Astronomy Picture of the Day

Search This Blog

06 December 2009

Privilege and Peril

When I teach about privilege - white, male, heterosexual, able-bodied - I also teach about peril. I'm careful to point out that privilege and peril regularly coexist in individuals and communities to avoid setting up an "oppression olympics." For example, the peril I experience as a black person and as a woman coexists with the privilege I experience from my socioeconomic status and the privilege I experience from my hierarchical standing as a professor and as a priest.

Apparently, that's just me. I have been watching other folk who also enjoy privilege while living with peril who have no interest in articulating or acknowledging their own privilege. In this case it is white privilege. I have been watching and listening as some white gay men dominate the equality movement articulate gay identity over and apart from black identity, build on and steal from the Civil Rights Movement and proclaim that black liberation is "over."

I have also observed white women who are deeply concerned about the status of women in the academy and the church invest in, nurture and support white women and only white women. For these women, women of color are not women - unless we want to support the white women's agenda. Support for women of color is called divisive, shifting the focus from gender to race and ethnicity.

Neither group, white gay men nor white women in these contexts acknowledge the power they have from their white privilege. But they use it. It is a peculiar thing to see white privilege wrapped in a mantle imperiled victimhood.

It seems to me the movements for women's equality and LGBTQ equality when divorced from any concern about the status of women of color or queer colored folk is not really about civil or human rights. On one level these culture wars are about the fury white folk feel when their white privilege is not universally acclaimed and honored. As a result, some white gay men have no problem using sexism or racism in their campaigns for - not equal rights - but the restoration of their privilege. And, some white women cannot identify or partner with women of color in achieving equity for all women because their womanhood is intrinsically linked with their whiteness, rendering women of color unrecognizable as women.

Unarticulated privilege is still privilege. White privilege is nearly unescapable.

2 comments:

  1. I tried to explain the concept of the Pyramid of Power to my 14 year old daughter recently. She said, "Mom, I don't live in that world." But she really does. She just can't see it. (I hope there will some day be a "yet" added to that. I'm trying.)

    ReplyDelete
  2. I said much the same thing to my mother when I went off to college. I thought racism was over. It may be easier for her see this from the underside if sexism affects her. It will be harder for her to see where she benefits from privilege.

    ReplyDelete