, all else being equal. So, when everything but one factor affecting identity is the same, such as both persons are poor, white, disabled, queer, but one is a man and one is a woman, privilege attaches to the man. All else being equal, he is privileged in relation to the woman in the same position.

I have found this pretty helpful as a tool for explaining privilege to those who don't quite "get it" in the way we would like them to. might be helpful for speaking to your friend.

Anonymous said...

What an absolute load of unthinking garbage.

I think this quote sums up your whole post:

"yes there is privilege, if you don't see it it's because you don't have to (your denial proves your privilege and dominance, which is maintained precisely because of its invisibility to those who possess it), there's nothing more to discuss."

This line of 'reasoning' is wholly circular. A white male is privileged, and if he doesn't believe it he should realize that the proof of his privilege lies in the fact that he cannot find any proof. It is possible to use this sort of 'logic' to prove *literally* anything. I'll provide you with a few examples:

Proof #1) Raping women is good. The fact that women can't see the benefits of being raped proves that those benefits exist and women should be grateful to receive them.

Proof #2) God exists and demands that women subordinate themselves beneath men. The fact that we are unable to find any evidence of god or his demands proves that they are both real.

Proof #3) Slavery was a good deal for blacks. The fact that blacks are unable to find anything positive about slavery proves that it was beneficial to them.

I chose some extreme examples to get your attention. Strictly speaking, however, the logic in my examples is exactly the same as that which you employed to 'prove' the existence of white privilege. Though it should be blindingly obvious, I don't expect you to be able to easily see the absolute symmetry between the examples I have just given and the line of 'reasoning' that you employed. The reason for this is that your mind has obviously been traumatically warped from overexposure to the writings of psudo-intellectual posers such as those you quote further down in your OP.

White privilege is a socially constructed myth, just like every other form of so-called privilege you neo-Marxists dream up to justify your kleptomaniacal 'entitlement programs'. An individual white person can certainly be privileged, but to say that an entire race of people is privileged over another race is insane. It is literally insane. Your friend makes an excellent example. How could he be privileged over the children of someone like Bill Cosby, Barak Obama, or Condolisa Rice? He couldn't be and he isn't. No sane person could say that he is and if you do, you're a nut.

Perhaps you are thinking that the example I have just brought up is an exception and not the rule. That's my whole point. Even if you could make the case that members of one group are, on average, better off according to some objective measure than members of some other group there would always be exceptions. To deny this is to deny reality. So then, how do we determine who is privileged and who is not? If we can't simply decide based on skin color (a very racist thing to do, my little so-called anti-racist) then how are we to determine who has more 'unearned privilege' than someone else?

That's a really tough problem with no real solution. After all, how do we objectively decide what privileges are unearned and who has more of them? Attractive people tend to have more opportunities in life than unattractive people. This is a fact, do a little research if you doubt it. The same is true of charismatic and likable people. It's also true of smart people, people with athletic talent, people who know successful people, ambitious people, and a whole host of other 'categories' of people that we could artificially subdivide the human race into. Who's to say that these advantages - these privileges - that these people enjoy are fair? How do we rate them one against the other? What if one person is born white but poor and another person is born black and rich, how then do we decide which of them enjoys more unearned privilege? How do we objectively decide if one person is more or less privileged than another? There is no real answer to this question.

Now, how could we 'fairly' balance out all of these 'unearned privileges' that we're having such trouble defining and measuring? We can't, there is no 'fair' way to do such a thing because there is no way to objectively determine privilege. Privilege can only be determined subjectively. Because of this, any attempt to determine privilege must suffer from bias that will undervalue some privilege, overvalue other privilege, and even ignore certain types of privilege all together. This is precisely why any exercise that attempts to 'correct' the 'problem' of 'unearned privilege' by coercion or redistribution will simply create more of it. This is also why the methods of eliminating various forms of 'privilege' endorsed by radical extremists such as yourself really amount to nothing more than chasing shadows - you're not solving any problems, you're simply making new ones whose solutions will always seem just out of reach.

I am quite skeptical that you have ever given any real thought to this issue or to your beliefs concerning it. I certainly hope you haven't, because if you have you shouldn't hold the uncritical views on privilege that you espouse - not if you have any conscience what-so-ever. It is absolutely unfair to simply state that a person enjoys a position of privilege based solely upon their race while ignoring all other factors in their life. As I've already shown, any real determination of privilege would be so complex as to be nearly impossible. Your unsophisticated treatment of the subject leaves much to be desired.

The oversimplification of the topic of privilege that you have shown should be unacceptable to someone in possession of both a soul and even modest intellectual abilities. The only sort of people who could embrace an argument with such glaring errors would be those who didn't care about the principles involved at all. Perhaps someone who sees some level of political utility in the position, despite its moral emptiness. Someone who believes that they can use the faulty conclusions of that vacuous line of thought to further their own ends at the expense of others about whom they care little. Sound like someone you've seen recently - maybe in your mirror?

The 'unearned privilege' argument you make is first order bunk, and I have completely deconstructed it. I think it's outrageous that you would attempt to lay such unearned guilt at the feet of a person whose obviously had a rough go in life. The young man about whom you wrote your OP is guilty of nothing but having poor taste in confidants.

Red Jenny said...

Hi KC, I do agree that it is multidimensional, but when we can see patterns of harm we should do what we can to correct them. Every individual's life is a complex interwoven mesh of both oppression and privilege. But as TG says, in order to really get it, you have to imagine all else being equal. So think about your "ugly poor white male whose parents never read to him as a child, who was bullied at school, and has big bucked teeth because he could never afford braces" - now imagine that same person as "an ugly poor white woman whose parents never read to her as a child, who was bullied at school, and has big bucked teeth because she could never afford braces". Or imagine him as a person of colour. Do you imagine he would be better off or worse off?

Stixzz, class is absolutely fundamental. Think about some rich dude who has no idea what it is like not to know where his next meal is coming from. He has a fancy car and nice clothes so is always treated with respect. He did well in businesss school (paid for by mommy and daddy) but works hard at his executive job. He feels he has no privilege, because he works hard. He thinks the woman who cleans his house is probably stupid, and the gas attendant who fills his car is probably lazy, and the panhandler is a drunk who can't manage money. He assumes this because he sees himself as a pretty smart hard worker, and he's doing fine. He can't even imagine the kind of life led by those of a lower class. Again, this is because individuals tend to generalize their specific experiences and assume others' are similar. Now this rich white dude can certainly be a nice guy, cares for his family, is smart, and works hard. That doesn't erase the fact of his privilege.

I think it is pretty natural to be keenly aware of the oppressions we face, but not so aware of our privileges. For me it has been an important project to recognize and come to terms with this in my own life, because it helps me to better understand social forces, and to be less judgemental. Of course the goal is to reduce these negative social forces, but in order to do that we have to listen to those who experience them - those same people who are usually marginalized because of their social position! I can tell you what my experience as a woman is like, and by listening to other women in different life situations, I can begin to construct an idea of what it means to be a woman in this society, and the forms of harm which are visited on women as women. A man comes along and tells me that these oppressions aren't true, because he hasn't experienced them, could be seen as a little crazy.

And as for you, jeolimos, perhaps you should actually read my post before you comment. Perhaps you had some comprehension problems?

Anonymous said...

Wow, that was a really pathetic response. I know Marxists are good at skirting difficult issues, but you didn't even try to offer any sort of rejoinder. I guess I shouldn't expect anything better, after all the facts are not on your side. You probably realize this and have wisely chosen to avoid engaging in anything resembling a defense of your position. Again, this is wise as your position is fundamentally indefensible - as I have quite clearly shown. It's good that you recognize your own limits.

I must say, I didn't expect your concession of defeat to come so easily. Do you always collapse so quickly when your ridiculous assertions are challenged? How disappointing - and I thought radicals such as yourself were supposed to be smart and self confident. Yet, you're not even up to the task of answering even the most basic of challenges to your dogma.

You are Sad. Sad. Sad. A true leftist, through and through.

Anonymous said...

stop being such an asshole, jeolimos. I know you probably think that you and your argument are quite brilliant, but unfortunately I think Jenny is right - you don't really understand the argument that she presented, and that others have also supported - others who, I'm quite certain, are likely smarter and more educated about this than you.

As I pointed out in the comment directly above yours, the common philosophical point all else being equal is key to understanding privilege. perhaps you should check out my previous comment and think about it for a good while before you simply write it off as bullshit. Another couple things that are kind of important in getting it about privilege are actually having an imagination, and having an honest willingness to understand how power relations construct our society in ways that are drastically negative for a lot of people - and in a lot of different ways. It is a mistake to compare oppressions, like you have attempted to do in your "deconstruction". It is wholly unproductive.

Perhaps you have something invested in not acknowledging that privilege exists? like maybe protecting your own social position and the unearned benefits that you have gained from it?

think about it.

Anonymous said...

To 'thinking' girl,

I'm not being an asshole, I'm simply treating you people with the respect you deserve.

The fact is that I do understand the 'arguments' made with respect to privilege which is why I am able to give such a valid criticism of it. However, the circular argument made in the OP is so bad that a discussion of privilege is really unnecessary to defeat it. You cannot simply assert something exists and offer the lack of evidence for that something as proof of it. You need to take some basic classes on philosophy and logic if you don't understand why that is so.

Your infernal that, by disagreeing with the opinions presented on privilege, I must be in denial about privilege is very similar. I could just as easily say that you are in denial about privilege as well. Unsubstantiated assertions do not an argument make. Unfortunately, unsubstantiated assertions are all that have been offered in support of the OP's position on privilege, and you aren't doing any better.

Comparing oppressions is a mistake? Why, because you say so? Sorry, that's not a good reason. Comparing 'oppressions' and 'unearned privileges' is an excellent way to point out that there are literally an uncountable number of each. Not only that, but there is a great deal of disagreement over just what constitutes 'oppression' and 'unearned privilege'. It is also an excellent way to show that, just because a person is 'privileged' in one area, that they are not necessarily a 'privileged' person generally speaking.

Because there exist a limitless number of difficult to define 'unearned privileges' and 'oppressions', it could easily be argued that every single person on earth suffers from some form of 'oppression' as well as benefits from some form of 'unearned privilege'. If you can't see that then *you* are not using your imagination, or your brain. Where does labeling every person on earth both a victim and an oppressor get us? No where. Only if we could some how objectively rank privilege could we even begin to say who was more 'oppressed' or 'privileged' than who.

You offer what you believe to be a clever solution to the above conundrum. You say that some factor in an individuals life makes them privileged, if all else being equal, that factor advantages them. Likewise, a factor in an individuals life makes them oppressed, if all else being equal, that factor disadvantages them. OK, that's fine. It doesn't change a thing.

Let's consider the young man spoken of in the OP. He is poor, white and male. You are saying that if he were poor and black, or poor and a woman, or poor and anything but a white male that his position would be even worse. Maybe that is so. Maybe he is privileged in that one way. Does that make him a privileged person, generally speaking? No, it doesn't. Why not? Well let's continue to use your reasoning to analyze his position and its privilege. Now, all else being equal, would he be better off if he were rich or if he were poor? Naturally he would be more advantaged if he were rich. Therefore, he is disadvantaged or unprivileged in this way. So we have discovered one way in which he could be said to be privileged and we have discovered another way in which he is unprivileged. Is he, generally speaking, a privileged person. I don't think so. There are literally tens of millions of financially well off women and minorities in the U.S. alone who, it could be easily argued, are far more privileged than this young man, all things considered. Obviously, saying that he is privileged simply because he is white, or male misses this fact completely and is therefore not only ridiculous, but completely unfair.

All factors in an individuals life need to be considered before one can be labeled as 'privileged' or 'unprivileged'. Simply classifying someone as privileged or unprivileged based on sex or skin color is not only a gross oversimplification that is intellectually unacceptable, but also sexist and racist. You need to understand that, and I really don't think you do. Sex or race alone cannot be used to determine someones privilege. To say that they can be used in such a way is unfair and intellectually lazy. This is why there is, really, no such thing as 'male privilege' or 'white privilege'. To say that someone is privileged, generally speaking, simply because they are male or white or whatever is simply untrue. Such broad, sweeping statements completely miss the fact that there are many people who fit into such categories who cannot be argued to be privileged, at least not by someone who's sane.

The 'all tings being equal' argument that you make cuts both ways. It cannot only be used to prove the existence of 'white privilege' or 'male privilege', it can be used to demonstrate the existence of all privilege. That's something you don't seem to fully realize. Once we have demonstrated that a person is privileged in some ways and unprivileged in others the only way to determine if that person is, on balance, a privileged person is to somehow rank all of the privileges and disadvantages so identified. As I've shown in a previous post, there is no objective way to do this.

A discussion of privilege on an individual level could be valid but, as I've shown, it's almost impossible to objectively rank individual privilege. A discussion of privilege based on some limited number of broad class considerations must be unfair because it will neglect to consider a number of privileges and oppressions that the individual members of those classes may not have in common. Therefore, the argument presented about privilege in the OP is invalid. I've made that unmistakably clear. If you can't see it then you're not trying. Perhaps it is you who have a vested interest in not understanding the true nature of privilege.

Honestly, if you people can't do any better than this I'm just going to write you off as yet another group of dogmatic leftist nuts.

Red Jenny said...

Yet again, jeolimos, I say you might actually read what I wrote because you'll see you're simply arguing against a straw man, not what I actually said. I'm not denying intersectionality - indeed it is central to my understanding of the issue. Just because privilege and oppression can't always be fit into neat boxes doesn't mean they don't exist.

Remember, too, that many forms of oppression are related. For example, class and race. People of colour are disproportionately represented among the poor.

This isn't a pissing contest. It isnt as though whoever has more factors of oppression wins. No, we concerned with analyzing social structures and systems of dominance so as to create a more just and equitable world.

Also, if you want to engage in a productive discussion you might want to consider not labeling people "pathetic" or as having no soul if they don't agree with you. As you can see by others who have commented here with a variety of different positions, there are actually constructive ways to disagree.

Anonymous said...

You say that I have not read your post and am arguing against a straw man. I have read your post. I am wondering if you have read mine. Let me make this really simple for you, because you just don't seem to be grasping my points. You are saying that your friend is privileged because he is a white male. I am saying he is not. I am saying that labeling him privileged simply because of sex and race is intellectually lazy and unfair.

Yes, you do pay lip service to the idea that there are many types of privilege and oppression. However, you seem completely unable to carry that concept through to its logical conclusion. Just because someone may have privilege in one area does not mean that they are really privileged in any meaningful way.

To truly determine privilege you must examine every aspect of an individuals life, taking into account all the privileges and disadvantages. If you did this you would be forced to conclude that your friend is *not* privileged. The fact that you still label him as privileged shows that you cannot escape the intellectual straight jacket of class that all Marxists wear. It also shows that you have no *real* understanding of what privilege is, and probably have no desire to learn if such knowledge is to your political disadvantage.

You know what, forget it. I've wasted enough time on this. If you don't get it by now you never will. You are either constitutionally incapable of understanding what's wrong with your position or you just don't care. Either way, I'm done with you.

Red Jenny said...

Well, thanks for stopping by.

Anonymous said...

jeez what an asshat.

i dunno how many times "privilege is relative" needs to be explained...

some people just don't get it. don't want to, is my guess. too much invested in hegemonic power structures, perhaps.


two crows said...

being a 'white' middle class, educated woman, I've long recognized, during my private moments, that I'm far better off [class-wise, financially, in general privileged ways I'm sure I don't even perceive] than 99+% of the people who've ever lived.
yet, when a man talks down to me, when I struggle to pay my bills, when I don't feel safe on the street after dark--even in a pretty safe part of town--etc. I notice.
or when jeolimos denies privilege while simultaneously falling into the stereotype-trap of labeling God as a 'He' [and making the point of the biggest privilege of all], I notice.

so much of our feeling of privilege or of oppression is one of comparison with others in our immediate vicinity -- rather than in the vague, generalized ways that I notice in those private, contemplative moments.
I hope this made sense. it did in my head--tho I'm not sure I can put it into words very effectively.

DBB said...

This post of yours inspired a post of my own (in part), just thought I'd mention it and give credit where credit is due.