A Question of Privilege

Although this is an old video listening to it really made me think. I loved studying sociology but it was only after I finished it as an A Level subject I discovered privilege. The concept that social inequality in society for some groups is framed by class, gender, race, orientation.

White Privilege
My introduction to the subject of privilege came through studying the theme of the video. White Privilege. For those who don’t understand that it’s a concept used in race studies which often explains how in Western society (English speaking and other) people and systems will lean more towards favouring those who are white. An ethnic penalty if you will. Societal institutions ensure that such privileges favour whites as a racial group in the media, politics, business and education.

Personally I hate dualism. Them and us arguments. White vs Black arguments. I find them silly especially as they tend to be based on premises of division as opposed to a meeting ground. Race as a social construct also excludes other skin complexions brown, bronze, yellow(?) and suggests that such a construct is a suitable way of analysing demographics. Yet no matter my opinion it is evident our criminal justice system, politics, consensus and many other institutions where we are identified other than by gender focus on race, regardless of the fact it is non scientific and is somewhat a divisive way of classifying people.

The trouble I have the term white privilege as a whole is the the grouping of all white people into one group. The disdain which many Brits have had for foreign workers from Eastern Europe for me remains a challenge. The way middle class communities and media look down their noses at working class. Chav. Gippo. White trash. Disadvantaged. Choose your label. Yet on the same token I can understand why some will see this an issue. For some evidence of this will be experiential and for others there are a wealth of studies which show that societies perceptions and expectations around social groups will tend to lean towards white privilege. Check missing white girl syndrome out in your own time.

Again my issue is that an all embracing term of white privilege conversely allows for generalisations to made about blacks, browns and all shades in between. I get the tone of the video but I think we are missing a bit of the puzzle here.

Male Privilege
Talking of privilege. Earlier today I was challenged on Twitter. Got me thinking about male privilege.

I had recommended a number of people on Twitter. I noted that in my network a lot of the educators who I saw as agitators and disrupters were male. So I asked the following:

A response came back that I would get a better responses if I asked for women educators instead of females. By default was to think what the heck? I pride myself as a feminist so this came as a broadside. I don’t believe my statement was inappropriate but it got me thinking

Do we use language as a a default that is inconsiderate to women across culture?
Is male privilege such a embedded part of the male psyche that we don’t even realise that we behave in that mode subconsciously?
Does male privilege domestic violence or rape towards women get dumbed down because men are mostly victims of violent crime, suicide and homelessness?

The following tweet today even compounded the thought some more.
https://twitter.com/GeorgeThePoet/status/343687183753953280

And yet male privilege has sub layers too. Of race. Power. Class. Orientation.
Which leads me to my last point about privilege.

Heteronormative Privilege
The debate about marriage equality has been disruptive. Not only has it had to challenge notions as to what people call ‘normal’ but brought into the open challenges to a one size fits all (if you pardon the pun) approach to sexuality.

The ideology about same gender relationships has by and large been formed by religion and cultures aligned to that religion. If you are heterosexual unless you have conversations with bisexual, homosexual or transgender friends (or strangers) about how much other people don’t feel ‘comfortable’ to talk about another variant of sexuality you will never understand this privilege.

When you are surrounded by a culture which will not bat an eyelid of two heteros holding hands or sucking face in a supermarket queue but will recoil if they saw the same with a homosexual or transgender person(s) it’s time to ask why. Even some of the most liberal people I know would still probably flinch if they saw a gay couple kissing at a marriage. And to make it even worse the fact remains that while it may cool here in the UK to accept same gender adults to be married or be in a civil union there are some countries for them to freely travel to and be a couple could end in bullying, imprisonment and in the worst case scenario, death.

Checking privilege is about debunking stereotypes. It is about not being afraid to ask questions where one is unclear instead of projecting our own stereotypes. I cannot check white privilege where I see it and at the same token tell my children they have to work twice as hard as whites to succeed. I cannot check my own male privilege and dismiss a woman who would have a problems with me calling them luv or darling. Men and women cannot check heteronormative privilege whilst treating someone who is LGBT as other.

It’s a heck of a lot unlearning. It is also an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and those around us. It’s a heck of a lot of privilege checking.
The thing is we probably don’t even realise the biases sitting in our subconscious until
we are confronted with something that takes us out of our comfort zone.
It’s deep right?

Additional reading:
Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack
I am comfortable in my own skin.

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3 thoughts on “A Question of Privilege

  1. I meant write with a pulse as a free-flowing means of giving your work a voice and being unique. Not an excuse to be grammatically lenient. Editing is a writer’s equal.

    Whether we embrace White Privilege or not is entirely up to us, but that does not mean we will not be a victim of it. I thought you might ask if White Privilege is effectively the same as saying Black Disadvantage. One would fuel incredible controversy, the other fuels opinion and cries of ‘reverse discrimination’ (another sign of privilege is this idea that white people are allowed and even expected to discriminate, but black people do not have the right to be. Think about it REVERSE is the problem. Not the DISCRIMINATION).
    You say: “The trouble I have the term white privilege as a whole is the the grouping of all white people into one group”.
    I have no trouble with White Privilege but this statement troubled me.
    It is not anything to do with grouping. It is not a personal choice. It is about known and unknown advantage. The advantage a white male baby born in Britain tomorrow would immediately have over a black male baby born in Britain today.
    If I think along the lines you have, then my problem with White Privilege is that putting myself through university twice, paying my taxes on time and having no absolutely no criminal record makes me a surprise as opposed to a success.

    Women, gays and blacks (of both sexes) throughout the globe all face being born directly into danger without their basic human rights, that is a problem to have with white privilege.
    It is not anything to do with grouping. It is not even a conscious choice. It is not about explicit prejudice, but preference.
    Who, but the most reprehensible, would chose to have their rights as well as the option of always being right and first even when they may not deserve it! People do not choose their Privilege; privilege chooses people and there is only one prerequisite – white skin. Fact.

    If you must have a problem with white privilege, why is it not the plundering effect it has on black people, including the children you raise beautifully who will also know its brutal effects!

    White Privilege is the reason for Equal Opportunities Forms. White Privilege is the reason Charlie Sheen – a publicfigure and father of five children – can be deemed eccentric, allowed to be the highest paid television actor of all time and continually celebrated for being a crackhead with a prolific history of beating his wife while Chris Brown (public figure; no children) is constantly held at the mercy of his crime and is constantly villified for it, by all of us. Famous white men beat their lesser known wives too. Chris Brown is no longer part of the black promise and the “new MJ” for the past four years he has become a brutal and unrelenting chauvinist and misogynist with substance abuse issues. Charlie Sheen? A funny guy with a fat cheque.

    So your main issue with White Privilege is the idea that all white people are not the same. True all white people are not the same, but White Privilege is nothing to do with sameness and everything to do with difference.

    There is no Black Privilege because though, in the course of our lifetime we can aspire to become privileged (Oprah), privilege is about as much of a choice for white people as living in a white supremacist society is for ‘the rest of us’.
    White Privilege is the reason the first black president of the USA and leader of the free world was forced to issue a long form copy of his birth certificate to prove he was born in America. To date no white president has had to do the same. Sad and very troubling. This is a problem to have with White Privilege.

    Equality is the foremost threat to privilege. When we are equal then our rights will be our only privilege. As it stands privilege is reserved for those with white faces.

  2. Thanks for sharing this post, Dave.

    You wrote: “Checking privilege is about debunking stereotypes. It is about not being afraid to ask questions where one is unclear instead of projecting our own stereotypes. I cannot check white privilege where I see it and at the same token tell my children they have to work twice as hard as whites to succeed. I cannot check my own male privilege and dismiss a woman who would have a problems with me calling them luv or darling. Men and women cannot check heteronormative privilege whilst treating someone who is LGBT as other.” This paragraph raised some questions for me and I’m still thinking about them.

    One of these cases doesn’t strike me as analogous to the other two. With male:female relating and heterosexual:LGBT relating, the cisgender, male, and heterosexual parties will usually have arbitrary advantage(s) on the basis of their sex, gender identity, and sexuality that gender non-conforming or transgender, female, and LGB parties will not have. Intersectionality means that people’s experiences also include other advantages and disadvantages, but in terms of these two facets, cisgender and heterosexual people aren’t standing at the wrong end of the social knife because of gender or sexuality even when they are for other reasons. Lots of us have lots of social knifes pointing at us; sometimes we’re wielding a knife or two. This doesn’t mean the end of meaningful life.

    But for Black families or any non-White ethnic group in a White-dominant society, it is the Black and other non-White families who will catch heat _for their ethnicity and culture_ in ways that their White-peer families will not, even when they gain advantages and disadvantages for other reasons. In the US and the UK, while class determines so much, ethnic hierarchies also map onto class, and this means that class disadvantages can occasionally be “lost” or traded, but visible ethno-cultural disadvantages can’t be. In this context, Thomas Sowell will always be “the Black conservative-libertarian” however much he’d prefer to be only “libertarian.” Clarence Thomas will always be “the Black justice” however much he’d prefer to be just another wealthy Ivy-Leaguer.

    So you wrote that if you tell your children that their success in your society depends on the 2x-as-hard rule, that would cancel out or contradict your White privilege-checking. Why would it? (a) Wouldn’t you also teach them about other privileges and disadvantages they have? Or that mediocrity and success don’t have equal consequences for everybody? (b) Why can’t we explain both Reality and Society rather than just one of the two? Reality is that “race” doesn’t stand up to scientific scrutiny, that we contain multitudes, and that there is no such thing as “pure.” But Society doesn’t operate on the basis of Reality; you yourself know this as a Black businessman, and you’ve learned skills that help you to navigate Society’s dysfunctions. The practical skills you’ve learned don’t negate your humanism or ideals and choices re. equity.

    I may believe that there is no moral difference between genders or sexual orientations, and I might model that belief for my mentees. But that wouldn’t stop Society from prejudicially differentiating between genders or orientations. It wouldn’t stop genders and orientations from being different either. And my mentees would still need the skills to navigate Society’s persisting errors without absorbing them into their own beliefs about themselves.

    If there’s a hole in the road ahead, then while you fill in that hole, wouldn’t you put up Caution signs? Why would doing so stop you from work on the road? When said road is fixed, cars and bicycles will still operate differently on it: I don’t buy the idea that being unprejudiced means not seeing Real differences. If you see me _as_ me, then that necessarily includes seeing where and how I differ from you. We don’t have to give up the common table just because we sit in different chairs around it or took a different route to get there. <– My view.

    Sidebar: do you view "White" as an ethnic identity? I now notice when people seem to define "ethnic" as "non-White," or don't recognize the processes by which select ethnicities are "made White" [incorporated into Whiteness] over decades. In the US at least, "White" has meant "not ethnic" and "not Black," but I don't think this is going to work for much longer.

    Thoughts?

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