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No Man’s Land

April 2, 2014

Privilege — it comes up a lot when you are in any Social Justice movement. Depending on how long you have been around, you can have a pretty good idea of what it means and how it works. But, if you have been around long enough, you get to hear ALL of the derailing arguments and you get to see a very well-made point spiral down into nothingness. I want to talk about one in particular.

Click the pic for an awesome talk about “The Privilege of Being Part of the Problem.”


Hi, I get that there’s a lot of bad people out there that just so happen to be [white, thin, male, hearing, etc.], but why are you generalizing all ____ people to be evil? There must be at least some good people out there that just so happened to be _____ … right?

This argument is a derailing argument made by privileged people who want to still feel good about themselves. This shit happens in every Social Justice space, and the shit argument is exactly the same. What is really being said is “but /I’m/ a good person, and if you agree, then all of my responsibility for the shitty things that are being done around me is absolved. If I’m good, then I don’t need to change anything.” And let’s not even talk about how this is making whatever problem you were talking about suddenly about you.

So, no, it doesn’t matter if you are an ally or a supporter or someone who sits quietly and passively allows -isms to happen, YOU ARE STILL RESPONSIBLE. You are responsible because you are privileged. You are responsible for ending unearned privilege by using that privilege as a stage, a platform, for those who are denied the right. In this place, there are only two options; either you are an ally or you are the enemy. “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel

This particular argument bothers me more than others, honestly. I think it’s because this mentality is the same one that apathetic people have, and the only reason it comes up is because some apathetic person just became uncomfortable and wants to reaffirm they are a “good person” for not being whatever. All the other apathetic people just don’t care whether they are the problem. I’m starting to think that we aren’t really fighting against our oppressors, but instead we are fighting to gain support from the apathetic majority… oh what a sorry revelation.

This is why we fight…

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me. 

— Martain Niemöller

Even for selfishness, we must continue to fight for the disenfranchised, because if we ignore our rights, they will go away.

Kitsune Yokai

23 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2014 10:10 am

    Reblogged this on stitchgnomercy and commented:

    If you have privilege, it’s your job to speak up against injustice….it doesn’t matter what your privilege is (race, class, sex, ability, identity, etc), and it’s not my job as an oppressed person to educate and fight.

  2. Twistie permalink
    April 2, 2014 10:36 am

    The worst thing about it is that it actually takes so little to be a part of the solution. Just do something. Sign an online petition, tell someone ‘dude, that’s not cool’ when they engage in demeaning language against a group, refuse to take part in insulting behavior and tell the people encouraging you why you won’t do it.

    Just telling someone else you believe belittling someone for their race, weight, gender presentation, sexuality, religion, bank balance, etc. is wrong is being part of the solution. Even checking your privilege at the door and listening is a help.

    When I was a kid back in the sixties and seventies, I learned the truth of the saying that if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem. I believe that to this day, and will to my dying day.

  3. Duckie permalink
    April 2, 2014 12:01 pm

    I completely agree with you about the apathetic person…..and I have to make sure I read the other part right –

    You are saying an Ally, who stands right beside you in the fight and rails against the oppressor as loudly, or even more so, than you, is still responsible (read: to blame) for the oppression. So even as they use their privileged platform to stand up for the oppressed, they remain responsible for the oppression. I get that a person who is privileged should as a decent human being use the tool of that privilege to stand up to injustice – and at other times to reject that unjust privilege when possible. However, I’m not sure I can buy into the idea that a person is at fault for the oppression just from being a coincidental member of the privileged group.

    In this realm, I’m with the oppressed (a fierce fatty), but I cannot hold every thin person responsible for the oppression I receive from others (who themselves come in all different sizes it turns out). That, in itself, seems to me to be an injustice.

    …maybe I’m just too hung up on the semantics of the word “responsible.”

    I know that by saying this, some people may want to jump right down my throat about it. I’m not really interested in getting in any fights here, and will not engage in any fights. This comment has been an honest observation and inquiry for the purposes of personal growth and voicing a perspective. Certainly people are encouraged to thoughtfully and respectfully respond to my thoughts here. I felt this interpretation/perspective needed to be voiced – to not say it would be to do nothing and remain apathetic, which is kind of the point of this blog post.

    • Twistie permalink
      April 2, 2014 12:14 pm

      While I can’t speak for Kitsune, the way I read the article was not that allies are equally to blame, but rather that those who have privilege and fail to use it are far more to blame for oppression continuing than they are willing to believe. A matter of failure to act being the issue rather than ‘everyone who is thin/white/male/cisgendered/straight/etc. is always personally to blame whether they act against it or not.’ Those of us who see our privilege and use it to help further social justice do belong to the oppressive group, and we cannot help what advantages we are born with, but using what we have to help others is always good.

      The point I got was that inaction is the enemy.

      • Elizabeth permalink
        April 2, 2014 2:33 pm

        This is a great blog that addresses, among other things, the use of the word cis.

        I choose to engage in class analysis, which includes the class of females, who are NOT privileged over the class of males, including males who think they are females.

        • April 2, 2014 4:06 pm

          That article is interesting and complex 🙂

          I always wondered why Fat Acceptance seems not apply Male Privilege to Trans-men while it seems not to apply Male Privilege to Trans-women.

        • April 2, 2014 10:50 pm

          Wow. That was sure repugnant. Thanks sooooo much for the link. [rolleyes]

          Seriously, was posting that dreck in this column (of all places!) your idea of a late April Fool’s joke? Gross.

          • Elizabeth permalink
            April 4, 2014 9:35 am

            Insult me all you like, my dear, it means nothing to me.

          • April 4, 2014 10:26 am

            Of course it doesn’t, which must be why you responded. [snerk]

            Buh bye now. PLONK!

  4. haleycue permalink
    April 2, 2014 12:32 pm

    Using the word “blind” the way it was used in that graphic is quite ableist. It’s an easy metaphor to use, I get it – blindness/invisibility/not being able to see something (like privilege) makes sense to quickly get a point across – but in using blindness as a metaphor, you’re kind of not being mindful of your privilege over the visually impaired.

    • April 9, 2014 11:16 am

      Too many language codes. I mean why are people worried so much about what words people will use, over the collapse of the US economy and our dying freedoms–NDAA, TSA? That is one thing I got tired of all the language codes. I even went to a disability seminar where the lady–she is very kind and well intentioned spoke of all the words that should not be used for the disabled, I knew I had used words that were not PC even for myself. I find this stuff very silly. I do not care if someone calls me deaf.

      • April 9, 2014 11:00 pm

        Actually, the more trying times are, the more it behooves us to treat each other with simple decency in the small things. Those small moments of kindness and concern add up, and sometimes they make a huge difference in whether we can pull ourselves together and face the big problems for one more day.

  5. April 2, 2014 12:36 pm

    Far too often I have witnessed the concept of privilege used as a negative stereotype instead of a descriptor of what is wrong with Society. Instead of being used to point out what needs to be changed in Society, it is used as a tool to exclude some people from a conversation. It often is invoked right before a group circles it’s wagons and ends a discussion permanently.

    • April 9, 2014 11:11 am

      My problem with this privilege stuff is that it brings forth protected classes of people and others that are less protected. “Some animals are more equal then others” a la Animal Farm. I am disabled and of course very overweight but I do not believe in hate crime laws or any of the rest because these things can be abused to kill free speech and actually balkanize society more. I hate both of the main parties but the left seems obsessed with dividing everyone into their little groups and turning them against each other. I belong to groups that no one cares about, the fat, the Aspies, the disabled, the deaf or hearing impaired. But even then, I don’t want to tell people what to think or control their speech.

      The laws against discrimination on the books NOW [race, disabilities, creeds] should be APPLIED and often aren’t unless you are a member of one of the groups the left favors. Age discrimination, weight discrimination are RAMPANT and worsening.

      I still remember when I lived in a huge metro city, EXTREMELY POOR and this Asian man at a liberal church I was in then, told me I had “white privilege”, and I said right to his face, “You live in the richest suburb in this town, you have a great upper class job, I live on the wrong side of the tracks, am almost dead of health problems, have no kin to help me, with no phone, car and with food negotiable, and you are trying to tell me, you are “oppressed” compared to me? Give me a break! “You are right, William this stuff does exclude people from conversations, if you think the “wrong” thoughts in many circles now the door is shut in your face. There are people now who believe if you are a Christian, or if you are not a leftist, you shouldn’t be allowed to make a living. That if you do not pass some PC test, you should be tossed out the door into starvation.

      All this focus on PRIVILEGE too reminds me of the books I read about Maoist China, where they brought in Communists and knocked down all the “privileged” like landlords and rest down a few pegs, all it did was lower everything else for the populace, as they were starved in famines. Yes there are corrupt bankers and top capitalists but focusing on “hating the rich” in general or hating the “privileged” is a pathway that leads to nothing but hate between human beings.

      • April 9, 2014 10:27 pm

        Uh, you don’t determine whether privilege exists in a given situation by comparing yourself to someone with whom you have little or nothing in common. IOW, to determine if I have race privilege as a White woman, I don’t compare myself to Oprah Winfrey and then blithely proclaim that she’s rich and famous and I’m not so– BINGO! Race privilege doesn’t exist!! Wheee!! (Well, I don’t do that unless I want to look like a disingenuous ass.)

        To determine whether race privilege exists or not, I instead have to contrast my own life with someone of another race with whom I have as many other things in common with as possible. IOW, a fat, college-educated, married, underemployed, middle-aged woman in a big city who has some chronic but not disabling physical issues, BUT who has a different skin color and racial makeup than I do.

        • April 10, 2014 3:08 am

          I have never once said that Privilege does not exist for groups of people, which makes me wonder where you are going with this answer of yours. I am objecting to the fact that so many people use the concept of Privilege to stereotype and exclude groups of people from equally sharing in a discussion.

          I it is so easy to come up with snappy theories when the discussion is incestuous and does not taken in points/ideas from other sources.

  6. Dizzyd permalink
    April 3, 2014 5:30 pm

    We should just help each other out, period. We need to be mindful of where we are at an advantage and speak for those who are disadvantaged. To do otherwise is to be part of the problem. But I agree with Duckie in that it could be so easy to lump every one of a certain group together and label them as the “bad guys” without knowing whether there are those in the group who are Allies. That could wind up driving people who might otherwise be sympathetic away.

    • April 4, 2014 10:34 am

      In theory, I don’t have any trouble with the idea of doing Ally work. In practice, it seems like some of the most prestigious Allies are going primarily in it for notoriety and the like. They end up with huge egos and can’t endure anyone challenging them or the possibility that sometimes they screw up just like the rest of us. I tend to avoid calling myself an Ally for those reasons. I’m trying to be educated on privilege issues and to meet others halfway in social settings, but it’s not always easy. Particularly since no group is a monolith and not everyone wants my help in the first place. Or if they do, they disagree amongst themselves about what kind of help is most important.

      The other problem is that it often seems like social justice issues and rhetoric are co-opted by politicians and marketers just looking for votes, cash, and the rest. It can hurt a lot to see a movement and people I try to appreciate and care about exploited by opportunists.

    • April 10, 2014 3:34 am

      I think that it is a error to give the people who you think have a privilege the right to think that they have a righteous resentment. Once you do that you will never gain any ground with them. It is not there job to accept your theories on faith alone and only by getting parties to come to the table will things be solved.

      I always think of President Johnson who was far from being a great President (The war in the far east as a example) but domestically with the problem of civil rights he was able to work with white politicians of the deep south, politicians of north and black leaders. In this one area he was able to do things that President Kennedy would have never been able to do.

  7. April 3, 2014 8:25 pm

    Well in the case of Male Privilege I would guess that the original Feminists that thought it up were from the upper-middle class or higher which would make them more privileged than most of the women and men in in the rest of Society.

    When people talk about people who have a privilege most often everything they have to say about them amounts to less than a entire sentence compared to pages of discussion about the people that they consider not having a privilege.

    You can’t fairly treat any group of people if you are going to describe them using just a catch phrase!

    • April 9, 2014 11:14 am

      How privileged are men now as the USA economy collapses? I read a statistic that one in 5 men are now unemployed. [100 million people in America out of work] I can provide stats for all this. I see a lot of the left as being of upper classes that are totally seperate from the reality many are living. I do not see unemployed people as enjoying more bennies in society. It is a “catch phrase”, you are right about that.

      • April 9, 2014 10:57 pm

        Loss of job =/= loss of male privilege. Nice strawman, though. :/

  8. vesta44 permalink
    April 10, 2014 2:18 pm

    I would say that the power elite have a done a very good job of dividing us into our respective, disenfranchised groups. It’s not just apathy that allows this to continue, it’s the despair that comes when you vote for change and you find out that the people for whom you voted, that ran on that platform of change, lied to you. And it’s not that one politician lied to you one time, it’s that almost every politician lied about what he stood for nearly every time he opened his mouth. It’s the despair that comes from seeing that most of the people who run for political office are corrupt to begin with and just get more corrupt the longer they are in office.
    As long as they can keep us fighting each other in the Oppression Olympics, they have free rein to continue what they’re doing. As long as we continue to argue over who has it worse, and who has more of what kind of privilege, we are going to continue this downward slide into the complete loss of freedom for anyone who isn’t part of that power elite.
    Things may have improved, sorta kinda maybe, for those who are oppressed, for whatever reason, but it hasn’t improved to the point where oppression and discrimination have been completely eliminated and everyone is seen for the rare, wonderful human being that each of us is. To be honest, I don’t think we will ever reach that point, but that doesn’t mean that we don’t keep trying. That doesn’t mean that we should sit here and fight over what needs to be done or who needs to do it – we all need to be in the fight for equality, the fight to end discrimination, stigmatization, and dehumanization – because it happens to all of us who aren’t members of whatever group has the most power/privilege. Because that’s all that privilege is, really – it’s power. The power to tell others that they are “less than” and will always be “less than”.
    Each one of us needs to take a long, hard look at ourselves, see the privilege that we have, and use that privilege to help others. We need to stop saying “But I don’t do _________(fill in the blank with whatever action the privileged use to keep others oppressed).” Because like Kitsune said, “If you aren’t part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Apathy and despair are what those in power depend on to keep that power. We need to figure out how to end the apathy and despair, and then maybe we can make even more progress than we already have.

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