Saturday, March 18, 2006

Feminism, Racism and Privilege

Brownfemipower posted on guilty bloggers. The post really shook me up. Fuck, I’ve done it again. I’ve been coasting on white privilege.

I’m new to blogging, and have struggled with the focus of my blog. I want a heavy emphasis on feminism, but I also want to deal with the hatred the mentally ill face, and with conservation issues. My blog reading focuses on feminist blogs, and I’ve found the atmosphere on many of these blogs quite uncomfortable. People who fall under the umbrella of feminism should be very diverse. However, I’ve found that, as a mentally ill woman, I see both casual bias and outright scorn against people with mental disorders on feminist blogs. It’s easy to use “crazy” as the butt of a joke. I’ve also felt ill at ease, rarely, due to being childfree and an atheist. But I never once felt uncomfortable because of my skin color. The majority of blogs I visited dealt with issues that were relevant to me, a white woman.

I’ve wanted to write about my feelings of alienation in the feminist blogosphere. I’ve wanted to challenge the status quo in feminist blogging. I’ve been furious at the story of “top” male liberal bloggers acting as if feminism wasn’t their concern. Those men rose to the top through their ability, and if women couldn’t do the same, then they must not have any talent. On my blog, I’ve focused on feminist issues that directly concern me. I have not posted about racism. I’ve been coasting on white privilege. I’ve been behaving like those elite male bloggers: only worried about my own ass.

How could I do this? People who care only about themselves sicken me. I have two options: be completely self-centered or walk my talk. The reason I'm a feminist is that inequality enrages me, so it’s time to walk my talk. Everyone matters. Feminism is about equality for all. So why do I fall into the selfish trap? Privilege is a vile, invisible cancer, and it infects every area of life. When I think about feminist issues, I’m well-aware of my position as one-down in society. But I blindly ignore my status and the advantages I have by “virtue” of being born white and straight.

At work, I teach psychology at the community college level. One of my favorite areas is social psychology, because I can spend a lot of time on racism and privilege. In the classroom, I introduce the concept of privilege. And oh, does the atmosphere turn chilly. Formerly talkative white students get quiet, and the anger in the room quickly builds to near breaking point. I get frustrated with my white students, quarter after quarter. OK, so they didn’t know about privilege before, that’s why I’m teaching them about it. But they resist learning about privilege. In spite of numerous examples, case histories, and discussion, they furiously deny privilege exists. I hear “I don’t try to have privilege over anyone!” and “I didn’t have any slaves!” over and over. White students say “I have problems too! People discriminate against me!” One student even said “White people face the same problems that colored people face.” My own frustration threatens to explode. I will not open their minds by screaming that they are miserable little cretins. I try to hammer home that privilege is so destructive precisely because it is invisible to those who have it. This classroom exercise is routinely unsatisfying, nerve-wracking, and unproductive.

Once privilege is explained to you, you are obligated to think about it, take responsibility for it, and fight against it. Why won’t those students get it? I have not posted about racism. Why don’t I get it? Well, I do get it, but I lose focus and return to my comfortable, privileged world. Intention is never enough; fighting for equality requires persistence and dedication.

It isn’t Brownfemipower’s, or anyone else’s job to educate me, remind me, or motivate me. But she did all of those things, and I’m grateful to her. From now on, I won’t coast on white privilege. Feminism is about autonomy for everyone, not just for white women.


Madame DeBarge said...

Man, is this ever one of the hardest things to try and discuss!
Especially when a white male teacher was trying to tell us all how priviledged we are.

There are priviledges inherent in being of the dominant race, or the dominant culture, too. See how much fun you have being childless and an aetheist? You have faced hardships because of your beliefs, but to really know what it's like to be treated differently, we'd have to go to a different country to find a place where white people are spit upon, and treated as second class citizens.

On the other hand, I get cranky when it's assumed I have a lot of priviledge because I'm white, because many priviledges we assume go with whiteness go with RICH whiteness.

I get followed in stores too, I have people walk by and say horrible things to me because I look different than they do. It's not in the slightest bit to compare to the degradation that other people face for what they are born looking like, but it bothers me when things that I've gone through get discounted, because I'm white.

By now, I'm probably totally off subject, because this is such a difficult one to talk about, figure out, etc. We as white people literally can not understand what people of other races go through, because we aren't them.

One interesting point, that I hate, but is quite valid, is that as white people, we try to be color blind, but as a black or hispanic person, they are forced every day to view the world in races and cultures. We as white people can choose to be color blind because we are the dominant race, at least here in the US.

spotted elephant said...

Exactly-white people can say things like "It's not about race", not recognizing that they are the only ones who have the luxury of thinking like that.

Class is a really important and almost untouchable issue in this country. So many still think we aren't a class-based society. ??? It's more privilege-and again, those who are better-off don't think they get any special advantages.

It's really hard to talk about privilege, so people never want to talk about privilege, but we desperately *need* to talk about it.

Kim said...

Wow, SE. I read the link you posted and the links SHE posted and I'm rather at a loss for words except to say "Excellent points."

AND I've probably thrown around the word "crazy" a little too lightly myself and will take note of this in future posts. I'd like to think since I've had my share of probs with anxiety, I can own the word "crazy" a little--but, really, I can't. And I'm sorry for my false ownership of the word.

It's tough blogging sometimes. I think about tossing in the ol' blog towel at least weekly, but I don't. I hope you don't either, SE. I really like your style--I'm linking you now, to prove it.
Not that that's any friggin' stamp of Blog Approval, but the sentiment is genuine :)

VEGANiUM2 said...

about the students not wanting to acknowledge privilege, i think that it's becuase on the personal level, racial discrimination is just another form of bad treatment, and everyone is a victim to bad treatment (by children at school, teachers, government and so on) so this is why they have hard time distingushing one discrimination form another.
perhaps it will be better to be carful not to give them a feeling they are accused of taking privilege, but instead to wan them not to give one, as a first step.

spotted elephant said...

Kaka-I have to say that your blog has never been one that offended me! I think my problem is less with the word crazy itself, and more with using mental illness to explain bad behavior.

And thank you for the link! I do appreciate it.

veganium2-I disagree that racial discrimination is the same as any other bad treatment on a personal level. It's an entrenched form of discrimination that has implications far beyond other types of common bad treatment one experiences.

I work hard to not make students feel accused. You're right-I'd get nowhere with them if I started off like that. And I do start off the discussion with the caveat that this will be uncomfortable, and I remind the students that *I'm* white, so I experience privilege. But no matter how much groundwork I lay out, no matter how carefully I tread, the resistance to hearing this is extreme.

Veronica said...

Boy, I got smacked with this one last week. Good post.

Kelley Bell said...

Give the Patriarchy the Finger!