Complicating the narrative with #PrivilegeStories

We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we’re in water.

We often hear stories about oppression and social injustice through the lens and experiences of the oppressed. Which is necessary. We need to hear the stories about the negative influence to fully understand the impact that oppression has on marginalized folks. We need to hear about the ways in which the prison industrial complex impacts people of color. We need to know about housing discrimination. We need to know about exclusionary policies against folks who practice Islam. We need to know about the barriers to success that undocumented people navigate. We need to know about income inequality (and understand the intersectional complications that occur when sex, gender, and race enter the conversation). We need to know about all of the byproducts of oppressive systems because the stories create critical consciousness of marginalization.

The stories of oppression are imperative AND it’s important for stories to be out there about the advantages that privileged folks receive. One of the insidious realities of privilege is that it’s invisible to those who have it. Because of this invisibility it’s hard to understand it, but when we tell stories about the ways that our privileged identities have advantaged us in our lives then both sides of oppressive systems become transparent. We start to see the oppression and the privilege through these stories.

Another complication that comes with privilege is the ways in which it’s easy to dismiss the stories of those who we see as different than us. I’ve been involved with many conversations about socially constructed difference in which people of color are ignored by white people because white people have been trained not to take people of color seriously. White privilege allows us to ignore the contributions of people of color and dismiss their stories of racism as “overly sensitive nonsense.” White privilege allows us to think that some laws getting passed in the 60s eradicated racism so stories of racism now must be outliers rather than the norm. White privilege allows us to accuse people of color of “playing the race card” anytime race is brought into the conversation because we’re supposed to be colorblind in a perverse co-opting of Dr. King’s vision.

So when stories get told about how white people, men, heterosexuals, upper middle class folks, cisgender people, Christians, able-bodied folks receive unearned, unasked for advantages we can push people with privilege to recognize more about how their experiences have been shaped very differently by the same systems that inflict oppression upon marginalized folks. When we can become aware of the ways that our society privileges some while oppressing others we can start to see the problems better. I think most people with privilege operate with the thought that some people are disadvantaged but don’t see the privileged side of it. When we can highlight that privileged side of inequity then consciousness can become easier for those who have privileges.

It’s important for those of us with privileged identities to share the ways in which we’ve been privileged. We have to speak truth to the invisible systems that have given us a leg up in this world. We have to recognize the injustice in that and do work in our communities to challenge our peers with privilege to wake up to that injustice and fight against it. We have to do that through telling our stories of privilege. #crimingwhilewhite is an example of these stories, but we need to go further. We need #PrivilegeStories shared consistently alongside the stories of marginalization and stories of systemic issues and institutions. We need the #PrivilegeStories because it rounds out the whole picture for us to fully comprehend the systems we live and breathe in. Without #PrivilegeStories we’re just fish who don’t understand that we live in water.

What are some of your #PrivilegeStories? Share in the comments and on social media.

I’m not Caucasian

“…conventional American racial categories are rooted in colonialism, slavery, and an elaborate ideology developed to justify a system of racial inequality. Given racial categories’ sociohistorical rather than biological roots, the notion that “races” describe human biological variation has been officially rejected by the American Anthropological Assoication. As we critique outmoded systems of racial classification, we must also question the labels we use for “races.”

-Carol C. Mukhopadhyay

Mukhopadhyay went on to explain in her essay that the word caucasian was developed in the eighteenth century by as anatomist who claimed that the people from the Caucasus mountain range were the most beautiful people in the world and then he decided to label all fair skinned people caucasian. This is why I’m do not identify as caucasian.

There is a lot power and privilege tied up into that particular word. The word is a relic of a now outdated concept that passed off the social construction of race as biological difference. The fact that we still use caucasian as a valid term when we have moved away from the other outdated labels represents the white supremacy still inherently present in the United States. As a society, other groups have changed their labels to more accurately reflect the social construction of race, but white folks are still clinging to this faux-biological label and the idea of superiority that is historically tied to it.

I was in the process of joining NASPA in November of 2010 and their registration form for membership only offered Caucasian as racial category for white people. I sent in an email to their membership committee, a representative replied to my email and said that he’d discuss the concern at their next meeting. I have yet to hear back, but the point is, I’m choosing not to identify as Caucasian because it historically represents ideas that are no longer relevant or even scientifically viable.

EDIT: As I thought about this post after it was published, I realized that this has more meaning in the context of what has happened with President Obama and Donald Trump this week (which I commented on yesterday). I think given the very public new context, examining the language we use and the ways in which we use it to wield power over people is important. Some may claim that Caucasian is just a label that we use, but given its historical context, it is more than that. Constantly evaluating our language and the historical context that it brings to us is an important part of moving forward to a socially just society.