Privilege Vs. Entitlement

“A life unexamined is not worth living.”–Socrates.

I was at a black lesbian night chatting with the organizer, and I asked her why she thought straight men came to lesbian clubs to pick up women.

“it’s because of their privilege” She responded instantly. I never thought of it like that….I do know is that after I tell men that I’m a Lesbian, it’s not like they back off–they act like they’re entitled to continue hitting on me regardless of my stated preference.

Maybe she’s right–but that word and how she used it bothered me; I don’t think that it’s so much their privilege as the sense of  entitlement that they derive from their privilege. The way people use the word privilige has been bothering me a lot recently, and I finally realized that I feel like people use the word privilege when what they mean is entitlement.

***

That conversation that got me thinking…why did she think I was there? Did she think that I used my white privilege to tresspass in women-of-color space? I don’t feel entitled to be there–maybe privileged to be allowed in–if not always welcomed.

When I was still trying to be friends with that stud I used to talk to, I introduced her to a black lesbian night that used to happen every Saturday at Slainte.

“So did you like it?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” she replied. “They welcomed me right in, women bought me drinks, I felt very at home.” She emphasized the last bit.

“Oh yeah?” I was trying not to feel resentful. Although some women had been nice to me there, I never felt welcome or entirely comfortable. Studs tried to get me to but them drinks, and my friend reported people making nasty comments about me. (Did she have to tell me?  I was working so hard on ignoring them!)

“Besides,” My ex continued, “I need to find someone who’s my own kind.”

“You’re own kind?” I asked with a blend of suspicion and naivete. “What do you mean?”

“You know, my own kind–a femme, 5’6,” slender with a nice ass.” Hmm…how exactly was that a 5′ stud with no ass’s ‘own kind’? I vocalized it.

“What do you really mean by that?”

“You know, my own kind–black.”

***

I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me that I don’t always find welcome in the communities of color that I crave–I know what I’m getting into, and it is so worth it for the genuine, wonderful friends that I have made.  I guess what I am trying to express with this story is that every group privileges it’s members. I’m not saying that white privilege–or male privilege–or straight privilege–doesn’t exist–it does. And because whites and men and striaghts are the dominant groups in this country–and much of the world–it creates an extremely unfair situation for people who do not fit into these categories.

What I am saying is that although people can’t help the privileges that they were born into, they can help how they think about those privileges and how they behave around people who do not have the same privileges.

The problem with privilege is that your own privileges are nearly invisible from within your group–but glaringly obvious to outsiders. Unless people are confronted by others lack of privilege, they take their own privileges for granted. People from dominant and/or homogenous groups especially take their privilege for granted. This creates  a sense of entitlement. Rather than recognizing that–due to no particular innate virtue of their own–their group privileges them in certain ways–ways which may be extremely unfair to people who are excluded–they think that somehow they innately deserve those privileges, and that others either don’t, or need to accommodate them.

People from smaller groups are hyper-aware of the privileges they are excluded from. (While often remaining unaware of the privileges that they do have.) This creates a feeling of resentment.

In politically aware groups I’m often frustrated because people seem to be always trying to prove that they are more oppressed then each other by pointing out others privilege. Ex: “Oh sure you’re oppressed as a Lesbian–but you’re not black/trans/homeless like me…then you’d really be oppressed!” (After-all, what is oppression if not exclusion from privilege?)

I guess it’s much better to point out each others privileges than not, but I feel that rather than truly examine each group and the way that it is both excluded from privileges and privileges it’s own members, this type of behavior and attitude is more  about entitling your own group or identity than really breaking down the barriers and sharing privileges with everybody.

But really, everyone deserves every privilege. Why not? Hopefully if we can recognize the assumptions we make based on the privileges that we have–and consider the feelings and needs of people outside of our “groups”–we can all stop acting like assholes!

After all, to a hungry person, food is a privilege. To the dead, privilege is breath.

Let’s try to share y’all!

(I’m not talking about sharing breath with the dead–that sounds kinda icky and might lead to zombies)

3 Comments

  1. In politically aware groups I’m often frustrated because people seem to be always trying to prove that they are more oppressed then each other by pointing out others privilege. Ex: “Oh sure you’re oppressed as a Lesbian–but you’re not black/trans/homeless like me…then you’d really be oppressed!” (After-all, what is oppression if not exclusion from privilege?)

    As a womanist/black feminist, I can’t tell you how many times we women of color have to deal with that mindset from white feminists. The majority of white feminists don’t recognize the plight/struggles and different approach to women’s rights and feminism. They don’t seek to include our thoughts or opinions on feminist issues.

    As a woman of color active in the gay rights community, I can tell you first hand Gay, Inc operates in the same way. Even in Atlanta, which has a huge minority GLBT population, the mainstream activist movement is white and male. And when this is pointed out by GLBT folks of color, mainstream, Gay, Inc balks at this notion and completely refutes its privilege. There is no attempt to reach out to GLBT people of color in Atlanta, despite the majority of the population being minority.

    So, the “Oh sure you’re oppressed as a Lesbian–but you’re not black/trans/homeless like me…then you’d really be oppressed!” response you hear from GLBT people of color is nothing but a reaction to those in dominant groups refusing to recognize and understand their privilege and its affect on society.

    • I can’t speak for Atlanta, but the Boston Lesbian scene is also as segregated as Boston itself: what I consider to be mainly white events are considered “diverse” if they have a handful of women of color, and many primarily black lesbian events trumpet diversity and then have even fewer non-black attendees. (Although there are exceptions–the now defunct Pure had about 20-30% women of color and Basement by the group QUOC had one of the most diverse Lesbian crowds I’ve seen.)
      I’ve been the only white woman in the room at some Lesbian events I’ve been to, though. Or one of two. Friends of mine have actually started conversations with me “You know the other white girl who goes to Slainte…? (A now defunct Lesbian night)–to which I responded–“you mean the stud?” I did know the one.

      I do understand what this reaction comes from–just like I understand that the so called “reverse-racism” that I experience comes from a very real place of pain. This blog has been a *safe space* for me to complain about my hurt at the rejection that I experience from a few as I try to gain a greater understanding–and yes, seek the women who I am mentally, emotionally and physically attracted to. That doesn’t mean that I don’t understand and have compassion for the source of their pain–hundreds of years of oppression–just that when they project it on me, it hurts. But then I am not the majority of feminists. (Or there would be a hell of a lot more diversity at all of the Lesbian nights)

      I am not at all saying that white women/feminists who act out of entitlement do not need enlightenment. Not at all. Since privilege is something seen most clearly from the outside, it needs to be pointed out. If the woman’s being an asshole about it, lashing out by berating them for being privileged is a natural response–and can occasionally be effective–but is probably largely counter-productive. There has got to be a better way to point out privilege in a way that enlightens and educates–encouraging women who might be more ignorant than uncaring to become more aware–rather than by attempting to make them feeling guilty and ashamed, which will set up defense mechanisms which will make them resistant to empathy and enlightenment.

      I was trying to differentiate between privilege and oppression because as a member of a group, you cannot be individually held accountable for the privileges that your group affords you. You can only be held responsible for how you act. Do you attempt to extend your privilege to those who do not normally receive it–say by befriending and/or hiring outside of your race/class, etc… and challenging attitudes of entitlement from your own group when you encounter them? Do you seek to educate yourself about the world and all of it’s varieties? Or do you sit smug in your privileges and only recognize your own struggles? (An attitude of entitlement)

      I want to believe that all of the efforts by feminists of color and their allies from the sixties through today to educate the white majority has had some impact, but I don’t know. Most people only care about their own situation. If they’re white women, they worry about oppression of white women, if they’re black, they worry about oppression of blacks, if they’re black, and women, and lesbian…etc…well it doesn’t get any easier. Ideally we could bond over the commonalities of our struggle while valuing the multitude of perspectives, but people tend to only see through the narrow lens of their own experiences.

      I want to clarify that in that sentence I was not speaking strictly of minorities speaking speaking to uncaring dominant majorities–but of a kind of competition that I see among people with all kinds of marginalized identities to be the “most oppressed” I do feel that although often people point out privilege to enlighten or in response to an attitude of entitlement, sometimes people point out privilege as a way to devalue each others experiences. My experiences of oppression may not be as extreme as yours, or may be felt in different ways depending on which part of my identity is under attack–but they are real and valid in their own right. I value yours. Please do the same for me. (By me and you I’m not speaking generally, not necessarily personally.)

  2. There are so many people who haven’t been educated about their groups privilege and they don’t know how to not act privileged or entitled. If you’ve never had to think about if you’ll be welcome somewhere, you’ll go anywhere assuming that it’s a welcoming, safe space. We know that there is no space where everyone is welcome. There is always a majority and a minority at any club, party or other event. People try to excuse their own behaviors by saying “you don’t understand how it is to be me”. Many people struggle with oppression and sometimes it brings groups together and other times it’s just another segregating point, unfortunately.


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