On confronting privilege

No one said confronting the establishment would be easy, painless and free of hurdles and attempts at erasures.

While I’m aware of this, I’m still dismayed, disappointed and angered by the wall of privilege, denial and diversionary tactics I encounter whenever I confront a system set up to benefit straight, cisgendered white men.

I recently had a conversation with a loved one–who is white–who pretty much sought to dismantle any observation I as a female POC had on the world, proceeded to tell me how my perception of the world is wrong and I should understand how things are for white people and “what it’s like to be white.” He also told me I have some issues, that I make everything a racial issue and, in a nutshell, I’m the one with the problem–not white privilege. And, to top it all off with the all-too-familiar attempt to point out your hypocrisy, this man proceeded to tell me I wouldn’t hesitate with letting black men off the hook if he made the same comments. As usual, this man isn’t a close follower of my blog, so I didn’t even feel the need to challenge him on that foolishness.

I was pretty hurt and disappointed by his disclosure, but as I thought about it, I wasn’t surprised since white people in general–white men specifically–have a hard time understanding and accepting privilege and how privilege benefits them in society. Throughout generations, white people have successfully disconnected racism from white privilege, and have passed down to their children the belief that everyone, including persons of color, GLBTQs, cisgendered, etc, have equal opportunity to succeed and make it in the good ol’  US of A. They have successfully instilled into their children that racism–particularly overt forms of racism (think KKK cross-burning, racial slurs, active discrimination)–is something committed by individuals, not as an institution or as something that is substantiated through privilege.

So, confronting a white person about white privilege and pointing out their opinions and perspectives as being basked in privilege is indeed an upsetting to them, as you are questioning the morals and values they were brought up to believe.

My loved one wasn’t upset at me; he was upset because I was questioning the system he subconsciously pledges allegiance to in his silence on how that system oppresses others that do not look like him.

Another conversation via email I had with a black male associate also reminded me of wading in the murky waters of fighting privilege. In a nutshell, this man proceeded to tell me my blog “stinks of feminism and general disrespect of men.” I asked this gentleman to specifically give me a reference in which I showed “general disrespect of men.” Needless to say, this person could not find a specific post or statement I made, but proceeded to tell me I needed to use my platform to foster a better relationship between men and women. In other words, I need to use my space as one that improves relationships between women and men; not speak out on the various forms of oppression.

The perception from this gentleman was initially disappointing because I would have thought him being a person of color would have made him more sensitive to the necessity of having safe spaces to confront and question privilege and oppression. However, as I’ve found by lurking on a diverse number of blogs and their comment sections, there are a considerable number of black men out there who also have fallen victim to the allure of male privilege.

Black women who identify as feminists, womanists, GLBTQ, black women empowerment bloggers or other nontraditional activists are routinely under attack by traditional (I say traditional since there is a growing number of black men who identify as feminists) black male activists who see the role of black women as one who should foster (i.e., nurture) the bond between black women and men. Black women, in the eyes of these traditional black male activists, should use their space to uplift men and women instead of showing their “general disrespect of men.”  According to these traditional black male activists, black female activists engaged in social justice work shouldn’t use their spaces to question or challenged the reigning the pro-black patriarchal fabric that subjugates black women and keep their interests and faces behind the scenes.

Confronting whiteness, privilege and oppression is a cumbersome task, as naysayers are masters at using the tool of diversion, which can be exhausting when trying to confront and prevent.

As an example, confronting a co-worker who makes a racist comment almost always ends with said co-worker saying, “you’re calling me a racist.” The co-worker usually is rarely forced to re-evaluate why their comments could be viewed as offensive as they often divert a person’s confrontation of that comment into a personal attack on them. This lack of check and balances happens because those who were taken aback by offensive comments typically hold their tongue since their concerns will most likely be swept under the rug as the diversion tactic employed by the person in question shifts the issue from the offending statements to validating their belief that they aren’t racist (or homophobic, xenophobic, transphobic, etc). In other words, the person in question will seek the opinions of others (usually those who look and think like them–and a few tokens who won’t rock the boat) to prove to the person raising the questions that they really are good people and they are just being too sensitive for getting offended by their comments. Thus the problem continues.

The benefactors and practitioners of oppression and privilege will shout until their blue in the face to convince you, the crazy activists, that they indeed are different from everyone else. Yet, these same people will remain silent and complicit in the same system they falsely believe they do not benefit from or take advantage of. These same people will remain silent when a co-worker makes an anti-Muslim reference, a bigoted comment about a person of color, a homophobic remark about a gay employee, a pro-cisgender/transphobic remark about a family member, a xenophobic remark about a Hispanic boss or will remain complicit in their ableism when they complain about a wheelchair-bound customer who laments the lack of wheelchair accessible entrances into a place of business.

These same people will tell you that there is no such thing as white privilege and counter your claim with, “what about black privilege?” as if the last 450 years of history has been completely turned on its head in the last 40 years. These same people will proclaim they have no issues with gays and lesbians, but should keep their “alternative lifestyle” in the closet. These same folks will claim they aren’t racist, but will laugh their asses of at a joke about day laborers. These same folks will claim they aren’t sexist, anti-woman, but won’t make any waves to counter a joke about a woman’s menstrual cycle or breasts and will remain silent while watching their male co-worker sexually harass a female employee. These same people will claim they’ll treat ever person equally, but will visibly show their disgust when learning a person recently underwent a sex reassignment surgery or speak out in opposition to a broadcast network’s plans to allow a transgender man to perform in a popular reality TV show.

My work to confront and dismantle privilege and oppression is not something I do because I’m “angry” or because I have some “issues” with white people. My work as a social justice activists is not about taking out my frustrations, insecurities and shortcomings out on you, the benefactor of societal privilege, injustice and oppression. In fact, I pity the individual’s intellectual capacity who can’t distinguish my efforts to confront privilege and oppression from the actual people who benefit from said privilege and oppression.

In fact I lament the individual’s intellectual capacity who can’t distinguish my efforts to confront privilege and oppression from the actual people who benefit from said privilege and oppression.

My work against privilege and oppression, believe it or not, has nothing to do with you.

7 comments on “On confronting privilege

  1. Not all white people agree with your relative, or your coworker. And in fact, some of us are working alongside you to effect change, engaging in these conversations every day. I know I am, and yes, it is so difficult. Even for a white person. Check out this fantastic piece out of The Stranger in Seattle that really gets to the heart of the matter.

    And, in case you have time, here is one I published in San Diego CityBeat last week, as well as one I published about two years ago.

    Yes you have some issues, and they are completely valid.

    In solidarity,
    ~aaryn

  2. Hi. You and I both recently commented (in very different ways) on an article about women’s fashions in More Intelligent Life.  The contrast in our responses made me think, and I’ve written about it on my blog with a hyperlink to you.  Just wanted to tell you and say thanks for reminding me of other ways of seeing things.

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