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livredor
Privilege
Friday, 25 January 2008 at 03:08 pm
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There was a meme a while ago where people had to take a list and bold the "privileges" they experienced growing up. I know I've left it too late to address this, but I think it leads to some interesting ideas in general, so I'm going to babble a bit.

To deal with the meme itself: it originated from a teaching exercise developed at Indiana State University. Most people who filled in the meme commented that it isn't terribly well thought out. Some of the criticisms are a bit off-target; yes, it is US-centric and yes, it concentrates on class to the exclusion of other kinds of privilege, but that's because it was designed to teach American college students about class, not to be used as a meme in the rather international and highly varied context of LJ, or to make a profound statement about privilege in general. Several people argued that it fails even to address even American class privilege in a sensible way; I don't know enough about that to be able to comment. My reading of it is that somebody who bolded most of it would have the following advantages: a financially stable background; guardians who were committed to education; to some extent, though the list doesn't cover this as well as it might, a culture which is socially valued. Those are definitely advantages which some people have and others lack, which is not to say that everyone who has them must have a wonderful and perfect life and everyone else must be living in misery!

But I think the reaction to this meme is a good example of why those privilege lists don't really make the point they are trying to make very well. I believe the original "privilege list" was Peggy McIntosh's 1988 essay Unpacking the invisible knapsack. It's worth reading her original article to see what she was trying to say before her meme (in the literal sense) started being used all over the place to make vaguely related points. I must admit I find the article rather annoying, albeit intelligently written. It very obviously comes out of second wave feminist ideas about male privilege, and McIntosh has come to the realization that the experience of black people in a white-dominated society is somewhat analogous to the experience of women in a male-dominated society. There are some immediate glaring problems with this, most notably the fact that, um, black women exist! And I would probably like the list a lot better had it been written by a black person, because it's hard not to find it smug and patronizing as it stands. It's also assuming that there are two races, "black" and "white", and making what I think are rather dangerous analogies between gender and race. On a structural level I think a lot of her examples are pretty much repetitions of the same thing.

Basically, what she's saying is that white people get treated as individuals, black people as representatives of their race, and this can cause real problems even in the absence of overt, deliberate racism. This is a useful point to make; I assume the list leaves out all the other disadvantages that POC may have to negotiate due to historical or current active racism because its audience can reasonably be expected to know about those. I'm just not sure that privilege lists are a good way to make this or related points.

Privilege is a really loaded word. I have a hard time seeing it as a problem that (some) white people can go shopping without getting harassed; it's a problem that some POC can't. But calling that a privilege makes it sound like white people are oppressing POC just by going shopping, which is a bit ridiculous. As cakmpls pointed out (I can't find the reference now, sorry), going through your life without being assumed to be a criminal or subject to violence or excluded from jobs and institutions is not a privilege, it's a basic minimum that everyone should have. redbird said something really intelligent distinguishing privileges that can only exist at the expense of the unprivileged from general unfairness. If everything from arguments to job interviews favours white people at the expense of POC, then making things fairer would at least in the short term disadvantage white people.

A big problem with the privilege list way of looking at things is that it can only really look at one axis at a time, and in fact most people are probably members of less favoured groups in some respects and more favoured groups in others. Lots of people looked at the class privilege meme and complained because it assumed middle-class people to have loads of advantages, without considering things like health, appearance, race, good versus bad (or even abusive) parenting, sexual orientation, gender identity, social ability and so on, which obviously have a big effect on whether someone has a good or bad childhood. I also don't think it's wise to make facile analogies between the different ways that some groups may be at a disadvantage; sexism is not the same thing as racism is not the same thing as ableism is not the same thing as fat-hatred. I also don't think it's wise to discuss as if all these things can readily be separated.

The original privilege list didn't do this explicitly, but it is often used in this way, and I think it's not surprising given the choice of term and the whole political context of this sort of list: someone who "has privilege" is automatically assumed to be deliberately wielding that privilege to hurt people who "lack privilege". It's common in a certain type of identity politics to talk about "the oppressor class" and "the oppressed class". Yes, there is a very important difference between a white person making a racist remark to a black person and a black person saying something disparaging about honkies or whiteys. That doesn't mean that all white people are racists and all black people are saints.

What happens when privilege gets brought up in (online) discussions? Sometimes it's used to make people considered to be privileged shut up; their opinion isn't valid at all because they have too much privilege or "entitlement" or "internalized whatever-ism". In some cases this is a feature; if members of a minority feel that they are always being shouted down by members of a majority, and they want to create a community where that dynamic is reversed, fine, good for them. It may well be more important to hear the views of members of a (hopefully relevant!) minority. But in other cases the members of the minority are actually trying to have a discussion with the members of the majority, and appealing to privilege tends to spoil this. I think the main reason is that couching things in those sorts of terms just makes the people from a dominant background defensive. People are generally willing to accept that they have advantages compared to others, but to call those advantages privileges makes lots of people upset. Emotionally, an extremely likely reaction is to point out that your life isn't that great after all, and I've seen far too many discussions derailed into hopeless shouting matches. The activists in favour of some oppressed group are accusing everybody in sight of exercising privilege (the activists who do this are as likely as not to belong to the culturally favoured group themselves, mind you), and the members of the dominant group enumerate all the disadvantages in their life and protest that they are not whatever-ist.

The thing about privilege is it's an unanswerable argument. Anyone who criticizes it is open to the accusation that they're just acting out of privilege which lets them deny their privilege so that they can contribute to the oppression of the unprivileged. Undoubtedly, this is sometimes the case. But assuming that it always is leads to a lot of really unproductive and circular discussions.

Well, what do you think? Someone complimented me recently on posting thoughtful essays to LJ, which made me realize I haven't done so in quite a long while. And now I've got past the major worst of work panic, I can write up things that I've been ruminating on for a while.


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shreena: default
From:shreena
Date:January 25th, 2008 04:40 pm (UTC)
32 minutes after journal entry, 05:40 pm (shreena's time)
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I really dislike grouping non-white people together and assuming that they have shared experiences because they really really don't. In the UK, if you are from my background (East African Gujarati), most of the stereotypes associated with you are actually pretty positive - financially responsible, hard-working, very unlikely to be involved in violent crime/burglary/theft - and so people from my ethnic group share some white privileges. The disadvantages that they have are really quite different to those that black people experience. I don't even think that "black people" is a sensible category - what does a Somalian refugee have in common with a Caribbean black person whose family might have been in the UK since the 19th century?

I think that grouping non-whites together makes significantly less sense than grouping women together when it comes to the analysis of 'privilege' because I honestly can't think of anything that all/the vast majority of non-white people have in common but there is a certain amount that women do.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:January 25th, 2008 05:10 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 06:10 pm (livredor's time)
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You always make the most sensible points! I totally agree, talking about privileged versus unprivileged people is often a really meaningless division, if you just assume that the unprivileged (in whatever dimension) are one huge amorphous group. That's an aspect I didn't mention when I was complaining about the concept. And yes, you're totally right that "black people" often isn't a meaningful grouping, let alone "everybody who isn't white"; your examples are really clear.
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From:wotyfree
Date:January 25th, 2008 05:18 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry, 01:18 pm (wotyfree's time)
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Yes, that. Thank you.
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:January 25th, 2008 05:32 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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*read* *read* *read* *deep breath* *read* *starts to take notes[1]* *reads*

[1] Literally, anything longer than a "page", and I want to make sure I've got all the salient points. Hold on a sec.
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:January 25th, 2008 05:45 pm (UTC)
1 hours after journal entry
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Reactions to the most recent meme:
* Good to record where it came from, not intended to be used as people did
* Think most people [that we know] (if they stopped to think) would know everything you said, but probably not completely, and it's good to state it
* That it was likely perfectly good in its original use (But I don't know for sure or care, certainly it seemed good enough)
* It certainly *correlates* with having a stable family and financial situation and educational/literary background [some people *might* miss the last one, that being raised on books is potentially privileged/lucky]
* I think many objections were that a point badly expressed the metric it was trying to, and if the meme were accepted as a meme it would be better if they were reworded a bit, eg. "Parents read to you" to not exclude you jealously taking over the reading part of the exercise from age three :)

The point being made by such a list:
* I agree privilege is possibly a misleading concept. (I'm disproportionately likely to think something is a misleading concept, I think many concepts are misleading.)
* I think I agree with your description of McIntosh's essay, and find it itself interesting
* And then I agree almost entirely with several insightful and articulate paragraphs
* That I think such a list is a perfectly reasonable way to say, "Hey, you know about discrimination/deprivation in the abstract, but did you actually imagine what it's like for many people who lack many items on this list?"
* It's only a problem when it's assumed that's the *end* of an argument, or that is automatically means that someone can't understand that to any extent if they're not included in it.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:January 27th, 2008 09:54 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 10:54 am (livredor's time)
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Ooh, thanks for this helpful comment. I think I probably was drawing together stuff that people already know, but it makes a reasonably informative whole. I agree that knowing something about where it comes from and how it was supposed to be used changes how you read it, but I don't think that's the most important thing. That sort of audience are less likely to take things as they are meant rather than being overly literal about the wording like bloggers do.

I take your point that what this kind of list is supposed to do is to promote empathy. There might be people who have never really thought about what it's like to grow up without books, or not to feel safe walking down the street. But I think calling these advantages privileges is often problematic, and also privilege lists are often used rhetorically in ways different from that ideal. The two observations aren't unconnected; the very word suggests that people with privilege are oppressors, so it's not surprising the lists get used in an accusatory fashion.
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dr_jen: default
From:dr_jen
Date:January 25th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)
5 hours after journal entry
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Thanks for the context, apart from reading that it had been developed as an exercise by xxx at xxx on the end of some peoples lists I hadn't a clue about any of that.

I think the only times I heard it referred to as the privilege meme was when people were criticising it. I guess whether one feels guilty, grateful or neutral about being able to bold things on the list depends upon how it is presented and how defensive or otherwise you might feel about the various things. Although I agree that there are lots of things that could be included and aren't the spectrum is still broad enough that I'd have thought there are likely to be touchy or uncomfortable associations for most people somewhere in there.

Of course the thing that distinguishes it from other bold the sentences that apply type memes is that lists dealing with books read or activites undertaken are largely down to direct choices taken by the person participating in the meme, whereas with this one it's pretty much luck of the draw what you received. `

Hope I'm not stating the obvious too much but those are the thoughts that come to mind from your post.
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leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:January 25th, 2008 11:26 pm (UTC)
7 hours after journal entry, 04:26 pm (leora's time)
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My problem with the meme is having to bold things that have strong false implications. Your parents having money doesn't mean you have money. The fact that you could eat food without worrying about the cost doesn't mean you were fed sufficiently. The fact that your parents could afford medical care doesn't mean you had medical care.

Yes, there is a form of advantage you get from having wealth and educated family even when you have abuse and live in many ways much like you were extremely poor. But it's not the same as having wealth and educated parents and having food and medical care.

I have to bold the whole, I could go outside and be relatively safe. Because I could. However, I could not live my life in safety, and numerous times throughout my childhood was not sure if I would survive to the next day.

It's having to claim privileges on technicalities that infuriates me. The wording is so narrow. It asks you to bold it if your parents didn't abuse you. It makes no mention of whether anyone else abused you or whether your parents protected you from abuse.

I'm willing to claim that I had a whole bunch of advantages, because I did. But I don't like being asked to be grateful for things that I can't even think about without thinking about incredibly painful subjects.

That doesn't mean I don't recognize how incredibly hard it is for some people who didn't have enough money for their school supplies. I had my school supplies and that really did help out. I had books in my house, and that was great. I got a great education. Not everyone has that, and I shouldn't assume they do, and I should recognize how hard it is to manage without those things. But I feel like it's assuming that my life was great because the binary choice format doesn't make room for the points I'd need t make to give a fair picture.

Yes, it's not as bad in context, but it's still hard to understand how you could make a list and mention abuse and only mention parental abuse as if abuse from all other sources were irrelevant, things like that.
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livredor: teapot
From:livredor
Date:January 27th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:15 am (livredor's time)
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I think your life has been so weird in several ways that it doesn't fit into any simple models. That's a tough position for you to be in, both because of the specific problems you faced, but also indirectly because you keep running into people who make assumptions about you that are nonsensical.

I think the original meme didn't mention abuse at all, which is why lots of people got offended by it. And then several people who commented on it suggested "parents didn't rape or beat you" as an addition (including me, but I wasn't trying to be comprehensive with my list of reasons why someone middle class might still have an unhappy childhood).

I think that even people who are abused do get some advantages from being middle class. But it's silly to assume that their life is "great" or that they are "privileged", and that's exactly why I have a problem with the privilege list concept. You can't tell much about someone's character or experiences from knowing whether they are middle-class or not, and there's also a tacit assumption that all middle-class people are also white, straight, able-bodied, cisgendered, neurotypical etc etc.
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leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:January 29th, 2008 09:47 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:47 am (leora's time)
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Oh oops. Sorry for not checking the original. I saw one with that addition. It's a bad addition. Way too short-sighted. Also, I dislike the way it silently discounts emotional abuse and neglect.

But my real issue is it seems to conflate your parents having money with you having money. A lot of people don't really grow up the same socioeconomic class as their parents, because it depends whether their parents spend their money on the child or not. And that really makes a huge difference.

Also, which things the parents spend their money on makes a huge difference even if they are spending their money on the kid. Having the money and actually having it used for things are very different.
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:January 27th, 2008 10:04 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:04 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
Very interesting thoughts, thank you. I think it's useful to trace memes to their origins sometimes, because they quickly get disconnected from their purpose. And there's a difference between the selfish replicators that are just trying to encourage hits to inane quiz sites, compared to things that have a purpose beyond that.

Yes, people can have a range of reactions to such lists. But I think telling someone that their upbringing was privileged is a good way to invoke defensive reactions. Especially if their childhood was unhappy in ways not covered by the meme. The thing that annoys me is that this defensive reaction is itself regarded as a symptom of privilege. You might want to argue with something because it's just wrong, and not necessarily because you want to oppress people!

Good point about whether individual choice is involved or it's just the luck of the draw. I think a lot of these privilege lists are about the latter category of things; it's pure luck that I happen to appear white, and that does give me real advantages in the world. The idea is that some hypothetical privileged people may think that they are naturally superior, and the list is trying to point out to them that there was a lot of luck involved in their relative success. The problem is that people who actually think that, for example, white people are superior, are the least likely to be convinced by privilege rhetoric.
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smhwpf: Buffy Restless
From:smhwpf
Date:January 25th, 2008 10:41 pm (UTC)
6 hours after journal entry, January 26th, 2008 12:41 am (smhwpf's time)
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I find the concept of 'Privilege' quite helpful, though it can no doubt be both misunderstood and misused - and I suspect putting up a decontextualised list as a meme is one of the least helpful ways of presenting the concept.

The sensible presentations of Privilege I've seen tend to make clear that -

- Saying someone's 'privileged' does not mean saying they're a bad person, or an oppressor. You don't choose to have privilege, and having it does not inevitably mean you behave in a particular way.

- The point of talk about privilege is therefore (or should be) not to make people feel guilty, but to make them aware.

- Likewise it should not be about shutting people from the 'Privileged' group up when talking about race/gender/sexuality etc., rather enjoinging one to think before one speaks.

Of course sometimes when people say "You should check your privilege" what they mean is "Shut up", but what it should mean is that you should check whether the argument you're making is based on all manner of assumptions you don't even realise you're making. Of course the answer could be 'no'. But it's like if you're travelling in a foreign culture. You're likely to make all sorts of stupid blunders in things you say and do not because you're wicked but because you forget. You'd need to repeatedly remind yourself of a whole list of things to avoid this.

Likewise, as a man talking about gender issues, or a white person talking about race, I am likely to say all sorts of stupid things (I don't mean offend people - I mean in terms of arguments I make, conclusions I come to) simply because I do not have the experience of being black or a woman. So the privilege lists are a way of making plain to me all the things I take for granted.

I think I first became aware of the concept, though without knowing this had the word 'privilege' attached to it about 8 years ago one day when I was walking home along Haringey Green Lanes - a big, bustling shopping street with dozens of Greek/Turkish/Kurdish etc. shops and cafes, which I greatly enjoyed ambling along, when I passed a female friend of mine wlaking the other way. She had what seemed to me a really strange look on her face, eyes looking firmly down at the road, and she didn't notice me. I hailed her, and asked why she was doing that, and she said that it was the only way she could walk along Green Lanes and not get harrassed. And I realised that it had just never occurred to me what a totally different experience of this street that I loved someone might have because they're a woman and I'm a man. Doesn't mean I should stop enjoying it, but that I should be aware and angry about the fact that others can't.

I'm not sure it matter that you can only analyse one dimension at a time - certainy one can be privileged in one dimension and not in another, and lack of privileges can actually compound each other, rather than simply adding. But as the main point as I see it is not to say "Poor me!" or "Bad you!", but to make (chiefly people in privileged groups) more aware, it's not really such a problem.

I see what you mean about there being a problem with the term 'privilege', in that a lot of the supposed privileges are actually rights that all should enjoy. I'm not sure what would be a better term. I think actually there's at least three subgroups in this respect:

- Rights such as being able to walk down the street without being harrased. One group having it doesn't disadvantage the other (except the people actually doing the harrassment).

- Advantages which the advantaged group would - an should - lose if the disadvantaged group lost their disadvantage - e.g. the likelihood of being preferred in a job interview to someone of a different group

- Things which essentially can't be helped, but still have an effect. Like the fact that if you're white in Britain then most groups you join will have at least some other people of your own colour, and usually most. Which is just a factor of who happens to be the majority group.

Not sure if there is a better word though...
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livredor: likeness
From:livredor
Date:January 27th, 2008 10:31 am (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 11:31 am (livredor's time)
(Link)
The thing is that you find the concept helpful because you're well versed in a lefty political context. That's one way that discussions of privilege can get used as a kind of shibboleth, because it's actually a term of art that is meaningful to a specific group of people, distinct from its common meaning. Now, if your aim is to restrict discussion to people who do come from that particular viewpoint, which does sometimes entail shutting outsiders up, well, that's deliberate and it's a tool for doing so. But if your aim is to convert more people to your egalitarian cause, it's counterproductive.

I've seen a lot of energy wasted where group A are upset because they understand privilege in the common sense where it basically is an accusation, or they understand being privileged to mean being told that their life is wonderful when it isn't, and group B are upset because group A fail to understand their worldview and indeed are seen as defending their privilege and being deliberately harmful to members of the unprivileged group. My reaction to these kinds of arguments is, so use a different word already, it's not worth the angst!

I have occasionally come across the sort of people who think their opinion is automatically valid even when talking about something they have no direct experience of. I think the technical term for that is "entitlement". But I think people like that are not going to respond well to being told "you're only arguing that way because you are blinded by your privilege". I agree that the list may sometimes help a basically well-intentioned person to realize some things about the experience of being part of a disadvantaged group.

I don't know quite how to relate to your anecdote about Green Lanes; my acquaintance with that area is slight, but I've certainly never felt in the least uncomfortable walking there. Like you, I enjoy spending time in multicultural areas and the parts of town that certain nervous middle-class people regard as "bad". I used to do most of my shopping in Lochee in Dundee, which horrified some of my colleagues, and now I often wander about in Skärholmen (and venture outside the campus! horrors! in Flemingsberg itself) which gets a similar reaction. So I think there's something more complicated going on than men as a group having different experiences from women as a group.

Interesting third category. Simply being a numerical majority does confer some advantages, and I agree that you can't do much about it. But I do like redbird's distinction between rights which are not evenly applied, and active unfairnesses and biases which advantage one group at the expense of another.
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smhwpf: Sandman
From:smhwpf
Date:January 27th, 2008 12:00 pm (UTC)
1 days after journal entry, 02:00 pm (smhwpf's time)
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*nods*, yes, this is rather typical of the left's poor communication ability. Especially as people tend to use the term and seem to expect people to already know what it means. I only became introduced to the concept in the last few years, since my LJ days began.

I would not want to see the concept - of invisible advantage from belonging to a particular group - to be thrown out with the word though. 'Privilege' is as you say problematic because it sounds like an accusation. But the idea is supposed to pose a challenge - particularly to, for example, folks who think that because they know that skin colour doesn't matter (and so does every right-thinking person), that therefore racism isn't a huge problem anymore.

The term 'cultural capital' - which is also used in (probably more intellectual) left-wing circles covers a lot of the concept. It's quite a good analogy - like someone who inherits money benefits from the capital that has been built up over possibly many generations, so members of advantaged groups benefit from the accumulated social and cultural advantages from generations (or indeed millenia) of group dominance - which doesn't disappear just because people suddenly realise that all groups should be equal. Doesn't cover everything though, as it leaves out things related to attitudes that still persist rather strongly. (No-one's ever going to be reulctant to hire and train me because they think I might take time off to have children.) Also it's not very snappy.

I don't think my friend's problem was with the multicultural nature of it - I presume it was actual experience of harrassment. But yeah, experiences differ. Amused that Lochee is considered a dodgy area to shop - there are far, far worse areas of Dundee than that! (My sister lived in Ardler for a good while, in one of the six concrete dinasours that used to dominate the skyline, before four of them were (most welcomely) demolished).
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pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:January 27th, 2008 04:51 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 05:51 pm (pw201's time)
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But if your aim is to convert more people to your egalitarian cause, it's counterproductive.

Yes. I got my vaguely lefty political views from growing up reading The Daily Mirror (should that figure on a privilege checklist, I wonder?) but I'd not encountered US-biased liberal jargon (such as the True Meanings of words like "privilege" and "racism") until I found it in various places on LJ and, to a lesser extent, on other blogs. My initial reaction to it was that it was silly Humpty Dumptyism, although when I investigated the concepts behind the redefined words I found there were some valid thoughts there. But you need readers who are prepared to investigate stuff for this sort of jargon to benefit egalitarianism; otherwise your readers will just get offended when they're told they're privileged, or write off someone who says "black people can't be racist" as an obvious idiot. So I don't think this sort of jargon is a useful strategy for creating a mass movement, regardless of all that stuff about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis.

My personal experience of a movement which tries to win the hearts and minds of outsiders comes from evangelical Christianity. The more thoughtful evangelicals in the UK have done some of their thinking about how to reach people who don't even know the Christian worldview (this is as opposed to people who know about Christianity and reject it, the sort of people who were probably more common before the end of the last century). One of the outcomes of that thinking is a determination to avoid jargon in their public presentation. People who don't know about Christianity at all don't know what "sin" or "redemption" mean to evangelicals, and what's worse, these words have regular meanings which aren't quite what the evangelicals mean. In fact there's a direct parallel between the "sin" example and the "privilege" example: imagine an evangelical telling someone they're a "sinner" and a liberal telling someone they're "privileged". Both, if they're speaking strictly according to their religious beliefs (and not merely using the language as part of a one-upmanship game) don't actually mean to imply special moral fault (because we're all sinners/privileged, and we cannot help ourselves until we acknowledge that and Accept ginmar as our Personal Saviour) but end up sounding like they do. Despite other similarities between internet liberalism and evangelical Protestantism, the liberals don't seem to have realised this one.

Or perhaps some liberals have realised this but the problem comes when forums which are intended for them to talk among themselves are exposed to public view and then found by the unsaved, through Google, or better (for the lulz) yet, though snark communities on LJ. This is what Danny O'Brien identifies as the problem with the private register on the net, namely that there isn't one. Either you're public, or you have an elitist closed community which must surely be hiding something. O'Brien argues that if personal blogs continue as a fad, we'll come to regard as gauche those people who react to public posts in the private register as though the posts were in the public register. That may be true (although I'm continually shocked by what people put in public postings on LJ, and would be tempted to snark if I were evil), but I'm not sure it's changing with regard to activist communities, because the unsaved finding them expect them to be evangelistic. That clash of expectations leads to the "I'm not here to explain feminism 101 to you" responses, and the problems of people not knowing the jargon which you've already mentioned.
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cartesiandaemon: default
From:cartesiandaemon
Date:January 28th, 2008 05:04 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
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What pw201 said.
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From:ex_robhu
Date:January 29th, 2008 12:57 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
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What pw201 said :-)

although I'm continually shocked by what people put in public postings on LJ, and would be tempted to snark if I were evil
Oh really? :)
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pw201: default
From:pw201
Date:January 29th, 2008 01:36 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:36 am (pw201's time)
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Yes, really. I'm wasn't thinking of you, by the way.
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blue_mai: birds
From:blue_mai
Date:January 27th, 2008 06:13 pm (UTC)
2 days after journal entry, 07:13 pm (blue_mai's time)
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i am rather unfamiliar with the context and background, socio-political discussion generally, and so i took the list/meme at face value if you like - as a thought-provoker. it is not a way of saying if i am priveleged or you are (because who really is going to look at my list, and there is no rating anyway) but rather to raise the question - does having more than 50 books in your household benefit you as a child? did it, or would it? how people who 'look like me' (who's that ?!) in media affects how i am treated day-to-day etc.
of course it is not comprehensive, and there are always things that fall out, where you answer it one way, see where it is leading and disagree. but it's not about the details. i didn't realise privelege as a word or concept was so loaded a term in discussion.
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leora: ouroboros
From:leora
Date:January 29th, 2008 10:03 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 03:03 am (leora's time)
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It really depends on the details. I benefited. But my house was full of books. I had a room full of children's books from before I could read. I had books on countless topics, fiction and non. I didn't really see the point of libraries until I was older and realized both that not everyone had all of those books and that some research required more than just encyclopedias and standard reference books. We had tons of science fiction, a fair bit of fantasy, a lot of philosophy, math, science, history, a bunch of romance novels, a bunch of books about the law, especially Chinese legal history (m ywas interested in it, she's a lawyer now), and random books, oh and tons of classics, and a bunch of books on Judaism and Jewish culture (which was my famiy's religion).

Whenever I wanted something to read, I'd just browse in my house and grab something interesting. No effort and always available. During the summer, I'd often read two or three books, staying up late at night just reading whatever was handy. It was one of the best things about my childhood. And that my parents would regularly take me to the bookstore and let me pick out some books that appealed to me. Also, I was allowed to read anything I wanted and could get my hands on. We also had tons of magazines, including oodles of science fiction and fantasy ones, some science ones we got regularly, some political/news ones, my father's medical ones (he was a doctor, now he's retired... I miss reading Cortland Forum, I think that was its name, it had great comics, and medical mysteries, and random medical info... I couldn't follow it all, but I would read bits), and for a while I had a supscription to Penny Power which became Zillions aka Consumer Reports for Kids, which was great. And I had oodles of comics.

Yes, this was a benefit. Also that everyone in my family read a lot, which is part of why we had so many books. Sure my mother mainly read romance novels, but even she read some of the science fiction books I did.

However, I have a friend who marked that as true and it was entirely her other's romance novels and it didn't really benefit her at all. This is completely different levels of privilege for the same indicator.
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rysmiel: snakes of Ireland
From:rysmiel
Date:January 28th, 2008 08:19 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 04:19 pm (rysmiel's time)
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The thing about privilege is it's an unanswerable argument. Anyone who criticizes it is open to the accusation that they're just acting out of privilege which lets them deny their privilege so that they can contribute to the oppression of the unprivileged. Undoubtedly, this is sometimes the case. But assuming that it always is leads to a lot of really unproductive and circular discussions.

There are a number of places I don't get into this sort of discussion for precisely that reason. Well, that and the tendency to go from "some people are racist" to "the definitions of race that matter are US ones and thinking that concepts of race might work differently in other places or times is an Oppressive Act", because that very rapidly gets me rather too cross to come across to my best advantage. [ Not to get into the notion that being Irish, Italian, or Ukrainian Jew does have the potential even in the US to run you into various kinds of differences of treatment which calling all those people equally "white" is claiming does not exist. ]

I'm used to contexts in which Irish did not count as "white". I'm also used to contexts in which distinctions within that are as immediately discernable, if not visually [ and my Catholic/Protestant radar for Irish situations is pretty infallible in Ireland; it is a matter of some amusement to me that almost all the USAn Catholics I know read as Protestant to that radar ] at very least by the first word that comes out of my mouth, to every bit as much of an extent as people of colour are distinguishable from white people in a context where that matters. I chose to move where I live now in large part to be somewhere where those distinctions do not matter so much, and I do not actually think that if I, as a Caucasian, and economically privileged to the extent of having time and literacy and internet access to be engaging in this argument in the first place, see around me, and have had observed to me multiple times by many non-Caucasian people in different contexts within this city, that they have found the level of racism markedly less than in other places they have lived, and that what racism they have experienced has mostly been on the Francophone/Anglophone divide and coming as much if not more from people of their own skin colour, it is therefore incumbent upon me to deny the evidence of my own eyes and the goodwill of the people around me to the extent that I should, as certain people online have suggested, of necessity hold to the position that it really is horribly oppressive here according to the US model, that I am blind to this because of my "privilege" and that people are concertedly and systematically lying to me out of fear of that privilege. Particularly when the people trying to persuade me I should do so are themselves literate Caucasians with net access; I beg leave to doubt such people's status as definitive authorities on the issue.

As a person with ambitions to write speculative fiction, it can feel like there's an impossible double bind here. One has the options of writing what one knows, and being castigated for leaving out and thereby somehow disparaging whatever range of cultural or other variation one is not closely familiar with, or attempting to include a broader range of cultural variation and thereby running the risk of misrepresenting things which one does not understand in ways which might read negatively to people whose experiences are closer to that which one is representing, even if one sets aside the spectre of the great floating "cultural appropriation" debate. Furthermore, I do think that it is pernicious to hold all fiction to the same set of standards, with regard to how it presents gender or race or any other politicisable facet of identity, because to my mind it depends at least somewhat on whether that's what the work is setting out to be about.
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livredor: portrait
From:livredor
Date:January 28th, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 11:48 pm (livredor's time)
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*fierce hug* This is a magnificent rant, and makes me feel a little protective of you, and I will reply properly when I have time and communication energy.
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From:ex_robhu
Date:January 29th, 2008 12:58 am (UTC)
3 days after journal entry
(Link)
Thank you for that. I've been finding these privilege posts annoying for all the reasons you enumerated in your post :-)

I'm going to friend you so I can continue to receive your wisdom :-)
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naath: default
From:naath
Date:January 29th, 2008 01:02 pm (UTC)
3 days after journal entry, 02:02 pm (naath's time)
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Here via pw201 (and I've friended you, hope you don't mind)...

I find this interesting; I've mostly come to associate the word "privilege" with the meanings it has in this sort of context (rather than as a simple pejorative). I do see why it might come over as unreasonably accusative to many people.

Personally I found that meme interesting because parts of it were obvious (like money - I'm well aware that having enough money is a privilege), some were so US-based that they don't make sense in UK based class discussion (health care for instance; that makes Brits as a whole privileged but not me more so than average here). On the other hand some things were for me a "WTF people don't have that" moment - like books, of course without money you might not *own* books but there's a FREE library! Or laying a table (was that a different but similar meme?) who the hell doesn't own a knife and fork (or other culturally appropriate eating utensils) and is yet still posting on the internet?

And these things are, really, the key to *class* based discrimination I think (rather than *wealth* based discrimination). Because we are really blind to the privileges that come not from being able to buy stuff but from having a certain attitude about life, the universe and everything; about how manners are important, about how learning is important. Most of us don't spend much time with people of other classes - we don't see just how badly our social norms and expectations clash; I'd like to *think* I could manage to not come over as a total prat at a royal garden party, but I *know* I'd have to carefully watch my every move...

So sometimes I think these lists can jar you into noticing something that you were previously blissfully ignorant of, which can be a good thing.
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