Learn & Grow: A Primer on Privilege

TW: crime/violence/murder, systematic oppression/marginalization, sexual assault/rape

It’s 2017 and we’re really still having this conversation. People are really still putting their privilege above helping others.

‘Not ALL men/white/cishet/ableds!’

Actually…? Yes, all of you?

Here’s the thing with privilege. You have it whether you want to or not. You can’t give or wish your privilege away — or lend it to another without said privilege.

Trust me, I’ve tried.

I hate the history associated with my whiteness — the horrible things done to benefit me over others. The things my ancestors likely took part in like colonization and slavery, especially since my genetics are all over the British Isles and Western Europe.

The best way to handle our privileges is to acknowledge them.

When someone calls you on your privilege or begins to explain how their experiences as a marginalized person differ, the right response is to listen. We tone police enough.


Having a hard time grasping privilege?

Let’s play a bit of an imagination game: You are sitting at home and across the street you hear screaming. You look out the window and see a crime taking place between who you identify to be a man and a woman in a possibly heterosexual relationship with each other. There is yelling going on and seem to be threats of physical violence. Instead of calling the police or intervening, though, you assume that this is just a lover’s quarrel and that you needn’t get involved.

The next day, you find out that the woman in this scenario was murdered. While you’re not legally an accessory to the crime, you certainly played a role, didn’t you, by not intervening? You had privilege to believe this would pass, to not be fighting for your life.

Surprise! The above actually fucking happened.

Back in 1964 in Queens, New York, people assumed a lover’s quarrel was going on between Kitty Genovese and a man and that it would work itself out. Police were called twice but did not respond due to their belief that this was domestic. By the end of the night, Kitty had been murdered by Winston Moseley — some random man she didn’t know but who had been committing B&Es and sexually assaulting women. Her partner, Mary Ann Zielonko, shared an apartment with Kitty and they were labeled roommates due to the time period.

The bystander effect idea was developed as a result of this case. It’s the idea that, when there are more people around, those people will be less likely to help during an incident because they assume someone else will do it. We’ve seen this time and again with assault & battery, medical emergencies, kidnappings, sexual assaults of women/femmes at parties, bullying, racism and xenophobia, photographers taking pictures of impoverished kids without doing a thing to help, and so much more.

Just because someone may not actively take part in a crime but is a bystander makes them, in my eyes, party to the crime. This is especially true when we look at people recording sexual assaults while they stand around and laugh about it, but saying later they knew it felt wrong and wanted to speak up.

One act of empathy and compassion can save lives.


Getting back to privilege, the above is the same with social justice work. If you’re not working on behalf of the victims/marginalized, you’re helping the abusers/oppressors. If you’re white like me, this means that when you’re not calling out racism, you’re contributing to it and benefiting from it.

As an example, we white people benefit from the oppression of so many others — Blacks, Asians, Latinx, Native peoples, etc. If you’re not actively fighting that — and even if you are — you still benefit from being white.

There are many well-meaning white people who say things like “I’m color-blind” or “I’ve moved past race.” These things are extra harmful because they erase what people who aren’t white go through FROM racists and the systematic racism involved in our socioeconomic and political systems .

See this and learn it and recognize the importance of what race does in our lives. Understand this: race as an issue isn’t ‘coming to an end.’ It didn’t end when Obama was elected and it certainly still infiltrates our nation when we have President Trump who openly displays racist and xenophobic ideals.


“So Kirsten,” you ask, “what are some other forms of privilege?”

Oh, I’m so glad you asked, valued reader!

Here is a list. Keep in mind that, as I have privilege, this may not be a comprehensive list. It’s also important to remember that these various types of oppression interact and intersect with one another.

Religious persecution
Many people benefit from oppression of non-mainstream-Christian-sects, ranging from those who practiced Judaism and Islam to Buddhism and Hinduism to Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Antisemetism would fall here as well. You may see this listed as Religious Imperialism, too.

Classism
Classism tends to go top-down, meaning that those in more ‘beneficial’ financial positions tend to be seen as more successful. These people are preferred over those living in poverty for many things — jobs, apartments or houses, vehicles, even cell phones.

Sexism
This is generally the idea that women are inferior to men (misogyny), though this can be used whichever way involving any of the sexes.

Ableism
This is the practice of treating people like shit for having a disability or chronic illness or chronic pain condition or other condition not ‘typical’ in abled people. (Note: there is a difference between able-bodied and abled — I use the latter as able-bodied people can have mental health issues and do suffer ableism as well.)

Saneism
This is a special kind of ableism that preys on those of us *waves* dealing with mental health issues.

Sizeism
This is based in our practice of valuing thinner bodies over thicker ones.

Ageism
This is where people of a certain age are valued more than others. We see this go both ways now, with debates on millennials raging on and promoting ageism towards younger people.

Nativism
Or, where people ‘native’ to a land are treated better than colonizers or newcomers. Essentially, this is an -ism way of stating xenophobia, benefiting ‘native’ people. (I’ve put native in half-quotes here because this isn’t about Native People and their right to their lands generally speaking, but about Americans using xenophobia to keep non-Americans out or, more linguistically precise, jingoism.)

Colonialism
This is like Nativism, but the flip side — where things are better for the colonization group than the ‘native’ population. THINK ANY COLONIZATION STORY EVER.

Heterosexism
This lovely POS is like how people in certain religious and political groups want to force everyone to be heterosexual and refuse to recognize love, relationships, and partnerships/marriages between other groups. Think of this as a nicer way of saying homophobia, but more inclusive of those of us not homosexual but that fall elsewhere on the sexuality spectrum. Heteronormativity is certainly a related term — essentially, heterosexuality is seen as the ‘norm’ sexuality.

Cisgenderism
Think transphobia, but more inclusive of those of us who aren’t exactly transgender but also are gender non-conforming (GNC) or non-binary.

Colorism/Shadeism
This is where people are judged for the literal coloring of their skin — not just are they black or white but are they light-skinned black people versus dark-skinned, etc.

Discrimination against sex workers
Not many people realize this, but a lot of people tend to be prude AF. This means that they shame people who do or have done sex work, whether that was a necessity or a choice. Funny enough, sex work is one of the most accessible in terms of disability things one can do.

Kink shaming
This is the practice of treating people poorly because they engage in sexual play that you don’t agree with or don’t think is ‘normal.’

I am sure that there are others that I am not thinking of between my privilege and the fact that it’s 3 AM.

*insert Matchbox 20 joke here*

We have to start recognizing these issues, pointing them out, and working to fix them. Without these steps, our justice work isn’t intersectional — which means it’s just based in abled white cishet privilege land.

To learn more about intersectionality & privilege:

Intersecionality:

Privilege:

Learn more about marginalized experience:

Racism:

Sexism:

Native People:

Latinx:

Immigration:

Trans:

Gender Non-Conforming:

LGB+:

Sex workers:

Kinky pals:

Disability/pain/illness/condition peeps:

The Medical World:

There are plenty of other resources out there. Some of my favorites?

  • The Body Is Not An Apology
  • Everyday Feminism
  • Unapologetic Feminist
  • Wear Your Voice
  • The Establishment
  • Here on Medium!

The Chronic Sex Pinterest page has a lot of items listed above and more. There is a ton out there, but a quick word: You do want to evaluate sources when you can.

  • It’s a fair bet that any site actively trying to sell you something is likely not legitimate.
  • Look for org or edu endings for super vetted sources.
  • Is the author easy to identify? Can you learn more about the site via an ‘about’ page if not?
  • When is this from?
  • Have you heard of this site before?
  • Is this written by an actual marginalized person? Someone who is involved in allyship with a group?

Making sure you vet sources properly will help to enhance your learning, both on privilege and in general.

THIS IS SO MUCH WORK. UGH. Can’t I just ask my black/disabled/non-binary friend questions?

Well…

Many marginalized people are happy to share feelings or experiences to help you learn and grow. That said, not everyone feels like sharing — or feels like sharing all the time — or feels like sharing about one particular marginalized identity they have or incident they had. Don’t press it if someone doesn’t want to talk about something.

That’s just rude.

And, hey, we aren’t your Google or EBSCOhost or Bing or whatever. You can search for things on your own (again, vet sources). You’re more than capable of finding answers because you’re awesome.

Feel free to tell us what you found — we’re often touched you took the time to look into things (or, at least, as a disabled, gender non-conforming, queer person, I am).

You can kindly ask for help understanding things while recognizing it may be uncomfortable for us, but have no right to demand answers from anyone ever.

Marginalized people do not owe you emotional labor.


Kirsten is a genderqueer writer, sexuality educator, and chronic illness/disability activist in Wisconsin. She runs Chronic Sex which highlights how illnesses and disabilities affect ‘Quality of Life’ issues such as self-love, self-care, relationships, sexuality, and sex.

Interested in helping with Kirsten’s work? Visit our ‘support us’ page or shoot her some tasty coffee money.

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