magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I had this post roughly sketched out in the back of my head, but then my week got all crazy, my basement flooded, and I got sidetracked by writing about space elevators and hydroponic roses, so here's the distilled essence of the Post That Never Was:

Anna Hazare is awesome. You should all take a look at "Escaping Poverty: The Ralegan Siddhi case," and then we should all get started on sensible watershed development here. And everywhere. Though possibly Iowa City needs a different sort of watershed development program than Ralegan Siddhi needed, given Iowa City's aggravating tendency to either flood the Arts Campus or flood my basement.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
...and obviously rather old, judging by the date on the Scalzi post. Still, worth sharing.


John Scalzi has written an eloquent, elegant, and brilliant post up on Whatever: Things I Don't Have To Think About Today.

[...] Today I don’t have to think about the people who’d consider torching my house of prayer a patriotic act.

Today I don’t have to think about a pharmacist telling me his conscience keeps him from filling my prescription.

Today I don’t have to think about being asked if I’m bleeding when I’m just having a bad day.

Today I don’t have to think about whether the one drug that lets me live my life will be taken off the market.

Today I don’t have to think about the odds of getting jumped at the bar I like to go to.

Today I don’t have to think about “vote fraud” theater showing up at my poll station.

Today I don’t have to think about turning on the news to see people planning to burn my holy book.

Today I don’t have to think about others demanding I apologize for hateful people who have nothing to do with me.

Today I don’t have to think about my child being seen as a detriment to my career. [...]


And Patrick Nielsen Hayden sums it all up:

Spot on. The essence of privilege isn’t wearing a top hat and cackling yar har har while lighting expensive cigars with $100 bills. The essence of privilege is not having to worry about the crap that the unprivileged do.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
This was hard to write, and even harder to post. Harder still to post publicly. Still, here it is – after having sat in my drafts folder for about four months, but thrown to the world at last.

=

In an effort to help people understand privilege, its forms and complexities, I'm going to use myself as a case study. I'm going to examine a lot of the ways privilege affects my life, positively and negatively. So, while I will be pointing out ways in which I'm disadvantaged, I'm also going to try to own up to a lot of my own privilege, because it's really not a simple thing. You can be privileged in one way and disprivileged in another.

This isn't meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive. It's meant to provide a few glimpses into things people might not otherwise think about, especially with regards to the difference between who and what you are and what privilege you are accorded. It's beginning to unpack the invisible knapsack, but it's not finishing it.

It's a starting point, which will hopefully get people thinking.

So let's start.


Privilege I have



Read more... )


Privilege I sometimes have



Read more... )


Privilege I don't have



Read more... )


Special notes



Privilege is not universally desirable. One of the things that seems to tag along with male privilege is the privilege to be intimidating. While this is useful in warding off some types of harassment, it can be very unsettling when invoked accidentally. When I used to walk home alone while my city was having its big, well-reported problem with people being sexually assaulted walking around after dark, I'd occasionally find myself walking down the same stretch of road, presenting as male, to all appearances following a solitary female pedestrian. As someone who doesn't want to come across as threatening to innocents, this was not a comfortable space to be in.

Privilege is not universally bad. In a lot of cases, the effects of privilege aren't things people should feel guilty for experiencing. The problem arises when they're privileges and not rights - the privilege to escape harassment, for example, is a privilege because it's a right which is denied to people like women, transgendered persons, poor persons. etc. The privilege to be taken seriously by doctors is a right which is often denied to fat people and people of color.

Passing is a way of accessing privilege. If I pass for male, I access aspects of male privilege. If someone passes for white, they access aspects of white privilege. This can happen involuntarily as well as voluntarily, and someone can be passed as well as passing. One example of this is a person of color who's granted "honorary whiteness" by their friends - their friends will stop noticing that they're a person of color, even to the point where they'll have a moment of "Huh, they are" when it's brought up. Another example is a person with a mixed ethnic background who appears white enough that people assume they are white.

Privilege is multifaceted. Even at its most simplistic, we can split it into two parts which have to be evaluated separately: the personal, what one experiences, and the social, what one is accorded. This is how someone with severe gender dysphoria who nonetheless passes for their assigned gender can both experience and lose cisgender privilege; feeling comfortable with one's own body and expected social roles is a cisgender privilege which they have lost, while the ability to exist and function in society without being harassed on the basis of their gender is one they maintain.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
You know what? I have a headcold right now which is making it difficult to think about anything coherently, let alone put it into words, but it seems to me that the works people turn to in order to laugh, or to cry, or to get inspired by, or to masturbate to, or to fill an otherwise empty time are works which get remembered. If they're not remembered in specific detail, they're still remembered in favorable generalities, or why else would people make a habit of turning to them? The person who reads through en entire shelf of pulp novels, each one pretty much the same to an outside perspective, is getting something from those novels. The novels are filling a need.

And because they fill a need, or just because they comprise a present and recurrent part of the consumer's life, they converse with the consumer's worldview. People get inspired by a football play or moved by an anecdote in Reader's Digest, and those are real effects on real people. If you're good at matching a need to an audience, you can use those vehicles to make real changes.

You can use movies to liberalize attitues toward homosexuality. You can use photo galleries (link NSFW) to alter standards for physical attractiveness. You can use video games to educate children as to how to avoid landmines. You can use moments in softball games to teach lesson abut grace. This is true despite the fact that you'll have no difficulty finding people who will dismiss, out of hand, how seriously film or art or video games or sports should or can be taken.

Intended audiences derive meaning from what's produced to entertain them. By accident or design.

Which is why I balk when people dismiss the impact things like fiction – even fanfiction – can have, or when people say that no one should care what messages are put in movies, because they're just movies, after all. The implication is that things like racism or sexism or ableism or whathaveyou doesn't matter if it's shown in these things, because they matter so terribly little. Because of course the constant omission of the voices of people of color in literature doesn't contribute to the creation of a single story, and the fact that Edward is a vampire and thus clearly fictional means that a generation of young women readers won't grow up to romanticize stalking and other sorts of potentially dangerous behaviour.

Statements like "It's just fandom." "It's just TV." "It's just for fun." assume that people segment their experiences in such a way that those experiences don't ever cross over, ever inform each other. They assume that we gain and learn nothing from those things. And they assume that those things occur in a vacuum, sealed off from the rest of our experiences of the world, whether we're the consumers or the creators.

Human endeavor comes out of human experience and feeds back into human experience, whether or not it's supposed (or assumed) to. In many ways it's completely involuntary, as familiar scents trigger memories or, as Chimamanda Adichie recounted, our opinions of others fill themselves in on a paucity of facts. It's why watching our media, our art and our entertainment, can be such a valuable diagnostic tool as to the lives and opinions of the people – and why working to improve that can feed back and improve society as a whole.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
When you genericize slurs like gay, retarded, or lame into insults, even if you're not referring to people when you use them ("That movie is so gay," etc.), you're training people to react to those words with derision. And you can point out all you'd like that intellectually, you know the difference between a gay person and a thing you call "gay", but slurs and insults don't engage people intellectually. They engage people emotionally. And emotions do flavor the way we interact with things.

If you can undercut someone's sympathy for a person, you can legitimize actions and attitudes taken against them. This is why, on a grand scale, war propaganda has historically tried so hard to dehumanize "the enemy." This is also why things like the gay panic defense works – everyone knows that gay sex is gross, everyone knows that having to endure homosexual attention is terrifying, so isn't it understandable if you flip out under that threat and someone gets hurt, even killed? If a man was approached by a woman romantically and flipped out and killed her, that would be totally unacceptable, but that's not icky in the same way a man approaching another man is. Everyone knows this.

Note that "gross" and "terrifying" and "icky" aren't intellectual arguments, either.

Emotions get people killed.

Attitudes get people killed.

And when they're not getting people killed, they're making their lives hard to navigate in. They're creating worlds in which what someone is can be constantly under attack, because if you identify with one of those terms, or if a family member does, if a loved one does, you're hearing that word spoken with derision as part of casual interchange with the culture around you.

And yeah, on the surface, calling something "gay" or "retarded" or "lame" doesn't seem like much, but it normalizes those negative attitudes. It legitimizes that derision. It's not murder, but it supports the attitudes thereof. It's a part of a culture of judgement and violence.

No one dot on a polka-dot dress is a polka-dot pattern, but every single one of them makes up the pattern it's in.

This is one of many reasons why I'm working hard to eliminate words like lame or crazy or gypped from my colloquial vocabulary, and why I'm grateful to the people who have called me on those words in the past. Because I'm a writer; I rely on the power of words to create pictures of the world, to influence thoughts and emotions, and I refuse to lend those words to the cause of hurting people who have done nothing wrong.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Hey, college- and grad-school-age friends of mine, which, to be honest, could cover everyone I know who's reading this blog. (Except, perhaps, for those of you who have already obtained your graduate degrees, but one never knows. You might be looking for more.) I want to pose a simple exercise to you:

Let's say that you were scoping out colleges to apply to. Could be for an undergraduate degree, could be for a writing workshop, a Masters program, a PhD program, a few one-off classes in a summer session, whatever. You're shopping around, you're thinking of campus visits, you're calling up admissions offices and asking for pamphlets. It's a good time. Here's the exercise.

I want you to take out a piece of paper, or boot up a copy of TextEdit or NotePad, of just toss some thoughts around in the back of your mind, and answer this: what are the things you look at in deciding where to go?

How about things like cost? Availability of scholarships and student aid is a big thing, availability of student jobs. In-state vs. out-of-state tuition is a deciding factor for a lot of people, I know.

Location? Will it be close enough to visit family? Will it be close enough that they'll expect you home every weekend?

The programs, obviously, should be a major factor. What's the learning environment like? Do they have an engaged faculty in the stuff you want to learn? A complete department, or a few professors teaching classes on it here and there? How does one school's program stack up against the others'?

Hmm. The campus itself should be a concern. Is it walkable? Bikeable? Does it feel like you're going to be living in a bustling downtown, or a manicured garden?

And the city. Are the local politics conservative or liberal? Is it a metropolis or a hamlet? Is there an arts scene? Shopping? Public transportation?

All of the above sounds fairly reasonable, right?

What else do you think about?

Take some time.


...


...


...


How's this: when you're looking through schools and programs, do you stop to think, If I go down here, am I going to be in danger because of the color of my skin? Do you wonder if you'll have to worry about getting profiled or pulled over if you drive somewhere? Do you think, if I get into something and the cops are called, are they going to be biased against me?

Do you wonder if you're going to have to fight a constant battle against people's preconceptions of you – your intelligence, your citizenship, your economic status, your language skills?

Do you wonder if you'll be othered or tokenized, if your race will become a big issue because diversity on campus is low, or if you'll face an expectation to associate with people of your own race or be considered a race traitor? Do you worry that you'll become someone's "black friend" or "Latino friend" or "Asian friend" or any other "attribute friend"?

Do you wonder what percentage of your time is going to be spent educating others about your race, your racial history, or the nation of your perceived origin? Do you wonder which of your actions will be taken as reflecting your race as a whole? Do you wonder if people will expect certain things from you, culturally, interest-wise, background-wise, because of your race?

Do you worry that you'll be forced to mis-represent your race – say, as "black" when you are in fact biracial – when filling out official forms, because no accurate category exists for you?

Do you wonder if exchange programs have provisions for your safety, if you were to go out of the country? If, say, you wanted to study in Moscow, where race crimes sextupled in early 2008, would the program have people who would know how best to protect you? Or would you be allowed to go?

Are these concerns for you?

If these thoughts haven't crossed your mind when looking at those programs, if you've never had (at the bare minimum) a list of options in your life cut apart by these concerns, then you experience a kind of privilege I have never had. And if you think I'm blowing this out of proportion, that I'm being overcautious in worrying about these things, let me tell you a few stories.

My father got into a minor car accident once, and when the police arrived on the scene, they determined that he was at fault. This was either a rear-ending or a sideswiping of his car, mind you. He decided to contest the matter and took it to court; on walking in, his first day, he discovered that the court had assigned him a Spanish translator, despite the fact that he didn't speak Spanish (our surname is recognizable as a Yoruba – that is, Nigerian – name, and resembles a Spanish/Latino surname not at all), and despite the fact that he was a professor of English at the University of Nebraska.

Once, when I was riding in a friend's car, she was pulled over for something like a broken taillight. At one point she got out of the car to talk to the officer who had pulled her over, and when she got back in, she told me that the officer had asked her if I spoke English. This happened in Iowa City, which is for the most part a very friendly, liberal town. Bear in mind that when this happened, I was studying at the University – an institution of about 30,000 students in a town of about 67,000 altogether. Bear also in mind that I was born and raised in Nebraska, and English is in fact the only language I fluently speak.

I had a good friend in high school, a fellow member of the Speech & Debate team, who mentioned one day after 9/11 that he'd been accosted in a store by a man who had told him, "We don't want your kind here." He was an Indian Hindu, which didn't seem to matter; he'd been othered because he was nonwhite, lumped into a group he had no relation to, and harassed. In his case it was only verbal, but that's not always true.

Racism is not over, folks. It's become a bit quieter, but it's still virulent. The three stories above all happened to me and people I personally knew, in Lincoln and Iowa City, which are known for being friendly places. That's not even scratching the surface of places where does get loud, where it does get violent, where it's systematized, where it's routine.

Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as white privilege. And male privilege, and cisgender privilege, and able-bodied privilege, and heterosexual privilege, and educational privilege, and economic privilege, and national privilege, and thin privilege, and a hell of a lot of other kinds. And if you never have to think about them, that probably means you have them. And you can say that you never have to think about them. But don't you dare try to tell me they don't exist.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Grah, I'm angry today.

I'm angry because insurance companies consider domestic violence a pre-existing condition (and thus ground for exclusion from coverage), I'm angry because privilege is invisible and people have to lie with bigotry from people they like and love.

I'm angry because a popular show I didn't particularly care about sucks balls when it comes to racial issues and a popular show I actually enjoy is unconsciously knee-deep in racial and gender issues.

I'm angry because calling a good female athlete "secretly a man" or a transsexual or a hermaphrodite is perfectly acceptable and grounds for humiliating them or ruining their careers.

I'm angry because we live in a broken society, and the people with the most power and perhaps the most responsibilty to change that society don't see any need to change it.

But most of all, I'm angry because I don't feel able to transmute that anger into something productive, something reformative. I need to teach myself how to write again, without worrying overmuch about the end product before I get to the end. I need to learn how to harness rage in a way which retains its power and gives it direction.

I need to learn how to sing for our lives.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
I don't have the brain power for proper posts at the moment, but I can point to a short post on Alas, A Blog about why we need the term "cis":

Plus, as a political matter, it’s important that the unmarked “defaults” have names. Imagine if, instead of the words “Jewish” and “Christian,” we had only “Jewish” and “normal.” Or if, instead of “heterosexual” and “homosexual,” we had only “normal” and “homosexual.” We can’t discuss things on an equal basis without an equal vocabulary.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
Occasionally, people – people I know, like and respect, which makes this sting all the more – will assert something along the lines of "Because I'm a member of $x_marginalized_group, I know how members of $y_marginalized_group feel." Or perhaps "I've been discriminated against. I know what $person_of_different_group feels." Or sometimes, "Discrimination is discrimination," with the implications that varieties within discrimination are impossible or negligible.

This is a very nice statement of commonalities and how all people should be able to respect and acknowledge the experiences of all other people, I'm sure.

But I disagree.

Prejudice, advantage, discrimination – these things are like any other aspect of human interaction (fraternity, estrangement, cohabitation, love) in that no one's experiences define the experiences of others. There are similarities, certainly, but just as certainly, there are differences.

Perhaps the best way to show this is through examples. I've written up some, though bear in mind that the sets of privilege and disadvantage I'm using here are limited to a few illustrative sets – isn't meant to be an exhaustive examination of all ways in which people experience different sorts of privilege. It's only a very brief look at the way in which different parts of society treats different people differently.

For example:

If a homosexual cisgendered person walks into a public restroom, they will not have to worry about being asked to prove that they belong to the sex that bathroom is reserved for. The same cannot be said of trans persons.

If a straight person of color finds a friend/lover/sweetheart he wishes to marry, he will not be told that such a marriage is an abomination against God or that it will tear apart the society he is a part of; he will not be legally denied the right to marry that person. The same cannot be said for same-sex couples.

If a white transperson is pulled over by police in America or is in a car pulled over by police, he will not have the police officer question whether or not he can speak English. The same cannot be said for people of color.

If a cisgendered homosexual goes to get a driver's license or passport, he or she will not have to put up a legal battle to have basic demographic information such as his or her sex reflected accurately on the document. This cannot be said of transpeople.

And two more, phrased in a different way:

The gay man from an economically secure family who serves in the military and must conceal, every day and night, his sexual identity has no inherent insight into the struggles of the straight woman who lies awake at night, stressed and desperate under the knowledge that she has no idea how to secure food for herself and her children the next day.

The caucasian woman who must endure a workplace in which her co-workers look at her as a sexual object is not experiencing the same thing as the man of Middle-Eastern descent who fears being profiled and questioned any time he has to take a commercial flight.

Disadvantage is not homogenous. Discrimination is not uniform. There is no "one size fits all" experience of discrimination or disadvantage. Circumstance is so immensely important that even two people who exhibit similar sets of privilege and disadvantage may not experience discrimination in the same way – the experiences of two people of color, or two women, or two transgendered people, or two anyone cannot be considered interchangeable. A woman who is physically molested and a woman who has been constantly passed over for promotions due to her sex have not experienced the same forms of discrimination and prejudice, even when both experiences can be termed sexism.

This is not meant to devalue anyone's experiences. In, I think, the vast majority of cases, a struggle to find out who's suffered "more" in a discussion of privilege and disadvantage only sideswipes the real issue. Rather I think that in a discussion of privilege and disadvantage, parties should listen when someone says that they have experienced a certain thing in a certain way. People should listen and accord respect to what a person is trying to express, and to the distinction they felt was important enough to raise. People should never try to define another's experiences by what they themselves have experienced; nor should they assume that being a victim of one sort of prejudice makes anyone an authority on another.

Gay issues are not trans issues are not sex issues are not race issues; homophobia is not transphobia is not sexism is not racism. They have some common roots, expressions, and effects, but like apples and oranges – both fruits, of course – they are not the same.
magistrate: The arc of the Earth in dark space. (Default)
There's something I see a lot in discussion of race, of gender, of any sort of marginalized group, really – someone who isn't part of that group will come up to someone who is and say "Wow, I didn't know. Could you tell me more?" And the person they're asking will say "No."

And then it usually explodes.

I want to write out exactly what I see as going on in that situation, to the extent that I know it, to tell people why they're getting that "No." – and this is a lesson I had to learn after looking at posts by people who refused, and thinking Well, that's unreasonable, isn't it?, and really sitting down to try to understand why that refusal was happening. Why someone who was a victim of ignorance would refuse to educate others.

Yes, it's counter-intuitive. But it's not unreasonable. Here's, to the best of my current understanding, why:

Educating others is an arduous and often thankless job, especially when you're educating someone who may be skeptical of your point of view, especially when it's topic which affects you deeply, personally, and emotionally. If you ask someone to put in the time and energy to educate you, whether or not (but especially if) you've given any indication that you might not agree with what they're trying to explain, whether or not (but especially if) it's a topic which is significant and personal to them they are not obligated to educate you.

On an issue like race, or sexuality, or gender, reams and reams of information have already been written. A little digging, at a decent library or on the internet, will give you a wealth of information on the topic – usually written by those who do sincerely want to educate others. By preferring not to sit down and discuss issues, people are not denying others access to that information. They're saying that they personally can't, won't, or don't want to teach it.

No, oppressed and marginalized people are not morally obligated to educate their oppressors or the mainstream. In fact, the constant need to defend oneself or one's lifestyles is a symptom of oppression and marginalization.

I personally don't find it offensive when people ask me to educate them. I may not always have the time, energy, or inclination to do so, and I may scoff at the notion that I am capable of speaking or qualified to speak as though I represented my entire demographic, but I generally assume (unless they indicate hostility or skepticism) that they're asking in good faith. This doesn't mean that I will always step up to educate them – as said before, it takes a lot of time and energy, especially emotional energy. And while I'd try to turn away people I didn't want to educate myself kindly, hopefully with a few edifying links or directions on where to turn, were I in an emotional state, I can't guarantee how that would come out. It might come out in a very hostile way – and if it ever does, I apologize.

The hostility. Not the refusal to educate. Because while I think that basic civility is a right of people in dialogue, having someone personally educate you is not. It is a privilege – yes, I said the P-word – and should never be demanded of anyone.

But, I hear someone say, people need to be educated, and if the marginalized and oppressed don't do it, who will? Excellent question.

The problem here is that people think the marginalized and oppressed can be tokenized down into the particular marginalized or oppressed person they happen to be talking to. People do educate on this. People write, people manage campaigns. People take social and civic action. Yes, people both from and outside of the marginalized and oppressed groups take it upon themselves to educate others and to work for equality and justice.

This doesn't mean that they, or other members of their community, have to work on the schedule of anyone who asks, or for anyone who asks, or because anyone asked. In the same way that you can't just grab an unemployed person off the streets and say "You, write a letter to your congressman about the economy – well, come on, hurry up; it's your responsibility!", in the same way you can't tell a victim of police brutality or even racial profiling "You, here's a pen and paper, write a letter to the editor of the local paper because the public has to know!", you should be aware that people have their own lives to live and their own concerns and their own apprehensions and hangups about stepping into that role and are not obligated to perform any civic duty to fulfill your sense of moral propriety.

And even asking that question reveals another one: why should it rest on the backs of the marginalized and oppressed? Pragmatically, yes, it usually does, but if you're asking the question, that indicates that you both come from a position of privilege and recognize that there's a problem that needs solving. Kudos to you, and that's a genuine kudos; you're ahead of a lot of people. The next step is to educate yourself.

You can do it. It's not even that difficult. It's the information age.

Educating yourself is likely to give you a much more solid grounding in the state of things, anyway, unless the person you're talking to is heavily involved in social action or has a degree in the subject you're asking about. People are great for personal touches and idiosyncratic experiences, but if you're coming in as someone who knows nothing and wants to learn, you might want more than personal touches and idiosyncratic experiences anyway.

I'd like to say here that I personally don't think there's anything inherently offensive about asking someone else for their opinions or for the basics, so long as you respect them and their right, if they choose so, not to tell you. I have to amend a caveat, though: in saying this I am very much not interested in being used as anyone's marginalized friend in an argument such as "oh, well, [personal profile] magistrate says se doesn't see anything offensive about it." Do not tokenize me. My opinions are what I think, not what every person in my situation thinks or should be expected to think. If you ask someone and they're offended by it, apologize and don't ask any more. If they rip you apart for asking and apologizing, maybe that's not someone you want to talk to about this subject. It happens.

Disclosure. I am a member of marginalized groups. I'm biracial, asexual, non-cisgendered. I am also a member of privileged groups. I'm college-educated, American, able-bodied. Most people are combinations of privileged and non-privileged – this discussion, as with most discussions of privilege, applies to people acting on both sides, and should be considered in this light.

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