Socially Acceptable Discrimination

Standard

I hate the term “privilege”. I’ve seen this term pop up so frequently recently, and I fully understand what it’s supposed to convey, but to me it seems to carry a very negative connotation, and apparently I’m not the only one. An article was written recently on Everyday Feminism to help people not guilt themselves about their own privilege. Apparently people are wandering the country with privilege guilt, feeling bad for being born into a real or perceived higher status in life. Within this article is a particularly sickening quote: “When spaces are open to those striving to be allies (keep in mind that not all spaces will or should welcome people of privilege), show up.” So basically, people of “privilege” are expected to be discriminated against, and somehow that’s okay. From the same website, another article tells us that while it’s okay to want to remain in touch with our European heritage, and that not all white people are bad, whiteness itself, in fact, inherently is. I find these statements amusing and unsettling. Much of my “European heritage” is Jewish. Does that absolve me of this privilege guilt that’s supposed to weigh heavy on my heart? Or am I supposed to do as these articles state and get in touch with my roots in a positive manner, understand my privileged place in society and use that to enact change? I have quite a diverse mix of ancestry, it’d take quite a lot of time to research all of that, keeping it all positive of course, reminding myself at every turn that whiteness is bad! Whiteness is bad! Then use my new found knowledge to help others who are less privileged than I? It just amazes me that a site that prides itself on being so open, inclusive, and anti-discriminatory would so blatantly socket so many people into a category of which they have no control, and is so broad stroked that you couldn’t possibly know for a fact who fits this category without an intimate look into their personal upbringing and experiences.
The idea of privilege is just too subjective, and it seems like it would be easy for some to make assumptions about another’s privilege without knowing enough about their background that I don’t feel comfortable applying the term to any person, creed, group, what have you, as we’re all individuals with vastly different backgrounds and coming from different places in life. When everyone is screaming that equality is so essential, why single out whole groups of people based on their gender, religion, sexual orientation and race and tell them that they must ADMIT to, even SUBMIT to, the fact that they’re perceived by other groups to have been dealt a better hand in life? It is discrimination come full circle, and I’ve never been willing or able to abide discrimination in any form.
As one with “privilege”, (being white apparently gives me privilege…but being a woman does not, and I suppose neither does being disabled, so do those two things cancel out my one privilege point?), I grew up dirt poor in an equally poor neighborhood being one of the few white children at a primarily Hispanic school, and had the misfortune of being painfully shy, nerdy and always at the top of my class. I got beat up by other kids on a regular basis and they expressed so much rage at my very existence. They accused me of incurring favor with the teachers, not receiving my high marks for actually doing well in class, but solely because I was white. As they stood around taunting me and kicking me with their high dollar, stylish LA Gear shoes, and I lay curled in a ball crying, wearing my sister’s too large hand-me-downs filled with holes that I’d poorly patched myself, I just didn’t understand. I was so completely colorblind as a child, in so many ways, and their rage at something about me that seemed so without grounds or merit was puzzling to say the least. I obviously knew that there was historical racial tension, but to my childhood mind that was a thing of the past. I didn’t have any comprehension of racial tensions, stereotypes, or the anger that these children presented to me. As far as I was concerned, we were all just kids. I wondered where these kids got the idea that my skin color gave me an advantage. As far as I knew, it was more likely my huge forehead, or rather the giant frontal lobe encased within, that gave me what was basically my only advantage at school. I certainly wasn’t any good at sports or fitting in and making friends. It’s tough to make friends with people who hate you simply because your skin color doesn’t match theirs.
When I was 13 I was outed by one of my closest friends at the time, because I confided in her that I felt more attraction to women sometimes than men, and even though at that point, as I told her, I wasn’t even sure what I was or who I was or what I liked, she took it upon herself to tell our entire circle of friends that I was gay. I didn’t realize the waves this would make with my classmates. I expected they’d be more understanding, and had no idea that being gay or bi would cause such a scandal. I was outright crucified for something that I didn’t even know for sure yet might grow to be a permanent part of my life. I was taught by my mother that being gay wasn’t a bad thing, that people are born that way, just as people are born hetero, and in my mind at that time I honestly thought that confiding in my friend was not a big deal. After all, being gay is normal, why would it be a bit of juicy gossip?
I got married very young, while still in college, because I thought that’s what people do, but maintained an open relationship because being bi and monogamous with a man was never going to work for me. Because of my experiences, I applied to volunteer at the LGBT center near my college to work with teens, remembering how painful and scary my surprise outing was, and how confused I had been with regards to my sexuality. I was none too politely declined because they stated that, being a married woman, I’d have little experience with “alternative lifestyles”. I was beyond hurt by their remarks. I explained my history to them, but apparently I was still too mainstream to be of any use to needy teens who may benefit from someone who might understand them. So it seems that I do both have privilege and don’t, and those people who should be most open minded about the state of my privilege or lack thereof are the first people willing to judge me based more on what they perceive that I have, rather than on the struggles I’ve dealt with that make me such an oddball and so likely to be cast out by “privileged” society members.
It’s just too easy for someone to make assumptions about another person’s place in society. We’re such complicated creatures. Some things may seem inarguable, that yes men get paid more in the workforce overall, and that yes in general western culture is heteronormative and cisgendered, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that each and every person from that pool of people does, or is able, to reap the benefits of these skewed standards, and it doesn’t mean that people outside of those circles cannot find their own niches in which they’re able to flourish and compete on an even footing, and it certainly doesn’t mean that the “privileged” members of society are so high up on their ivory towers that they can’t possibly grasp or engage in the struggles of others. Pain is universal, and empathy is a natural reaction for most people.
The social services industry is dominated by female workers, even to the highest levels of management. Payscales at many of the organizations where I worked were preset, if you got the job you got paid for that job, same starting salaries for each position across the board, and if any of us were ever lucky enough to get a raise, which would occurred if the budget allowed and we weren’t on a corrective action plan at the time of our annual assessment, those were all scheduled in advance and given to each of us in the exact same increments, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, facial piercings and etc. If I was still able to work, I could still be climbing that career ladder if I so desired. One thing I absolutely loved about working there is that no one was ever discriminated against for their tattoos or piercings, and I worked alongside many members of the LGBT community at all levels, from entry level to upper management. I was treated with just as much respect as the next person, regardless of my mods or sexual identity. So despite people’s insistence that one may be given a better footing as a white male, I’ve worked in at least one industry where this rule of thumb doesn’t apply.
I’m certainly not saying the world is a perfect place, I’m just saying that when we stress that we should make efforts to be mindful of our language and our approach to how we treat people of different backgrounds and affiliations, it’s important to be mindful of ALL of it, and the idea of being a person of privilege implies across the board that that person has something more or better than the rest of us, and from my standpoint, I find that hurtful both as one who would be deemed with privilege, and without.
By accusing someone of having privilege they’re being set aside as different, as unable to understand another’s struggle, as being above any possible personal struggle or status that may make their lives more difficult simply by being who they are. Isn’t that exactly what making them “privileged” society members does to them? It sets them aside as a group to be hated, despised, avoided, and on whom we can place all manner of blame. Isn’t that the exact kind of discrimination we’re trying to avoid?
Despite all my hard work in school I had very few opportunities for scholarships or grants, those being reserved for, not just underprivileged kids, but underprivileged MINORITY kids. I’ve had difficulty finding jobs due to being monolingual. I even had to fight tooth and nail to get promotions in some workplaces for which I was more than qualified simply because I was deemed too young at the time. Within each group, and each subgroup, there will always be barriers, there will always be those who incur favor, there will always be, in one manner or another, inequality, because humans are, after all, only human. Flawed creatures. Prone to creating and staying within niches and protecting their own. Do we really have to create another group to be angry with? Do we really have to build more barriers?
Perhaps those people who are so keen on breaking down preexisting barriers should make more efforts to not build more, to include those who are different as they would like to be included, rather than make as much effort as possible to make them feel guilt, or at least feel keenly aware, of things beyond their control, particularly who they are and where they came from. They would never stand for being made to feel guilt about such things in themselves, why go to such lengths to put that burden on others?

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