“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)