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)

Why Do I Like Black Girls?

So I was asked again, tonight:

“Why do you like black girls?”

And I really didn’t have an answer.

“I just like them.” Was the best answer I could come up with. I tried being with white girls, and with white men…but something was always, I don’t know, missing. After my son’s father I never dated another white man. After my daughter’s father, (he was half black-half Irish) I didn’t date anyone for three years, I was that damaged. But when I did, they were black or latin.

Actually I did date a white woman in there, briefly. She was the first woman in years to kiss me without a boyfriend fidgeting nervously in the background.

But it wasn’t until I met Jen that I was like…really? I can pull a sista? If I knew that earlier….

Maybe it’s because of how I was raised, the times I spent from a young age as the only white girl in a black neighborhood or camp? Why does anyone like anything? All I know is what I’m attracted to, who I’m attracted to. I can’t help it. For a long time I had no self esteem that any beautiful sista or brotha would want me when they could have one of their own, but once I realized some did…WOW!

+++

I don’t know if it’s related, but as I was lying in bed, trying to remember the first girl I was attracted to…but for each one I picked out as the first there was always someone I liked when I was younger. I never had a lot of friends in school, but when I did have a friend, she was just like a girlfriend. She was my everything. The only one I wanted to be with, and when it didn’t work out, when we broke up, it broke my young little heart.

So I’m going back in my head, and I started remembering when we were learning history in school: learning all about how the white people came to this land and annihilated its red-gold skinned people, kidnapped black people from Africa and made them slaves. I think it’s around then that I started to hate the color of my skin. I remember staring at my arms and wishing they would turn brown. What color was I anyway? There’s not even a proper name for the peachy-pinkish color of my skin. White? What am I? A wall? A piece of paper? Blank?

Even though my people (the Jews and, I was later to learn, the Irish) have our own stories of oppression, it wasn’t the same. I wanted no part of those hateful people who could do such horrid things…and besides brown skin was so much more beautiful. It didn’t have to be too dark–not that I had anything against dark–just a stretch for me….maybe a golden brown with just a hint of red…to go with the red hair I fantasized about…

More Better Bi Blues

I wanted to share a comment along with my response, from my guest post on Diffuse 5:

Steph:

I don’t think the rejection of bisexual women by the “lesbian community” (not a monolith by the way) is as simple as lesbians not wanting to be left for a man. Of course it hurts to be left for a woman or a man, but I don’t think that’s what so-called “bi-phobia” is all about.

For me, a lesbian-feminist who admittedly has some prejudices about bi women, it’s about being left for heterosexual privilege, the comfort of passing and the likely better economic situation bi women find themselves in in relationships with men vs. two women together economically. I’ve actually heard a most of my bi women friends say it’s just so much easier to be with men for all those reasons (whether they are with men or not). And, it’s my feminist self just as much as my lesbian self that smells a privileging of identities here.

It is leaving the disrepute of lesbianism and embracing the respectability of the heterosexual norm (b/c unless you say otherwise, people are going to assume you are straight if you are dating a man) that makes the hairs on the necks of lesbians like me stand up when bisexual women start talking about how oppressed and misunderstood they are.

Me:

@Steph
Ah, just the kind of well articulated disagreement I was hoping for.

Before I address your points, I want you to do a mental exercise: the next time you, or your friends make a casual disparaging remark about Bi’s. Substitute the word Dyke. How does it feel when the hate is directed at you?

Maybe your comments about economics, respectability and privilege would be justified if I was attracted to the kind of “nice Jewish boy” my grandmother would have picked for me, but in my case I have not found much in the way of respectability or financial stability in my relationships with men.

I challenge the assumption that every heterosexual relationship comes with implicit comfort, privilege and financial gain.

Maybe that’s because everyone I seem to be attracted to is broke, (to be fair I’m poor too) and most of them are black. I was the sole breadwinner in the last serious “het” relationship I had, and believe me, straight interracial relationships carry a pretty heavy stigma as well! (Not to mention he was mentally and physically abusive–there goes comfort.)

I also come from a feminist background, and my mom was much more financially successful than my father, who stayed home with me when I was really young, so I always assumed that it was the woman’s role to be breadwinner, and have subconsciously tried to replicate that in my relationships to varying degrees of success.

It’s true that I found it easier to date men–but not for the reasons you give. Unlike women, they were just always around actively trying to get into my pants. On the other hand, for a long time I had no idea how to even get started with the women I was much more attracted to. (I’m still working on this one.)

You are correct that there is not one monolithic Lesbian community,and I apologize if I used that phrase as short hand, but a substantial number of Lesbians I’ve met are vocally Bi phobic. Calling myself a Lesbian rather than Bi has made a huge difference between making friends and getting the cold shoulder with a lot of women. (Believe me I’ve tried both.)

Maybe it is being a “poor me” to say: ‘when you say that nasty thing about Bi’s, you’re talking about me, and it hurts!’

But, well, it does. If you say a racist thing about me, (like how I’m white, so therefore rich, etc..) it hurts too. I don’t care that I am supposedly in some ‘privileged’ class, and therefore somehow have no room to complain. When people reject me based on things beyond my control; like my sexuality, race, gender, etc…it hurts.

I can only talk about what hurts me. This does not invalidate other people’s pain or struggle or oppression. Nor do other people’s struggles–even if they are much more difficult–invalidate mine.

 

Until next time! JA