holzman_tweed: (angels in the alley)
[personal profile] holzman_tweed
The brilliant [livejournal.com profile] stoneself has posted a number of essays in his LJ and on [livejournal.com profile] debunkingwhite about the nature of privilege and oppression. He recently posted a summary of those points, and I thought they'd be a very useful thing to repost here both for my own reference and to build on in future posts I might make.

I repost it in full with permission, changing only the listing marks for my ease of reference.

1) what is privilege?

       A. the set of unearned advantages a person gets (you get) for some perceived trait a person possesses (you possess).

       B. the set of unwarranted disadvantages you don't suffer under, but other people suffer.

       C. there are "positive" advantages. "positive" meaning they are felt by their presence. not in the sense they are good. though "positive advantage" is a "proper" technical term, but in less technical writing i suggest using "present advantage" (or some other synonym). and then i still recommend explaining what you mean. i'll explain a little later.

       D. there are "negative" advantages. "negative" meaning they are felt by their absence. not in the sense they are bad. though "positive advantage" is a proper technical term, but in less technical i suggest using "absent advantage" (or some other synonym). and then i still recommend explaining what you mean. i'll explain.

       E. the difference between a "positive" advantage and a "negative" advantage is very important. you can more easily see a positive advantage, and thus these advantages are hard to refute. however, it's very hard to see "negative" advantages, and this makes it easy to ignore, deny, and erase these parts of privilege.

       F. it is in the denial of "negative" advantages that a lot of friction arises.

2) it is privilege that creates its corresponding oppression, and then there is a feedback loop.
       A. male privilege produces sexism, and then sexism feeds back into male privilege.

       B. white privilege produces racism, and then racism feeds back into white privilege.

       C. straight privilege produces homophobia[/heterosexism -- DBHT], and then homophobia[/heterosexism -- DBHT] feeds back into straight privilege.

       D. etc.

3) privilege (and it's corresponding oppression) are not marked by intention, they are marked by effect.

       A. privilege causes harm

       B. harm you don't see because a lot of it is "negative". more on this later.

4) partaking in your privilege is to participate in the corresponding oppression.

       A. if you have white privilege, you will be racist.

       B. if you have male privilege, you will do sexist things.

       C. if you have straight privilege, you will contribute to the atmosphere of homophobia

       D. if you are able-bodied, you will say things that exclude and other disabled people.

       E. this is true even if you are anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-homophobic, etc. you can be against a thing, and still be/do that thing.

5) there is no escape from your privilege.

       A. you will never be clean of it, but you can always become a better person. you can work to minimize the effect of your privilege.

       B. the thing to understand about this is that there's no point in thinking that you're an irredeemable hopeless case wrt your privilege.

             i. this means dwelling on your own shame or guilt is not productive

             ii. and it means you shouldn't think people are calling you irredeemably evil for being racist, sexist, homophobic, etc.

6) privilege is marked by absences.

       A. privilege is largely about what's not in a privileged person's head.

       B. those absences shape thinking, speech, and action as much what is present.

       C. unconscious and unintentional acts of privilege that arise from an absences truly mystify people with privilege.

       D. without the experience and history of the non-privileged person to inform a privileged person, the privilege person doesn't quite understand why the non-privileged person has been offended.

7) having privilege is rarely an intentional or conscious act.

       A. privilege is largely about how other people treat you. if they treat you in a privileged way, there's really no way to opt out of it - even if you notice and want to avoid it.

       B. there can be no intention about stuff that's not in your head. you can't plan about stuff you're not even thinking about.

       C. and yet you will act and think from a privileged place.

8) there are many kinds of privilege

       A. male privilege

       B. white privilege

       C. straight privilege

       D. able-bodied privilege

       E. cis-gender privilege

       F. class privilege

       G. and more

9) you can suffer under one set of privileges and benefit from another.

       A. just because you're poor doesn't erase your white privilege

       B. just because you're poc doesn't erase your male privilege

       C. just because you're queer doesn't erase your able-body cis-gender male white privilege.

10) ranking privileges is bad

       A. one privilege does not trump another privilege. that is to say that saying sexism is worse than racism or that racism is worse to sexism is wrong. if you want to understand this talk to people who live under two oppression - women of color (woc), queers of color, queers in wheelchairs, blind women, or etc.

       B. the systems that produces privileges and causes oppressions are interlocking. sexism supports homophobia supports racism supports etc. most of this mutual support exists as justifying othering people for being different.

       C. and attempts to rank privilege turns out to be way to divide and conquer. separating oppressed people from each other means it's hard to take apart the system of systems of oppression.

       D. there is some fruit to be gathered by comparing and contrasting privileges and oppressions, but much caution is needed because it tends to become a ranking system. if you're new to this all, just don't do it.

11) living with one kind of oppression doesn't give you automatic understanding of another oppression.

       A. one kind of privilege does not automagically inform you about another, there are many salient differences. you own oppression can help you understand a different oppression, but not as much as you think. trust me, i know this from my experiences as a queer poc. poc get queer issues wrong. and queers get poc issues wrong. and i still get all my other privileges (male, cis-gendered, able-bodied) wrong.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-09 09:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] firinel.livejournal.com
That's very well done, but should anyone expand on it, I hope that there'd be mention of bisexuality. There's a chronic issue of at best, bi-visibility and at worst, rather severe bi-phobia, in queer communities and there is frequently this false dichotomy of queer vs straight, setting up 'queer' narrowly defined as 'cisgendered, same-sex oriented', potentially rendering anyone else who self-identifies under the all-encompassing umbrella of "queer" pushed out and ostracised. It would be very welcomed to see that sort of exclusionary language dealt with -- thank you for attempting to address that with the inclusion of "heterosexism".

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-16 06:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] skitty.livejournal.com
Through a rather roundabout series of clicks, I ran across your comments on privilege in a heated discussion in the [livejournal.com profile] startrek community.

I liked what you had to say; thank you. I hope you don't mind if I add you to my list of friends.
From: [identity profile] saber-rider.livejournal.com
Part of this explains what privilege is fairly well. While there is something to be said about quoting another person who has put it better, this is just a bullet point list. It deserves a more thorough explanation. It also deserves a fair critique, which is what I hope to give it.

You mention that "[...] to the extent you exercise that privilege, yoou are racist. Note that the word 'discrimination' doesn't appear in this." (Elsewhere, for anybody else who may be reading this, not above.)

Racism (or sexism, or etc.) means exactly that one discriminates on the basis of race (or sex, etc.) It's part of the definition, you can't get away from it. I've gotten the impression that in discussions of various privileges, people label with racism (which will be my stand-in word for all such discriminations) a lot of things that have nothing to do with discrimination. One no-no is "don't ask a black lady to explain your white privilege to you." If you single her out because she's black to ask that question, that is racist. It's discrimination, even if it's not negative. If she brings it up, asking her is at worst ignorant and insensitive. Frankly, by the logic here, you can't ask a white person about it (because they have it) and you can't ask a black person about it without being racist. My way out of this is that if somebody brings up the topic, I'll ask them about it. Their race really doesn't concern me. Claiming "racism" is a very quick way to divert actual discussion by miring it with the unfortunately real and problematic issue of race relations.

More to the point though, the logic of point 4D is pretty flawed. It says, in essence, "if you're white, you're racist." Could the irony of such a statement be any clearer? Judging solely on race, the mental capacity of somebody is already presumed. This is the exact same logic used in the statement, "Blacks aren't smart enough to take care of themselves." This is the very definition of racism, in which qualities of a person are assumed based only on their race.

Of course, there is a very important phrase "partaking in your privilege" in there, too. Which means basically that so long as you understand your privilege and act sensibly (that's without discrimination and without insensitivity) you are not being racist. And with this I agree. That's a very important detail. However, further on, point 11 basically negates this detail and returns us to "white people are racist."

[there's more]

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-19 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saber-rider.livejournal.com
Point 11 implies that unless one can feel the same discrimination that a minority feels, one will be incapable of understanding it. This is true only in so far as a privileged person will not personally and directly feel that specific kind of discrimination to the same degree. This doesn't preclude an understanding. There is a saying that goes, "I don't need to be a carpenter to know that's a poorly built chair." Obviously if a chair has uneven legs, a crooked back, or so forth, I can tell it's been poorly built even if I couldn't build a better chair. Likewise, one can understand discrimination very well, even without being its direct target.

Example one. I have a friend who has suffered from discrimination for being a lesbian. While I myself was not the target of this discrimination, her suffering effected me quite personally. This is somebody I care a great deal for, and she becomes emotionally hurt for nothing more than being true to herself. Discrimination can certainly hurt me, even if I'm not directly subject to it.

Example two. Add to this any number of ways in which I could be discriminated against, and clearly I have a personal understanding of discrimination. While the details are certainly different and in may ways important, the feelings are the same. I am being judged not on anything I have done, said, or even felt or thought, but some aspect of myself that has nothing to do with how I am being judged. In most cases, something I don't even have any control over. So while I as a white person may not appreciate the exact mechanisms that a black person feels when dealing with racism, I can most certainly understand its effects.

Example three. This goes along with example two but is worthy of its own mention. People describing how discrimination hurts them will all do it in very similar ways. "Shame, embarrassment, rage, anger, self-doubt," these are all words people use to described how discrimination has made them feel. Maybe some of them hardly even have a good case to make that they were discriminated against, but they obviously feel the same way. And these feelings are very common between the many different ways one can be discriminated against.

(As a side note, I find it sadly ironic again that in the name of reducing racism or other forms of discrimination, emphasis is put on how differently people are, instead of looking at how much more people have in common.)

So the last point not only doesn't follow logically, and not only does it not support other statements, it is actually somewhat discriminatory on it's own. Yes, there is much of great importance to be said about the ways discrimination can take form. These differences are not trivial. However, they do not preclude anybody from understanding discrimination as it effects others. It's called empathy.

I may never know what white-on-black racism is like, but I can certainly know racism as far as black-on-white racism goes. And while I may never be discriminated against for being male... actually, I have; bad example. And while I may never be discriminated against for being straight by a homosexual person, I can still have a pretty good grasp on what it entails, both ways.

My actual overall point will have to wait for just a bit, but I can make my point regarding privilege now. Privilege exists and can lead to a difficult-to-understand kind of racism or other discrimination. It's particularly problematic in that it may not be obvious as to how it is a form of discrimination. The issue of privilege is but one of a much larger number of issues when it comes to identity and discrimination. Even discounting overt discrimination, privilege is just one (worthy) angle of understanding race relations. (Or any sort of such issues; as I mentioned, I use race here as a catch all for simplicity.)

So if you want a "too long, didn't read" summary, here it is. Privilege is an important issue. It is only a small part of a larger question, though. And even in its narrow scope, it is still complex enough to be full of details that make broad statements difficult at best, and downright wrong at worst.

[There's one more]

(no subject)

Date: 2009-03-19 12:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] saber-rider.livejournal.com
So with that point out of the way, permit me to briefly explain that the real "fail" that brought this about was little more than internet drama. Racism, or sexism, or any sort of catch-words with volatile meanings are great ways of steering discussion away from an actual topic at hand. They are probably used more often unintentionally (and without enough thought given to them) and spur-of-the-moment than intentionally to distract. Unfortunately, people are too eager to simplify a complex issue into such us-versus-them issues such as discrimination. And when overt racism clearly isn't applicable, you can toss in race privilege. It's just as potent, and has the nice benefit of somebody always being able to say, "you think you don't have it because you do!"

Starting with the "RaceFail 09" issue, virtually everything I read on it -- and I hope you trust me that I tried to make sense of it all -- was mostly of the "he said, she said" kind of gossip. A says X and B says Y and blah blah blah. Nobody seemed to really be interested in the ACTUAL ISSUES at hand. This seemed to continue right on into the star trek community where I found it.

Now in all fairness, there was quite a bit of hostility everywhere. Some people were outright dismissive of others' genuine concerns. But some of these others wouldn't deign themselves down to actually try to open a dialogue. And if they didn't want to discuss, that's fine. But if you don't want to discuss something, you (preferably) just don't say anything in response, or at least just politely decline and explain that it's not for discussion, just introduction. And yet there was no lack of posts making claims of racism, sexism, and all sorts of discrimination. Whatever genuine issues there were became lost once people got more interested in arguing than resolving issues. The whole thing just screams drama.

So here's where I try to tie all of it together. People have some pretty strange ideas when it comes to race, sex, and so forth. Some people like to hide behind these issues. As soon as somebody disagrees with them on such a topic, to them it can't just be a difference of opinion. It suddenly becomes an assault on their identity. It's probably not even intentional in most people. But it does happen. And I think this is --or was -- a perfect example of how it all plays out. Accusations left and right, and any real issues get left behind. In fact, I would go so far as to say this is actually hurting discussion of race issues more than it helps. Racism can be a very sharp word, and it should be. Throwing it around, willy-nilly, regardless of how appropriate it may be to the topic at hand simply dulls it. Toss out "racism" when it's just a matter of opinion, and soon enough, that really is what racism becomes, just a matter of opinion. And then the truth of the matter will really get lost.

[I'll post it over at the startrek community, too, in case that is your preferred venue.]
From: [identity profile] holzman.livejournal.com
You’re quite correct, this is an outline. Each point in the outline is thoroughly explained elsewhere, [livejournal.com profile] stoneself’s purpose in writing the outline was to distill all that explaining into a concise outline. If you are as well read on anti-racism literature as you indicated earlier, you’ve seen those explanations. (You mentioned that you are vexed that people frequently send you to documents you’ve already read such as Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, or perhaps Tim Wise’s essays. If this discussion is typical, it’s because you don’t demonstrate an understanding of the content of those documents, leading people to believe you haven’t seen them. If you have seen them and disagree with them, that’s worth spelling out more clearly.)

“Racism (or sexism, or etc.) means exactly that one discriminates on the basis of race (or sex, etc.) It's part of the definition, you can't get away from it.”

Incorrect. Discrimination is only mentioned in one of the three definitions of “racism” given on dictionary.com. None of those three definitions are the definition used by the people who have been studying and working to dismantle racism over the last few decades. That definition is given succinctly on the [livejournal.com profile] debunkingwhite community info page:

Racism = racial prejudice + power
Racism: A system of advantage based on race.

This is the definition in use in the above post, and there are reasons for that:

  1. Racial discrimination has a different impact when it is an individual attitude alone than when that attitude is backed by power, whether that power is formally defined in law or informally defined in society.
  2. Even if an individual white person doesn’t discriminate, the fact remains that we live in a society that gives us privileges because we are classified as white.

Your misunderstanding of this definition of racism is the root of your inability to understand the logic of 4D. Simply put, you receive privilege whether you want to or not – for example you have the privilege of not having to worry about police harassment for Driving While Black. One’s mental capacity is not a factor in this.

‘"I don't need to be a carpenter to know that's a poorly built chair."’

Looking at the chair and seeing that its joins are poorly fitted will not give you an understanding of what it’s like to have a fractured coccyx because the chair fell apart when you sat in it. Having a fractured coccyx as the result of an automobile accident will not give you an understanding of what it’s like to have a fractured coccyx because the chair fell apart, e.g. the other person may only sit on futons in the future. Telling them that there’s no reason for them to be avoid chairs because you had a fractured coccyx once and you weren’t afraid of chairs afterwards would constitute invalidating their experience and treating your own as the only one that matters.

The discrimination your friend faced certainly can hurt you, and no one has claimed otherwise. However, the pain you feel for it is not the same pain your friend feels, particularly if your friend can’t make rent because she was discriminated against.

Further, not all forms of discrimination operate exactly the same. For example, there’s a fundamental difference in the discrimination I face as a bisexual compared to the discrimination a person of color faces because I have the option of a closet and unless they have the physical characteristics to let them try to pass they do not. Note that this cuts both ways.

“So with that point out of the way, permit me to briefly explain that the real "fail" that brought this about was little more than internet drama.”

Funny, I thought the real fail that brought this about was decades-old issues around how institutionalized SF/F publishing is informed by and reinforces our racist society; the impact that has on participation in SF/F fandom by people of color; and the lengths to which some people who are invested in the privilege they hold are willing to go to defend that privilege – ranging from TNH’s threat against critics of EBear to Will Sh*tt*rly outing someone to you dismissing it all as “little more than internet drama.”

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