I’m Privileged and I Know it (Work it Out)!

I came across a very interesting article today that I wanted to make some commentary on.

This was a very well written article, and he does a brilliant job of describing the main concept of privilege distress. I believe it is very true that winning people is very important.

It should be fairly obvious to someone who understands women’s issues, for example, that winning people over to feminist understanding will have a much more transformative impact than passing a limited bill in some isolated jurisdiction.

Not to argue against those changes, but I can even see how small changes can have an entrenching effect among the privileged masses if it gets a certain kind of publicity that leaves them believing that they are an embattled minority that is losing ground.

I get the concept and its importance.

In my own life, I have gone through such a transformation. I have traversed from a position unaware privilege, to not only becoming aware of much of my privilege, but actually being in a process of continually exploring and deconstructing it. None of this could have happened without the long and determined effort of my partner. It also couldn’t have happened without a certain willingness on my part to wrestle with my own privileged distress that arose when I was being challenged.

The thing is that I could never wish upon, and certainly not demand from anyone, what my partner had to go through. She has reminded me recently of some of the ways that I reacted and the things I said along the way; things that with most people would leave me frothing at the mouth were I in her shoes. I would have to not only have a certain emotional investment, but also a willingness to endure the pain and frustration of being misunderstood and misrepresented by the person having the privileged distress, as they inevitably resist. There are degrees of resistance, but it is always present. If there is privilege, there is resistance. It’s simply a fact.

What gets me about this article is that he doesn’t seem to explicitly state who his audience is. I’m left to believe that the marginalized themselves are at the very least being included if not singled out. The personal pain that I experience as described above is not even fully my own. It is merely the pain of being an advocate. I can walk away from it. I can choose to be silent when it becomes too much, yet that isolation and misunderstanding has still been strong enough at times to cause emotional breakdown.

How much worse must this be for marginalized people who are unable to hide from or avoid their marginalization? How can I, or this author, in any reasonable way impose upon them the burden of coddling the privileged under whom they experience their own oppression (regardless of supposedly benign, non-hating fee-fees). Personally, I just can’t do it.

As I’ve stated earlier, I have come from being very privileged while simultaneously unaware. As I have delved further and further into the mire, I found myself on a pendulum swing from trying to save the world to giving in to rage, first empathizing with, and then mimicking much of the vicious tear-down of privileged rhetoric with no empathy for its proponents. I still do not and probably never will begrudge the marginalized for doing so themselves. How could I? What would this be other than an over-privileged person telling under-privileged people.how best to advocate for themselves? They are reclaiming their right to speak and be angry which we; the privileged, have continuously denied them.

However I believe I am finding that, despite my desire to revel in and repeat the outrage of the marginalized as an expression of solidarity and empathy, this is not the most useful role that I can perform. This author has given expression to ideas that I have been formulating just in the last few months; the idea that my greatest role is to endure the stream of privileged ignorance and fight to maintain my empathy and acceptance for them as good people with bad ideas. To realize that not everyone can be won over, and that their choices are not my responsibility, but to at least not give up on the process altogether and take what is, for me, an easier road.

I can only hope that I am his intended target. Otherwise, I think he has missed it.

Posted on September 17, 2012, in Feminism, Social. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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