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.

A False Sense of Individualism

I accept oppression and privilege stemming from white supremacist, capitalist, imperialist patriarchy societal pressures which means that there are invisible, unearned advantages that are bestowed upon people. These privileges are a silent form of collectivism. I have seen this to be one of the reasons people have a difficult time accepting that privilege exists. I have spoken with a few people over the last couple of years that seem to seize up when we start talking about privilege. My interpretation is that the concept of privilege is contrary to what we’ve always believed about our accomplishments. We need to believe that everything that we have accomplished has been from our own efforts and not helped by anything else. That’s what those of privilege have been told and that’s what it feels like when anyone accomplishes something.

After all, that’s part of the fabled American dream. The story goes that somebody starts from very little pulls themselves up into relevance and money. We don’t allow space in that narrative to hear about how that person was helped get to where they are. We don’t leave space for understanding how they are a part of something larger and while their individual efforts got them somewhere, it’s not everything. We don’t leave space in the story to explore how hard work isn’t everything and that there are millions of narratives of people who worked just as hard and did not see a change in their “status.”

Privilege bestows upon those who have it an unearned, unasked for, and invisible advantage of social capital. Social capital means connections. It means you have people who can do favors for you. And privilege watches out for its own. White people inadvertently believe other white people. Men believe other men. Those who are wealthy believe other wealthy people. (This is more complex than what I’m including here. Conferred dominance is a huge part of privilege and that goes beyond people with privilege believing other people of privilege.) And this also means the inverse is true. Generally, people with privilege aren’t going to hear what someone from a minoritized identity has to say or instead of listening intently they are thinking about how the story can’t be fully true.

The reality that this leads to is an invisible network of people who provide each other with some help that seems minimal but pushes some people to success. Which means that not all of our accomplishments are our own. We have to be able to understand that and move forward in order to continue to work toward social justice in our world. I recognize that accepting this is difficult (I’ve had my own journey with it). This is why I work with social justice education the way that I do. I want to be able to meet my students in their privilege and help them understand how some seemly innocent advantages can be harmful to everyone on a interpersonal level and systemic level.