Minorities, Appropriation, and Privilege Checking

What with trying to put together this week’s Forward Thinking post and the first post of the Judaism 101 panel I’m hosting here, combined with trying to prepare for an academic conference, being out of town, working on projects that need doing around the house, and putting time into a new professional project, I don’t actually have a post ready for you this morning. But I thought I’d share two comments that were made by the panelists in the Judaism 101 project, because I think they say some very interesting things about the experience of being a minority.

Here is the first, by Ki Sarita, made in response to my asking her to compare Jewish concepts regarding creation to the Christian concepts I am familiar with:

I fear you may be stepping into a mistake that occurs quite often in majority-minority interdialogues. The majority, in this case Christian, attempts to find out more about the minority by taking elements of their world, and asking how it is expressed in the other’s world. This could present a skewed picture because it assumes that all the elements are the same and parallel. With regard to Judaism, the most important influence on Judaism is something that does not have a parallel in Christianity, and that is the Talmud.

The second comment was made by Rachel:

Because I’m a minority culture in the US, I often struggle with seeing Judaism appropriated, inaccurately interpreted, and played off for jokes. I get frustrated with so often being the ambassador instead of being able to simply be, to simplify my religion and history for other people’s edification rather than be able to wrangle with its complexities myself, and to be on my guard when discussing Judaism in the public sphere because I worry that it’s going to be misinterpreted. Then, on the other hand, I haven’t really suffered enough: I can “pass” for white and Christian, if I choose (although I’m also likely to be confused for Hispanic Catholic), and I have so many Jewish role models to choose from, so I don’t feel like I can complain on the same level as my obviously-”other” friends who get stereotyped based on their appearance or sexuality, and who have virtually no representation in the mainstream media.

I may be female, but I am white, grew up in an upper middle class family, and have a Christian background. I have a lot of privilege, and, for all intents and purposes, no experience with life as a minority. Hearing sentiments like the above from time to time helps keep me aware of my privilege.

HSLDA on those “Radically Atheistic” Public Schools
Anonymous Tip: Meet the Lawyer
The Educational Inequality That Begins at Home
The unBiblical Tea Party Christian
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • jose

    Why do I get the impression that privilege checking is all about the fragile feelings of individuals and does nothing to advance the rights of any group. Get all the people to be really aware of their privilege: what you get is a society that is really polite, with the rich still at the top. But at least the rich will try not to hurt the poor’s feelings.

    • The_L

      Privilege checking is about becoming aware of the privileges you have. You can’t fix a problem unless you’re aware that it exists.

      Let’s pretend that there are invisible people out there, and that there also exist special glasses that let you see invisible people. If I don’t know about those glasses, it’s all too easy for me to harm the invisible people without even knowing it–and because I’m not invisible myself, I’m not affected, so I don’t even really think about the invisible toes I’m stepping on, the invisible faces I’ve slammed doors into, or the invisible pedestrians I’ve hit with my car. If I have on the glasses and can thus see the harm that my privilege does, it’s easier to avoid doing that harm–the invisible folk go from being nameless, faceless victims that I don’t have to care about, to being real live people that I can see. I can now stop when the invisible pedestrian is in the crosswalk; I can see an invisible person approaching a door and hold it open; I can help instead of harming.

      Privilege checking is the FIRST step of making things better, and is pretty much necessary. It is not an end in itself.

      • Rachel

        Agree x1000, especially with this being the first step.

        To add to your metaphor: being a minority myself doesn’t mean that I have the special glasses on myself: it only means that I know these glasses must exist somewhere, because I’ve been invisible myself.

      • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

        That is such a good way to put it!

      • The_L

        I basically came up with the metaphor because I am now one of the people who was invisible to me when I was younger: Until I was 15 years old, I honestly did not realize that there were non-Christian people in the United States. I’d never knowingly met one, nor had I heard anything to clue me in that there were non-Christian people here. So the fact that I had certain privileges by being a Christian in the US honestly did not occur to me.

        Religious minorities were my invisible people.

      • spookiewon

        That’s ridiculous! Mostly because that’s not how the purveyors of PC language use the word “privilege.” Anytime you disagree with one of these people, it’s because you have “privilege.” I’ve been told I have “straight white male privilege” on several of these forums. That I am a lesbian makes that VERY humorous. Apparently only straight men oppose feminism. Go figure.

        And why are you assuming that the invisible people are disadvantaged? I’d say the invisible people are the ones with privilege, if we use your definition, and preferential treatment should be given people who have the disadvantage of being visible.

        The point is, the concept of privilege is a really bad way to bring about social change, but it’s an excellent way to divide and cause hate.

    • shortcake

      Additionally, “privilege” doesn’t just refer to socioeconomic status.
      For example, judging from your username, Jose, I’m going to extrapolate that you are a male of some sort of Latin or Hispanic descent. I am a black woman. I have a modicum of social privilege because I have eurocentric features, but I am also dark-skinned, so I very often get “you’re not like those other black people I know.” Oh, really? Like what?
      There’s usually no answer to that.
      You have privilege over me as a man. If you are white-passing (ie: if no one were to question it, you for all intents and purposes, look like a white guy), you also have social privilege over me as a white-passing person.
      Google “The Invisible Knapsack.” It’s a VERY good explanation of privilege–it’s not just about money.

      • jose

        “I very often get “you’re not like those other black people I know.” Oh, really? Like what?”

        That’s what I meant when I said this privilege checking thing works just to prevent feelings of individuals from being hurt rather than to advance the rights of groups. Black people won’t get any power out of white people’s politeness. Being aware of it does nothing to change who holds the power and who doesn’t.

      • shortcake

        Checking your privilege is not about politeness–it’s about awareness.
        It’s about being aware that your experience is not normative and others should conform to it. It’s about being aware that not everyone has the same opportunities and advantages.
        Another example: my fiance and I live in the buckle of the bible belt.
        He is a staunch atheist and I’m something of a pagan-leaning pantheist. However, because of our location, we are not afforded the ability to simply exist outside of the bubble of Christianity being the expected norm. People just assume we’re Christian until we say otherwise, if we’re even comfortable enough with those people to do so.

        I really do recommend you read “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” It explains this concept a lot more succinctly than I can.

      • jose

        And I’m telling you powerful people are already aware that they are powerful and they hold on to it and won’t give any of it away without a fight. Don’t you think employers know their employees’ working conditions are bad? He specified those conditions. He knows.

        Those christians neighbors will be happy to humor your pagan thing because they lose nothing by doing so. Your existence isn’t a threat. Now tell them churches shouldn’t be tax exempt and see what happens.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        “And I’m telling you powerful people are already aware that they are powerful…”

        Boy, oh boy, is this ever not true! So many people are completely unaware of the ways in which they have power over others. Witness all the disgruntled white guys who think that THEY are the oppressed ones now and that people of color are just having a ball with their affirmative action and Black History month etc! Witness all the men that think that women now hold the real power in the public sphere, relationships etc. You are assuming that all power relationships are as straightforward and cut-and-dried as employer/employee, where the roles are very clearly denoted. But many types of power are so taken for granted, and have been for so long, that when they are challenged just a little bit, the holders of that power genuinely feel as if they have been made powerless in comparison to those doing the challenging.

        And there are so many little ways in which privilege can be invisible to the privileged, even to really good people. When one of my male friends sees me walking down the street from his car and honks the horn to get my attention, then wonders why it took me so long to turn around (and I didn’t do so until he said my name), he doesn’t understand that his being able to walk down the street and assume that a person slowing down their car to honk the horn at him is a friend, not a street harasser, is a privilege that I do not share as a woman. I have to explain that to him. Just to name one example.

        Shortcake is right. Privilege-checking is not about “politeness”–that implies that it is a matter of facile social etiquette, and not a matter of true awareness and understanding that can lead to change. My awareness of my own various privileges (and we all have them) is not an issue of trying to be “polite,” it is an issue of trying to understand how I can be part of the solution to inequality and injustice instead of unwittingly part of the problem.

      • jose

        Awareness doesn’t lead to change. You want power, you have to take it or force the other group to give some of it up. That’s what strikes and media campaigns are all about. Admonishing random people when they’re inconsiderate to you personally won’t end discrimination or any other form of injustice.

      • The_L


        “Those christians neighbors will be happy to humor your pagan thing because they lose nothing by doing so.”

        HA! I’m sure that explains all those good Christians who denied custody to Pagan parents in divorce court specifically because of their religion, denied Pagans any off time or compensation for working on their religions’ holidays, told horrible lies about Paganism to concerned parents, and called the police to break up Pagan religious gatherings.

        People do all kinds of horrible things to people who aren’t hurting them. This is because people are not perfect. You don’t live in a just world, kid, you live in the real world.

        “Powerful people are already aware that they are powerful and they hold on to it and won’t give any of it away without a fight.”

        Okay, so who’s going to fight them, then? Either other powerful people, or a sufficiently large quantity of ordinary people. I have privileges that Wal-Mart workers do not. I am aware of this, and support Wal-Mart workers in the fight for fair hours and wages.

      • spookiewon

        No, it’s about your right to put him down. And it’s unbecoming at best and bigoted at worst.

  • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

    I’m not sure what Ki Sarita’s purpose is by joining a panel and essentially announcing that she’s not going to answer questions because the audience is privileged. Does privilege exist? Yes, it does. But education breaks down walls. How did the civil rights movement grow? By educating people on the struggles woman and African Americans had been enduring in silence. How did popular opinion change on gay marriage? By educating the majority about how LGBTs possessed the same wants and needs they did.

    Now if Ki Sarita is personally uncomfortable answering questions like this, then that’s understandable. But the process of joining a Judaism Panel knowing that her nonanswer will be documented and posted on the web for all to see strikes me as insincere. The question is not problematic because it comes from a privileged context. If an Israeli-born Christian asked an Orthodox Jew this question while sitting in a cafe along the West Bank, would it still be considered privileged? In both cases, the education that results from an informative answer levels the playing field. In both cases, it brings two cultures together and produces a better understanding and respect for one another.

    And the central part of her argument -that the Talmud renders Judaism incomparable to Christianity -makes no sense. Both Creation Stories come from the same faith tradition, and both have a similar structure and cast of characters, with Lilith being the most significant difference. Our Christian belief in Satan as a fallen angel actually comes from the Talmud, which indicates that early Christians also read the Talmud.

    • shortcake

      Actually, I kind of agree with Ki Sarita on a level.
      Yes, education is the key to enlightenment, but there comes a point when the curious person needs to google it. I am seriously guilty of employing the “Let me google that for you” link in conversation when I just couldn’t stomach being asked the same things over and over again.
      When the entire onus of education is placed on the “other,” it turns that person from a person into something exotic or into The Compendium of All [Insert Minority] Knowledge.
      Answering the same questions over and over again is annoying and can be extremely frustrating when you want to be treated like a person, not like some exotic sideshow. It’s annoying to have your lived experience reduced to some sort of blanket catch-all for all people who have vaguely similar experiences to yours.

      However, I do agree that if she didn’t want to answer questions, she shouldn’t have joined the panel.

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        I’m a teacher, and I always have a number of students from a minority culture in my class. Some students don’t like answering questions about their culture, but most love it because they’ve been in classrooms where the privileged class had zero curiosity about their culture, and THAT made them feel like an “other.” And what happens over time is that the “exotic” becomes less exotic. The Japanese girl who seems awkwardly shy and even rude at the beginning of the year gains friends because the students learn that Japanese manners dictate that you not look people directly in the eyes when you speak to them. Sometimes all it takes is for people to ask questions. The questions can be awkward or poorly phrased, but the destination is what matters.

        Compare it to what I might call the Mitt Romney Syndome. What would you rather: the privileged person whose indifference to your culture and experience is so profound that you are irrelevant to him, therefore he never asks questions about you? Or would you prefer the sincere privileged person who wants to understand you better and may ask clumsily stated questions without realzing how awkward they sound?

        I sympathize with people who get frustrated – I have a medical condition that often elicits questions I don’t always feel like answering – but I remember that my momentary discomfort at having to answer the question means that the next time the questioner encounters someone with my condition, she will be wiser and won’t need to ask a similar question again. “Google it” is an off-putting attitude (especially given the limits of short-term memory and the fact that there’s still about 20% of the population without internet access) and it may come off as angry and discourage communication.

      • shortcake

        This is very much a ymmv issue.
        Some people don’t mind answering questions.
        Some people do. I’m one of the ones that minds.
        I’m a young, educated black person living in the south. I tend to get a lot of: “Do all black people do x?” “Why do black women do x?” “How do you wash your hair?” “Why do you talk like a white person?” “Do you like watermelon?” “Why don’t you do x like the other black women?”
        After a little while, it starts to grate on my nerves, and I tell them to google it, which is far more polite than telling them to f*** off, which is what I really want to say. I don’t like being considered the compendium of negro knowledge. I don’t like fielding the same ignorant questions over and over again. I don’t mind answering genuine questions, but after about a good decade of fielding questions that are more in line with the ones I listed above, I get a little snippy.

        I can understand behavior like that from young children, because children have no tact, which can be refreshingly charming. I have no time or patience for adults who behave in that manner, though.

        Like I said, placing the onus for education about differences on the shoulders of the “other” isn’t helpful, imo. At some point, the majority group needs to start taking up the mantle to educate itself.

      • Hilary

        Christian, Shortcake, I hope you both show up tomorrow.

        Shortcake, you’re right, YMMV. Personally, I’d rather people ask me so at least I can recommend a good website rather then have them google it themselves and end up in some anti-semetic apologetics site. But it really is up to individual choice, personality, and situation.


    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      She does answer the question, she just added that at the end of her question (as you’ll see when I post the panel’s responses to the first question tomorrow). I took her point as simply being that we need to be wary of simply viewing Judaism through a Christian lens, and also that we need to remember that just like words in different languages don’t line up completely, even so religious concepts do not as well. I am not saying your point is not valid—it is—but I think that part of this goes back in part to the question of who needs to be the one doing the educating, and in that sense pairs well with Rachel’s comment.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        Oh God, THANK YOU, Libby! Where did this discussion even come from? She wasn’t saying she’s not going to answer questions (as a fellow member of said panel, I can assure you she’s been quite vocal), she was making a point about how questions about Judaism from Christians often assume that there’s an obvious analogue in Judaism for all things Christian and vice-versa and that this lack of openness to the idea that Judaism is just fundamentally DIFFERENT from Christianity in a lot of ways, and that you often can’t make one-to-one comparisons between the two impedes their understanding. She wasn’t saying she refuses to educate others, she’s saying that the way the people who need that education frame their questions and thoughts can often prevent real learning. And this is something I have also found to be true.

        But who are we? Just actual Jews, so what would we know about how Judaism differs fundamentally from Christianity? Christian Vagabond, I guess I can assume that you won’t actually be reading our series? Since you’re clearly so secure in your knowledge of the differences between the two, which differences are significant, and how those differences play out already!

  • The_L

    Here’s a little tidbit I wrote, in response to something horrendous that was said about consent. Since you talk a lot about rape culture, I thought it might be relevant to your blog.

    That, and it’s not very often I come up with such a witty retort, so I guess I’m also showing that off just a bit.

    • http:///krwordgazer.blogspot.com Kristen Rosser

      I loved that!

    • Hilary

      Word – that was good!

    • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

      Awe. Some. :D

      Have an Internet, The_L!

  • kisarita

    Libby I do not believe there was anything untoward or offensive in your question whatsoever, since the first question was about genesis, it was just a cautionary note about the future directions the questions might take, for the sake of an accurate picture. I don’t find it offensive in any way when people don’t know much about Judaism. There’s a lot I don’t know about an awful lot of things.

    • kisarita

      further explanation-
      since my feeling was that the Genesis myth is less central to Judaism than to Christianity (of course, I may be wrong about this given my limited experience with Christianity), I thought that being that the very first question that Libby asked is about Genesis, it mind end up as a tit for tat series. With that understanding taken, of course the varying interpretations of Genesis are a very legitimate and interesting topic for discussion.
      Christian Vagabond, you especially seemed to have missed the point with the following comment
      “Both Creation Stories come from the same faith tradition, and both have a similar structure and cast of characters, with Lilith being the most significant difference. Our Christian belief in Satan as a fallen angel actually comes from the Talmud, which indicates that early Christians also read the Talmud.” This quote shows a strong lack of knowledge about the role of the mentioned texts themselves to Jews, but more importantly your interpretations, which to you seems self evident perhaps, but which most Jews who were not exposed to Christianity would find exceptionally foreign.

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        The point was not to imply that all Jews or Christians were familiar with the Talmud. i was addressing your comment that the Talmud does not have parallel in Christianity. Gnostic Christians and Catholics do use teaching external to the Bible itself that heavily influence their traditions and beliefs, even if the average Gnostic or Catholic never reads them or is fully aware of them. The fact is that Christianity began as a Jewish sect, and the text that Paul and Jesus and other major figures in the Bible were reading would have included the Talmud and apocryphal texts.

        That said, I understand better now where you were coming from. My mistaken impression was that Libby Anne’s quote from you was your complete answer to her question.

    • shortcake

      Thank you for explaining this further!
      I know that Judaism and Christianity have some parallels, but they aren’t a sort of 1:1 correlation.
      I’m vaguely familiar with Judaism because of a friend of my mom’s and some of my own reading, but I would like to know more from different perspectives.
      I’m very much looking forward to this blog series.

  • kisarita

    BTW The placing of Lillith in the Genesis story does not occur in the Talmud but by Ben Sira, a Jewish author to be sure, but whose works were not considered to be sacred. Regarding the Talmudic source for the “fallen angels” I am unfamiliar with any such source, but then again there is a lot I don’t know, can you provide a source?
    The Satan that I know, is a biblical character, albeit minor, who appears in the book of Zacharia and Job, whose primary role is to incite god against humans.
    Satan’s role is bigger, perhaps a bit closer to Christianity but still different, in Kabbalistically influenced thought.

    • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

      Regarding Lilith, I was thinking of the Gemara, but you’re right that it comes from Ben Sira. Satan’s story comes primarily from the Book of Enoch. So I admit my error on both fronts. But to me this illustrates my larger point: I was in possession of erroneous beliefs, and if I had not brought up the topic, I would not have learned that I was incorrect.

      It’s not that I think i “know it all” -quite the contrary. It’s that I’m passionate about education and communication, and I grow frustrated with the voices among the Left who discourage both on the belief that the privileged are the only ones who gain from the exchange. To me, that mentality is potentially as destructive as the fundamentalist position that one shouldn’t ask such questions for fear that one may be influenced by unaccepted beliefs or ideas. The end result is essentially the same: two people from different backgrounds and experiences do not seek to learn from one another and fear the consequences of asking unacceptable questions.

      • kisarita

        Since you seem to have taken it in good spirits, one more correction: The Talmud was compiled after the year 400, so Paul and Jesus would have not have read the Talmud, although they would have been familiar with many of the earlier Rabbis quoted therein.
        In your opinion, which Christian text has had such a conclusive shaping effect as the Talmud?

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        I would say the Roman Catechism. It wasn’t actually published until the 1500′s, but the Catechism was a compilation of Catholic teachings meant only for clergy. I’m fuzzy on its details since I’m not Catholic, but it’s a compilation of official teachings, doctrines, and prayers that the Catholic Church uses, and it wasn’t officially published for the public until 1985, and that version included the more liberal teachings from Vatican II. I know that the Catholic Church has had a number of major and minor catechisms before and after the Roman Catechism, but all of them document the nature of the authority of the Catholic Church. Like the Gospels, the Catechism existed in different forms before the 1500′s, but the Protestant Reformation provoked the church to document its official teachings.

        Now I’m delving into tricky territory because I might be mistaken, but I think it supersedes the Bible for Catholics, and it’s why Catholics don’t have the kind of theological debates other Christians have. The Catechism also contains many of the teachings the Protestant Reformation rebelled against, so it’s a big reason why we have so many Christians who insist that the Bible alone has authority.

      • Christine

        I can probably confirm or deny your comment that the Catechism supercedes the Bible, if you explain a little more. It’s a completely different text, it doesn’t have any commentaries or anything of the sort.

      • http://www.christianvagabond.com Christian Vagabond

        My understanding is that if you ask a priest or a devout Catholic a theological question, they will more than likely consult or refer to the Catechism rather than the Bible. (I think) that Catholics believe that the Catechism is in harmony with the Bible, so there’s no tension between the two. Is that correct?

      • Christine

        Oh, I’d have to say that’s correct. It’s basically supposed to be the codified results of Biblical interpretation AND Tradition. (Remember, this is why Luther was such a big deal – sola scriptura was and still is considered heresy). It’s why you (rarely) catch Catholics proof-texting – doctrine was developed a) using a more holistic reading and b) looking at how things were traditionally interpreted. Or, rather, it’s a function of that attitude, even if it’s not a cause. (Chapter & verse will still be cited, but it’s generally given as examples rather than as proof, and in more academic applications).

        And I would argue that you can’t proof-text from the Cathechism, because it’s written in tiny little chunks to be referred to and cited. When it was written people really were writing theology (rather than history or personal correspondence.) So, basically, it’s intended to be what a lot of Bible literalists like to think the Bible is. It’s the official “this are conclusions to draw” text, not a “this is what the Bible says” text.

  • kisarita

    My guess is an Israeli born Christian (most likely an Arab) would probably ask a Jew very different sorts of questions than asked by an American Christian. Both because the relations of the peoples are very different, and also because their Christian cultures are different.

    I realize how irked I am by Christian vagabond despite having said that lack of knowledge doesn’t offend me- its not the lack of knowledge, its the assumption that one knows it all when they really don’t.

  • saraquill

    Rachel’s comment left me a bit perplexed. I’ve spent my entire childhood and adult life in very Jewish areas, which makes it hard for me to believe that Jews are a minority. Intellectually I know this, but it’s also something I frequently forget.

    • Hilary

      It varies a lot by location. I’m from the midwest, and I’ve talked to Jews from New York who were as impressed with me that my parents had to fill out an absence sheet so I could take a day off of school for Rosh Hashanah, since I was one of only 3 Jewish students in a class of 400, as I was with them mentioning their entire public school closing for a day on the Jewish New Year because it wasn’t worth staying open for how few students would show up.

    • Hilary

      It depends a lot on your location. I’m in Minnesota, and as a teenager when I’d talk to Jews from New York City they would be just as impressed that my parents had to fill out an absence form for me to take the day off for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur, because I was one of only 3 Jewish students in a class of ~400, as I was that their entire *public* school would close for those days, because it wasn’t worth staying open when so few students would show up.


      • Hilary

        Sorry about the double post. I posted once, it didn’t show up, so I tried again. Libby, do you think you could delete one of these? I talk enough, I don’t need to repeat myself.


    • Alexis

      I’m from upstate NY, and I was one of 2 Jewish kids in my middle school of about 1000 kids. There were about 5-6 Jewish kids in my high school of 2000+ kids. (Actually, there were more Pagan or Wiccan-leaning kids than Jewish!)

    • Rachel

      Well, growing up, I didn’t realize I was a minority, because I lived in such a heavily Jewish area. I also didn’t really experience anti-Semitism, and I didn’t really have any Gentile friends until middle school. But living in a primarily Christian culture, I ended up learning quite a bit about Christianity through osmosis (as my parents certainly didn’t teach me anything!), and I was really surprised when my Christian friends didn’t know as much about Judaism as I knew about Christianity. By contrast, my husband was the only Jewish kid in his grade, and was often the first Jewish person his friends ever met.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Atheist here whose parents actually sent me to a Jewish summer camp with prayers and everything. I also went to high school in Miami Beach (a city which is entirely closed in by an eruv), had a Jewish boyfriend, and lived in a building that had so many Orthodox families it had a sukkah for Sukkot and a sabbath elevator. That’s always interesting to relate to people who have no experience whatsoever with Judaism…

  • OurSally

    What is this privilege thing, then? I can google it “a special entitlement to immunity granted by the state or another authority to a restricted group, either by birth or on a conditional basis”.

    I have been *accused* of being privileged. Rather startling to me. Where I come from we were all the same light beige colour. We all went to the same schools. We all had the protestant work ethic beaten into us. Some of us went to university, some didn’t. Some did religion, some didn’t. We were free to choose. I don’t feel I have committed any crime by growing up where I did.
    I acknowledge that there are people who had it worse than we did. That does not mean they have some kind of moral authority over me. It does not mean their opinion trumps mine. It does not accord them some kind of counter-privilege.

    • http://equalsuf.wordpress.com Jayn

      But neither does your opinion trump theirs, and that’s something a lot of people have trouble with when talking about people will less privilege than they have themselves. Privilege makes life easier it thousands of little ways that you don’t notice when you’re on their side, but can be blindingly obvious when they’re not. People with privilege tend to wonder why those without don’t follow the same paths they did, without noticing that those paths aren’t open to everyone. It’s easy to give someone money-saving advice like ‘buy in bulk’ if you’ve always had enough money on hand to make that work, for example, and think you’re helping. Knowing where you’re privileged can tell you when to keep your mouth shut, because what worked for you may not be applicable to someone else’s situation.

    • BringTheNoise

      1. Read, as has been suggested many times, Unpacking The Invisible Knapsack: http://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html

      2. don’t feel I have committed any crime by growing up where I did.

      No one said you did – because you didn’t – but it did put you in a different situation to other people how grew up in different circumstances, one that makes things a bit easier for you in certain aspects of life.

      3. That does not mean they have some kind of moral authority over me

      Again, no one is claiming that they do. However, in some circumstances, they will have knowledge or experience that is greater than yours. For example, if you grew up in area (apparently) free of religious prejudice, you are less apt to spot subtle signs of discrimination than someone who has had to deal with that kind of oppression all their lives.

      But, really, please read that link. This isn’t about punishing people for being white, or Christian, or anything else – it’s about being aware that other experiences exist and are just as valid, and need to be respected.

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia

      Let me give you an example: I grew up in Miami, Florida. I am a Caucasian, non-Hispanic female with blond hair, blue eyes, and pale white skin. Even though I was technically a minority (Miami-Dade is only 10% white, non-Hispanic), there were many instances where I clearly had privileged treatment based on my race. Police were always much nicer to me and I was rarely given trouble. Meanwhile, the same police officer would treat my friends of color much differently and do so right in front of me. I could walk around the neighborhood at all hours of the night and police would never question it. One time, this non-Hispanic white guy and a Hispanic mixed race guy were shooting off bottle rockets in front of our apartment. White guy had a Glock in his waistband, but the police never bothered to search him and instead frisked my mixed race friend and ran a check on only him. I was totally ignored.

      Years later, I witnessed it again while at an airport in Philly. It was right after 9/11 and I was flying home one-way which triggered extra security for me every step of the way. For some reason, an elderly Hispanic woman with dark skin and poor English skills was also being treated to extra security. They searched every nook and cranny of her belongings while barely glancing at mine.

      These days? I live in what some people consider the “ghetto” of Green Bay, Wisconsin. You know why they call it that? Because OMG there are multiple African American families on our block! Can you imagine the horror? Yet when I carefully explain that I went to an all-black middle school and that the all-white sections of town freak me out, I’m considered the weird one!

      Privilege exists whether you want to believe it or not. Your coming from a nearly homogenous background probably makes it a bit invisible to you and it would behoove you to learn about it more before casually dismissing it. I assure you, it’s real! I lived it for 25 years in Miami.

    • fwtbc

      You seem rather defensive. Almost everyone has some kind of privilege, and almost everyone lacks some kind of privilege as well.

      I have white privilege. I don’t face anywhere near the same level of systemic bullshit that people of colour face. I have straight privilege. I could meet my ideal partner tomorrow and we could immediately go and apply for a marriage license.

      I am disabled. I have very little vision. I can’t drive a car. Can you drive a car? Can you afford to own and operate a car? If you can, then that’s a privilege you have that I don’t. No one is saying you shouldn’t be allowed to drive or that you should feel guilty for being able to, but if you condescendingly tell someone they should stop whining and just do something, where doing something is enormously difficult without access to a car, then it’d be appropriate for them to point out that you’re privileged in that area and you should maybe keep that in mind before spouting off and being insensitive and offensive.

      And it’s not just about being offensive. Widespread ignorance of privilege leads to further marginalisation of groups that lack those privileges. It’s not a complicated concept.

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