Talking About Privilege

Relevant to our interests, and probably yours, is this point/counterpoint discussion in The New Statesman on what we accomplish (or don’t accomplish) when we talk about privilege.

First up is Tom Midlane, who argues that “privilege-checking” detracts and divides people who could be better off setting aside their differences to work together to eliminate problems of discrimination and inequality:

Privilege becomes an inescapable feedback loop: any attempt to critique privilege-checking is met with the retort: “You’re privileged enough to have the luxury not to think about privilege.” But that’s not it. I’ve always been aware that as a child of a white, middle-class family, I have life easier than some people – but that’s precisely what drives me on to seek social justice for those less fortunate than myself. Prejudice exists. We live in a radically unjust world. But turning our personal circumstances into some sort of pissing contest achieves precisely nothing.

The counterpoint comes from Zoe Stavri, who argues that we can’t actually accomplish anything significant if we don’t identify the root of our problems in the first place, which has a lot to do with privilege:

Far from detracting from struggle, being aware of one’s own privilege and actively working to ameliorate its effects can only enhance what we are trying to achieve. We must be willing to be radically different from those in power if we are to avoid alienating those less privileged than ourselves. It is utterly urgent that we listen to those who we claim to be fighting for and avoid contributing to any continuing oppression. Without getting our own house in order, we are coming from an inherently weak position.

A good discussion! As we were, then.

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

thatgirl (#1,965)

If privilege-checking turns into the Oppression Olympics, you’re doing it wrong. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable, but you (I) take a deep breath and work through it.

Fact: only the privileged have discussions about privilege.

sintaxis (#2,363)

@stuffisthings Lots of people who are under-privileged have discussions about privilege- only they do not always use the same vocabulary. It’s naive to think that those who don’t have access to the very academic based language of “privilege” don’t understand and engage in discussions about how life generally shits on them, so to speak.

@sintaxis Actually my experience has been that the least privileged people I’ve ever met spend far, far less time engaging in discussions about how life generally shits on them than, say, my white, college-educated straight male co-workers here in the United States.

Weasley (#1,419)

Are those really opposing statements? I didn’t get in the first quote that the person is saying that you shouldn’t recognize your own privilege. Rather that people shouldn’t dismiss the critiques more privileged people make. Because then it turns into a bizarre “who has it worse” competition that doesn’t do anything. And the second quote is just saying that it’s good to recognize privilege, particularly your own privilege.

I agree with both but I think the first person has a good point of not dismissing an opinion because of some supposition you have of what their life is like.

Sean Lai (#559)

I don’t think those specific grafs are opposing, it’s just a matter of the circumstances. Self-flagellation over your privilege is unnecessary, counterproductive to solidarity, and probably a perverse form of one-upmanship. On the other hand, “I don’t need to disclaim my own privilege, I’m a liberal” is grating and obscures one’s place in the system of power that reproduces oppression, regardless of one’s political opinions.

Like everything else in life, both positions contain grains of truth and you will get by just fine by doing your best to be mindful of others and not being a dick.

@Sean Lai Ah but one thing Midlane neglects to mention is the importance of self-criticism sessions in maintaining party discipline.

deepomega (#22)

Privilege is, mostly, the best tool we’ve come up with so far for getting white dudes to shut the fuck up about how great and liberal they are.

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