Let’s talk about privilege.
It’s going to make some people uncomfortable, but it’s time to iron out the basics. It won’t be going anywhere otherwise and we desperately need the space to talk about it.Progress is slow and feminism is finally shining in the spotlight, but feminism is not just about women.
Feminism is not feminism if it is not intersectional. Click here for a concrete definition of intersectionality and here for fantastic cartoon series that I love. If a movement is set in motion that concentrates on equality, then it has an intersectional nature, and I’ll tell you why: everyone has a different experience. An Asian American in California is going to have a very different life experience from an Asian American in Georgia, and a young black girl in Atlanta will be in a different social situation than a young black girl in England or Nigeria. See what I’m getting at?
But this isn’t just about race. When you throw gender and sexuality and class into the mix, things start to get a little more complicated. Culture starts to take on more depth, more meaning, and with time you’ll start to see that there are a lot of things that flew under your radar, specifically if you are a white cisgender heterosexual (cisgender meaning that your identity matches the gender that corresponds with your biological sex).
So surprise number one: whiteness is totally a thing. It’s a culture, the dominant culture in American society, so it goes unnoticed. Everything is compared to white culture, so it remains invisible. Want to know why people think my black friend is ‘hood’? It’s because society has subliminally taught us that being in a white, heterosexual relationship with a man who has a suit-and-tie job is the norm and that everyone should follow it. Therefore, being ‘ghetto’ is considered lame and uncivilized. I can’t count how many times I’ve used terms that are racist when I thought I was ‘colorblind’.
Surprise number two: race still makes a difference. When my family doesn’t exactly approve that one of my family members is dating a black man, that’s a blatant wakeup call that we still have serious problems. But when you don’t realize how your language is affecting the treatment of women, non-white, and non-binary people, that’s when you see how sneaky discrimination really is. Equality isn’t a feeling. You may think you’re in an equal relationship, but kitchen jokes should let you know where you rest in the scheme of things. And it goes both ways: the tendency to make men seem like infants in household settings isn’t cool.
Racism is so ingrained that it flies under the radar. Black girls who are rocking pink and purple hair aren’t ‘ratchet’ while white girls that do so are ‘alternative’. How many media advertisements do you see with black men who are portrayed as good parental figures? How many people threw a fit over that awesome Cheerios commercial? Why are Latina women still over sexualized in the workplace? These are the things we need to talk about as feminists. When one of my best friends, who is Middle Eastern, says that whiteness is a thing and that the easiest way is to submit to it, I know that I’m standing up for something that actually matters. But that’s also how I understand how problematic it is.
Yeah, I’m a woman. That comes with the typical problems, unfortunately, but I’m still white. I’m still heterosexual, and I get privilege from both those aspects of my identity. I don’t get called a dike and I don’t suffer violence and harassment from being transgender. My uncle once said that he’s fine with people being gay, but they should still act their gender (I wanted to throw him across the room and he’s literally four to five times my size).
Surprise number three: there is a difference between gender and sexuality. Gender is how you perform your identity and sexuality is who you go to bed with. It’s complicated and hard to wrap your head around if this is your first foray into the world of feminism, but it’s necessary to understand. I am biologically a woman and my gender is also feminine; I am sexually attracted to men. A man can be biologically male and have a masculine gender, yet prefer to go to bed with men. A biological woman can be masculine and prefer going to bed with women and men. Sometimes you’re born as a female but your gender identity is male, and you can still be attracted to females. The bottom line is that many of us were brought up believing in set boundaries. That is a lie.
It does not escape me that I’m saying this as a white, cisgender woman. I don’t believe that I can or should write in depth about African American Studies or transgender experiences and I never will, specifically because I don’t have that standpoint. I do not understand what it is like to live in a world where I am not white, but I believe that I need to dissect it as much as possible. I am a feminist, and this is my fight, just like it’s everyone’s fight, so I will write about how we need to dismantle the framework we’ve been raised in.
When people look at statistics regarding how the likelihood of going to jail increases if you are black and they brush it off, they are invalidating black voices. How can you possible invalidate a person’s standpoint and story when you know nothing about it? We have to stop invalidating people’s stories and experiences.
I guess my point is that we need space to talk about these things, even if people get offended, and even if people get mad because things are changing and the changes aren’t in their favor. And there is more than sexism and racism: discrimination is based in class, physical size, age, disability, and religion, too. People should know, and if you do know then you should call it out, because historically it never has been. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again: a movement that starts with the people, ends with the people. So speak up.