Originally posted elsewhere, 4/15/18
After all the amazing things which have already been written on the internet, and on this site alone, about privilege, I can’t believe this still has to be explained. But there are a host of you who still aren’t getting it, so it obviously does.
Privilege is not a term used to mean that you’ve had it completely and utterly without difficulty in your entire life. It doesn’t (necessarily) mean you were born with a silver butt plug up your ass and sailing so smooth it may as well have been lubed for all of your days. You acting as if it does mean that makes you a fucking tool, so stop that, sit back, and for once in your goddamned life, listen.
Privilege means a set of advantages which come along – unsought and unearned – with certain life circumstances which are (usually) beyond your control.
- If you’re white, you have a set of social advantages which come with being white, and there are people who are not white who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you’re male, you have a set of social advantages which come with being male, and there are people who are not male who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are not poor, you have a set of social advantages which come along with not being poor, and there are poor people who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are able-bodied and have no mental illness, you have a set of social advantages which come along with not being disabled, and there are disabled people who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are heterosexual, you have a set of social advantages which come along with being heterosexual, and there are people whose sexual orientation falls elsewhere on the spectrum than straight, who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you live in the US, and you are of primarily European descent, you have a set of social advantages which come with being of European descent, and there are people who are not of European descent who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you had access to a higher education, you have a set of social advantages which come along with that higher education, and there are people who do/did not have such access who do not have those specific advantages.
- If you are conventionally attractive, you have a set of social advantages which come along with being conventionally attractive, and there are people who are not conventionally attractive who do not experience those specific advantages.
- If you grew up in a two-parent, non-abusive home, you have a set of social advantages that come along with that upbringing, and there are people who grew up in single parent homes and/or abusive homes who do not experience those specific advantages.
- If you are comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth (cisgender), you have a set of social advantages which come along with being comfortable with the gender you were assigned at birth, and there are people who are not cisgender who do not experience those specific advantages.
While that list is probably not comprehensive, sit back and take a look at it. Chances are pretty good that you have some of those advantages, and don’t have others. Those items where you do have the set of advantages? That’s privilege. That’s all it is. It’s not saying you don’t lack the advantages of some other items on the list, somewhere, or that, even if you don’t experience any of the disadvantages listed, you haven’t ever had any difficulty in your life which you’ve had to overcome by whatever means necessary. Literally nobody is saying that.
If you’ve been “called out” on your privilege, chances are, it’s not merely because it exists. You can’t help that, any more than you can help the color of your eyes.
But if someone is, for instance, disabled, the last thing they want or need is someone who isn’t disabled telling them how their experiences aren’t valid, or telling them how they should be doing things. That’s using privilege to speak over people who are oppressed in ways that you aren’t. It’s invalidating their lived experiences, based off of the incomplete information that is all that’s available to someone who isn’t disabled. One can’t possibly, from a place of not being disabled, understand all of the struggles and feelings and obstacles and injustices faced by someone who is. So, from that place of privilege, telling them that their lived experiences are wrong, or that they should just do things the way you think they should, even though you’re not disabled, is a shitty, tone deaf, oblivious and unkind thing to do. Disagreeing with them, talking over them, shouting them down, when they’re describing those obstacles and feelings and realities, is just shitty humaning. Trying to horn in on spaces that they create where only other disabled people are present, spaces they create specifically so they don’t have to deal with the added struggle of having non-disabled people doing those things, is shitty humaning. It’s basically saying, Hey, I have no clue what your life is like, but not only can I tell you how to live it better, I should be able to do that, anywhere, anytime, without hearing you complain about it.
And this applies to every axis of oppression, every item on that list. If you have those social advantages, and are using them to speak over or silence or invade the carefully cultivated spaces of those who don’t, then you need to, as they say, check your privilege. That’s not about you having everything easy in life. It’s about recognizing the advantages you do have, and not, in essence, rubbing them in the faces of the people who don’t.
When you get called out on that, the appropriate response is to sit with your discomfort. Because, yeah. It’s uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. The thing is, those differences in advantages shouldn’t, in an ideal world, exist. The thing is, we don’t live in that ideal world, and behaving as if we do is being willfully blind to reality.
So, instead, you sit with the discomfort, and recognize that you can’t possibly know what it’s like to not have the advantages you have, so it’s not okay to act as though you do. It’s not okay to wade into a discussion about race, as a white person, and tell people of color how they should behave when fighting or discussing their oppression. That is the literal least you can do. There’s plenty more you can do, but at the very least, don’t make it harder on people who are oppressed in ways you aren’t, by being a tool.
Now, onto that last list item. Let’s get one thing out of the way:
THERE. IS. NO. SUCH. THING. AS. “NORMAL.”
There are normative and non-normative states, but “normal” is just a setting on a dryer, and not something you can apply to people. It tells you absolutely nothing clear about a person to say that they are “normal,” because it’s a subjective term, not an objective term. Therefore, we have descriptors that we use to differentiate people. White, straight, middle class, male, educated… none of those words are an insult. Just a classification. None of those things is “normal,” either. They’re just one end of an axis, on which other classifications exist. Can they be occasionally used as an insult? Sure. That doesn’t make them inherently so. I can say that someone is wearing a blue shirt and make it sound like an insult, but saying that someone is wearing a blue shirt isn’t by its existence, insulting. Anything can be made to be an insult, but that doesn’t mean that everything is.Acting like you don’t understand that is either ignorant as fuck or disingenuous.
There’s an axis for gender identity, like it or not. On one end of that axis, there are people whose identity does not match the gender they were assigned at birth. The classification, the descriptor, that we use for that end of the axis is transgender. Trans is Latin for on the other side of. There has to be a classification, a descriptor, for those on the other end of the axis, those whose gender identity is the same as that they were assigned at birth. If the doctor who delivered you said, It’s a girl! and you feel like a woman, or they said It’s a boy!and you feel like a man, then you are described with that term. That term simply is cisgender. Cis is simply the opposite of trans. It’s Latin for on this side of. It doesn’t mean “sissy,” it’s not an insult, and you’re a tool if you act as though that’s the case.
So stop being a fucking tool.
Stop waving your privilege around like it’s a bull in a china shop.
Stop acting all butthurt when people accurately describe you as cisgender, or cis.
Stop being such a dick that people need to tell you to stop silencing and talking over people who are oppressed in ways that you aren’t. And if you’re doing that, stop whining about not having it easy when you get told to check your privilege, because it doesn’t matter if you’ve had it easy. It matters that you’re not oppressed in that specific fashion. And that you’re refusing to give credence to the lived experiences of those who are.
Really, it all boils down to the most simple life pro tip of all: Don’t be a dick.