Your Privilege Is Showing
Hi, there! My name is Duane and I am oppressed. “How are you oppressed?”, I’m glad you asked, I am a black gay male who grew up in a working class family. Like many Americans I am aware of which oppressive groups I am a member of. This understanding came not only from my college education, but it’s something I’m reminded of everyday.
Growing up as a little black boy from the South, came with its challenges. Finding your voice and eventually having that voice heard is a journey. But at 16, when I came out to my friends and family as gay, my journey became more nuanced and complicated. I can still remember my mother’s words, “Being out will make life even more difficult for you”. And boy was she right!
Being black was a bit easier for me than being gay, this mostly because I never had to proclaim my race like I did my gayness. So that begged the question: Was it easier to just be black and put aside my gayness?
The answer: No. I had to do the hard work of accepting myself and all the many aspects of my identity.
After becoming aware of my oppressive attributes and learning how to navigate through life with them, I realized my work was just beginning.
Hi, my name is Duane and I am privileged. “How am I privileged?”, I’m glad you asked, I was born a male and identify as a male.
My privilege was elusive to me as I was doing the work of living as a black gay man. It’s almost like I reviled in my oppression, cursing anyone who denied it. I was oppressed DAMN IT, and I didn’t want to hear anything different! To say the least, my oppression kept me busy as a young adult. I could be found protesting outside city hall for gay rights, and speaking as the unintended “black voice” in college classrooms filled with white people.
And then a women’s and ethic studies course completely shock up my entire world and brought my privilege to the forefront. It was Ms. Holcomb’s, Intro to Race and Gender course, that forced me to check my privilege at the door.
It was 4 weeks into the semester where we began the chapter on intersectional oppression and privilege. Up until that time, we had discussed the oppression of blacks and people of color (✓) and the oppression of the LGBT community (✓). That day she uttered the words that changed my thinking forever, “Men in the room, whether you know it or not, you have a number of privileges that women do not.”
WHAT?! ME?! The GAY BLACK guy? How is that possible?!
From Awareness To Action
I learned that day, that I am privileged as self identifying male and after self reflection understood that I was actively oppressing women and didn’t even know it. From that moment on, my understanding of my privilege went from awareness to action.
Privilege of Safety — As a man, I don’t live my life in fear. There’s no gender terrorism for men. I can risk dropping my guard, leaving my drink unattended at a party, having first-dates meet at my house, or being alone at night. One simple way I combat this privilege is in scenarios where I see woman is alone. If I see a woman walking alone at night in front of me, I cross the street or take a different route. This allows her to be a little bit more free of the fear that comes along with a strange man following behind her.
Privilege of Space — All spaces are by default men’s spaces. Men can establish male-only spaces in their homes, clubs, entertainment venues, online forums, etc. without complaint, and can demand entry into almost all ‘women-only’ spaces. A small gesture to fight this oppression is by only using bathrooms that are meant for men or unisex. It’s easy to see a line outside of a men’s bathroom and think, “Hmm…No one is in the women’s bathroom, I’ll be really quick.” No, in that moment, you are flexing your male privilege and invading a space meant for women, furthering the notion of privilege of space.
Privilege of Sexuality— Men are more likely to be congratulated for having lots of sex, rather than shamed for it or called a “slut” like women are. This is a touchy one, because many men don’t believe that a women and a man who have had the same number of sex partners are in any way equal. BUT IT’S TRUE. Choosing to not slut shame women because of their sexuality is one of the best ways to combat this problem.
Although, I do understand the difficulties when identifying personal privileges, I challenge everyone to see things from other's points of view. You can learn a lot from a conversation with someone who is part of an oppressed group.