Tuesday, July 22, 2008

A How To Guide For Getting Over Your Own Privilege

A Must Read, Must Memorize, Must Use guide for how not to be a privileged asswipe.

And I have just one thing to add, but with a story first.

I have two friends, one an overeducated white guy who is the very definition of white male privilege. Now he tries very hard to be an ally, but sometimes even the best intentioned are blind. Friend number two is your average white woman (well not average- I think she rocks the casbah). Both friends are frequenters of a little party in the desert called Burning Man. Well call them DG ( guy) and CJ (gal).

DG was telling em a story about the topless ladies only bike parade that happens at Burning Man every year and how the women who ride in it are all empowered and happy. It's an awesome experience of freedom and self expression and no one ever gets bothered or cat called or any of the normal bits of everyday violence we girls have to put up with in the rest of the world.

Sounds a bit like Nirvana huh? I've always said that we'd know we were really equal when a woman could pass out stark naked at a frat party and not get raped or molested. If DG's view of the event is true, then we are closer than I thought.

So I talked to CJ who actually rode in the bike parade. Now CJ is by no means shy or retiring about nudity. She's done the local Freemont Solstice Parade naked bike riding thing with no qualms. So being nude in public is no big deal to her. I asked what she thought of the Burning Man experience.

And from how she described it, you would have thought she and DG were at two separate events. She hated it. There were all these drunk dudes along the route catcalling and making nasty comments. She said she would never ever ride in it again.

Privilege means never having to see things you don't want to see. DG wants to believe that there are places where women aren't harassed. He wants to believe that patriarchal ownership of women is something that he (and people he chooses to associate with, like fellow Burners) don't participate in. So he didn't see that women were being harassed. It didn't enter his consciousness. He didn't have to see it because it didn't impact him in any way.

CJ, on the other hand, did have to see it. It was directed at her after all.

Back to the checklist and the whole point of this story.

I have often ended up in arguments with people (men) over the harassment issue. I have been told things like "I just don't see it" or "This is a progressive place, those things don't happen here". Once while trying to explain to a group of guy friends that catcalling is NEVER actually used to get a date- I asked each and every one of them if yelling at a girl ever got them the girl. They had a million excuses why it didn't, but none of them ever admitted that getting the girl is not the actual point of catcalling. They just don't see the broader problem. They don't have to. (same thing is true of racism, btw. These same progressive liberals in a blue blue city don't acknowledge that Seattle is just as segregated by race as Mississippi was in the 50s).

So when you are listening to someone with less (or no) privilege tell you about their experiences, believe them. It's easy to not see what we aren't confronted with. Think of privilege as being red green color blind. You may not be able to see the difference between stoplights, so you have to trust someone when they say they can see it.

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