On privilege

Things have been crazy on MU (University of Missouri, Columbia) campus for a little while. I am writing this to create a little quiet oasis for myself and for friends who are like me, needing to get their thoughts straight.

Long story short: there is an anti-racism movement on campus.

You say: That sounds rather simple.

But it is not. And let me tell you (my typing screen) why.

I am an outsider here. I was neither born nor raised here. I don’t have a side that I automatically fall in because of the family I was born into, the school I went to, the friends I have. I don’t know what racism is, when it started, how it got to be a problem, and why it is so huge and sensitive. I don’t know what privilege is, who have it, and who don’t.

You say: Then you are not qualified to talk about something you don’t know.

Fair enough. Let me tell you something I do know then.

A few years ago in Hanoi, a group of young men attacked and sexually assaulted me on my college campus when I was on the way home from the library. My male friend and I fought back. He went unconscious, and I magically escaped with only a few bruises. We then immediately went to report this to the department of student affairs and the security unit (equivalent to MU Police here). They seemed to know exactly who the suspects were — they had been around doing nasty things for a while. They described them to me. Then they told me to calm down and go home. They did nothing.

I was furious.

Their inaction was more infuriating than the attack itself. I knew there were bad people, and that was just fact. But when I went for help and protection from people whose jobs were exactly that, and they did nothing, that was when I got terribly upset. When I asked supposedly responsible people to prevent this kind of attacks in the future, and they did nothing, that was when I got terribly worried. I wanted to yell at them: “Would you be so apathetic if this happens to your daughter? Your mother? Are you not humans?” I wanted to drag those people out to light and showed the world how terrible they were at their jobs. I wanted to overthrow the whole system on my college campus there.

You see where I am going. I heard about Jonathan Butler’s hunger strike and his demand that Wolfe must resign, and I didn’t see the connection, at first. I didn’t know why he was so upset over one man who didn’t seem to have anything to do with his cause: stop racism. The security folks at my college campus didn’t attack me, either. They just ignored me, and ignored their jobs. That was worse, because they were supposed to be good people.

If you are still reading, now is a good time to take a break, because I’m about to switch gear to another story.

Imagine you were born with a horn on your forehead that kinda makes you look like a unicorn. Everywhere you go, people will point at you, laugh at you, curse at you, threaten to kill you, etc. You can’t get rid of that horn. At the end of the day, it doesn’t harm you in anyway, except it makes you look different than people around you.

Is that your fault? No.

Does it make your life miserable? Yes.

One day you decide to tell your non-horn friends. Some of them say “Those are just a few bad people, it’s not the whole world.” Does that sound reasonable to you and make you feel better?

No, you will go: “Hey, excuse me, I am the one with horn here. I am the one that has all these things happened to me. I am the one who has know exactly how many times they happen and how I feel about them.”

Now imagine instead of horn, someone was born in a different color, or a gender that is neither male or female, or with a physical condition, or anything different than you. Could you please not tell them that they are overreacting about the way the world treats them? Thank you.

Instead, you can just say “The world sucks, and I’m sorry.”

Or if you have time, you can even do something to change it.

Commercial break. Then let’s go back to our unicorn friend.

This time this friend didn’t just go to you to whine about their horn. They tell you that being horn-free is a privilege.

You will be like “What the heck? I’m just a normal person here, Why do you blame me?”

The word “privilege” is not popular. You are not superior than your unicorn friend just because you are horn-free. You are just luckier than them to not have the difference they have. But luck is not a shareable item, it’s not like you can go “Oh, thanks for noticing my abundant privilege, here is some for you.”

And it is not your fault that your friend was born with horn, either. It is not your fault that there are bad people out there attacking your friend (as long as you are not one of them). But you ARE luckier than your friend in this horn business, and that’s just fact. Maybe they are luckier than you in some other aspects, but their life still sucks just because of their horn, and yours doesn’t. Not in their way.

So I guess you can say “I’m sorry, the world sucks.”

Or if you have time, you can even do something to change it.

Originally published at taptamvong.blogspot.com on March 24, 2016.