January 10, 2008
Ever since Sudy did that video detailing how white feminists are ignoring their privilege in relation to feminists of color, that incident – and perhaps others – appeared to galvanize some brownish feminists into rage. Ordinarily I like rage, except when it’s directed at the label I’m boxed into. Amazingly enough, this made me uncomfortable.
Justice and I emailed back and forth. Convinced she would see things my way if I persisted, persuasive arguments were employed. Eventually, a tiny light appeared at the end of the tunnel. Being an obnoxious twit with a ironic sense of humor, an email ensued, which ticked her off so much it was doubtful she would take me seriously ever again. It was a summation of previous discussions – this time written as if I were a man responding to feministy demands – and I thought she’d be pleased that I had finally noticed the little light off in the distance, and also amused at my references to men’s sexism. Amazingly enough it had the opposite reaction, and her few emails after that seemed to positively seethe with frustration.
The email is below if you’re interested, but apologies for sounding simple – it’s the only way I can parse out problem areas sometimes. Big words are scary, but not as scary as the ideas they represent. Notice how I was writing the email to Justice as if I were writing a blog post to everyone. Oh, no narcissism there. Gee, why was she so huffy?
“Justice keeps bugging me to work on my white privilege, and I wish she’d stop. How can I enjoy it if she keeps making me feel guilty? Damn her. Hmmm, that sounds kinda bad, I don’t really enjoy the thought of people being oppressed. Well, damn her again!
But it’s kinda hypocritical for feminists to insist that men work on their gender privilege, and yet we don’t have to work on our white privilege or even examine our own little selves for traces of it. Wah, I don’t wanna be a hypocrite. She is a pain in the ass. I will blame her rather than actually dealing with the issue. Yeah, that’ll work, nobody will notice and I can pretend it doesn’t exist.
Excellent. Except I can’t critique anybody, including what I believe is the intractable problem (men) if I really did believe all that crap, because frankly I’m not that much of an asshole. So, how to deal with my white privilege? I dealt with it the same way everybody else deals with information they don’t like – DENIAL.
First, I tried telling her that in the summertime I get really really dark-skinned and am frequently mistaken for something other than white, in a friendly i-am-so-down-with-you-sisters kind of way. Surprisingly enough, she basically ignored that one – almost as if the men who claim that one dick-grab in a bar is somehow equal to a lifetime of harassment and intimidation are completely worthless.
Then, I tried the old hey-i’m-not-a-racist-so-don’t-blame-me routine. I figured this one might work, but no dice. She muttered something about “silence equals support for the patriarchy” and “the patriarchy is built on oppression” or some such [crap] – I’m still trying to ignore it at this point, obviously.
Third, I attempted the always popular i-don’t-benefit-from-it-because-i-got-other-isms-up-the- rootie-patootie-and-those-are-crappy-too. Surely this one could be expected to garner sympathy, but she’s mean, and so it didn’t work either. She said none of those were racism, and racism adds another layer on top of all those I had mentioned. Unfortunately she has a point. Curses, foiled again.
Next up – you can see by now that at least I’m persistent in my defense of not needing to work on my white privilege, right? I offered the extremely sneaky i’m-not-racist-but-those-other- people-are-so-what-should-we-do-about-them? This would surely distract her, as this technique is extremely effective on most activists. Hey, it works on feminists all the time. Unfortunately for me, Justice is way sharper than that, and meaner too, so it didn’t work at all.
Nope, she insists that I have white privilege and I have to deal with it. God she’s a pain.
So then, I tried the last misogynistic trick I knew – which is where I learned all these btw – and that was to suggest that perhaps if-she-just-calmed-down-and-told-me-things-in-a-different- way-then-maybe-i-could-understand. Crap, it didn’t work. She very politely (and patiently really) set me straight.
Frankly, in retrospect I’m wondering why I thought any of those tactics would. Perhaps the this-is-all-a-big-joke-and-gosh-isn’t-it-funny will pass muster. Somehow I don’t think it will. Hmmm, okay, I give up.
All kidding as a coping mechanism aside, I didn’t even realize what I was doing at the time, and afterwards I felt like an idiot. It was the very same bag of tricks that the patriarchy uses to resist dealing with problems affecting the very people that men claim to love, and which always capitulates to logic eventually. Great, I’m using it on my sisters, awesome.
The only reason I finally saw the pattern of my own behavior was because I was trying to figure out why she seemed so mad – even though I was being so “reasonable” – and because she kept poking holes in my bag of denial so that it became a seive. All the dumbass excuses and justifications leaked out until all that remained were chunks of stupidity – and have I mentioned that I’m not so much of an asshole that I can look idiocy in the eye and pretend it’s gold?
This all fascinates me on another level as well; white women in WOC space reminds me of men in womyn space and it gives me more perspective on what men have to cope with when dealing with gender issues. But of course I am going to stomp on my burgeoning sympathy for men like a ton of bricks, because in most cases they are deliberately using our sympathy as yet another delay tactic. Unlike men, most women do not need to hear a thousand accusations before we respond.
[…] That is the exact same thing that men do when dealing with gender privilege, and that garbage stinks just as bad when a feminist does it. Except, I really don’t know how to deal with my white privilege. I mean, what am I supposed to do about it, exactly? I could use a cluestick, if you don’t mind helping out a blind white woman some more. END EMAIL QUOTE
Justice plucked a lovely quote from Amy’s Brain and which I will share with you. Her bolding for emphasis:
“One of the privileges of being normal and ordinary is a certain unconsciousness. When one is
that which is taken as the norm in one’s social environment, one does not have to think about it. Often, in discussions about prejudice and discrimination I hear statements like these: “I don’t think of myself as heterosexual”; “I don’t think of myself as white”; “I don’t think of myself as a man”; “I’m just a person, I just think of myself as a person.” If one is the norm, one does not have to know what one is. If one is marginal, one does not have the privilege of not noticing what one is.
This absence of privilege is a presence of knowledge. As such, it can be a great resource, given only that the marginal person does not scorn the knowledge and lust for inclusion in themainstream, for the unconsciousness of normalcy. I do not say this casually or callously; I knowthe longing for normalcy and the burden of knowledge. But the knowledge, and the marginality, can be embraced. The alternative to embracing them is erasing the meaning of one’s own experience in order to blend in as normal-pretending that one’s difference is nothing, really, nothing more significant than a preference for foreign cars, bourbon or western-cut clothes.”
From Marilyn Frye, “Lesbian Feminism and the Gay Rights Movement: Another View of Male Supremacy, Another Separatism” in The Politics of Reality: essays in feminist theory (Crossing Press, 1983).
Posted here with J’s permission. Also, I will never write another blog post using Firefox.