I am going to attempt to explain something here today, something that is misrepresented and misunderstood in the media and by many people.
As with everything, I reserve the right to be wrong – please correct me if I am, but be prepared to bring your A-game, ha ha – and I take full responsibility for everything written here. That is to say, if any of this offends you, whoever you are, I accept that it was me who offended you, and not you being “too sensitive” or something.
I don’t get to decide for you what is and isn’t offensive. I am a strong advocate for “free speech,” and I understand that your right to free speech includes the right to be offended by what I write and express your offense however you want to.
Many people do not seem to understand this, but that’s another post, one I probably won’t write.
I am here today to briefly attempt to explain the concept of “privilege” as it applies to society in the USA today. I am not talking about another society somewhere else, I am talking about the USA.
First, I want to list the ways I am “privileged,” and explain why my being and having these things carries privilege.
Before that, if you read this in such a way that makes you think I feel guilty for being privileged in the ways I feel I am privileged, or that I am apologizing for the fact that I am privileged, that is not my intent, and to my view it would be an incorrect interpretation of this post. But interpret it however you like, I am not the boss of you, and I respect your right to free speech.
First: I am an American citizen. This fact gives me the privilege of all the freedoms and liberties that many people in the world are not given. It also gives me privilege over people living in the USA who are not citizens. It doesn’t mean I am “better” than them, it means that I have a legal status that they don’t, and by virtue of that legal status, I can do many things they can’t. I did precisely nothing whatsoever to earn this privilege; I was simply born here.
Second: I am male. Historically speaking, men have dominated most societies in the world, including society in the USA. “Sexism” was not coined as a term because men were being mistreated. And to be sure, women are much closer to complete equality nowadays, but lingering effects of decades of institutionalized sexism still exist. I am a feminist, and I will be until society is completely and totally equal with regard to how men and women are treated by it. I don’t expect to ever stop being a feminist, so don’t bother trying to talk me out of it.
Third: I am straight. That is to say, I am heterosexual. I came out of the womb liking women. I grew up liking women. I like women as an adult. With regard to feminism, I admit that it is sometimes difficult to be completely objective when I am interacting with women, at least in real life. If I find a woman attractive, sometimes things happen to me that I can’t help. My palms might sweat. My heart rate might increase. I might turn into a blubbering idiot and say something stupid. But, also with regard to feminism, I recognize that those reactions are my responsibility. If I make an idiot out of myself because an attractive woman makes me nervous, it’s not her fault I got nervous and made an idiot out of myself. But that’s sort of a tangent, I guess…with regard to privilege, my being straight prevents me from ever having to deal with any sort of harassment or hate speech or hate crimes that LGBT people often have to endure. For the record, I also support full equality regarding the right to marry whoever you damn well want to, and I also fully support the right for everyone to self-identify however they damn well want to. I don’t get to tell you who you are, and nobody else does, either.
Fourth: I am white. White people – people of European descent with white skin – are and always have been the dominant demographic with regard to race in the USA. White culture – books, movies, TV shows, style of dress, mannerisms, speech patterns, etc. ad infinitum – is and always has been the norm in our country. I am not “apologizing” by admitting that. My basic philosophy on life – which I may have mentioned it to you at some point – is “it is what it is.” “White” is still, despite the fact that our culture is evolving and other perspectives are emerging, “normal.” It does not require any white person to feel “guilty” to acknowledge this, this is simply a fact. And yes, of course, some white people are more privileged than others. There are poor white people. Believe me, I know. I have never considered myself to be “poor” (more on this in a bit) but many people would. I know a lot of white people who grew up with more money than I did. I know a lot of white people who grew up with less. And I also know that there are many rich nonwhite people. I even know some of them personally. None of these things, however, negate the fact – the fact – that “white” has always been considered “normal” in our society. And none of those things negate the fact that we white people – no matter how much or how little money we have in the bank – benefit from that in ways that we might not even be aware of. Acknowledging that does not – despite what many talking heads will try to tell you – imply that you hate white people. I love white people. As a matter of fact, most of my favorite humans (my family) are all white. A lot of my favorite celebrities are white, a lot of my favorite musicians and actors are white, and a lot of my favorite writers are white. I am consciously (and constantly) trying to expand such lists, and to be completely honest, my reason for doing this boils down completely to selfishness and self-interest: I want to broaden my perspectives on things. I want to understand what life is like for people who aren’t me. I will never be able to completely understand, but I want to listen and I want to learn. And I realize that sometimes in order to actually listen to people with different perspectives, sometimes I just have to shut up and listen. My point of view is not necessary or needed in some conversations. Sometimes I quite simply don’t know what I am talking about. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman. I don’t know what it’s like to be a nonwhite person, or a gay or transgender person. And so on. And yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I believe people should be treated equally no matter their demographic, but in order to do that – and I am talking mainly to my fellow straight white male people here – sometimes we just have to shut up and listen. Trust me, you will never learn anything from anyone by talking over them. This is something I have had to learn the hard way, as a matter of fact: I have been guilty of it. Not actually listening to people who aren’t just like me, I mean. And it was my loss, not theirs. They had nothing whatsoever to gain by me telling them what to think or how to act. I regret that I was too stubborn to just shut my mouth and listen.
Fifth: I grew up in a pretty stable home, and I come from a pretty stable and moderately successful family. Many people don’t have that luxury. This luxury – this privilege – was given to me. I didn’t do anything to earn it. I have benefited from the love and support of my family my entire life. That’s a privilege many people don’t enjoy. As a sidenote, one family-related privilege that I don’t have is that I never really had much of a relationship with my biological father. My parents divorced when I was around two, and my mom remarried. I was raised by her and my stepfather, whom I have been calling “daddy” my entire life. I always had a father figure, but I never really knew my actual father, as in the person whose genes formed roughly half of me in my mother’s womb. If you know or knew your father, you have a privilege – something you didn’t earn – that I don’t have and will never have. And please don’t think I hold this against you. I most certainly don’t. I am just trying to illustrate that many things we humans take for granted are things we didn’t actually earn.
Sixth: I was raised Protestant, which is the majority religion where I am from. I was never made to feel different because of my religion. That isn’t to say that this privilege – being part of yet another empowered majority – didn’t have drawbacks. I was misinformed and misled about certain scientific topics, for example. I was taught very bad things about LGBT people, things I grew up to find aren’t true at all. I am glad – infinitely glad – that I was able to mentally overcome the stupid shit I was taught in church as a child, nonetheless, my being a part of that – being part of the majority where I live – was a benefit to me at the time.
Seventh: I am not disabled or handicapped in any way. I can walk and run and jump (and do one and a half chin-ups) and do all manner of things that many people can’t. That’s right, folks: the ability to walk and run and jump is a privilege many people do not have. You didn’t earn those abilities, though it’s certainly true that you can augment those abilities through exercise and proper diet.
And anyways, I suppose seven is enough for now. There are many more, but in the interest of brevity, I will end the list at number seven.
Because if I haven’t been able to express to you what “privilege” means in social discourse by now, well, I might be wasting my time.
Thank you for reading.