Today, I sat in my Women and Gender studies class and we discussed the “first wave” of feminism led by figures such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. After our lecture we had a discussion around “how do we relate to these struggles?” The conversation was energized yet ordinary. Until one of my class mates said “We are all hyper inflicted by the institutionalized ‘isms’ of today and I fight to dismantle these but along the way I make sure I keep checking my privilege.” At first a pretty powerful statement. After reflecting I disagreed with her, she is a self-described white woman. Privilege is one of the most misconstrued and problematic buzz words of our movement.
Our “activism” is much different than days of the Eyes on the Prize movement. We are a new animal, a rambunctious bulldog with a bark that disparages the “man.” We like capital A’s with circle around them, Karl Marx is our homie and we don’t take kindly to saying “you guys.” That being said what actually is the problem with privilege? Privilege is the concept that capitalism especially US capitalism “privileges” a select few, based on unearned qualities. You know the white hetero-normative men. Do I believe privilege is real, yes. So, what is the problem then? Simple, today folks like to play privilege Olympics while feeling a sense of entitlement to the movement while making the truly committed, white activists feel bad. I have also heard playing the privilege card as an excuse to further enrich culturally, socially or academically. But the biggest issue with privilege actually is that it is too personal. When privileged folks have that “ah ha” moment of realization it becomes a race to become a part of the oppressed group. Humans in order to engender a sense of belonging, we must fit in with the status quo of the day. So when we sit in our conscious circles and disparage the privileged, who wants to be a part of that?
In our movement we do not realize that privilege needs to be evaluated on an individual basis. We do not allow privileged people to be entrenched but instead we oppress them to uplift marginalized groups. All without thinking of what consequences alienation can bring to certain intrinsic pieces of our “world changing” team!
I think educating about privilege is very important and in the movement necessary to say the least but incredibly hazardous. So the least we can do is not oppress the privileged but instead co-opt them to make the movement stronger. We can change the world but when we suppress one group we render ourselves to a disadvantage. So yes check privilege, teach about systems of oppression but do not ever make anyone feel the need to become oppressed, cuz’ why in the world would anyone want that?