The Blinders of Privilege™

(I’ve been thinking about this for some time now, and recent events brought it to the forefront.  I just had to get it out there, even if I make a fool of myself in the process.)

In a way, I find it embarassing that I’m just now learning that I have The Blinders of Privilege™. I mean… I’m 32 years old, for Pete’s Sake. You would think that I would have learned it by now, especially considering that for all of my adult life, I have had a more diverse group of friends than I did growing up. But nope… The Blinders of Privilege™ made sure I didn’t see what was right in front of my face.

Certain groups of people are made to feel more entitled than others, and in such a way that they feel they’ve earned that right. It happens every day, and most of those people involved don’t see that there’s a problem. Sometimes even the ones to whom we feel superior feel that they deserve the treatment they get.

In White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, Peggy McIntosh describes it like this:

I have come to see white privilege as an invisible package of unearned assets that I can count on cashing in each day, but about which I was “meant” to remain oblivious. White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tools , and blank checks.

Now, obviously, Ms. McIntosh is speaking specifically about white privilege. But the fact is, we can take the word “white” out of there and replace it with any of the privileged groups: Rich, Men, Thin, “Normal” – and you end up with exactly the same result.

In her essay, she goes on to list 50 things that are an everyday occurrence to white people that openly shows their privilege.  Things you might not even think of.  However, in reading those things, I think I caught a glimpse of why I’ve always seen People of Color as being equal to me despite my white upbringing.  Short story: I’m obsinate and wouldn’t let racist talk affect the way I thought of People of Color; and my adult life has been spent struggling financially, which, in turn, put me in contact with People of Color more often – and I learned a lot from them.

But there are some things on that list that I never even thought of, and surprised me.

  • I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented.
  • When I am told about our national heritage or about “civilization,” I am shown that people of my color made it what it is.
  • I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials that testify to the existence of their race.
  • I can be pretty sure that my children’s teachers and employers will tolerate them if they fit school and workplace norms; my chief worries about them do not concern others’ attitudes toward their race.

Those are just a few.  But they illustrate my point: because I am white, I don’t have to think about these things.  However, when they are pointed out to me, I can honestly understand why People of Color get so upset about this privilege we have.  Because while I was too blinded to see it before, it’s right there in front of my face.  But The Blinders of Privilege™ made it impossible for me to see before.

And learning more about my unearned White Privilege has made it so much clearer now as to why People of Color involved in the Fatosphere have said time and again “there is no real place for us.”  Until we – as a society – learn to put away the White Privilege completely, there will always be an “us” and a “them.”  It really saddens me to admit that, but it’s true.

I can only hope that I, under the power of The Blinders of Privilege™, haven’t made any person of Color feel unwanted.  I don’t think I have, but I didn’t think I had any Privilege, either.

At least I’m learning.

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The Solution? People need to care more.

Checking the responses on It’s Not All About You (Or Me) at Shapely Prose, I came across this comment, where Time Machine mentioned that she had written a blog post (and said it was all Kate’s fault… hee! 😆 ).  So, Nosey Parker that I am, I had to go and read it.

And it made me realize a few things.

For one, I hold every single thing she said to be true for me as well.  Only I didn’t realize that it made me a liberal.  Hell, I didn’t even think of myself as a Feminist.  How could I be a feminist and also be perpetuating the whole “woman stays at home and cooks and cleans and takes care of the children” stereotype?

Choice.  That’s the difference.

I don’t stay home and cook and clean and take care of the children because I “have” to or because my husband is “making” me.  I do it because it was MY choice.  I took stock of my life and asked myself, “if I had the choice to work or stay home, which would I rather do?”  The answer to that question was easy.  Going about making that happen wasn’t — I had to move across the fucking world in order to do it.  But I realize now that making that decision didn’t make me any less of a Feminist than I would have been had I continued working.

Obviously, my focus right now is on Fat Acceptance and what it would mean for myself and the world.  There’s a saying: Think Globally, Act Locally.  I’ve modified that for my thinking, and for me it’s Think Globally, Act Personally.  Fat Acceptance is needed everywhere.  Well, okay, not everywhere — there are a few places in the world where Fat People aren’t just not discriminated against, they are the ideal.  But they are few and far between.  And I don’t necessarily want Fat People to be the ideal.  Just accepted.  Accepted without question.  Yeah, we’re different.  So what?  I think that’s a good thing.  I mean seriously, think about it: what would the world look like if there was only one body shape?  What would this world be if everybody and every body looked the same?  How would you even differentiate between two different people?  To be honest, when I think of it that way, I get the heebie jeebies.  It makes me think of some sort of horrifying bad piece of science fiction.

But I’m not naive enough to think that I, by myself, can bring about that change.  Do I think that the whole of the Fat Community could?  Definitely.  Not overnight, but definitely, if we were able to somehow organize ourselves I think we could certainly bring about some change.  But that change has to start with each individual person.

I have to start with me.  If I’m going to be able to call myself part of the Fat Acceptance Movement (or Community, whatever), I have to start accepting MYSELF and MY FAT. 

As one of the other Shapelings (SP) said:

I had to have a therapist make that point to me. (”Would you ever say to another person the sorts of things you think about yourself?”) And, of course… no, God no, not in a million years. And most of the time, I wouldn’t have even thought it of another person, let alone said it out loud.

That’s me!  I’ll admit that I’ve looked at other Fat People and thought something along the lines of “oh, that outfit does absolutely nothing for him/her” or “s/he would look so much better with a smile.”  But I would never even THINK the same things — that I think about myself — about another person, whether they be fat or thin or in-between.  And the fact is, if I’m going to be part of this Fat Acceptance thing, I have to start accepting myself as much as I’ll accept anyone else — otherwise I’m nothing but a hypocrite.  And while I’ll accept that I have some flaws (some?  ha!  try TONS!), if there’s one thing I absolutely will not allow myself to be, it’s a hypocrite.

But the point I’m trying to get at is that if more people cared more about what was going on around them — even if it didn’t directly affect them — this world would be a much better place to live in.  I don’t think it would be perfect — I think it would be nigh on impossible to make this word a perfect place, and even if we did manage to make it perfect, I’m not sure I’d want to live here.  Perfect would be boring.  I seriously think that if this world was “perfect,” that I’d literally go insane.

What Time Machine wrote hit me, though.

And it would be so nice, so, so nice, just not to notice. If I didn’t know, if I’d never thought about it, never made a few casual observations that then turned into less-casual observations that opened this huge gaping hole in my previous world-views and revealed our world for the sociological uneven mess that it is, then I could go through the mall and not notice it in the language kids use and not think about it at the grocery store when there’s a display for this or that weight loss thing and then I could watch TV with my mom without making faces and getting upset and in some ways I could be so, so much happier.

Because caring hurts. It fucking hurts. And it takes time and energy and is upsetting and the whole world becomes this constant upsetting reminder of why you care. It tears at you and it’s tiring and it’s devastating and lonely. It hurts. Caring fucking hurts.

When I read that, that’s when it hit me.  I had seen a part of myself in almost everything she wrote, but when I read that, I realized: I AM a liberal.  I don’t just “identify” with liberals (as I previously thought), I AM one.

From being a little girl with friends of all colors, I understood that some of them were treated differently simply because of the color of their skin, and it didn’t make sense.  I wanted to shout out “but they’re people, too!”  But I was hushed — by my own family.  I grew up in a lower-middle class family that very much removed themselves from anything political.  My grandmother — who raised me — grew up in a neighborhood in Chicago that was once nothing but Polish.  (Ironically, now it’s all Mexican!)  She never even saw a person of color until she saw one in a movie when she was a child.  Before that, she didn’t know people of color even existed.  (And when she found out I was dating a black boy?  Hoo-boy!  I can’t tell you the arguments that caused.  Even the fact that he was half white didn’t make a difference to her eyes.)  I couldn’t understand WHY she was like that.  I understood THAT she was like that, but I just couldn’t wrap my head around WHY.

And it’s the same with pretty much all of the other causes that most liberals stand for.  I think gay people should have every right and consideration as everyone else.  But again, a lot of that stems from a personal experience as well.  When I was 14, I met a boy at summer camp (kinda stole him away from one of the other girls…. *grin*) and we kept in touch for a long time afterwards.  A year or two after we met, he finally came out to me.  (Okay, that kind of took something away from the ‘taking him away from X’, but still…)  We would write letters and talk on the phone, and he would tell me about the things he had to go through all because he was gay.  And I just couldn’t stand it — not just because he was my friend, but because I didn’t think it was right that he should be subjected to such abuse just because he was different from the status quo.  From then on, every time I heard something about “gay rights” or “gay pride” or “gay WHATEVER,” I completely agreed with them on principle.  I could never say that I identified with them – because I’m about as straight as a ruler – but that didn’t mean that they shouldn’t be able to enjoy all of the same priveleges as everybody else.

And after having been a homeless person with no healthcare, a working mother paying through the nose for health insurance (and, as I said before, working FOR that insurance company), and finally moving to a country that has universal health care…. I’m ALL for socialized medicine!  I find it totally pathetic that the “most powerful country in the world” can’t have socialized medicine.  That people who work their fingers to the bone but don’t have a highly paid job can’t get the same health care that other people have.  That people with disabilities — who do have enough money to pay for insurance — are being denied coverage just because of those disabilities.

Finally, I realize that I coule keep going on and on and on, so to quote one of my favorite movies, V for Vendetta: Verily, this vichyssoise of verbiage veers most verbose, so let me simply add that… I think the solution to most of the world’s problems would be found if people simply cared more.  Simple… and yet not that simple.