Privilege

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Privilege

Postby setzer777 » Mon Apr 13, 2009 4:24 pm UTC

I've had an odd sort of realization lately, and I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this:

In the past, I don't think I fully realized the extent to which I have privilege. I mean in the factual sense I understood that I had economic and cultural advantages for being a white male, but I never really felt it. Then I was reading a lesbian separatist blog that basically argued that the system we live in is so pervasively oppressive to women (especially non-white women) that it is completely irredeemable, and that the solution is for women to refuse to be a part of that system until it collapses. Now, I don't really want to focus on the validity of that argument, because that's not the point. The point is that I realized that even if I knew for certain that the assertion was true, I would not abandon the system - my security, happiness, my foreseeable future, etc. is so tied up in the social structures that exist, that I would probably be unwilling to give all of that up, no matter what. Now, I do try to avoid actively and directly participating in oppressive behaviors - but to whatever extent participating in this society inherently oppresses others - my sense of empathy, morality, decency, etc. is not strong enough that I would sacrifice so much of my self-interest by giving up participation.

So I guess that's what I realized - if I had the opportunity to forsake society (and all of the nice things that go with being part of it) and therefore stop benefiting from the oppression of others (and theoretically I could go be a hermit, or join an isolated commune or something), I don't think I'd take it. Which makes me not only an incidental, but a willing participant in that oppression.


Gah, I'm not sure how well I worded all of that, and if it is ultimately just a bunch of self-absorbed navel-gazing, I apologize.
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Re: Privilege

Postby philsov » Mon Apr 13, 2009 4:45 pm UTC

Refuse to be a part of the system in what way, exactly? And WHAT system?

I mean, sure, if you want to give up ever going to the grocery/supermarket/clothing store and instead live off the land using tools you made yourself, more power to you. But I'm going to enjoy my clean water and educational system.

Edit: And the fact that she's blogging about it just makes her a hypocrite. Way to remove yourself by using computer, internet, electricity, and likely air conditioning.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 4:48 pm UTC

I too have felt privileged most of my life, for a variety of reasons across the spectrum. I've come to decide that the point of much of this thing called life is to do what you can do best, and help as many people as you can along the way. If your privilege allows you to be better enabled to be philanthropic, then you better take advantage of that. If your privilege allows you to be better enabled to get into med school and save lives, then you better study your ass off.

Privilege is only a bad thing if it's wasted. And it's up to you to decide what 'wasted' means. We all have friends who are coasting on free rides from their parents, and we all have friends who work three jobs to pay their way through school.

For example, my parents, and many parents of coworkers and students I work with, will be buying a property in whatever town I go to grad school in, that I will slowly purchase from them over the years. This means I won't have to pay rent (effectively throwing away money), and I won't have to pay interest on a loan (again, essentially throwing away money). So yes, I am privileged to have parents who can afford that sort of investment. The extra money in my pocket may or may not goto charitable causes, but the way I'm choosing to view my financial situation is that anything that reduces the amount of time I struggle financially, or reduces the amount of time I spend worrying about finances, is time I can spend working on scientific pursuits. Pursuits that I believe, ultimately will help the world at large.

A friend of mine in college came from a very affluent background (it's all relative anyway, her parents were wealthier then mine, for whatever that's worth), and she was majoring in Volunteerism and Human Rights. If that was what she wanted to do, then all power to her, but I find the notion of going to a small liberal arts college and coming out with a major that isn't career oriented, and with no intent to start a career, to be an incredible waste of money. You need to spend your time wisely, with the resources you do have, and if you are privileged enough to recognize your position, then it seems a shame to spend your time passing out meals at a soup kitchen (which isn't to say volunteering is a waste of time...)

I used to live in a very crappy part of Chicago, and recall waking to the grocery story one night and being heckled for change. Not giving any, this woman shouts at me "Way to contribute to society!" The work I do isn't so esoteric as to only be filed in obscure journals, for fuckssake, I'm coauthored on a drug screen that may be used for treating brain cancer. So I don't hand out cash to the homeless. Does that make me privileged because I was fortunate enough to be connected and granted the interview that got me this job? Yes. Does that mean I'm lazy and do less work then someone else? Not at all.

Make the best of the fortune that comes your way, and remember it could have fallen on someone else. Work accordingly, and treat those around you accordingly. Turning down an opportunity because you feel you feel privileged won't fix the system, you working your ass off and helping people will.
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Re: Privilege

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Mon Apr 13, 2009 5:32 pm UTC

setzer777 wrote: So I guess that's what I realized - if I had the opportunity to forsake society (and all of the nice things that go with being part of it) and therefore stop benefiting from the oppression of others (and theoretically I could go be a hermit, or join an isolated commune or something), I don't think I'd take it. Which makes me not only an incidental, but a willing participant in that oppression.


Gah, I'm not sure how well I worded all of that, and if it is ultimately just a bunch of self-absorbed navel-gazing, I apologize.

I'm pretty sure I would take the opportunity: I am, after all, kind of a social hermit. I spend time with my friends, usually only people who manage to pass the tests I erect around me to weed out huge dickwads and general assholishness, leaving me a tiny little internet-based bubble from which I have access to quite a lot of things. I have an excess of luxury. I have, as many people have, lived without any of these things for extended periods of time, and I can't say that I would not be happy to continue doing so. I might get bored, but not necessarily. I also think I have a leg up on the pile because I do have a necessary background that could be useful in creating a small commune which could generate food/shelter/electricity/products completely off-grid and organically.
I"m just lazy as hell, is all. Oh, and I don't have any money. That's how they get you.
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Re: Privilege

Postby thatthatguy » Mon Apr 13, 2009 5:51 pm UTC

I haven't seen much privilege in being a white male over any other ethnicity/gender. If we don't count the value of hard work (which is a possibility for anyone) then the greatest factor on privilege appears to be your parents income. We associate this with ethnicity because in this country, wealthy people are disproportionatly white. Poor kids of any ethnicity/gender have a harder time getting ahead. Their parents don't know how or can't afford to give their kids the advantages that wealthy parents do.

I will admit, my experience is possibly somewhat different than that of others, being from a poor background and working in a field that is heavily populated by "minorities." I suppose gender/ethnicity has a greater influence in career fields more dependent on what people think of you from first impressions. I guess I just live in a magical fantasy world of racial/gender parity.

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Re: Privilege

Postby Jessica » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:03 pm UTC

Privilege is something that is so pervasive it's difficult to see when you are privileged.
From my own experience of losing privilege (presenting as a hetero-male, to being trans) it can be very hard to see until it's pointed out to you, or you experience it.
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Re: Privilege

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:06 pm UTC

@thatthatguy

Eh, it's considerably more likely that you haven't really noticed a difference because it's rather like knowing what your own house smells like. Also, because you can't control the reactions of others, you are possibly more likely to attribute other people's reactions to you from the perspective of, "If I receive this recognition or this praise, it is because I earned it, not because the person doling out the praise is happiest praising the white person."
This is an interesting thing to realize, when you see it. And by interesting, I mean 'infuriating'.
Or perhaps you do simply live in a fantasy world. If you've got unicorns, I want in.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Jessica » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:09 pm UTC

I... I don't think I live in a dream world... if I did I'd hope I'd be happier!
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Re: Privilege

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:10 pm UTC

Is it possible that you live in a ninja dream world?
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Re: Privilege

Postby Jessica » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:12 pm UTC

Perhaps I live in a ninja dream world :)
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Re: Privilege

Postby Belial » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:21 pm UTC

thatthatguy wrote:I haven't seen much privilege in being a white male over any other ethnicity/gender.


That the privileged fails to see the privilege proves nothing, except perhaps that everything is working the way it has been built to work.

After all, one of the aforementioned privileges is being able to live under the illusion that there's nothing unfair about the current state of affairs: that there is no such thing as privilege. If you had to be aware of your privilege all the time, it wouldn't work nearly as well because you'd go about feeling guilty, and might not even take advantage of it to the fullest. You might even have to confront the idea that you're passively the world's biggest bastard (right after all the other bastards) for buying into a system that is so fucked up and hurts so many others, and that you're a weak coward for not helping to break it down.

That there is only a difference in degree, not quality, between you and the slave-owners who recognized (a la Thomas Jefferson) that slavery was wrong, but couldn't bring themselves to live in a society without it.

You might have to confront that you're not as great as you thought you were.

It sucks. But lucky you! Privilege is constructed in such a way that if you don't want to see that reality, you don't have to! Just mutter some things about bootstraps and hard work and whatever, and go on with your life thinking you earned everything you have and other people deserve to be where they are. Most of society will be very careful to pat you on the back and tell you you're absolutely right.
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Re: Privilege

Postby abitha » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:30 pm UTC

I don't have an enormous amount to add to this discussion, but wanted to share a couple of awesome links on the subject of privilege (particularly on recognising one's own privilege, and how not to abuse it in conversations with those from non-privileged groups). If everyone was made to sit down and read those two sites before being granted a license to use the internet, it might solve a lot of problems!

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Re: Privilege

Postby Ratio » Mon Apr 13, 2009 6:58 pm UTC

Anyone of those being oppressed would not be any different from you if they were in your shoes.

Not to lessen the situation, just saying you (and indeed, myself) are only human.

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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:00 pm UTC

@Belial: When you say "taking advantage of it to the fullest" I'm not sure if you mean that facetiously or if you are placing responsibility upon the privileged.
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Re: Privilege

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:12 pm UTC

Ratio wrote:Anyone of those being oppressed would not be any different from you if they were in your shoes.

Not to lessen the situation, just saying you (and indeed, myself) are only human.

I'm almost entirely sure I disagree with you completely here. Oppression isn't a side affect of being human.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Belial » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:19 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:@Belial: When you say "taking advantage of it to the fullest" I'm not sure if you mean that facetiously or if you are placing responsibility upon the privileged.


Not sure I understand the question.

A privilege is no good to you if you don't exploit it. Guilt and hesitance would get in the way of exploiting one's privilege. Guilt and hesitance are a natural byproduct of privilege-awareness in decent human beings. Therefore, privilege is structured in such a way that it is easy to be unaware of it. That way, no guilt, no hesitance, totally free to exploit.

Despicable, no?
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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:29 pm UTC

Belial wrote:A privilege is no good to you if you don't exploit it. Guilt and hesitance would get in the way of exploiting one's privilege. Guilt and hesitance are a natural byproduct of privilege-awareness in decent human beings. Therefore, privilege is structured in such a way that it is easy to be unaware of it. That way, no guilt, no hesitance, totally free to exploit.

Despicable, no?


I wasn't sure if you were saying something along the lines of 'if you are privileged, take advantage of it'. I see that you weren't.

I disagree. One can turn down privilege and still be aware of it, and still feel guilty about it, and even still be condemned for it. One can similarly exploit privilege to the mutual benefit of *just about* (this being clutch) everyone involved.

Either your "Despicable, no?" comment is made in jest (I can't tell), or you're laying the groundwork to lay claim that anyone is privileged if something works in their favor. As you can imagine, I disagree with your sentiments about the amount of guilt and hesitance one should feel surrounding privilege. You will likely and reasonably point out that this is because I am privileged, and in a circle we will go. That said, nothing happens in a vacuum, and the notion that anything happens to someone based on purely objective means or based purely on their qualifications is naive.
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Re: Privilege

Postby setzer777 » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:39 pm UTC

Meaux_Pas wrote:
Ratio wrote:Anyone of those being oppressed would not be any different from you if they were in your shoes.

Not to lessen the situation, just saying you (and indeed, myself) are only human.

I'm almost entirely sure I disagree with you completely here. Oppression isn't a side affect of being human.


I took him to mean that not wanting to give up the privilege you are accustomed to even upon learning that it comes at the expense of others is a normal human reaction. But I'm not sure.

By "refusing to participate in the system", I don't just mean becoming a hermit or something. There are things I could do to minimize my advantages that I don't - I could not apply for any job where my being a white-male will give me an advantage during the hiring process over someone equally qualified, I could not contribute money to any company that participates in oppression - or, if this is unavoidable, buy only the necessities, and nothing that could be possibly considered a "luxury", because then I would be getting a luxury at the expense of others (whether it's a PS3, anything beyond functional clothing, food bought for the taste rather than nutrition, my internet connection - all of these are luxuries).
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Re: Privilege

Postby Belial » Mon Apr 13, 2009 7:52 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I disagree. One can turn down privilege and still be aware of it,


You disagree? You have to be aware of privilege in order to turn it down. These sentences don't make sense together.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:38 pm UTC

By 'turn down' privilege, I mean I can say "I appreciate your offer to let me work at your office, Mr. Best-Friend-Of-My-Dad, but I recognize that I am unqualified for this position and know a number of less privileged (and more qualified!) individuals will be applying for it".

I am a white male from a family that was well off enough to send three kids to college. I don't have any doubt in my mind that I am privileged, that my struggles are from a different lens, but that doesn't mean I should spend my life wracked with guilt and displeasure that other people have it worse then I do. Quite the contrary. I think it means I should spend my life working as hard as possible to not squander the luck that I've had. There are huge gray areas in every direction (should I donate to charity? I don't make much right now, but came from wealth, should I donate more? My profession is, in my eyes, altruistic, does that excuse me from charity? I got here partially due to my privilege, should I quit now and let a less privileged person step up? I worked with people who were supporting 3 kids on what income I associated with a summer job scooping ice cream, I didn't need the job as much as they did, should I have quit so they could take more hours?), but it doesn't take much acumen to realize that self-defeating perspectives don't contribute anything aside from awareness, and awareness without action is fairly worthless.
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Re: Privilege

Postby postinonthenets » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:50 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:By 'turn down' privilege, I mean I can say "I appreciate your offer to let me work at your office, Mr. Best-Friend-Of-My-Dad, but I recognize that I am unqualified for this position and know a number of less privileged (and more qualified!) individuals will be applying for it".



The thing is, this is how the world works. Seriously. Its sad, but true, that people get jobs by knowing other people.

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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:53 pm UTC

I know. I certainly got to the interview for my current job because I knew someone. That connection didn't get me the job, it got me the interview. Should I have turned down the offer, because I'm privileged? Should I feel guilty about that?
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Re: Privilege

Postby Jos » Mon Apr 13, 2009 8:59 pm UTC

I don't see how not using a privilege could make you (as in the big generic you, I'm sure the poster feels the way he does) guilty. I was born a white male, and I can't possybly be expected to change that for the sake of equality. Moreso, I didn't build the system, I just happen to be living in it. That said, there are acutally a difference in what you use your privileges for.

If I use mine to have an easy time through school and then dick around the job market ("dick" as a verb. At least in swedish it's ok to verb words... it's a habbit of mine(I feel that shift+8 makes me go way off topic)) giving a hard time for people struggling through school with economic worries and whatnot that's not really ok to most people.

If I instead use my priveleges to train me upp as a field medic and hang out with MSR in some famine-struck country in Africa (As large as a really large bathtowel) Then most people would think it was a good thing I had the help to get me through; even at the expense of someone else
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Re: Privilege

Postby Naurgul » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:06 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:I know. I certainly got to the interview for my current job because I knew someone. That connection didn't get me the job, it got me the interview. Should I have turned down the offer, because I'm privileged? Should I feel guilty about that?
I won't tell you how to feel or whether what you did was morally right or wrong and I won't pretend I know how to balance idealism and pragmatism. But if I were in your place, I'd feel guilty about it. And I'd probably turn down the job or regret taking it shortly after I did.

Jos wrote:If I instead use my priveleges to train me upp as a field medic and hang out with MSR in some famine-struck country in Africa (As large as a really large bathtowel) Then most people would think it was a good thing I had the help to get me through; even at the expense of someone else
I will have to agree with this from a pragmatical, if not ideological, perspective. Things being what they are, it seems more sensible for privileged people to use their privilege towards helping make the system better than to deny both.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Internetmeme » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:18 pm UTC

Well, you would have to be blind to not notice that there is still racism and sexism in the world.

Anyone remember that one guy a few years ago painting himself brown (or dying his skin) to see if there was a difference? He found that the people at the restaurant he went to was not as good to him as the night before.

But the way my dad put it:
It takes time for people to accept others. When the first European immigrants came here, they had a head start. Then the other Europeans came here, and they got good jobs. Then the African Americans came, they were freed, and they got the good jobs. Then the asian countries had a wave of emmigration to here following the gold rush. Nowadays they are at the top with the European immigrants and African Americans. Now the Mexicans are coming across the border, and while they have the crappy jobs, eventually they will get pushed up, just like the other major groups. After that there will probably be another group, and so on and so on.

EDIT: Not to forget the Natives here, some melded into society, but those that resisted peacefully now have their own "states" where US law is not sovergn law. Those that violently reacted, though, were killed.
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Re: Privilege

Postby SecondTalon » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:30 pm UTC

Internetmeme wrote:It takes time for people to accept others. When the first European immigrants came here, they had a head start. Then the other Europeans came here, and they got good jobs. Then the African Americans came, they were freed, and they got the good jobs. Then the asian countries had a wave of emmigration to here following the gold rush. Nowadays they are at the top with the European immigrants and African Americans. Now the Mexicans are coming across the border, and while they have the crappy jobs, eventually they will get pushed up, just like the other major groups. After that there will probably be another group, and so on and so on.
And the natives keep getting shit on?
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Re: Privilege

Postby abitha » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:43 pm UTC

I disagree with this idea that the correct response to recognising our own privilege is to withdraw from the system entirely. I suppose there's a chance that if enough people did so, things might change, but a few guilt-plagued individuals deciding to live as hermits (or turn down job offers, or whatever) isn't going to do anything beyond easing those individuals' consciences.

Let's say Izawwlgood had turned down that job interview because he felt guilty about being a privileged white male. In all likelihood, if the person doing the interviewing would've been prejudiced in his favour because of that, they're still going to give the job to some other privileged white male who didn't suffer any such qualms about going for the interview - not to someone underprivileged. Nobody profits from this except the other (more ruthless) white-male.

We can't help what privileges we're born with, and it's daft to feel guilty about them. What we can do, however, is try our best to challenge prejudice where we encounter it, either in ourselves or others. The key thing is to live in a way that recognises those from the less privileged group as human beings like ourselves, engaging with them and working with them to change the system from the inside, rather than assuming that we know the right answers.

(Sorry, i've edited and re-edited this post half to death, and i'm not sure it entirely makes sense any more - it's really hard to phrase what i'm trying to say!)

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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Mon Apr 13, 2009 9:53 pm UTC

Naurgul wrote:I won't tell you how to feel or whether what you did was morally right or wrong and I won't pretend I know how to balance idealism and pragmatism. But if I were in your place, I'd feel guilty about it. And I'd probably turn down the job or regret taking it shortly after I did.


As I said, I got the interview because I knew someone. I didn't get the job because I knew someone, and I didn't get to stay because I knew someone. I want to ask if you've ever applied to a position by just sending your resume to an organization? I'm under the impression, based on anecdotal experience doing just that, that only 1/10 (wild, wild guess) of those postings are actually offers, the rest being employers mandatory 'equal opportunity' job hiring practice.
So, and I don't mean this to get hostile, I'm going to say feeling guilty for having an 'in' or a connection to a job interview is foolish (lets assume for the sake of discussion that you are [/I am] qualified for the position). Wasting that opportunity, that privilege, is also foolish. By withdrawing yourself from the pool out of guilt, all you've done is tossed the dice again. In a system that is already stacked for the privileged, be they those who are connected, those who are white, yaddayadda, anything, if you feel you belong to the majority and step back, you haven't made a message or sent a point at all.

Frankly, this line of though perpetuates the notion that because of my birth, I should feel guilty for anything and everything that comes my way. I received an education, should I therefor feel bad that when I applied to college I could put on my resume that I finished highschool? I am well fed, should I therefor feel bad every time I eat a meal that someone in the world is starving? Empathy and guilty and sentiments of justice are fine and good, but amount to nothing unless you put your beliefs to action.

Yeah, basically seconding what abitha said.
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Re: Privilege

Postby thatthatguy » Mon Apr 13, 2009 11:45 pm UTC

Belial wrote:It sucks. But lucky you! Privilege is constructed in such a way that if you don't want to see that reality, you don't have to! Just mutter some things about bootstraps and hard work and whatever, and go on with your life thinking you earned everything you have and other people deserve to be where they are. Most of society will be very careful to pat you on the back and tell you you're absolutely right.


I have to wonder what specific privileges you assume I have received due to my white maleness? Would a black kid who got good grades not have been accepted to a state college? Would a woman have a harder time getting an entry level position in a field desperate for people with her degree? If you were to look for something, and couldn't find it, is it because you aren't looking hard enough or if it just isn't there?

I'm not saying that women and minorities should have to work harder to get ahead. I'm saying that whether someone gets ahead has more to do with economic circumstances than with ethnicity. Poor white kids are going to be just as screwed by the system as poor black kids. How can parents who work crappy jobs at odd times be available to help with homework? How can poor parents afford to hire tutors? How can kids who don't get much help with homework at home get good grades in school? How can kids with bad grades compete for scholarships, even ones that favor their ethnicity?

There is inequality and discrimination in the world. I agree that it sucks. We are just going about resolving things the wrong way by focusing on ethnicity rather than economic status.

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Re: Privilege

Postby (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ » Tue Apr 14, 2009 12:53 am UTC

...and I am amused to note that where people start off in life has a lot to do with who their parents are, and oddly enough they often are the same ethnicity as their parents. Who would have thought.
Now, to be honest, yes, a woman is more likely to be passed over for a job, and you know about the college thing, i don't much want to get into affirmative action but yeah, college admissions can be pretty racist. Just to ensure that you know that yes, those are two great example of male white privilege, indeed. SO, just to clarify, other people have been born into positions in which they have to work harder and be generally luckier to have all of the things that you might have, like connections to people who can get you jobs, or whatever, and you just want to make absolutely sure that nobody is suggesting that you should feel guilty for reaping the full benefits of this system while not actually doing anything to tear it down.

Oh my, of course not. Don't be silly.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Apr 14, 2009 2:41 am UTC

Okay, because I know where this back and forth argument is going...
The opposite of privilege does not hold true; Being born without the benefits of wealth or into a racial majority does not entitle you due compensation. We should level the playing field as much possible, annnnd thats where the gray area comes into play. Which is why I don't feel guilty for being white, and don't feel guilty for knowing someone who hooked me up with the interview that led to being able to excel at a job that I rather enjoy.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Rakysh » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:11 am UTC

[@Izawwlgood],

With the charity thing- being charitable is not an on/off thing. You can give a bit to charity, or a lot, or none. Just because you are helping someone through your work (which I assume you are paid to do) it does not mean that you can't help other people through charitable giving/volunteer work.

[/@Izawwlgood]

So with the understanding that privilege (I prefer to call it unfairness) come the next logical question. What do we do? Withdrawing from the system entirely is impractical, and cultural values and stereotypes take longer to die down than most people are comfortable with. So yeah. What can the average person do to "fight the power"?

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Re: Privilege

Postby year in the sun » Tue Apr 14, 2009 7:28 am UTC

setzer777 wrote:I've had an odd sort of realization lately, and I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this:


i think i understand some of what you're saying with this. i probably fall somewhere in the middle ground, being female but white, middle class but a single parent, 'educated' but somewhat (and invisibly) 'disabled'. i'm not 'from' the country i live in now, but the universal language here is my mother tongue. stuff like that.

it's not really like they cancel each other out. it's more like i'm conscious of the barriers, and i'm conscious of the fact that where i get past the barriers, merit isn't always at the bottom of it. neither are my inherent rights as a human being. sometimes privilege gives me a boost.

The point is that I realized that even if I knew for certain that the assertion was true, I would not abandon the system


it seems to me that most disadvantaged people who consider opting right out have a pretty straightforward reason: the system just doesn't work for them, and since they need to survive just like anyone else, they hope to find/build something else that does work. it's not so much about trying to force the existing system to adjust to them by withdrawing themselves. i mean, if tylenol doesn't do it for me and i take aspirin instead, i'm not trying to twist tylenol's arm. mostly, i'm trying to live without pain.

whereas for a privileged person, opting out might be basically a response to the sense that they can't live within the system without doing harm. and speaking personally, i've already found out i wouldn't give it all up either. where privilege plays a part in my life, i try to divest myself of it or at least keep myself from internalizing it and arriving at the belief that i'm 'entitled' to it because i've 'earned' everything i achieve . . . but only to the point where i feel my survival threatened. past that point . . . no, i don't always step back. if i have a privilege i'll probably - maybe not exercise it actively, but i probably wouldn't protest either, if i felt that it was to save my own skin. i might feel like i shouldn't do this. i might question to myself why someone else instead of me should have to do without x or y. but if i'm truthful, i've got a bottom line of my own. i don't know what that says about me.

Which makes me not only an incidental, but a willing participant in that oppression.


i don't know what to tell you there (not that you asked). for what it's worth, the best i've been able to do at this point is try to recognise when privilege instead of personal merit helped me along, compared with somebody else - especially somebody else who has barriers too. and try to stay honest about how much personal credit i take, for anything. because if i take personal credit for everything that i achieve, then i think i am actively participating and perpetuating the unequal system, at the expense of somebody else. if i don't admit that some of it was sheer luck, then i think i am tacitly feeding into the system itself.

i can't even tell if that makes any sense.
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Re: Privilege

Postby abitha » Tue Apr 14, 2009 8:55 am UTC

Just to lob an extra thought into the discussion... a meritocracy does not necessarily equal a 'fair' or 'equal' system either. Some people are simply born with more academic potential, beauty or athletic ability than others, as an accident of genetics and luck. Now certainly the system shouldn't be set up in a way that favours people for ultimately meaningless attributes like their skin colour, and at least a meritocratic system would eliminate that, but it still won't benefit the weakest in society, who no matter how hard they work, still won't have as much 'merit' (academic, sporting or whatever) as others.

I'm not sure there's any perfect solution to this problem - the best i can suggest is a system that aims to recognise the human worth inherent in everyone regardless of their colour, gender, nationality etc, but also regardless of their abilities. Now obviously it'd be stupid to say that someone without the necessary abilities should have an equal shot at a job like being a doctor or lawyer that requires those abilities, but we need somehow to dignify the 'lower-level' jobs (on a practical level, offering decent rates of pay would be a good start). There is nothing inherently demeaning about working as, say, a cleaner - it is only demeaning because it is poorly paid, doesn't require much in the way of high-level skills, and people see it as the kind of job that is only suitable for someone from underprivileged groups. If we, as a society, can develop an attitude that says "cleaner = worthwhile human being just as much as doctor = worthwhile human being", we'll have come a long way towards eliminating prejudice. (This, by the way, is on top of what needs to be done in terms of society having an attitude that says "black person = worthwhile human being, female = worthwhile human being etc", not instead of it!)

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Re: Privilege

Postby year in the sun » Tue Apr 14, 2009 5:27 pm UTC

thatthatguy wrote: Poor white kids are going to be just as screwed by the system as poor black kids.


i'm going to tell you that in my experience, this just isn't true. i've been poor and disadvantaged in various ways at various points in my life, but i've always been white. and i know that at all kinds of points along the way, i've gotten a better break from the system in spite of those disadvantages than someone else in the same situation who wasn't white.

fact is, if i'm struggling at school and i'm white, the chances are good that many more people will help me out or cut me appropriate slack because i am white. it has to do with their inherent assumptions about what they think the 'proper' socioeconomic level, achievement level, and academic state is for someone like me. what they see when they see me is someone who's 'obviously' not at the level that she 'should' be and their unconscious brain goes 'hang on, that's wrong'. so they'll help, so i can get to the level their prejudices tell them is 'right'. whereas a classmate of mine who isn't white doesn't benefit from that kind of thing.

the same has sometimes true for my son in areas that i've witnessed, most frequently organised sports. we're not exactly living at the standards of my city's middle class, him and me. but it's still true that people in the comfortably-established middle classes 'recognize' him when they look at him. he's more or less their colour, he speaks like them, comes from a sociological culture like theirs . . . even though many details about his life are different from theirs. he benefits from being perceived as 'different' but not actively alien.

it's not so much about overt hatred or active oppression. it's just that a lot of people are unconsciously hard-wired to accept that certain situations are 'normal' for certain types of people. and others are 'normal' for other types. and they'll help out where they perceive a discrepancy, but not when they don't. that's where privilege tends to show up.
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Re: Privilege

Postby SecondTalon » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:04 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Okay, because I know where this back and forth argument is going...
The opposite of privilege does not hold true; Being born without the benefits of wealth or into a racial majority does not entitle you due compensation. We should level the playing field as much possible, annnnd thats where the gray area comes into play.
Well...

If you're born in to a lower economic bracket because your parents were unable to get an education because they were in a lower economic bracket because their parents were unable to get an education because they were in a lower economic bracket because their parents were unable to get an education because they were in a lower economic bracket because their parents were unable to get an education because they were in a lower economic bracket because their parents were unable to get an education because they were in a lower economic bracket because their parents were enslaved....

On the other hand, try playing Monopoly with six people. At the very beginning, you pass out half of the properties randomly to two players, half of what's left to those two players plus another player, half of what's left to those three players and one other, keep the rest in the bank for purchase and then give every player the usual starting amount of cash... how do you think the game's going to turn out? Hard work and luck change a lot of things, sure.. but they can't change everything.

Or start the game normally, and give everyone the usual starting amount of cash. But only allow one or two of the players to own property until the 20th turn. After that, though everyone has to pay whenever they land on the space of the one or two players who could own property, those one or two do not have to pay whenever they land on anyone else's space until the 40th turn.

Hence the need to do what you can to level the playing field for everyone. Yes, some people are fortunate in that they were born into a wealthy family. Some of those people will end up penniless due to bad decisions, just as some people born into poverty will end up multi-billionaires.. But the vast majority of people will end up in a similar economic situation at death that they were in at birth. And that is due to history. The field is not level, and has never been level. At best, you can attempt compensation to try and counteract the effects of an unlevel field.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Indon » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:19 pm UTC

Izawwlgood wrote:Privilege is only a bad thing if it's wasted.

Unless you're someone who would've gotten the job/school/scholarship/whatever instead of the privileged person who got it instead. Then it always sucks.

Belial wrote:If you had to be aware of your privilege all the time, it wouldn't work nearly as well because you'd go about feeling guilty, and might not even take advantage of it to the fullest. You might even have to confront the idea that you're passively the world's biggest bastard (right after all the other bastards) for buying into a system that is so fucked up and hurts so many others, and that you're a weak coward for not helping to break it down.


Personally, I take the bastard approach to acknowledging privilege.

My power to not accept privilege is to some degree limited, and would be detrimental to me besides. Being the world's biggest bastard, I'm not so cool with that.

But something I have total control over is if I provide anyone with privilege. And not providing anyone with privilege is even advantageous to me because I can choose people purely on their merits instead of having, say, stupid people working for/with me just 'cause they're white/male/hula hoopists. And nobody can call me on being fair 'cause I can just call them racist/sexist/hula hoopist, and I'd be right.

So I get to be the biggest bastard in the system, and erode it in my own little way, which means I get to feel self-righteous about being a bastard on top of benefiting on both sides of the equasion.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Belial » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:27 pm UTC

.
SecondTalon wrote:A number of true things.


And bear in mind that landing jobs and making money are not the only activities encompassed by living in society. Privilege doesn't just have to do with your job and the size of your house. Look up any of the various privilege checklists to get an idea. Every facet of our society and our culture (our social conventions, our entertainment, our laws, our bureaucracy, our educational system, even our buildings) is built with some "default" in mind, and that default is generally white, male, straight, cisgendered, able-bodied, about 5'10", and right-handed. Anybody who isn't all of those things is, to some degree, a special case to be accomodated (or, often, not accomodated). That's privilege: knowing that society is built to your parameters (to some degree*), and that everyone else just either happens to fit in, or doesn't.

*Obviously, there is a lot of intersectionality and mix-and-matching. Generally, the closer you are to the default, the more society is built to accomodate you
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Re: Privilege

Postby Izawwlgood » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:44 pm UTC

Indon wrote:Unless you're someone who would've gotten the job/school/scholarship/whatever instead of the privileged person who got it instead. Then it always sucks.


The conversation isn't surrounding the side of the disenfranchised. Yes, we all know being passed over, either because someone was more qualified, or because someone was more connected, sucks. That's not really a discussion. The discussion is whether or not the OP should feel guilty for being privileged. And I maintain, that no, he shouldn't, he should make the best of his privilege and not squander it.

SecondTalon wrote:At best, you can attempt compensation to try and counteract the effects of an unlevel field.


I fully agree. Level the field. But that doesn't mean those were born with a leg up should spend their lives feeling guilty about it, and throwing away that benefit because of a philosophical sense of 'fairness'.

Not that this is a discussion at all about affirmative action, but isn't it fair to say that to some extent belonging to the right ethnicity at the right time in history can be seen as 'privilege'? Being able to check off 'black' or 'native American' on a college application form immediately bounces your app to a different pile, one could argue, a privileged pile. Yes, I full well understand that 'privilege' comes at the cost of years, generations, of being unprivileged.

Belial wrote:knowing that society is built to your parameters


And I disagree with your suggestion that I personally should feel guilty about, or even act upon that arguable belief. I was born with an advantage, being a white male, and being relatively wealthy, but the notion that I should turn around and throw everything away, every connection and every benefit that my birth circumstances provide is a pretty bold claim. Maybe you'll argue that I can say that as one of the privileged, but as I've said before, if my particular circumstances give me a running start on getting somewhere that helps people, I'll take every helping hand and advantage I can get.
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Re: Privilege

Postby Belial » Tue Apr 14, 2009 6:48 pm UTC

And I disagree with your suggestion that I personally should feel guilty about, or even act upon that arguable belief. I was born with an advantage, being a white male, and being relatively wealthy, but the notion that I should turn around and throw everything away, every connection and every benefit that my birth circumstances provide is a pretty bold claim. Maybe you'll argue that I can say that as one of the privileged, but as I've said before, if my particular circumstances give me a running start on getting somewhere that helps people, I'll take every helping hand and advantage I can get.


And what about helping them into an equal society? How do you exploit your privilege to make that happen? (It's arguably doable, mind, but I don't think you're thinking about this from an angle that even considers the question)

Not that this is a discussion at all about affirmative action, but isn't it fair to say that to some extent belonging to the right ethnicity at the right time in history can be seen as 'privilege'? Being able to check off 'black' or 'native American' on a college application form immediately bounces your app to a different pile, one could argue, a privileged pile. Yes, I full well understand that 'privilege' comes at the cost of years, generations, of being unprivileged.


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