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Marc and I got married when gay marriage was IMPOSSIBLE in Kansas. Being gay rights activists, I mentioned to our friends that we were contemplating whether it was really right to get a legal marriage when not everyone could do it - maybe we should have just have the ceremony but sign no Kansas papers, as a symbol that the government should not be allowed to define what marriage is.

But my gay friends told me to get legally married. "Own it," said the guy next to me, "Whatever you can get in this world, and use it for good." It was brought up that if Marc and I saved on taxes by being married, that was more money I could donate to the cause of marriage equality! And really that's the story I think of when people get defensive about privilege. Yes I definitely did/still have straight privilege and that was an obvious case where I was about to benefit from it. I had the right to get married, whether I took it or not. I had the choice - that's a huge privilege, and there was no way for me to not have that choice, and there was no way for me to exchange it and give that privilege to my friends Tom & Mike even though they'd been together 20 years and Marc and I had stuck it out for barely two.

Sometimes when you point out privilege people get really defensive about it. It usually happens when they're saying something wrong. There's this conversation:

Person A: "I don't think black people get followed around in stores like criminals, and if they do what's the big deal they can still shop, I haven't seen it being a problem. I don't think it's worth talking about."

Person B: "Well you're white, you might not notice it as easily because it doesn't happen to you. You can easily choose not to see it, or you could be in a store with no black people. When a black person goes shopping, they have no choice but to be in that minority situation every time and deal with the stereotypes that come along with it, they experience what it's like for black people buying groceries 100% of the time they go out. They don't have the privilege of ignoring it. You do."

Person A: "Oh, so I don't matter? I should just shut up? Well EXCUSE ME for being white! I didn't choose this you know. And I'm not privileged! My life was hard, I grew up poor, I got beat up too, every day bad things happen to everybody! Why are you saying I have it so EASY, am I just supposed to go live under a bridge to even this all out? Here, take my shoes, I wouldn't want the PRIVILEGE of my feet staying warm to offend anybody!"

You get the idea. But the point is, person B wasn't calling person A a "bad person", they only thing they're mentioning is that person A might not be the authority on racism because they aren't in a place to experience it.

That blind spot, that lack of first person experience, is bound to happen. And it'll happen whether the white person A is shoeless, poor, gay, or female... circumstances are not apples and apples, they don't add up or cancel each other out. You can't return the fact that you were born white. And it's true you didn't chose it. Everyone knows this. They're not looking for an apology for being white and it's really dismissive to act like that's what the issue is.

When someone says you might be wrong because you're privileged, the thing to do is step back and start taking your own experiences with a grain of salt. Thank them for their perspective. Be a good listener. If you've said something offensive, apologize for what you said and try to do better. And not in the non-apology, "I'm sorry if you were offended" kind of way that puts it back on them. Try the "I'm sorry I spoke without considering all sides of this story. I'm glad others were here to share their viewpoints and help me learn."

You can't be everybody. It doesn't matter if you're discussing life or car maintenance - someone in the world knows something you don't. You can't make up for it, deny it or feel sorry about it, at least not in a way that helps. All you can do is respect the stories that are the most different from yours, because those are the ones that will lend perspective, and get you out of the isolation that keeps you from understanding whole situations.

Don't apologize for who you are, apologize for the mistakes you make. Then be an ally - someone who is appreciative of being called out, who owns their privilege, and uses it for good.

Is that so hard?

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Posts from This Journal by “feminism” Tag

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
nathskywalker
Jul. 27th, 2015 07:25 pm (UTC)
Agree with everything you said. Thanks for putting it so eloquently. I'm a white (Latina) woman in African American studies. I feel like I'm pretty good at checking my privilege at the door but, yeah, sometimes it's not enough. And then I apologize profusely.

Adam Mansbach wrote this really great article on the subject that I keep going back to because I've had conversations like this a lot. I think you might enjoy it: http://www.salon.com/2015/07/08/ok_so_what_would_convince_you_that_racism_is_real/
astrogeek01
Jul. 27th, 2015 10:57 pm (UTC)
*cheers*

I think people sometimes think that privilege = being a bad person. It's not; however refusing to recognize that you have privilege (in whatever intersectional forms you have it) and refusing to listen to other perspectives that do not... that is what I would say characterizes you as a bad person (realizing that everyone does make mistakes, but if you continue to be a jerk about it then yeah you might be a bad person).
smittenbyu
Jul. 27th, 2015 11:59 pm (UTC)
Well said! So very true and applicable universally!!
luzclarita
Jul. 28th, 2015 12:26 am (UTC)
100% agree.
cactus_rs
Jul. 28th, 2015 05:10 am (UTC)
It shouldn't be, but it is (for some people).

Which then makes it so difficult to even make people aware of their privilege because they're stuck in that defensive mode. My eternal struggle. So far my solution is to never ask people to ~check their privilege~ directly but rather to strive to be a good example (not being afraid to talk about race/feminism/etc. issues around them, linking to things on Facebook) as well as a person they like and hope that they'll come around on their own.

There has to be a better way though.
aliki
Jul. 28th, 2015 06:04 am (UTC)
Excellent post!
kalimac
Jul. 28th, 2015 11:32 am (UTC)
What would you be accomplishing by not getting married? It's not like the institution of marriage would suffer from your boycotting it.
calcifermagnet
Jul. 28th, 2015 02:03 pm (UTC)
Isn't being followed around a store a universal experience if you are an American? Perhaps it's not common in other countries, but where I grew up there was a strong distrust of teenagers and all teenagers were treated as guilty until proven innocent.
(Deleted comment)
don_fitch
Jul. 29th, 2015 07:59 am (UTC)

High level of agreement from me (White, male, middle-class, .... but with substantial connections with Japanese-American and American Indian cultures).

And a few years ago I graduated from a half-century of being hard-of-hearing ("Don, your hearing-aid is whistling again") to Profoundly Deaf. I can hardly believe the number of people at desks who helpfully write something down on a post-it note & hand it to me... and it turns out to be a telephone number. Granted, I don't always go into great detail about living alone & not having anyone to do telephoning for me, but... I can't help wondering how often I've been that thoughtless. Maybe I've been spoiled by hanging out mostly with people who are more intelligent than I am. (Not that "more intelligent" equates with "more thoughtful", and.... I now drift away grumbling incoherently.)


elfy
Jul. 29th, 2015 07:59 pm (UTC)
Very well said, thanks!
belenen
Aug. 7th, 2015 01:04 am (UTC)
*applause*
shadowdoomy
Feb. 1st, 2016 03:30 pm (UTC)
This is very well written and a good read; however, I'm black and I've only been followed around in a store ONCE in my life and I'm 26 yrs old, ALMOST 27. When I walk around in the store as a black person, I get "Good mornings" waves, I get treated very well.

It's not to say that all black people get treated well. But all black people get followed around in stores is a stereotype experience.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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