These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them.
Over the course of the last few year my personal life has hit a fairly large milestone. I got engaged and then married to a wonderful woman. Part of that process throughout and after the planning of our wedding pointed out some pretty large privileges that I hold, particularly as a heterosexual cisgender male in the US. And as part of one of my promises to myself, I thought I would briefly share some of the things that have been pointed out to me as privileges that I hold through my #PrivilegeStories series.
The first one that I think of is that I had no hesitation (other than keeping my life private) from sharing my engagement at work or when I’m out in the world. I have no reason to believe that sharing that I was engaged and now married to a woman would be detrimental to my life. I have no reason to believe that having pictures of myself and my partner(wife) on my desk would lead to any negative issues with students or colleagues.
In addition to talking about the engagement and wedding at work, we did not worry about how a vendor may react to our relationship because it can be viewed as “typical.” We are a white, heterosexual, cisgender couple. We don’t break any expectations that our vendors may have before they see us. While working with our vendors we didn’t have to look to any list to let us know if they would be ok working with us. We easily assumed that they would be fine and accept us as customers.
The second piece of this is around my wife’s decision about her name. She holds that a unique part of her identity is in her maiden name which I fully support. So as she continues to make her decision she has felt pressure from friends, acquaintances, and other people about making a decision which is not something that I have had to go through. She also, once a decision is made, may have to go through name changing processes that I do not have to consider at all. I have not been asked at all what my name will change to because people can assume that I won’t change my name.
These are all tiny pieces of my life that only stand out to me because I think about them, but they highlight the differences in experiences that I am afforded based on my identities. They’re invisible until you speak about them. They must be pointed out so that we know what happens to ourselves and how privileges warp our experiences without us noticing. We have to understand these privileges to understand the oppression that folks with subordinated identities face because if we don’t understand the privileges then we can’t see the full problem.
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.