When they stick to the specifics these lists can be illuminating – I’m probably not the only white person who had never had to think about the colour of ‘flesh-coloured’ bandages. But seeing all those lists together raised some real questions for me.
This is partly because I think there’s a real problem with the way privilege is framed in these lists – anything which one group of people have and another doesn’t is considered a privilege. I’m fine with describing a man who doesn’t do his share of housework and has women around him picking up the slack as privileged. I’m much less OK with describing a man who doesn’t have to worry about being raped, if he walks home after dark, as privileged. Not being afraid of rape is a right, not a privilege.
I disagree with the content of some of the lists. I think an extremely large proportion of the average sized person are not true for many women – whatever their size (particularly this one: I do not have to be afraid that when I talk to my friends or family they will mention the size of my body in a critical manner, or suggest unsolicited diet products and exercise programs – I find the idea that ‘average-sized’ women can be free from this fear almost ridiculous). The white-privilege list seems to assume that the white-people in question are middle-class. Some of the non-trans-privilege list also apply to many non-trans women (particularly the stuff about gender and medical care). This is from a social class privilege check-list: “There are places where I can be among those exclusively from my social class” – which suggests he’s never been to a factory, poor neighbourhood, or a prison. I get that it’s a blunt instrument, but a lot of these lists are obscuring more than they’re illuminating.
I also think there’s a real problem in treating different sorts of oppression as if they operate the same way. I’ve written about this before. But these lists, which are all based on each other in some respect really seem to suggest that privilege all works in the same way. For example, representation in media plays a part in most lists, but I would say the role media plays in upholding different oppressions is really different.
But most fundamentally I just don’t have much time for analysing the world through privilege. It so often leads to individualistic non-action – to someone interupting a conversation to say “but even having this conversation is a privilege.” On an individual level I think it’s important to know where you come from, to know what you’ve been given, and to analyse how you benefit from this system. I absolutely think that everyone has a responsibility to not use the privilege, and power, society gives us – over people we know. But you can’t give up privilege as an individual – you can just fight to end it by working collectively.
Note: I’ve had a disturbing amount of support from right-wing assholes for this post. I think they glided over this sentance:
On an individual level I think it’s important to know where you come from, to know what you’ve been given, and to analyse how you benefit from this system. I absolutely think that everyone has a responsibility to not use the privilege, and power, society gives us – over people we know.
I think I should make the point more explicit. I believe that when you interact with someone who has less power and resources tha you do you have a duty not to wield your advantages over them, or to act like you’re superior because you have that power and those resources. Snapping at workers in the service industry? Absolutely unacceptable for anyone who believes in any kind of equal society. Asking why those in poverty get hire purchaces (when you can always get credit from your parents)? Equally obnoxious. Obviously in order to do this, you need to understand what power and resources our society has given you.
However, I believe this step is only a necessary pre-requisite for meaningful political action, it is not meaningful political action in and of itself. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t realise what society gives you, it’s just that realising it doesn’t doing anyone any good at all unless you organise.
Also posted at Capitalism Bad; Tree Pretty